Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tomatoes... Fighting the Good Fight

The tomatoes are making a come-back! The older amish paste, cherokee purple, and german stripe tomato vines that I thought were hopeless have greened back up some, and grown over a foot! They have new vines covered with new little flowers and baby tomatoes. I have even gotten a few tomatoes off of the cherokee purple, and one off a german stripe plant. They are amazing! They have produced more than that but something keeps getting to them before I do. It is maddening and so disappointing to watch a tomato grow and check on it every day. Watch it start to ripen, and then just when you think its perfect, you realize that the back half has been eaten and is rotten. Well, maybe I get more upset about it than most people... 

The new cherokee purple, german stripe, and brandywine plants have gotten huge! They are showing such promise! I have been checking them over pretty regularly, to try to catch any problems before they get out of hand. I noticed today that there were holes appearing on the leaves. After a careful inspection I spotted caterpillars! No no no! No eating my tomato plants! I suspect that they are also responsible for half eating my ripe tomatoes too. 

Last year they ransacked my tomatoes and left them vulnerable to the blight that finally took them. I decided then that I wasn't going to deal with that again. I ordered Bt, which is a form of organic pest control. It is a bacteria that kills caterpillars. Only caterpillars! That way I don't have to worry about it killing beneficial insects. I don't like using any kind of pesticide, even organic kinds, but if I want to have any hope for garden fresh tomatoes this year, I have to suck it up and give it a try. I sprayed my plants this evening. I will check them tomorrow and see how they are looking. Hopefully this will work! 

Goings On

The game cam caught the chickens settling in at dusk. I think it looks
So pretty in that light
So... the washing machine is broken. It piddled out about a week ago. Luckily, it was immediately after I had washed all of the clothes and my brother threw a few loads in while they were here. I unplugged it to reset it after we got the extra power drain of the camper out of the way. It worked long enough to wash the next 2 loads that we had accumulated over the weekend and went again. For good this time. Brad took it apart and it turns out to be a cheap plastic piece. He said that they use plastic for that specifically so that if something happens it will break the cheap part and save the expensive part that it is attached to. The shipping cost more than the part, so hopefully that is it and we will be back in business! A washer is one of those things that tends to be taken for granted until it isn't there anymore. Then it is painfully apparent how important it is to day to day life! I can't believe our luck, though! If something is going to break, what are the odds that it will work out like that? We are blessed.

I worked on the tractor for over 30 minutes yesterday. It was mostly running around to the battery and making sure there was a good connection, running back and trying to crank it, running back to the battery to check the connection again, back around to crank it, unscrew the solenoid, push the pin in, screw back onto the tractor, try to crank it.... yeah. Good times. After much running back and forth I finally fell back on my tried and true method: coddling, talking to, and pleading with the tractor to start. Finally, she decided to be my friend again and turn over. I spent about 10 minutes dragging heavy things from one side of the yard to the other before I realized that the gas gauge was pointing to the great big E. Maybe I will manage to get some diesel in the fairly near future... hope hope hope! School starts soon and Keegan's birthday is coming up so money is tight and even something as small as a few gallons of diesel or a push mower pull cord, has to be put off for a bit.

We will make it through this like we always do. Faith is an amazing thing and God always finds little ways to make things work out perfectly. It is still frustrating sometimes. Especially when I have SO MUCH that needs to get done and everything seems to be broken, I don't have the money to buy what I need, or I simply don't have the ability to get it without help. For example, I need another bale of hay for the coops and garden. I have a round bale of hay! It is about 3 miles down the road at the back of an overgrown field that my car won't make it through, I don't have a truck, and the "big" tractor (with hay fork) isn't running right now. I'm going to see if I can borrow a truck for a few minutes this weekend and go hand load the bale (handful at a time) like I did the last one. Everywhere I turn is something else that needs to be done and yet another problem standing in my way preventing me from doing it. Have I mentioned that my wheel barrow is broken too? Keegan pulled the axle off for some reason and the last foster puppy we had ran off with it. He tended to do that with a lot of things. I've been moving things by hand as much as possible, but there are some giant logs and piles of dirt that I just can't physically move without my wheelbarrow! It is just frustrating. *Brain scream!* Phew...Sometimes it is so very important when the world seems to be closing in around me, and I think that at any moment my head might just start actually spinning in circles until it explodes, to take a step back. Stop, take a deep breath, and look at the big picture. This too shall pass. It always works out and I have faith that it will work out again. It is amazing how things just seem to pull together at the last minute. In ways that I never would have imagined, at times. Looking at it all, honestly makes me feel even more blessed. How wonderful are problems like this? Simple. Small. Easily fixed. Everyone is still healthy, relatively happy, and I am living my dream.

On to happier things! I got some more brush cut. I know... it is taking forever. I can only work for as long as my chainsaw battery lasts. By the time I finish dragging everything I cut to a burn pile, I really need to stop anyway. The heat down here isn't enjoyable, but the humidity... Well, as it turns out, there is a reason that people down in the deep south are known for taking things slower. People will keel over and die if they don't in this humidity! I think I have gotten much more used to it than I was when I first moved here though. But, the battery times the work period pretty well and gives me no choice but to take a break and cool off. I would love to have an outdoor shower some day! I wouldn't care if it had heated water most of the time. During the summer the cool water would feel better anyway, and I always feel so nasty after working outside, even after a short period of time. Its impossible to take a few steps out the front door without breaking a sweat, and it would be nice to wash all of the ick off before going back inside. Anyway, we are that much closer to being able to put the new fence up.

Miss Tallow left her nest yesterday for a good leg stretch and I took the opportunity to go check on her eggs. I was worried before I even caught sight of them. The smell greeted me first, followed quickly by the soft buzz of flies. Her eggs were rotten and a couple had busted under her. Poor girl. She was trying so hard! I quickly pulled the stink bombs out of the nest and cleaned out the tee-pee. Luckily, I had set up a new tee-pee and filled it with eggs. Tallow happily hopped onto the new, stink-free, clean nest full of shiny new eggs. She decided to move back to her old one this morning, so I moved the eggs over with her. Hopefully she will have better luck with these ones. She is already protective of them. She started hissing at me when I went to check on her. She is all talk, but I was kinda proud.

Tonight I made a mostly local dinner. I do this pretty often, but I would like to keep track and improve on it. I made fried chicken with our very own chicken. I normally never fry anything. I make an exception for chicken and fried green tomatoes a few times a year, simply because Keegan and Brad love the chicken and I love the tomatoes so much. Don't get me wrong. I'm not an angel. I eat fried foods. I just don't fry it myself so that I'm not tempted to eat it more often than I already do. The flour I breaded it with was store bought, but the egg, herbs, and onion powder added to it was 0 mile, coming from our own homestead. We had it with jasmine rice. Not even close to being local, I'm sure, but we buy it in bulk so it helps decrease the fuel used to transport it. Sliced Cherokee purple tomato complimented it amazingly well! Oh I love these tomatoes. They are so good! Being spoiled by these tomatoes has made it impossible for me to buy those tasteless store-bought imitations. There is no comparison! The meal was rounded out by a loaf of Challah bread. None of the ingredients were local, but I have to think that I localized it at least a little by baking it myself. I need to look into buying flour in bulk. I know I'm biased because I cooked it (and grew some of it too), but it is amazing to me that we can eat meals that are this amazing on such a small budget! That was a meal fit for a king.... or Queen! Again I say, we are blessed.
Challah Bread. It ripped a bit taking it off of the baking
sheet. It was delicious though! 

It has been a long day and is late.
In the words of Dr. Seuss
"Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one!"

Hope you have a beautiful day as well!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Productive Days Make Me Happy

When I woke up yesterday to see it overcast, yet again, and checked the weather to see that we were completely surrounded by thunderstorms, I thought that this weekend would be a total wash. Yesterday was, but it was nice to enjoy a day inside with the family. Today I tried to make up for it and I got so much accomplished!

The guineas and 3 turkeys graduated to one of the hoop coop chicken tractors! They were so excited to get to explore the grass! I love introducing babies to grass for the first time. They huddle together for a minute or two, and then one or two venture out to see what all of that green stuff is. Then before you know it, they are all running and flapping all over. The real fun begins when one discovers that bugs live in that green stuff! Tucker didn't waste any time at all. He doesn't seem to be afraid of anything. He is so adorably aloof. The guineas chirped and "Chrrrrrr'd" away as they scratched around in the grass. I got their grown-up feeder and bucket water system cleaned and sterilized and put the tarp back on to give them some shade and shelter.

I also added a new roost. I've been needing to put one in for a while but I wasn't sure how to go about adding one that wouldn't make the coop difficult to move and wouldn't put weight on the wire, but would be sturdy enough to hold the birds once they start getting bigger. I suspended a tree branch from the "spine" of the coop with thick wire. It is a lot like a swing, except that it fits snugly to each side so that it doesn't move around very much. The babies seem to be enjoying it, although they still decided to sleep on the ground in a huddle. Maybe tomorrow.

One of the reasons that the guineas and older turkeys moved to the hoop tractor is because I have had 2 batches of turkeys hatch out in the last 2 weeks! One batch is about 12 days old and the other is 4 days old. I have only sold 3, and still have 13 left (9 older 4 younger). The older babies were getting pretty rambunctious and the indoor brooder just wasn't big enough to give them the wing-room that they felt they needed. They were flapping and jumping everywhere! They knocked the filament loose on 3 light bulbs in one day and insisted on perching on top of the waterer. The funnel I put on top of it merely slowed them down.
The little ones are now happily residing in the "Tank" and my living room seems so much bigger! And quieter! The littlest tid-bits aren't getting knocked about and can rest now.

While I was cleaning out feeders I decided to collect all of the adult chicken and turkey feeders, disassemble them, scrub them out, and sterilize them. It doesn't seem like much, but I feel accomplished. I just realized that some of the pieces come apart. Feed kept getting stuck under the middle piece and molding, which is bad enough, but they were so difficult to clean like that! I took the middle pieces out and threw them away.Hopefully that doesn't come back to bite me in the butt, but I'm pretty happy with them! They are super easy to wipe out now and I feel so much better about them getting fresh quality feed! I left the middle part in the littles' feeder because they are small enough to climb right into it otherwise. Except for sweet Tucker who just steps over it with his giant crane legs.

My last accomplishment was to erect a new turkey tee-pee. Tallow has taken over the other tee-pee and is sitting on eggs. She is being such a good little momma to-be! When I called the turkeys to put them up this evening only the boys came. I found Tabby sitting in my Cosmos near the little garden, and Tawny in her normal nest. Both of them had around 6 eggs each. Heritage turkeys won't be full sized by the holidays at this point, and the spring baby-fever is over, so I have had a difficult time selling the babies I have. My problem is that I have some sort of strange inability to let turkey eggs go to waste. I don't like the consistency of the eggs, so I don't eat them. They are very thick. I need to girls to stop laying! I need to wash the incubator and put it up for the year. I put together a new tee-pee next to the inhabited one, and put all of the eggs I collected into it. Hopefully, one (or both) of the girls will decide to sit. I didn't get pictures because it was dark before I got done. I was working with my head-lamp (one of the handiest things EVER btw!).

It doesn't seem like a whole lot, and in reality, I guess it wasn't. But, I feel so much better after having worked all day doing things that really needed to get done. Better yet, knowing that what I accomplished had meaning. It wasn't just the usual mowing, clearing brush, or tending the garden. Don't get me wrong, those are all very important things. But everything I did today visibly made my animals happy, and I know will make them healthy. That makes me very happy! Maybe before I go to bed I will give the dogs baths too. That way I will have done something nice for all of my animals today. On second thought, I think they would be much more thankful for some left-over turkey and rice instead of their icky dog food.

I love productive days!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Game Cam Catches

I love my game cam! I got it last November when I was having issues with the neighbor's dog and hunting dogs killing my turkeys. It has been aimed at either the chicken or turkey coops since then. The batteries last forever. In fact, I just changed them for the first time since I got the game cam. I just switch the memory card about once a week and then sort through about 700 pictures, on average, that it took throughout the week. I have yet to catch a predator since the last dog attack, knock on wood, but I regularly catch lots of other fun things!

Einstein teasing the turkeys. Now I know why the turkeys chase him around when I let them out to free range! I used to think that they were just big bullies. Now I know who the instigator it!

My sweet Yellow checking things out. 

Chester looking particularly handsome.

"How YOU doin'?!"

This isn't my rooster! I think he belongs to a neighbor. See the broken cord around his leg? Apparently he escaped his tie out (AGAIN) and came to harass my chickens. He got into a fight with Einy a couple of months ago and I had to run him off. I didn't realize that he had been back until I checked my game cam pictures tonight. Did I mention that I LOVE my game cam? :)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

2013 Seed Log

In order to keep better track of how certain seeds did I thought it would be best to keep a log of what I planted and how it did. Also, what the conditions were during the year. That way I can decide which seeds I want to try again and which ones I want to switch out for other types. I will update as I plant and/or harvest each thing. I would love comments on how certain things did for them! Some things that don't do well for me may have been because they don't do well in this area, but it could also be a fluke with the weather (like this year being monsoon-like all summer), or even user error. 

-                  --  Florida Speckled Butter Pole Lima Bean - Planted with corn the beginning of May. Grew Kudzu-like vines that took down the corn, but no flowers or beans as of 7/23. Need to try planting on arches next year. Only because I have seed left over and we had crappy conditions this year. 
-         -   Rattlesnake Pole Bean - Planted with corn beginning of May. Soil was very poor. Almost all germinated but grew small scraggly vines. Still produced a few beans. Need to try better soil next year and plant on arches. 

-                  --Premium Lettuce Blend - Planted Fall of 2012 and spring 2013. Germinated and grew well. 

-                   --Bloomsdale Long Standing - Planted late in the spring when it was getting warmer. Not much germinated. 

Swiss Chard
-                 --Oriole - Planted late in spring. Germinated but didn't grow very large. Will replant in fall and try again. 
-                 --  Jack-be-little - Only pumpkin that came up. Grew well. Harvested 5 pumpkins off of around 4 vines as of 7/23. 
-                  --Connecticut Field - Planted but none came up. 
-                  -- Fairytale - Didn't Plant this year because garden was never finished. Need to plant next year. 
-                -- Spaghetti - Planted in shady spot in poor soil. The ones that came up were very small and sick looking. Never produced flowers. 
-                 -- Winter Harvest Mix - Planted with corn and bean in early May. At least 3 came up. 1 is thriving. 
-                  -- Amish Paste- 1st to germinate indoors and grew well while indoors. Sickly plants outdoors with small fruit. Got wilt early. Will try again with better quality seed. 
-                -- Cherokee Purple- Perfect germination. Planted in poor soil. Growing slower than amish paste. As of 7/23 none have wilt but only got 1 ripe fruit which was cracked from overwatering (rain). 
-               -- German Stripe- Good germination. As of 7/23 they are wilt free. 1 is the largest plant in garden. Some others were eaten by something. Replanted and are doing well. Only harvested 1 ripe tomato so far and it was partially eaten and split. 
-               -- Pink Brandywine- Grew well summer 2012 and best tasting fruit, although slow producers. Planted later than the others. As of 7/23 all are doing well and are wilt free. No ripe fruit yet. 
-              -- Yolo Wonder Bell- Doing wonderfully! Most germinated. Producing medium (picking before they get larger) and very thick walled and good tasting fruit. Love these!!!
-              -- Jalapeno - None germinated. I always grow these and they do well. Reordered from Baker's Creek and will try again next summer. 
-              -- Pepperoncini (Italian) - Germinated well indoors. Doing wonderfully! First producer of the garden and are producing constantly. Need to plant more next year so I have enough to pickle. 
-               -- Long Purple - I always have a hard time with cucumber beetles eating the leaves of all eggplant. Germination was fair. Possibly poor seed. One fruit which rotted on plant as of 7/23 but are still flowering. 
-               -- De Cicco - Planted outdoors in October 2012. Germinated and grew well. Huge plants. Not much broccoli, but I didn't harvest like I should have. Will try again. 
Brussel Sprouts
-             -- Long Island Improved - Planted in october 2012. Plants grew well but even by late spring 2013 the sprout heads were loose and unharvestable. They didn't produce well. 
-           -- Charleston Wakefield - Haven't planted yet. Will try fall 2013
-           -- All The Year Round - Haven't planted yet. Will try fall 2013
-     -  Bull’s Blood - Planted fall 2012. Very poor germination. Only 2 came up. I think it was because the soil became dry and formed a crust before they emerged. Will try again this fall. 
-      - Tendersweet - Planted fall 2012. Germinated well and grew well. Very happy with these. 
-             -- Red Creole (short day)- Planted fall 2013. None germinated. Will try again in spring. 
         - Crystal Wax (short day)- same
-          -- American Purple Top- Planted fall 2012. Poor germination and none made it past a leaf or two. Poor soil and chickens were probably the issue. Will try again this year. 
-         - Sugar Snap- Only planted a few and most came up. Planted late and didn't care for properly. Happy with these and will try again. 
-          - Early Siberian- Germinated and did well. Didn't harvest like I should have. Will try again. 
-          - Russian RedGerminated and did well. Didn't harvest like I should have. Will try again.
      - “Premier” Freebie Seeds - Germinated and did well. Didn't harvest like I should have. Will try again.
-         - Sweet Summer Mix- None came up at all. Possibly poor soil but probably bad seed. 
      - Louisiana Sweet- None came up. Good soil and good conditions. Probably poor seed. 
-          - Garrisonvery few came up and haven't grown well or set fruit as of 7/23
       - Lady Finger - None came up despite replanting twice in good soil Probably bad seed. 
       - Trucker’s Favorite Yellow- Great germination and growth in good soil. broke under weight of beans. Developed corn smut. Didn't produce well as of 7/23. 
-          - Delikatesse- Had to replant once. Second time came up well and vines took over. Poor fruit production and have almost fully succumbed to some kind of wilt. 
-         - Skyscraper- Fair germination in fair soil. Only one has grown large as of 7/23. Some are very sickly and small. All developed flowers. 
-           - Maya- Haven't planted yet. 
       - Mardi Gras (mix)- Haven't planted yet. 
Herbs- None of the herbs had good germination. Most failed to germinate at all. Only 2 of each basil and 1 parsley survived to transplant and all died once transplanted. Bad seed and poor weather conditions. Will try again. 
-             - Basil, Sweet
-      - Basil, Italian Long leaf
        - Chives, Garlic
        - Coriander/Cilantro
        - Dill
        - Oregano, Greek
        - Parsley, Italian
        -  Sage

Monday, July 22, 2013

Thanksgiving Weekend in July

This weekend was filled with fun, family, fire, and a feast! How much more like Thanksgiving can you get?

While, in the end, we had a great weekend, it didn't start quite as well. The sun was shining and beautiful so I started working outside. I decided to try to mow in the garden area. The weeds were so thick and the ground so uneven that the mower kept bogging down and dying. After about 3 minutes, and starting it at least as many times, I pulled the cord to start it back up and the cord broke in half. UGH! That little push mower doesn't look like much, but we do an extraordinary amount of work with it. That little thing has cleared a lot of land and I am lost without it. Or course, I flipped out. It seems silly now, because a pull string isn't exactly difficult to fix. While looking for a model number I realized that it is actually a much nicer model than I ever realized. It even has a bag fitting so I can bag grass clippings to use as mulch! I have been wanting a mower like that for a while now and I had one the whole time! This mower is second (actually I think 4th) hand so I never saw it in new condition. It is amazing though, and always starts on the first pull. I will stand by Yard Man mowers forever if all of their products are as good as this one. She will be fixed soon and will hopefully soon have a new bag to attach.

The inability to mow put a kink in my plans. I wasn't without anything to do though. One of my tom turkeys that has been slated for freezer camp hurt his foot somehow. I noticed him limping Thursday evening. I tried to look at it, but of course he wasn't having it and turkeys are strong enough that there wasn't a whole lot I could do about it without hurting him further. After a little struggle, I gave up and nursed a sore jaw for the rest of the day. Did I mention that turkeys are strong birds? Watch out for those wings! We moved his date with the freezer up a bit. I thought that maybe we would go ahead and put the other tom that is slated for freezer camp up as well. Plucking took much longer than I had planned, though. Even with Brad and Keegan working on it with me. I usually do all of the processing on my own. Keegan catches and brings us the chickens and digs a hole for the remains, Brad mans the chopping block while I hold the bird (I have terrible aim), I do all of the processing and quarter the final product, and then hand it to brad to wash and bag in the kitchen. We all plucked... and plucked... and plucked some more. Several times along the way I may have mentioned that this is why I usually skin all of the chickens, and that an automatic plucker would be amazing! They never had to do the agonizingly slow icky work before, and I think Brad realizes now why I have been asking for one for so long. I think that maybe a homemade plucker may be in our future! We finally got the turkey plucked, I cleaned it, and we got is put in the fridge.

On Saturday, my brother, his other half, and their kids came over to spend the weekend. They have a camper which, conveniently, is temporarily parked in my driveway, so they just came over and stayed for a couple days. I got some more brush cleared before they got here, and Dan (brother) helped me clear some more yesterday. I can only do a little at a time because the battery on my chainsaw doesn't last very long. I love my chainsaw. It is light, easy to handle, and cuts through trees that are way bigger than seems possible with such a small saw. The battery life is the only draw-back. I really need to invest in another battery so I can just keep trading them out. On the plus side, it gives me an excuse to take a break. I tend to keep working way past the point of exhaustion once I get started, and I feel terrible, sometimes for days, afterward. I have been cutting the bigger stuff with the saw and then I can take the bush-hog through there, then I can get to the bigger stuff farther back, and so on. It is a cycle and eventually I will get enough cleared to get the fence up. Hopefully it will happen soon.

Saturday evening, after Dan got the camper set up and my battery died, I started a bonfire. I love bonfires and always keep at least 1 pile ready for gatherings. This one was probably going to be right in the path of my future fence, and was getting huge, so it had to go. I also had another pile that was getting really big (10ft high by at least 12 feet wide) so I am going to have to start another one and I really don't want giant mounds of brush all over the property. Not with rattlesnakes being so prevalent here. I have been wanting to burn that eyesore for a while but I didn't want to chance my mom and grandparents making a spur of the moment visit and be stuck without a bonfire waiting for them. Maybe its a family tradition, but all of the best gatherings include a bonfire. I'd rather sit by a fire with people I love, listen to good music, and have good conversation (and perhaps a few drinks), than do pretty much anything else. I don't understand why more people don't enjoy it.

Since I already had a turkey in the fridge and a house full of people, I decided that I should go ahead and cook it. And how can an amazing turkey be made without all of the great sides to go with it?! So yesteday (Sunday) I baked the turkey, made a beautiful loaf of Challah bread, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, and baked corn. Not nearly as much as I usually do for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but quite a bit nonetheless. In between cooking and checking things I cut brush. I felt like I accomplished quite a bit. Keegan played with his little cousins. He kept them occupied inside while it was raining, and kept an eye on them and showed them things around the property while the sun was shining. He has always been great with kids and they really love him. He showed them the garden and let them sample all of the things growing there, showed them the animals, told them all about each one, and helped them collect eggs. They did some general exploring, which the little ones really seemed to enjoy since they live in the city and can't do things like that much. We had a great family dinner, followed by fireworks that my brother had stored away for a special occasion. The kids loved it... the animals not so much.

Our visitors left late this morning, right as the rain started to come in. We had a great, although exhausting, weekend. Fun was had by all and even a little bit of productivity occurred here and there. Even the problems that arose turned into blessings. I am thankful for the happy times like this that I get to spend with family. Even though my brother only lives about 40 minutes away, we don't see each other nearly as often as I would like. Life gets in the way and days turn into weeks. I'll be saving a bonfire pile and looking forward to the next time that we get to enjoy it with family and friends.

This bonfire looks tiny because of the angle of the camera, but it was actually over 5 feet tall and at least 10 feet wide. It was bigger but it collapsed after a while. We do things big around here :)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Oh Happy Day!!

It was a sun... sun... SUN-SHINY DAY! Keegan and I got so much accomplished and it felt so good! I worked on the tractor, which had developed a severe oil leak last time I attempted bush-hogging. I got it to hold oil and managed to mow the whole back and side lots and get a lot of brush cleared for the fence where we had been cutting out bigger saplings the other day. I got the smaller tomatoes staked and tied up. There is still hope for tomatoes this year! Keegan mowed the entire immediate yard, which looks amazing! Then, he cleaned up around the yard for good measure. He is such an amazing kid. He is a typical teenager (14 yrs next month) a good deal of the time. I have to fuss over getting him to do the smallest things, like putting a dish in the sink. Then he surprises me and goes out and accomplishes real work! Hard work. And he does a better job than a lot of adults I know. When I am building something, he has started taking over and leaving me there with nothing to do but watch! He is quite the little carpenter. He can do anything short of working the skill saw, which I'm sure he could do if I would let him, but it isn't happening anytime soon. He begged me for years to let him use the push mower, and that is a new thing, only happening in the last month. I may be over-protective or paranoid, but I think that a motorized spinning blade that is going fast enough and is sharp enough to cut through free standing grass and demolish sticks is something that needs to be respected.
Only after a long talk about how dangerous it is and how to safely use it was he allowed to do it under supervision. Honestly, I was cringing, not only because of the damage he could do to himself, but because of the damage he could do to my plants and trees! He has done an amazing job! He is safe and attentive. He is turning into quite an amazing young man and I am so proud! The yard looks so wonderful! We actually accomplished something today! It was dark by the time we got done so no pictures. I was feeling so good I not only made dinner, but I made 2 dinners! I made tacos tonight (Brad's favorite), and meatloaf for tomorrow (Keegan's favorite) so I just have to heat it up and make a side or two. Both using our own farm-fresh veggies, herbs (tomatoes, peppers, onions, rosemary, oregano), eggs (for the meatloaf), and grass-fed beef that my father in-law raised. Even with a failing garden and very little money coming in, we manage to eat like kings. We are blessed. It is amazing what a sunny day spent getting my hands dirty, doing honest hard work, can do for the soul. It makes me want to sing!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Disaster of a Garden... 2013

I haven't written a post about my garden yet this summer... That is because is has been a complete disappointment. Honestly, I have been ashamed to post anything about it, especially photos. I had such high hopes for this year! I poured over seed descriptions and spent more than I want to admit on heirloom seeds. It was going to be the best garden I ever had! I was going to save all of my seeds and not have to buy any next year! That was the plan, anyway. Things always seem to work out differently than planned. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. This is decidedly one of those "NOT" situations. It seems to have been a "perfect storm" of events.

I bought a large amount of seeds at the end of last year and started planning for a much larger garden. I would like to get to be able to live primarily off of our homestead. Except for things like olive oil, flour, salt, pasta, rice, and things of that sort. I have even really been looking into things like maybe rendering lard to cut down on our olive oil use, and growing wheat with the help of my father in-law, to grind into flour and use to supplement poultry feed. Some of the corn I planted this year was supposed to go toward that purpose as well.

The first issue was that I was working until mid-April, which would normally have made getting my garden started more difficult, but a good deal of that was spent working 6 day weeks, and including quite a few 10 hour days. By Sunday I wasn't worth much, and not much got done in the garden until April. Finally I got the brush cleared from my new garden area, got it plowed, put up an electric fence to keep the chickens and turkeys out, and dug about 1/3 of the paths and raised beds. Then it rained.... not just rain, but a torrential down-pour... for days! On my newly plowed soil! If you garden you probably know how terrible that is. It compacted all of my formerly fluffy soil. Washed the good soil away leaving sand and clay. Turned the whole place into a mud pit. Then it teased me... not raining for a couple days and just when I thought that the soil was dry enough to try to rescue the mess it started raining again.

Catastrophic failure of corn and beans
I built a seed shelf in my kitchen and suspended a shop light over it to start seeds early in the year. I started LOTS of seeds and was so excited! I planted over 60 tomato seeds, around 30 bell, pepperoncini, and jalapeno peppers, several eggplants, and lots of herbs. Almost all of the tomatoes came up. Most of the bell peppers did as well. The herbs, eggplant and pepperonini, not so much. NONE of my jalepeno peppers came up. I assumed that it was user error (hey, it happens) and so I planted more. None again! So I tried one more time with the last of my seeds... nothing. Bad seeds! And not just these. None of the lady finger popping corn, watermelons, 2 types of pumpkin, cantaloupe, sweet melon mix, winter squash mix, or zucchini that I planted outside came up either!  I know that it was not user error because I replanted several times and never got so much as a sickly looking seedling. Nothing. Not even in my well established above ground beds. Needless to say, I'm very disappointed in that seed company and will not be buying from them again. I try to stick with small family run businesses, but perhaps this isn't one of the things I should do that for. I am not happy with the quality of amish paste tomatoes that grew either. That may be because of my gardening skills, or lack there of, or all of the other issues I have had with them, but I'm wondering if it is simply poor quality seeds. Some of my soil is pretty poor still, but those were planted in prime garden area and still aren't producing very good tomatoes.

I traded some of my tomato and bell pepper plants to a friend for fresh goat milk, thinking I had more than I needed. It continued to rain to the point that by the time I got a chance to put them in the garden, very few had survived. They just got too big too fast and I didn't have the room or equipment to repot that many plants. I reordered more Cherokee purple and some brandy-wine tomato, and some jalapeno seeds from Baker Creek and tried again. I just got those seedlings planted a few days ago. I fear that it was too late. We shall see. I think I will stick with Baker Creek from now on. I have hear a lot of good things about them.

Ponding in paths and overgrown area
Being thoroughly discouraged already, and fighting daily rain storms, only half of my garden beds were prepared and the rest is unlevel, packed down, and overgrown with very tall weeds. The weeds seem to be loving all of the rain! I managed to get hay down in most of the beds a few days ago. We had a single rain free day. Keegan and I took full advantage of it! We got a TON of stuff done, though, nothing fully accomplished. About 1/3 of the yard was mowed, about 2/3 of the prepared beds in the new garden got hay mulch, some brush got cut to prepare for the electric fence that will be erected soon... It made me feel good to get something accomplished! The garden paths are still overgrown and usually flooded. I'm working on figuring out a solution to that.

Kudzu-like bean vines took over the corn,
causing it to come crashing down
I tried the "3 Sisters" method of planting this year. I planted corn, then pole beans to grow up the corn, then squash in between to act as ground cover. It is easy to tell the soil quality from one end of the row to the other. One end was super tall, lush, and healthy, and then it get shorter and thinner to the end of the row. The beans did the same thing. Oh well, they are going to undergo some lasagna  type mulching and hopefully will be better next year. The main issue is that there was a catastrophic failure with the corn and beans. The healthiest looking section especially. The Florida Speckled Butter Beans took over, in Kudzu-like fashion. Not a single flower or bean pod in sight, but the vines are amazing! So much so that the corn just couldn't handle the weight, especially with all of the rain. The wet bean plants were just too much for the corn to support in the sodden soil and they all came crashing down. Right onto my cucumbers and sunflowers. Trying to right them just resulted in the corn stalks breaking. Luckily half of the cucumber bed is safe and I rescued the sunflowers, which aren't doing as well as I had hoped either, but at least have some small blooms on them. They are supposed to be 12-15 feet tall and the tallest ones are around 7 feet with very thin stalks. Most are much smaller than that. The rattlesnake pole beans are in bad soil, but are at least producing beans. Not many, but a handful every few days. I'm not happy with how stringy they are. I'm not sure if it is the type of bean or the terrible growing conditions this year. I also am not sure if the butter beans just don't do well in this area (it really hasn't been too hot this year so that shouldn't be the issue), if the soil isn't right for them in that spot (very fertile rich soil), or if it has just been the constant rain. I'm amazed at how well the vines are doing but that doesn't do me much good if it doesn't flower. Maybe it will soon... I haven't pulled them up yet just in case.

Rigged up tomatoes. You can barely see them, but there are
smaller Cherokee Purple and Brandy-wine plants in the back.
There may be hope for some tomatoes yet...
The corn isn't the only thing that came crashing down. I have had a terrible time keeping the tomatoes up. I need to try putting up a fence next year, and trellising them. Indeterminate tomatoes get too tall for cages, and even most stakes. The heavy plants kept weighing the stakes down and making them fall over. The wet soil didn't give the stakes much support, regardless how deep I drove them. Some of the more deeply driven stakes broke in half. The vines were damaged in the fall. Some had to just be pulled out. Then I think they contracted something by laying on the ground. Only the Amish paste tomatoes were effected. The others weren't big enough yet, so they were safe until I devised a make-shift way to keep them up. I put up a couple of pallets, secured a pole between them, and attached the tomatoes (stake and all) to the pole. It worked in a pinch. I really need some more t-posts but don't even have enough right now for the electric fence that needs to go up.

I had to replant the cucumbers twice, but they finally came up and looked wonderful! Full, bushy vines! Tons of flowers! They are barely setting fruit though. I think perhaps, the rain has kept the pollinators from doing their job properly. A large deal of the cucumbers that have grown have started to rot before I get to them because of the puddles they are sitting in. The vines on top of the bed (safe from puddles) are turning yellow and dying, and all of the fruit and healthy looking vines are growing in the paths where it keeps flooding... ugh. I have managed to bring in a couple every couple of days and we have really been enjoying them. We may not be getting many, but the ones we have gotten taste great!

On a happy note, the peppers are doing amazingly well! They are big bushy plants and have set a bunch of big healthy peppers! We haven't been using the peppers we put up from the you-pick, and have been exclusively using our own! They are thick-walled and beautiful! Now enough about that... I don't want get too excited... please don't smite my peppers!

I haven't done much with by established above ground beds... that is, after planting them and having nothing come up but weeds. Two beds are doing well. The jack-be-little pumpkins and gourd mix have put out a few plants and even have fruit set! The chickens or turkey hens have found a few of the gourds and taken bites out of them, but over-all they look good. You have to look hard to see them though! The weeds have taken over and I'm afraid to clear them and mulch for fear that the it will draw the chickens' attention and they will perish. I will clear them soon for cool weather crops. I hope they do better than the summer crops have... None of my pie pumpkins have come up in the garden, but I spread a bunch of seed that I saved out of pie and jack-o-lantern pumpkins that I bought at the store, in "the bottom" (the lowest part of the front yard which is rarely mowed but collects plenty of watershed from rain). Quite a few came up so I'm going to mow carefully and hope that we get some pumpkins from there this year.

Jack-be-little pumpkins
Gourds with bites taken out of them
I hate that we will have no food stores to put up for winter. It breaks my heart and is so disappointing. Especially the lack of tomato sauce. I dreamed of a large store of thick, red, beautiful, hearty pasta sauce that would last us through the winter.

I feel terrible about having spent to much money on seeds when I have so little to show for it. Brad, being the wonderfully supportive love he is, keeps reassuring me and telling me that it is alright. "Things happen! You will try again next year!" he said. He is right. I will. And I have had lessons learned. Thinking back, none of my gardens did well the first year. I will be adding compost and mulch over the winter, so the soil should be much better next year. They have already had a large deal of the turkey coop contents added to them. Hopefully, it will also be less work. Above ground beds are amazing like that. I prefer them because it builds better soil. Because the soil isn't tilled it doesn't break down the soil composition. It is also much easier after the initial building of the beds. These are side-less beds (just mounded soil) so hopefully they stand up over time. The rain hasn't washed them away yet, so that is encouraging.

Pumpkin plants growing in "the bottom"
On another positive note, the electric fence around the garden has been doing a great job keeping the animals out. The dogs learned immediately, although other than digging a few holes, they weren't a problem to begin with. I was worried about the chickens and turkeys, and any deer or wild animals that would like to eat my plants. The roosters learned quickly that the zap on their comb wasn't enjoyable and wouldn't go in after the first day. The hens took a bit longer. They have a smaller comb and their feathers save them from the zap. They don't wander far from the roosters though, so after a few days they stopped coming in completely. The turkeys took a few days longer, the toms learned before the hens. The hens still sneak in on the rare occasion that the fence is off. They seem to know when it is down and are in the garden immediately. Too bad the fence doesn't work on flea beetles, aphids, and tomato worms! I'd be all set!

Sorry about the rant. This post has been largely for my records, and partially to vent. It helps to look back and see what worked, what didn't, and how weather and such have been each year.

Monday, July 15, 2013

How to Incubate and Hatch Turkey Eggs

My turkeys are still laying! I expected them to slow down or stop by now, but they are still cranking them out! I'm so proud of my girls! Tallow, my Blue Slate hen, started sitting on a batch of eggs about 4 days ago. She has been doing such a good job! I have had to keep an eye out to keep the chickens from hijacking her nest and either laying their own eggs, or kicking hers out of the turkey tee-pee when she goes to take her potty and lunch break. I have been collecting the eggs and incubating them or selling them all season, therefore, trying my best to keep the girls from sitting, much to the ladies' dismay. Because it has been raining so much lately I thought it would be a good time to let her sit. The turkeys free range and unless I keep them put up until they lay in the tee-pee, they make new nests all over the property and every day turns into a perpetual Easter-egg hunt. The constant storms have made it difficult to find them before they get soaked, so a lot of precious eggs have been going to waste.

I have been selling hatching eggs and poults since February. I love sharing my babies with other people. Especially when it is their first turkey raising experience. I think I get just as excited about giving them their babies as they are about getting them! I have had lots of questions, though. There is so little information about raising turkeys available! I thought putting together a post would be helpful. 

The most asked question I get about hatching turkeys eggs is "Is it the same as hatching chicken eggs?"
The answer is: Mostly. The main difference is incubation time. If you have ever hatched chicken eggs, and even if you haven't, you can hatch turkey eggs! 

Egg Care Before Incubation:

Just like any other type of hatching eggs, it usually takes a while to collect enough to make a batch big enough to put in the incubator. DO NOT wash your hatching eggs. Eggs have a protective membrane on the outside of the shell, called the "bloom". Because eggs are porous, this protective coating prevents bacteria from entering the egg while still allowing gas exchange. The baby has to have access to air and moisture to develop. Washing the egg removes this and allows bacteria to enter the egg. I don't even wash the eggs I eat for this reason. If the egg is especially soiled then it should be discarded. Nothing is worse than a rotten egg explosion in your incubator! 

Eggs need to be stored in a secure place that won't get bumped or shaken. It is best for them to be stored between 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit. The eggs need to be turned at least twice daily. Most reputable breeders know this, but it is always best to ask if you are buying hatching eggs. I have found that the best way is to store them in an egg carton, large end up. Never store eggs pointy side up. They are large eggs, but leaving an empty spot between eggs usually allows them to fit well enough to be secure, though not well enough to close the top. Elevate one end of the carton a few inches by propping it one something sturdy, like a thick book or two. A couple of times a day, gently turn the carton around so the other end is elevated. They can also be stored on their side and each egg turned manually. The sooner they are incubated after being laid, the better, but they can be stored like this for up to 2 weeks with good hatchability. If your hatching eggs were bought and either shipped or hand delivered in a vehicle, they have bounced around quite a bit, even when the utmost care has been taken. They should be stored as mentioned above for at least 24 hours to allow any air bubbles from the air sac to settle back into the large end of the egg before being placed in the incubator. 

I always use a pencil to mark each of my eggs with the date when I collect them. I put the date on one side and number each egg on the other, so I can keep track of how they are developing. It comes in handy when candling the eggs later on. If you don't write the date on the eggs, you can always number one side and put an X on the other. This makes it much easier to ensure that each egg is turned appropriately. I also have a chart that I use to keep track of turning, candling, dates, and to write any observations or issues along the way. I know, the science major in me is showing through, but it REALLY helps! I am terrible about thinking that I will remember things, only to realize later that I didn't. It is also handy to keep everything together on one sheet of paper, which is usually stuck to my fridge along with a pencil so I have no excuse not to write things down. ***I will update this post as soon as I figure out how to attach a blank chart with this post that can be printed out. 

Setting Up the Incubator:

Place your incubator on a stable surface where it won't get shaken, vibrated, or bumped. It needs to be in a room that maintains a steady temperature. Do not put incubators in drafty areas or in direct sunlight. In general, near a window is a bad place. It still needs to be easily accessible and somewhere you can keep a close eye on it. I keep mine on an island counter in my kitchen. Its away from the stove, all windows, and air conditioner vents. I can see and access it easily, but it is in a rarely used spot where people won't bump or jostle it. 

Always allow the incubator to run for 24-48 hours to regulate the temperature before eggs are added. Once the eggs are added, the temperature will drop until the eggs come up to temperature. Don't touch the setting! If you have allowed the temperature to regulate for 24 hours before adding eggs, and it is stable, it will return to that temperature once the eggs warm up. Only after a 24 hour period, if the temperature hasn't come back up, should you attempt to adjust it. My biggest tip is to spend a little extra money on a thermometer/hygrometer. They don't cost that much and they make all the difference in the world! Keeping a close eye on the temperature is the best thing you can do to increase the hatchability of your babies. Temperatures lower than 99.5 F or higher than 103 F for more than brief periods can be fatal to embryos. 

Still air incubators should be set to between 100.5 to 101.5 degrees F.
Forced air incubators should be set to between 99.5 to 100 degrees F. I highly recommend forced air!
Humidity should be kept around 50-60% for the first  24 days and increased to around 80% for the last 3. In more humid climates, like here, it may not be necessary to add water to the incubator for the first 25 days. It needs to be more humid during the last few days to allow the poults to break out of the shell and escape from the membrane. 

Incubation Period

The incubation period for turkey eggs is 28 days, versus 21 days for chicken eggs. The eggs need to be turned at least 3 times a day for the first 24 days. Turkey eggs are too large for most turners. I never use an egg turner for them because I was told by someone with a lot of turkey hatching experience, that turkeys hatched from eggs that are incubated on end (like in a turner) have a tendency to be more prone to leg and hip issues. Because there is so little information on raising turkeys it is difficult to verify this, but I prefer to incubate them on their side and hand turn just to be safe. Also, because the eggs are hand turned 3 times a day, more attention is paid to the temperature, humidity, and general goings on with how things are progressing. Always wash you hands before handling eggs to prevent bacteria contamination that could kill the embryos. I usually candle around day 14 and again on day 20, but this varies slightly. It is tempting to candle constantly, but the more often you do it the higher the chances that something happens to harm the egg. It is really best to limit it to twice. I love to see the babies hopping around in there (usually more active than chicken embryos) but I mainly candle to get any undeveloping eggs out before they turn into rotten egg bombs. 

On day 25 your eggs need to go on "Lock down". I like to turn them number side up so I can keep an eye on which eggs are doing what. No more turning! The babies need to get into hatching position and absorb the rest of the yolk to prepare for the big outside world. Decrease the temperature to 98.5 degrees F and increase humidity to 80%. After that, Leave It Alone! That is easier said than done! My son always repeats what I spent a large part of his life telling him. "You look with your eyes, not with your hands." Opening the incubator causes temperature and humidity fluctuations, which are always bad during incubation, but can be especially detrimental during the last few days. Maintain a close eye on the temperature and humidity. If the humidity gets too low, the poults may become shrink wrapped inside the egg. If the humidity gets too high the poults can drown inside the shell. If the temperature is too high when the humidity is that high it can be fatal. If there is condensation forming on the viewing window the humidity is probably too high, although this is rarely a problem. Low humidity is usually the issue. A tip for those using styrofoam table top models: If your humidity keeps dropping quickly, try putting a little weight (a book works well) on top to keep it shut tightly. They tend to bleed moisture out of the cracks. That being said, the babies need oxygen (throughout the whole incubation period) so don't plug all of the holes! Wet sponges placed in the incubator may help, as well. Surface area, not depth, of the water source is key. 

Many times, the poults will begin hatching, or all may even hatch, on day 27. Most should hatch by day 28. It isn't nearly as common to have poults that hatch late as it is with chicken chicks. Turkey poults can be left in the incubator for 24 hours without food or water. I've read up to 48 hours, but this makes me nervous. Opening the incubator to get poults out will cause a temperature and humidity fluctuation, which is bad for the rest of the unhatched eggs. It is best to let them all hatch before opening the incubator to remove any. That being said, I usually get mine out periodically before all are hatched. I do this because I incubate a large amount of eggs at a time, and poults tend to be really active and clumsy, bumping all of the rest of the eggs around. I don't suggest others do this, because all experts explicitly say not to, but I haven't seen ill effects. I don't do it often, and when I do it is done very quickly. Maybe I have just been lucky. Its probably a case of being better to do as I say, not as I do... so many things are! LOL 

Have the brooder set up and ready before hatch time to make sure the temperature is stable before the babies are added. When the poults have dried and fluffed up (and preferably, all of their hatch-mates have hatched) they can be placed in the nice, warm, draft free brooder where its high protein starter and warm water with added nutrient/electrolyte supplement are waiting! 

The final step when hatching turkey eggs? Enjoy your new babies! I can hear a sweet baby from my latest batch chirping from inside its egg as I type!

Time to go watch the miracle of life happen right in front of my eyes. It never ceases to amaze me! 

Another post to come on how to care for new turkey poults. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Introducing the New Homestead Babies!

I am always excited to get new babies! Having gotten the new chicken hens settled in to their new place in hen house with all of the big guys and gals, I have more time and space for little ones!

Sweet Tucker! He may have a face that only a mother
can love, but I love him bunches! Sweet sweet guy!
5 Weeks Old
First is the new trio of turkey-heads!
Sari (left) and Terra (right)
3 Weeks Old
Tucker is the oldest. He is a bourbon x slate cross, was hatched on June 6th, and was 1 of 20 hatched. Unfortunately he didn't develop quite right. His skull is a little lopsided and one of his eyes is small and I don't think he can see out of it. I'm not sure what happened during incubation to make him like this, but I'm pretty much positive that it isn't genetic. All of his hatch-mates were sold, but we decided to keep him. I have kept an eye on him to make sure he is growing well and isn't suffering or having problems. He was so lonely for about a week while he waited for another hatch, so he spent a lot of time riding around in my shirt. I'd stick him in the top of my tank top and he would lay his head down and fall right to sleep. When the next batch of turklettes hatched he showed them all how to eat and drink, and really enjoyed having snuggle buddies.

I couldn't leave tucker all alone so I kept 2 more babies out of the last hatch on the 18th. I'm hoping both are hens. Sari is a self blue like her daddy, Yellow. I have a strange sense of humor, so Sari means Yellow in Turkish, or so Google says. She is a calm sweet little baby. Terra is a Bourbon Red. She is loud and opinionated. She puffs up and calls when she is upset about something. She sounds like a little turkey hen already!

Our other new babies to be introduced are our new guineas!
I have been wanting guineas for a long time. I keep hearing how wonderful they are to have around for insect control, especially to keep the tick population down. I also want something that will alert me to anything out of the ordinary, such as hawks or snakes. Most snakes I am fine with. I like having them around to keep the mouse population in check. I don't feel quite as warm and fuzzy when it comes to the venomous ones. We just found the second Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake on our property in about a year and a half, and these are BIG snakes! Luckily they are not aggressive, but I'd rather not have them around. Hopefully the baby guineas will grow up to be good alarm systems.

They are supposed to be Pearl Guineas. Right now they are marked with different shades of brown and have feathers sticking out at awkward angles. They remind me of frizzle chickens! They make the most amazing noises. As silly as it sounds, they remind me of a Disney movie forest, filled with happy bird, bug, and frog sounds. They make all kinds of different noises and I could listen to them for hours. I got 12 babies, but sadly I lost 1. I'm not sure what happened to the poor little guy. The rest of them are doing wonderfully! They are so active even at this young of an age! They range in age from 2 weeks to 5 weeks, so are slightly different sizes. The ladies I bought them from said that they did that specifically because they were from separate, unrelated, flocks, so that I can mate them when they get older.

I have been told that baby turkeys start killing when they are 2 weeks old, so I shouldn't put the guineas in with them. The 3 turkeys seemed so lonely in the big outdoor brooder, though. And the guineas just didn't have as much room to run around as I thought they needed in the smaller indoor brooder, so I put them together outside in "The Tank". They all eat the same high protein game-bird starter so keeping them together isn't an issue on that front. I put in a large PVC corner joint, big enough for the little guineas to hide in but too small for the turkeys, to allow the guineas to escape if they needed to. I kept a close eye on them to make sure that the turkeys didn't bully them. Almost immediately, Tucker got excited to see new babies, and started showing them how to eat and drink. He is such a good big brother! Sari was a little stand-offish but warmed up to them quickly. Terra puffed up and paced around, yelping all the while. I think she must be Tabby's baby, because she acts just like her! Eventually she settled down, and now they are a great big happy family!

The new babies are settling in well. I'm looking forward to seeing them all grow up! The new hens in the hen house are fitting in well too, and I have even started getting some new, very small, green eggs! New additions are always so exciting! Our next addition is in the works and we will be announcing their arrival soon!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Rainy, Rainy, Rainy

When it rains, it pours.... Literally! To think, that a little over a week ago I was worried about it getting too dry and us needing rain, is amazing to me at this point. It started raining the evening of the 4th, and has rained every single day since! I love rain... well, I appreciate rain. I know how important it is. On a farm, rain is really unparalleled in importance. Nothing can survive without it. On the other end of the spectrum, too much rain is not a good thing either. Luckily, we aren't having severe flooding. Things are just getting so sodden. Including my spirit. I've been watching as my corn collapses in the rain soaked ground... onto my sunflowers, which topple over under it, and there isn't much I can do about it. The grass is getting too tall and I can't mow. The poor chickens and turkeys look so pitiful running around with their wet feathers stuck to their little bodies. They look as miserable as I feel. I keep running outside every time the rain ceases for a bit, to get as much done as I can. Thankfully, the day before the rain started Keegan and I shoveled out the turkey coop, put the fresh compost in the gardens, and put fresh hay down in the coop. I've been adding layers as is gets muddy and adding pine shavings to the chicken coop and baby brooder, as well. Trying to keep the tall things in my garden standing, the vining things dry, and picking everything that hasn't started rotting in the dampness. I feel like a little kid, staring out the window at the gray sky and wanting to go out and play! What I really need to do is pull on some galoshes and go stomp around in mud puddles! Hmmm... maybe I should look into getting ducks?! If it keeps up like this, I may need to consider getting a canoe as well!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Dehydrated Onions

The onions that Keegan and I pulled at the you-pick have been amazing! We use them in almost everything, so we brought home two 5-gallon buckets overflowing with red, yellow, and white onions. Even though I put them in breathable bags and hung them in a dark, cool, area, some of them were starting to get soft. I always cut twice the amount of onions than I need and put half of them in the freezer, but I hate taking up all of that valuable freezer space when chopping a large amount. I compromised by putting half in the freezer and dehydrating the other half.

I picked out all of the soft onions and
put the good ones in a clean cloth bag and hung them back up. They should keep for a good deal longer as long as they are kept dry, especially since there aren't as many together in the bag. Even when the outer layer starts to get soft, the majority of the onion is usually in perfect condition. After cutting the soft spots off and washing well, I chopped the onions. Because they shrink so drastically in size when dehydrated, 1/2 inch pieces are the smallest I would aim for to keep them from falling   through the dehydrator trays. Break or chop them up into smaller pieces once dry if you wish. They can also be dehydrated in thin rings. Just keep them thin.

Place the pieces of onion in a single layer on the trays. It may seem like the onion pieces are tightly packed on the tray, but they shrink considerably within a very short period of time, so air can flow around them easily as long as they are in a single layer. It takes about 16 hours for me to fully dehydrate the onions, but time may vary depending on the dehydrator. I rotate the trays half way through. This will make your whole house smell like onions, but it doesn't last long and gets weaker as they dry out. I think that chopping is the worst part. Store them in a tightly sealed container. I usually seal mine in a ziplock baggie which I then put inside a mason jar. They will absorb humidity from the air and once they rehydrate, even slightly, they will spoil. I put more than two 1-gallon sized baggies in the dehydrators and got less than half a gallon sized baggie out. They take up much less space than frozen onions, which I love because I am limited on kitchen space. Of course, that is after keegan snacked on them as they were dehydrating. He loves onions anyway, but when dehydrated they become much sweeter.

I admit that I usually stick these in the back of my cabinet, along with my dehydrated bell peppers, and forget about them for a while. I always get so excited when I find them, though, because it is usually most of the way through the winter when I have gone through all of my frozen stores of onions and peppers. They can be used in soups, stews, chili, spaghetti, and basically everything else that you use regular onions in. It is also wonderful in dip! You can soak them in water to rehydrate before use, but I usually just put them in early on in cooking so they can soak up any liquid in the recipe. They can also be put in a food processor and turned into onion powder to sprinkle into recipes. Can't get any easier and more handy than that!