The New Era

Now that the apocalyptic fantasies for 12/21 have passed with nary a whisper, let us get to work on the serious issues that face us, instead of hoping for some event to destroy or re-create our world anew, allowing us to avoid responsibility.

My wishes for the New Era:
  • Humane treatment, healthy living spaces and nutritious food for all animals, especially those we raise for our consumption or companionship. 
  • Healthy means of raising crops that give back to the soil & community as much as the end product fills our bellies. May that food be nutritious and safe as well, and enough for all.
  • Healthy planet - we clean up our messes, and stop making new ones. 
  • Healthy relationships - learn to listen twice as much as we speak, and remember respect goes both ways. 

In short, let the New Era bring health for all beings, all interactions, and for the planet itself.

Stepping off my soapbox for now... here's things I've shared or found in other venues:

Beautiful poem by Morpheus Ravenna Faith in the Incandescent Sun - "Solstice Night".

Photo of Glass Gem corn, courtesy of Mother Earth Newsvia Twitter: Gorgeous! '@MotherEarthNews: A stunningly beautiful corn variety..."Carl's Glass Gem" goo.gl/WioYZ' a rare Cherokee corn

Speaking of food: I'm not a huge fan of lentils, but this lentil stew recipe is amazing. I substituted the root veggies called for in the recipe with what I had on hand, and also substituted sausage for the bacon (again, what I had on hand). I could see this being made as a vegetarian dish as well. The extra olive oil & balsamic vinegar added at the end makes the dish outstanding.

Sleeping all tucked into their backs, the geese look like becalmed ships in a harbor:

via Twitter: Just watched Lucky, rooster #1, chase off Baron, rooster #2 from romancing one of the hens. Now THAT is "c*ck blocking".

And speaking of Lucky, think he's trying to find something in his back pocket in this pic.

May the season, and whatever holidays you might celebrate, bring you happiness, peace & well-being.



"HUUUMAAAAN!!!" She was just as startled as I.

I was in the process of cleaning out the goose pond. I was reaching in to reposition the pumps, as she was trying to make her way out. We met eyeball to eyeball, faces just inches from each other. She dove back into the pond as I jerked backwards, almost landing on my @ss.

If she's hanging out in the pond, I'm guessing the bulge in her belly is one of the regular frogs - especially since I only counted two frogs during cleanup this time, where there's usually three. Mmm, frog.

She finally made her way out.

The geese watched the progress, entirely unamused. The geese are never amused when it comes to snakes.

The snake found a safe hidey-hole under the pond structure, where I imagine she'll wait until the geese leave.

Smart snake. 

[Question from Twitter: what kind of snake is this? Checking field guides, it's probably a Checkered Garter Snake]


Shared on Twitter Lately (Late November Issue)

Spouse and I took the month of November by storm, cleaning up the house & property and getting projects wrapped up with an energy akin to two toddlers slamming down a 64-ounce Big Gulp container of Mountain Dew. Unfortunately, the blogging suffers when I'm busy, so here's some recent stuff I shared on Twitter:

* BwaHAHAHA!! Our Cubalaya pecking-order enforcers may have inspired this image:

* "Sometimes you get applause for not being dead." George Carlin interviewed by a young Jon Stewart:

* While cleaning one of the waterfowl wading pools, slipped on some duck crap & landed on my ass. "Slicker than goose shit" has a competitor… 

[404 - pic not found. *ahem*]

 * "Oh, hai!"

got the vain rooster right here...
here's a better view of Baron's colors…

* Opened up the first rehabb'd patch of rye-grass "pasture" for the geese, ducks & chickens. Happy Thanksgiving!

Want more "Farms Gone Wild" goodness? Oh yes you do. Follow me at https://twitter.com/dasparky .


Sweet Potato Harvest, and State o' the Garden

Raised bed showing sweet potato leaves & vines.
We've had one unexpected dip to 32℉, and Nervous Nelly here didn't know if the sweet potatoes were okay. The sweet potatoes were originally planted in April this year from a spud that was sprouting on the kitchen counter. Next time, I'll feel more confident to leave them in until temps are in the mid- to upper-30's consistently. Sweet potatoes aren't an item grown much around these parts, but I figured they'd be perfect in a raised bed, as long as the soil was kept moist. The raised beds did an excellent job.

Yay, sweet potatoes!
The two halves of potato sent out lots of runners and leaves, taking over almost the entire bed, although the harvestable tubers stayed close to the original "seed" spud. All-together, I'd estimate a bit more than five pounds of sweet potatoes were harvested. About a third were as wide as my fist: not huge, but not bad either. The smaller ones, once cured, could probably be cooked all at once and made into a nice mash. Anyhow, had to be very careful digging up the spuds as the skins are very delicate before curing. Found only two grubs during the dig, and the chickens were happy to dispatch.

Flopsy, hoping for yet another grub.
It's a bit too cold to "cure" the spuds outside now, so I laid them out to dry off a bit on a screen, then put them into perforated bulk lettuce bags I had planned to take to the plastic bag recycling station at the grocery store. [Read all about curing sweet potatoes on this site.] The warmest room in the house is where the gas water-heater resides, so I rigged up some wire shelving with wet towels so the spuds get enough warm-air circulation as well as humidity. Sweet potatoes really are best suited for growing in hotter climates, but am hoping I can work out a system to grow more (and earlier) next Spring - maybe do some research to see if there are others that are especially suited for this zone/climate. [Michelle of Blessed Acre Farm blog writes in the comments below that sweet potatoes are grown in zone 5b in MA, so there's a wider variety than I originally assumed!] Thinking perhaps using some perforated black plastic over the soil where the spuds will grow for heat,  and maybe some recycled soda bottles with the tops cut off, over the top, for frost protection.

In other garden news:

Harvested beans (dried on the vine).
The organic Anasazi beans that I planted from a bag bought from the grocery store? I harvested them today. It's not going to be much of a harvest, as I only sprouted a couple, and left them on the vine until crispy dry. It was mostly an experiment to see how viable things like organic beans from a grocery store can be for growing new plants. It looks like as long as the beans haven't been irradiated or otherwise processed, it can be done!

The hardy cherry tomatoes
The monster cherry-tomato plant, found growing in the compost pile and transferred to a raised bed, is STILL going strong. Spouse is anxious to save seed from this freakishly hardy tomato, and I agree - it's a keeper. Oddly enough, some of the other tomatoes that didn't fruit much at all over the Summer are now putting out some nice looking fruit. I don't know if they'll have time to ripen before the next cold wave hits, but I'll keep them going for as long as I can. The ones in containers will be transferred to the Winter greenhouse to see if they can stay healthy & keep ripening/fruiting. The Matt's Sweet Cherry tomatoes, tho' prolific, won't be planted again. Spouse and I are both too impatient to harvest these tiny little gems.

The tiny Matt's Cherry. That's my
fingertip you see next to the fruit.
Speaking of the Winter greenhouse... it's frame was repurposed over the Summer to hold an extra-large kiddie pool, with ramps for the geese & ducks to climb and an experimental water filter. The filter was a success, keeping the water clean for days on end as long as we kept the pump filter cleared (and no ducks laid an egg while swimming). Unfortunately for the birds, I do need the greenhouse back, so the pool structure will probably be taken down once it looks like overnight temperatures are going to stay in the 30's.

Until then, it's temps continuing to remain 5-7° higher than normal, with days in the mid-80's and nights in the upper-50's to low-60's. A quote that seems apropos:

"Choosing shorts or long underwear on a particular day is about weather; the ratio of shorts to long underwear in the drawer is about climate." Charles Wohlforth, The Whale and the Supercomputer.


Feast Day at the Farm

As mentioned before, now that the outside employment contract has ended, I have more time to continue regular farm projects. One of those is grocery shopping at reasonable hours, especially during the time the city co-op puts out their free bags of organic produce trimmings for public usage. The trimmings are ostensibly for one's compost pile, but I've often found that much of it is of excellent quality for our birds, and some even for our own soups & salads!

I brought home two bags of trimmings yesterday. Distributed the lettuces & fruits amongst the menagerie, then put the remainder into two shallow cement-mixing pans for continued noshing. This time, I remembered to snap a few photos during the feasting. They're not the best pics (some are shot through the screen windows, most are in shade or in starkly contrasting light), but I hope they give you a smile...

Queen Moe.

Madame Molly

One of the drakes.

Goose says "MINE!"

Billy Bob and the ladies. 


Costumes, Public Embarrassment, and Blue-Green Poo

Our vet was strongly encouraging me to enter one of our geese, chickens or ducks into a costume contest at the local nursing home. "We have so many cats & dogs, but far too few 'exotic' animals... consider it, please? The patients would love it..." I did consider it, but honestly, I couldn't think of much other than putting a paper crown around Queen Moe's tuft on the top of her head. The other thought was how I was going to catch a duck, goose or chicken if it got out, and the bedlam that would ensue.

Oh, if only I had seen this Etsy listing! Partyfowl "Pumpkin Costume for Pet Ducks, Chickens & Geese. I can just see Tugboat Moe, short & stout, with a pumpkin cape on her back. The shop's "Flower Collar" and "Bumblebee" costumes are also a hoot. I'd still have to think of capture strategies in case of escape, but at least Moe would stand out. Next year, next year...

The weather turned chilly for a few days last week. Dug out a Winter work jacket one morning, and realized that I still hadn't fixed the broken zipper. No problem, just close with a couple of small spring clips - no one around to notice but the chickens, right? Then one morning Spouse & I were in a rush to get the animal chores done so I could drive him to the airport. Finish up, hop in the car, go-go-go... then we stopped at Buc-ee's for a quick coffee & gas fill-up. I get out of the car, smiling at all the folks who were looking at me, and then look down... yeah. Still had on that Winter jacket with the bright, day-glo spring clamps closing the front. Err, oops. Can't take me anywhere.

So now that the employment contract has ended, I've time to do more than just maintain the farm. I'm getting bags of free veggie trimmings from the in-town co-op again, and creating more compost. I usually take out and feed to the birds the known "likes": tomatoes, lettuce, fruit. This time, thought I'd try something different. After taking out all the known goodies, I put the remainder of the veggie trimmings into a kiddie pool (after taking out things like raw onions, which are bad for chickens) and let the birds have at it, watching carefully to see what they liked or ignored. Surprised to see that celery was a big hit with the geese, as well as purple cabbage. Didn't realize there'd be another surprise waiting for me a few hours later: blue-green goose poo, all over the front porch. No more purple cabbage for the girls, thankyouverymuch.


Me time?

Mom sent an email today, wishing me a restful "weekend" off, and reminding me to get some "me time" in the mix. Yesterday's day off was One Of Those Days, where everything electronic I touched went to h3ll. I retreated into a pile of junk food and junk television, grumbling for the rest of the evening. I won't go into details - the tale of woe is long and mind-numbingly boring if you're not into Hackintoshes, DVD burning snafus, and Linux installs. I was a walking technology plague. Spouse avoided me accordingly. It could have been contagious.

Today is a new day. Decided to get the last professional pedicure for the season, then it's bare toes until Spring. "Me time" indeed, as I only get pro service a few times a year. So much nicer when someone else wields the cheese grater on my gnarly feet:

Then I come home to break up the second duck fight of the day. Same two girls, Queen Moe and one of the others, both on the tail-end of a molt and extremely crabby. Despite getting on the other's nerves, they're never far from each other. "Frenemies?", I asked Twitter. First fight was this morning, each had a beak hold on the other's chest, and didn't care that I was coming near. I picked up Antagonist #1, and held her in my arms until her heart slowed down and she realized she was in That Stinky Hominid's arms, and there was no going anywhere for a bit. The next fight, I picked up Queen Moe with the same strategy: hold her until she calmed down. She gave her thanks in that special way ducks do:

And that's my restful "me time" for the weekend.


Project Research: New Porch Curtains, aka Tidying the Ragamuffin Encampment

Summer hit fast this year. We quickly put together canopy shade structures for the animals, and blocked sun from the west with whatever pieces of shade cloth were available. The shade cloths used (for the sides of the canopies, and for our own porch curtains) were from a big-box hardware store, plentiful and within our budget. Unfortunately, it can be expensive to buy cheap - the shade cloth is disintegrating after only two years, and brushing up against a panel sheds onto one's clothes & ground like a tsunami of dandruff. Yeccch.

Now that I've off-site paid employment again, we have the funds to start tidying up our ragamuffin-looking property. First thing on my list: new porch curtains and shade panels.

After much online searching, found Arizona Sun Supply (nope, this is not an ad for their company, this is just my own research). They've been great about answering questions over the phone, and sending samples (hooray, free samples!). They recommended the Textilene 80 or 90, which provides 80%-90% sun blocking, but still let's one see through the fabric. Nice.

The fabric itself is fairly thick, and kinda looks like screen fabric, but fatter threading. We could use big metal or nylon drapery grommets, which would make the curtains easy to hang and move on the curtain rod. But with as heavy as the samples feel, I'm thinking we may want to consider creating vertical flat panels instead. For the animal's shade canopies, the panels could have a couple of grommets at top and sides, and attached to the metal leg & horizontal roof poles via ball bungees. But for the porch? Whatever we do, it will need to be both easily removable (to allow Winter sun) AND goose resistant. The geese like to hang out on the shady porch, but sometimes get bored and decide to chew on things:

With as windy as it gets, the screen panels will need at least seven points of attachment: three at top, two on far middle sides, and two on far bottom sides. Or maybe we'll just make a channel "sleeve" at the top of each panel, "threading" the drapery rod through it, then add grommets at sides and at two points on the very bottom, so we can swing a panel across/back when we want sun.

Time to order!


Late Summer & Garden Update

Pic: Molly the Jersey Giant and me.
Pic taken with computer camera. I ♥ PhotoBooth.
It's August in South Central Texas. You can tell by watching all the two-leggeds running from air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned buildings. Rarely will you see open car windows on the roads these days, and the only time you'll find people walking recreationally outdoors is in the early morning or early evening hours.

Here on the farm, we have extra wading pools set up for the dogs & the waterfowl, and extra shade structures in place. We've also misting hoses set in strategic areas, where the breeze blows the cooling mist further into the shady areas. All the farm critters congregate and grudgingly tolerate each other in these cooling stations. No one wants to get shoved out into the heat.

August is also a tough time for vegetable gardens - the intensity of the sun & heat will put vegetables into a panic, where they do all they can to conserve resources and stay alive.  One clear winner in the Summer Tomato Sweepstakes this year has been the "wild" compost tomato we found and transplanted to a raised bed, just to see how it would do. It has consistently (and profusely!) fruited all Summer long. Seed will be saved and replanted next year. The plant itself is so humongous it completely took over a 4'x4' raised bed. The other tomatoes that were planted have been subsumed by this beast. Poor babies.

Other tomatoes: The yellow pear has done well. The paste San Marzano was slow to start, and is slowly but steadily fruiting. May try Romas instead next year, see if they're a bit more prolific, or if slow/steady is just the way of pastes. The Dona F1 and the Costoluto Genovese paste fruited little to not at all. Matt's Cherry has almost current-sized fruits, and are too much of a pain to harvest. The chickens get those. The "Dirty Girl" (Campari-like) tomatoes we grew from saved seed didn't turn out so well - that's a risk you take when trying to grow from saved hybrid seed. It was worth a shot. None of the slicing tomatoes have fruited, so I'll have to try another type next year.

The figs are doing well, and one of the new pear trees fruited this year. Ate one of the pears a few days ago... need a few more days yet before they're ready to harvest, probably by next week.

As for me, I've obtained outside employment doing contract work for a major telco. Strange as this may sound, it will afford me more time to blog, as there's always stretches of time (say, lunch hour) where I can do some writing. On the farm, my time isn't as structured, so it gets filled with other things that grab my attention. Like shooing geese away from chewing on the new pressure washer... ahh, too late: they've already chewed through the wiring, and now we gotta take it in for repairs. Good thing processing goose for consumption is such a pain, else Spouse may have started wringing necks and plucking feathers...


Homemade Goose Chew Toy & Video

People don't believe us when we talk about how the geese are avatars of destruction. Window screens, rubber car trim, canvas chairs, curtains: if you don't provide them something better, all will be left in tatters in their wake.

This chew toy is made from fabric strips, scraps of parrot toys that were previously destroyed by the geese, and discarded twine from hay bales. Watch as the goose attacks the twine like it owes her money:

Do you believe us now? ;-)


I Have a Dysfunctional Relationship with my Sewing Machine

Pic: brand name smudged to protect the guilty. 
Like a woman in a bad relationship, I have tried for far too long to make things work with my sewing machine. I bought it, what? Twenty years ago? I tried, goodness I tried. I thought it was me. The ongoing problems with thread tension - perhaps I was pulling too much? Not enough? Maybe the thread was cheap? Too thick? Was the thread spool paper grabbing the spindle? Oh, I cleaned that machine. Oiled all its parts. Every time I needed to use it, I'd check it out. Make sure it had the right needle for the fabric on hand. I'd carefully test-sew on fabric scraps to make sure the bugs were worked out before starting any project. Sometimes I could get an hour of sewing done before the thread tension would vomit all over. Other times, it'd take only five minutes for tension failure. 

I finally took it in for a professional tuneup last year. Perhaps there was some glitch that I, in my ignorance, had overlooked. Brought it home, started sewing, then kerplooey - tangled, broken thread, from either the bobbin, or from the top side. 

You'd think I'd learned my lesson. Nope. It took a few more months...

The bags I use to haul sorted recyclable goods to the Transfer Station have been falling apart. Took a look at one person's method of re-using feed bags, got inspired to do my own variation, and picked up some emptied bags that were returned to the local feed store. Scissored some leftover pant-legs from cutoff jeans for handles. Then started sewing.

This project brought me to tears. Four measly bags, nothing fancy, no lining, and yet: missed stitches. Broken and snarled thread. Even the heavy-duty needle, made for denim & woven fabric, broke. Then came that watershed moment where I snapped, when I finally realized...

"It's not me, it's YOU! Yes, YOU, you good for nothing piece of @#$!! sewing machine! I've had it! I've made excuses for you, stood by your side when others made fun, and yet you still let me down. You've taken advantage of my good nature for the last time."

"Don't try to sweet-talk me. Don't start batting your eyelashes. I've fallen for every trick you've played, and I AM FINISHED. I'm not even going to bother trying to sell you or give you away to a thrift store - I wouldn't want anyone else to suffer the misery you've put me through. At this moment, I  am mentally searching for the last place I left the sledge hammer. Tell you what, I'm a good sport - obvious from all that I've put up with over the years - I'll give you a five-minute head start to hit the road. Just know that if I ever catch up to you, they will never find your body."

UPDATE: My mother-in-law, who has decades of professional tailoring/sewing machine experience, says that inexpensive plastic sewing machines like mine have issues with parts overheating and shifting, which is most likely causing the tension problems. Wow, whodathunkit? 


Tomatoes and Plums and Limoncello, Oh My!

Pic: "Dirty Girl" saved-seed tomatoes
Two of the seven tomato varieties planted this Spring are already ripe enough to eat. One is the Monster Mystery 'Mater (the volunteer from the compost pile), and the other is the Dona F1 hybrid. The MMM has sweet flesh, but the skin is slightly bitter, which is actually the norm for most tomatoes - still quite tasty. The Dona F1, however, has both sweet flesh AND sweet skin. Very interesting! Will save seed from the Dona, and see if it re-seeds true to its original form next year.

The "Dirty Girl" tomatoes are just beginning to redden. Looking at the plants, I'm thinking this variety is a "determinate": one big harvest, then the plants will give up the ghost for the remainder of the season.

pic: plums with bird alterations
The one plum tree that has kept fruit 'til, well, full "fruition" this season has been noticed by the local birds too. In the mornings, I now pick breakfast off the tree - any ripe plums that are also bird-bitten. The birds eat a few chunks from the ripest plums, then leave the rest. Rather than waste an otherwise perfectly good plum (of which these are absolutely delicious, by the way), I eat around the bird bites, then throw the remainder of the plum to the chickens. We all get a nice morning treat, and no waste. I could go to the trouble of throwing bird-netting over the tree, but the harvest isn't so large as to be worth the time or effort. I am happy to share... THIS year. May have to install a few more white mulberries as birdy food-distraction trees for the future.

The limoncello experiment made earlier this year - with Everclear as the base, mind you - has been taste-tested by five different folks now. The initial comment on the flavor after initial sip (then a head-rock backwards, followed by wide-eyed rapid blinking) is a diplomatic "medicinal!" After a few more sips the comments change to "not bad", then a few more sips ends with "hey, this is all right!". I think the later opinions may be influenced in a blood-altered sort of way, and not truly impartial *ahem*, but that's okay. We're all happy by the bottom of the glass, and that's what counts. This particular vintage is being named "10K Limoncello" in honor of @Virgotex's Twitter remark that she'd tried a shot of 10000-proof limoncello at my place. I think a label needs to be created...

Pic: 10K Limoncello. You know you want some of this
head-rockin' goodness, yes you do! 


May: Post Surgery, and Garden Progress

The beginning of May brought surgery to relieve a trifecta of issues: frozen shoulder, bursitis, and a bone spur causing impingement, all in one shoulder. Recovery is still ongoing, and many thanks to Spouse and one of The Aunties for flying out and taking care of the farm and myself while I careened between the recliner, the flexibility (i.e. torture) chair, and the bed while in a drug-induced haze. Sorry, no pictures of THAT.

Sicilian Buttercup hen. Say, is that
a katydid leg sticking out of her mouth?
The earlier work on lawn/pasture seeding is still in question. The millet (which was included in the pasture bermuda mix to shade the bermuda while it grows) is doing well, but the bermuda growth has been slow. Hoping it didn't get too hot, too fast for good growth. A large portion of the lawn/pasture is also still covered in wildflowers: salvias of all types, bee balm, a variety of daisies, "Mexican hats", and more. I love watching the ducks and chickens rooting around between the clumps of flowers in the morning, hunting for grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids. Later in the day, the ducks rest in the shade of these wildflower clumps, quietly waiting out the afternoon heat.

In the orchard, the apricots ripened early and the trees are now resting for the season. Not much harvest on the apricots, peach & nectarine trees this year, as I forgot to spray the dormant oil until it was too late. On the other hand, one plum is going gangbusters, and one pear and one apple are doing well. The other plums, pears & apples seem to have decided that they did their duty with cross-pollination, and so have taken the season "off". Too early in the season yet to tell for the figs, but almost all the figs have fruit forming, even the small ones we rooted & potted from another tree last year. And of course, the Meyer lemon and Mandarin orange are doing well. Still want to add some regular lemons & limes to the potted tree populace.

Dona F1 tomato, ripening.
The volunteer tomato that was transplanted from the compost pile is an absolute MONSTER. The "Dirty Girl" tomatoes are doing terrific as well. The San Marzano tomatoes are growing surprisingly slow; I may need to do more research on their growing preferences. Maybe it got too hot, too fast? The Dona F1's are fruiting nicely, and I expect to taste ripe fruit in the next few days. All the other tomatoes are chugging along just fine.

The sweet potatoes are looking good, and the beans and corn are growing, but the squash, okra and eggplant aren't quite sure if they'd rather live or die.

Young bunny. I'm ignoring its destructive powers for now.
The brood of newborn bunnies didn't stay in the one tomato bed for long - they grow up fast - but I think one of them is still hanging around. For a wild bunny, it lets me get fairly close, so was able to take a few photos the other day. CUTE!


Container Garden & Raised Bed Surprise: April Progress

The volunteer tomato we found growing in the compost pile was first transferred to a container, then to the raised bed. I think the other tomato seedlings are afraid of it - they're still not thriving like this monster.

The sprouting sweet potato that I cut in half and planted, sprouting sides up in the garden bed? Growing like weeds. Love it.

The Dirty Girl tomatoes (from saved seed) are also growing healthy and strong.

The container garden, at this point, has six tomatoes (because fifteen other tomato plants just ain't enough) plus basil, cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, and oregano. We've a couple of Italian fig cuttings that have taken root and put into pots until we figure where to plant 'em. A Mandarin orange tree, a small Meyer lemon, and a bay laurel tree, all potted. Oh, and some mint. I managed not to kill it somehow. Will wonders ever cease?

In the house: Thai lime, aloe vera, and thyme. So far, so good.

Oh, forgot to mention: those Dirty Girl tomatoes? They're also playing hostess to...

...four baby bunnies. I heard a yelp when I was watering, and found the burrow. Go ahead and squee. I won't tell anyone. 


The Wandering Moe-Duck

"Moe! Mooooe! Where are you, Moe?" Moe Duck, the Queen, usually responds to her name with a sound that reminds Spouse of the villain "Penguin"'s laugh in the old Batman television series. For three days, she did not respond, day or night.

Pic: Her Highness, Queen Moe
"Moe! Mooooe! Where are you, Moe?" For three days, my neighbors did not firebomb the property out of exasperation during my long, plaintive calls. Thank you, neighbors.

Oh, I worried. I fretted. By the second day, I wondered if I needed to start writing her obituary. By the third day, I gave her up for dead. Oh sure, there was an outside chance she'd gone broody somewhere, but since Khaki Campbells aren't known for their broodiness - they're far more career-minded - well, let's not give one's self false hope, eh? After all, whatever happened to her was probably all my fault. [I've never been one to pass up a good self-flagellation.]

Then on the morning of the fourth day, through my pre-coffee dazed gaze, it looked as if one of the ducks had somehow escaped the duck pen and was trying frantically to get back in. No wait, it's Moe! "Mooooooeeee!" I yelled, waking everyone across the tri-county area. She responded with a "quackquackquack", as if to question where the heck was her share of morning lettuce? I opened the gate to let her in, then gave everyone their stash of greens.

[We've enough pasture now that the geese & ducks really don't need store-bought greens anymore, but this keeps down over-excited intermingling (and pecking) of the various birds until they've all calmed. Morning routine is THAT exciting, y'all.]

I watched her eat, then dash out of the pen, root around the pasture/lawn areas, and then toddle off behind the Chicken Haus, alone... hey, wait! Walked over to the coop, and she had vanished. Poof! She was not to be seen again until the next morning.

This has been her routine for the past few days. I'm finally past having a heart attack each night she doesn't respond, and am taking it on faith that the dogs will do a good job of keeping her protected outside of the night pen. Now taking bets that she has a nest somewhere, and if the dogs don't find the eggs first, possibly a batch of Moelings within the next 28 days. Will keep you posted. Yay Moe!


Experimental Planting

It's looking like a hot mess, but I've dedicated one of our raised planting beds to a couple of experiments:

  • Cut an organic, sprouting sweet potato in half and plunked both halves into the soil (sprouting side up).
  • Planted two corn seedlings, two squash, and a couple of beans to see if a Three Sisters setup can survive our winds. I'll probably have to hand-pollinate the corn, since there's only two...
  • Planted one Burgundy Okra, and 
  • One Eggplant.

Pic: Babs the Goose says "Who, me, work?
Talk to the butt."
The sweet potatoes are planted towards the front of the 4x4 raised bed where they need the deeper soil space, the corn/squash/beans in the middle, and the okra and eggplant in the shallower back end. I'm hoping the shade from the corn will protect the eggplant & okra on our Summer afternoons, as I've found they tend to fry in the heat. All in one box, yep, and probably too tight of a planting for the size of the bed, according to Square Foot Gardening recommendations. Heck, one squash plant alone could take up the entire bed. On the other hand, the staff at the local nursery plant their exhibition 4x4 raised beds more densely than recommended, and with good results*. I also figure with all the compost we used to fill the bottom of that particular terraced bed, as well as the soil mix (with more compost) on the top level, there should be enough nutrition for all - just gotta keep up with the watering and judicious pruning.

I'm also continuing the experiment of planting by moon signs, and oddly enough, it's working well. Hey, if the lead horticulturist for a local famous garden park swears by it, who am I to knock success? One side benefit of moon-sign planting is that it helps organize my work days. On the days that aren't good for planting, work on other stuff. Good day for planting? Seed the pasture, transplant seedlings, etc. Keeps me from the falling into the dreaded "paralysis by analysis", as there's so many chores and projects from which to choose. "Life on the farm" ain't "kinda laid back" 'round these parts, no ma'am. And the geese refuse to pitch in. Rotten geese.

[*As a side note for my one-point-five readers who are interested in self-sufficiency before TSHTF, be it economical or other disaster, take this oft-repeated advice seriously: start experimenting with planting NOW, whether it's cool weather, warm weather, or mid-season. Why? So you can get your mistakes out of the way that much faster, and learn what truly works for your climate, soil, and way of living. Even if one thing works for your neighbor, you may find because of your specific microclimate (sun & direction exposure, winds shifting through seasons, etc.) that it won't work for you. Though I'm happy to be of service, please don't take my bad examples as gospel.]


Paste, Slicers, Cherry and 'Mystery'

Once I decided to get serious about our garden for the upcoming season, I pulled out the cardboard box that stores all our packets of seeds and reviewed what we had. We had an amazing variety, and some duplicates (but from different seed companies). What I started from seed this year:

  • San Marzano, a paste tomato
  • Costoluto Genovese, another paste tomato
  • "Dirty Girl", a small slicer from saved seed
  • Matt's Cherry, a cherry tomato
  • Big Red, a slicer
  • Dona F1 hybrid, and...
  • Mystery 'Mater

The San Marzano paste tomato makes excellent pasta sauces. We had seeds from three different seed vendors. I planted a few from each vendor, and have ended up with far too many seedlings this season. I'm hoping to find homes for all the plants that did not get planted.

I've never tasted (or even seen) the Costoluto Genovese, another paste tomato. An experiment!

The "Dirty Girl" tomato is one I've only seen at a local mega-organic store, and for only two years. I've not seen it since. The second year is when Spouse urged me to save some of the seed, and I'm glad I did. Of course, this particular tomato could be a hybrid and not set true to it's previous fruit (it's small and sweet like a Campari tomato). We'll see how it goes. Hopefully the plant patent police won't come knocking on my door to drag me away for infringement...

I've never grown a Matt's Cherry or a Big Red tomato, but everyone needs at least one cherry and one beefsteak-style tomato in their garden, right?

The Dona F1 tomatoes were grown by a local horticulturalist from seeds that I'm not at liberty to say how they were obtained *ahem*. There's some strange dust-up about the Dona F1, that the F1 was discontinued, but is now being re-issued, but is it really the F1 or is it an F2?, and oh you can't get F1 in the States, what you're actually getting is the F2, and on, and on, and on. I don't even know if it's a good tomato, but I was given two plants for free, so will see how this one works in our climate. It might just keel over at the first heat wave.

Last but not least, is the Mystery 'Mater. It was from a packet of seeds marked "Tomato", with further info that it was heirloom/open-pollinated, but nothing more. It could be a slicer, a paste, a cherry, or who knows what.

What I forgot to start this year: yellow tomatoes. I'm surprised that I had no seeds for them, cherry, pear or slicer! I love the sweetness and low acidity of yellow tomatoes, but ah well. I think we've plenty of others to keep my Summer tomato addiction sated for the season.


Project: Raised Beds Experiment, 4x4

Getting any projects done around the property since January has been a tough slog, due to the torqued shoulder. For the raised beds that have been sitting, partially completed, for almost (over?) a year now, I employed a mind-hack almost guaranteed to kick things into gear: started a couple flats of tomato seedlings. In our area of Texas, you need to have your plants in the ground by the first of April, else it will be too late for the early Summer tomato season. And I wouldn't want all those lovely seedlings grown from seed and tended carefully in the house to go to waste, now would I? No, I would not. 

Pic: an empty reworked raised bed.
We had a couple of 8'x4' raised beds in the lower part of the property a few years ago, but the location wasn't ideal for tending. Too easy to forget or overlook, and a pain to haul down the hose for watering. Spouse & I finally dragged the emptied forms from the old spot up to a bare spot on the hillside next to the house. I grew container strawberries and potatoes in that same spot last year, and the location worked well. I also decided to cut the raised beds in half in order to remake them into 4'x4' containers, ala "Square Foot Gardening". The reason for cutting up perfectly good raised beds: ease of maintenance. You wouldn't think that walking the few extra feet to get around a bed would make much difference, but I'm already finding it does.

Pic: a soil-filled bed with tomato seedlings, and covered
with rotted hay for moisture retention. Green plastic
"chicken wire" attached to bed sides for protection
against chickens. Chickens are wily.
The painful part: reworking the beds to be level on the hillside, and having to angle-cut boards to follow the hillside contour. Not the easiest thing in the world. Spouse got the process started, and I finished two more forms on my own. The wood is 1'x8' cedar fencing planks, with 2"x2" support boards to support the corners.  The cedar fence planks may seem thin, but are much more affordable than smooth-milled regular cedar boards, and have worked well in our earlier beds. Another experiment: rather than using wood screws, we're using extra-long staples delivered via a pneumatic staple gun. The attachments feel really sturdy, but we'll see how the staples hold up over the season. No big deal if we have to go back & put in screws later.

Pic: log filler for bottom level of bed. 
Together we made a custom soil mix for the beds, again inspired by "Square Foot Gardening". I made our mix a little heavier than recommended in the book, due to temperature & moisture needs. We filled the lower part of the beds with logs & branches to take up space, then a combination of old potting soil and compost to fill the spaces between. The next level of soil was the mix: topsoil, vermiculite, peat moss, and more compost.

I've got two beds filled with seedlings already - one with paste tomatoes, and one with slicing tomatoes. More on the tomato varieties we're trying out in another post :-).

Of Mice and Various Snakes and new Duck Feed Station

As mentioned in the previous post, our region is experiencing a near-Biblical plague of mice. "It's due to all the moisture we had...