Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Battle Season Begins

Commander Zander FoeHamer was covered up to his shoulders in the blood of his enemy. His massive head barely fit inside the dead animal's chest.  But finally the horrible hog heart broke free and Zander proudly pulled it from the gaping maw, his muzzle dripping red.

Behind the young captain Princess Kai's eyes were wild with battle lust and praise and pride for her younger brother. "Excellent!" She exclaimed.  "She'll be so pleased when you bring her that heart." Kai smiled widely.

Later they would send work crews with huge sleds and wagons to drag the hog carcass back to the Great Hall. But now Zander could only think about this, his first real battle victory over the hogs. He'd been too young to engage the enemy last winter but now...now this was his time. He allowed himself a rare moment of pride when he thought of her praise when he crossed the Great Hall with his prize. There would be feasting and merry making for days.

And maybe.. yes.. maybe this great victory would eclipse his shame of never having killed that foxy vixen who's earlier raids into The Good Land had caused so much damage. What Zander would not allow himself to acknowledge was that his very presence on The Watch had allowed the barnyard the peace and tranquility that lasted for the spring and summer.

But now winter was coming and the battle season would begin in earnest. His was the first victory and his fame would spread throughout the land. Runners would be sent in all directions with the news. This call to battle would bring warriors from all the lands to The Great Hall.  Then they would war until the evil pig empire was entirely defeated. Zander thought of the hog heads hanging in the Great Hall - symbols of his valor and bravery - and nodded his satisfaction.

Zander shook off the momentary pride and humbled himself again, as was his way. "Sister! This victory is yours as well. If you had not routed that pig and sent it in my direction I surely would not have had this kill."

Kai's sly eyes dazzled but she caught her sharp wit before it left her mouth and instead she inclined her head, "No, Zander. The day is yours! Come now, lets bring this grand trophy home."

"Do you think she will be surprised?" Asked Zander shaking the blood from his coat.

"Of course!" Kai merrily replied and cuffed her brother good naturedly. The she wiped the blood from her own coat. "We left her at her books, what else could she be doing today?  Lets go.  If we are lucky we'll be home before sundown...and just in time for the feast fires."

Kai tossed a smile over her shoulder to her kingly brother and then bounded into The Dark Woods. He trotted after her carrying the huge heart still dripping hot blood.

On a high hill overlooking the scene, OFG's mount pawed nervously at the ground. The smell of blood and fresh death making the animal anxious. "Do you think any of that blood was his? He was covered in it." She asked her voice barely quivering but the concern obvious.

"You are worse than an old mother hen." Harrumphed Colonel Ti. "His victory was perfect! And I'll wager not a scratch on him. That young pup has done well."

She nodded. "Yes. He did well, didn't he?" Now that it was over OFG lightened and felt the rising pride for her youngest.

"We need to leave now if we are to get back before their return...you'll want to be there. And remember to act surprised."  Col Ti chided as he turned and disappeared into trees. OFG wheeled her mount around and kicked him into a fast pace.

On the other side of the vale a silent rider on an enormous black horse watched them go. At last the big man and his mysterious, dark companion turned and vanished into the Dark Woods.

And thusly the battle season began.

Editor's note: New readers may begin this part of the story here and then here for the second part. The backstory begins here, then Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tech Troubles and MEN

Unfortunately both my camera and my laptop are giving me fits lately. So apologies to everyone who has been kind enough to leave comments - I'm a bit behind. But thank you, as always, and I'll get this thing figured out. I might need a new laptop. Drat. My camera needs to be replaced also and I'll work on that soon. Today we'll just do a quick pic-less post.

To be sure Mother Earth News (MEN to its fans) and I have our differences. But somehow I got sucked into a automatic renewal scheme where I'm getting it for $8 a year. And so it stays. I just skip over the more extreme views and concentrate on the gardening sections. And what great gardening articles they have!

They haven't updated their website for the October/November issue but I got my hardcopy in the mail a few days ago. Sometimes people ask me how they can start their own "grow you own" projects. The MEN article, "A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency" (by Cindy Conner starting on pg 29)  is a great overview for folks to get a plan in place to get started. 

First a word about the words "self-sufficiency."  There is always some clown who wants to argue that its not really "self sufficiency" because you may still get electricity from the grid, buy stuff from the store, and will want to throw the phrase, "well you dont grow your own coffee" at you like a stick. I say to them, "Go and stand over there with your friend who wants to keep saying "there's no such thing as a free lunch."

We'll assume that that "self sufficiency" vaguely means getting out of the stranglehold of big agribiz and doing something for yourself. Whether you want to save money, make a political statement, or do it just because you can - growing your own food is wildly rewarding. As is giving the finger to the local SuperGrocery and their broccoli from China. Now is a great time to get a plan in place for next year's growing season. This article "A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency" is a great reference. I'd highly recommend picking up a copy of the new issue of MEN if you get the chance.

To summarize, the author Cindy Conner, suggests taking the following steps:

1. Establish your goals
2. Choose a gardening method
3. Plan how much to grow
4. Keep good records
5. Preserve your harvests

Sounds easy enough. And its not so overwhelming when its broken down into these chunks. If you haven't done any of these projects I think its hard to see how you go from nothing to harvesting grains to feed to your flock of poultry. Let alone canning meat!

But once you get your feet under you, and you have a garden going, you can move up to other activities such as growing/harvesting your own oils, sweeteners, and then getting into livestock. It is widely acknowledged that chickens are the "gateway" animal into a full barnyard. Once you start with chickens you think, "ducks would be fun" then there are turkeys, goats, and pigz. Pretty soon you only go to SuperGrocery for catfood, chips, and beer. 

If you are hesitant to take on the full gardening and barnyard then start small. Determine to grow, harvest, and preserve just one thing - say, all of your tomato sauce. Or salsa. Get your growing area ready now by establishing raised beds or mulching a sunny spot. Get a canner, some jars, and a few garden tools while they are on sale at the end of this season. Do research on what varieties of veggies do well in your area.  Then you'll be ready to get gardening when spring rolls around again.

For those of us who are well into the grow your own thing, I found a great resource for extending this gardening season on the MEN site. Check out this page on year round gardening and cold frames. There are tons of ways to keep those greens coming for the next several weeks... or longer.

Happy Thursday everyone! And if you know if a deal on a cheap, bare bones laptop... let me know.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

World Wide Bacon Shortage? A Porkocalypse?!?

Oh friends I knew it was coming..... Have you seen the shocking headlines?

Porkocalypse: Next Year May Bring a Worldwide Bacon Shortage

Bacon, pork shortage 'now unavoidable,' industry group says

Say It Ain't So: Bacon Shortage May Be Coming

Europe's pork and bacon supply is contracting fast

Our bacon supply is safe. No shortage here!

Its the drought, people. The chickens are coming home to roost and they won't be bringing any bacon. Remember how I've been yowling on and on about how the drought is gonna impact everyone. This could be the worst hit to you non-pig owners. Stock up on your bacon now while the gettings good or say g'bye to your bacon fix.

Altho there are a lot of great jokes to be said and a ton of hyperbole to be spun.... all kidding aside, this really is the first wave of food related issues that we'll be seeing. The hard truth is that conventional farmers can't afford the corn and soy to feed their livestock. The price of meat hasn't changed, if anything its lower, so farmers are paying more in feed than what they will make on each head of pork (or beef). Its a losing proposition and no one would be foolish enough to play that game. So farmers are cutting their losses and selling off their stock earlier than normal just so they don't have to pay for the feed. And what incentive is there to take on a new crop of porkers? If anything feed prices will keep going up.

Initially there will be a wave of lower prices but then there will be people fighting in the streets over a package of bacon, so the prices will eventually go up. But since the pork herd levels are so low...there's no big new crop of porkers coming up behind the sell off... folks can charge what they want for bacon and other pork products.

Unfortunately the next wave of larger pork herds will depend on a good corn harvest - which won't happen until this time next year. If we are lucky. If the drought goes on into next year, or we get another spectacularly wet spring like we had before, or some other crazy thing happens and we don't get a good grain crop next year. Well. It could be bad for everyone.

And still the mandates are still in place that a certain amount of the woefully small corn harvest is destined for ethonal production. Food or fuel? When they put these measures in place the idea of food or fuel was widely poo-poohed as an outlandish suggestion. But now look at us. Sure we can make jokes about a world without bacon is a desolate and unfriendly land.

But think about how it all slides downhill.  We might not starve because of lack of bacon. But other people in poor countries will be fighting over what little resources there are left. And what are we gonna say? "Well you know tough too bads for you."

What's the answer? I dunno. Someone smarter than me needs to figure that out.  But for us, thinking about the impending bacon doom, we are so glad we have our own food supply. We figure those porkers are gonna be worth their weight in gold pretty soon. Now who am I kidding? You'll have to pry that bacon out of my cold dead hands.

Raising your own meat, on pasture - and not dependent on expensive grains - seems to be a good idea right about now.

Lots to think about this morning, people. Just for good measure I'm gonna have some bacon today. I know there's more on the way.

Have a good Tuesday, everyone, and get yourself some bacon!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Drying Out Dahlia

At this writing the temperature is hovering at 33* - looks like not only will we have our first frost...but looks like we went straight to a freeze!

I hope these dahlias make it thru this cold morning!

You know what that means - any tomatoes that didn't get hauled in last nite are gonna be a squishy mess. I hope some of my herbs will be OK. And it also means that all this goat milking is over. You heard me, no one is happier than I am to finally get done with the milking season. No more screaming and complaining goats, no more buckets kicked, no more expensive hay to be bought. Done. Unfortunately that means the end of our "free" milk and all that lovely goat cheese comes to an end.

Dahlia, the world's most ridiculous goat.

To be sure this wasn't a great milking year. Nibbles was under-producing anyway probably because of all the babies she had. Debbie never freshened but has "milked thru" at below a quarter of her normal production this entire time. And if it weren't for Dahlia, the world's most ridiculous goat, we wouldn't have had any milk to speak of. We barely had enough milk for the house and the barnyard so we did not have a big cheesemaking year. This was very disappointing to me as I'm still carefully doling out the last of the hard cheeses from last summer.

Next year, with Debbie and Dahlia firing on both udders, we should be drowning in a sea of milk. But for now its time to turn off the tap.


As with everything else goat, if you ask a dozen goat people how to dry out your doe you'll get 45 different answers with varying degrees of insistence that their way is "right."  As with everything with me my answer is "do what is right for you."

Some people just stop milking their dairy goats with the theory that if the udder pressure builds up for five days or so then production will shut down. This cold turkey approach works, I'm sure, but frankly it gives me the heebiegeebies. And who wants to listen to their goat wail for a week?

So we take the gradual, step down approach. We dried off Nibbles over the last couple of weeks. First we stopped milking her at night...but slowly over time. For instance, I'd milk her half way out at night a couple times. Then I wouldn't milk her at all but let her come and eat on the stand a little. Then she just had to stand there and scream at the gate until the sad realization dawned over her that she was not getting an evening feeding. I do this for a couple reasons. First because small and mini goats really don't need a lot of bagged food if they have plenty to graze on and the weather is still good. Second, bagged food is expensive and its only for milkers. Around here "coffee is for closers."

Also, the first time I mistakenly fed her bagged food in the fall she totally chubbed up to the point that when I took her to the breeder the woman verily yelled at me, "WHAT DID YOU TO DO HER?" Mini goats have a dwarf gene so even a little food makes them fat fast. So Nibs is off bagged food until the babies start growing.

We used this same method for morning milking. I milked Nibbles for the last time late last week. In the mornings I only milked her about half way out for a couple days, then every other day for several more days, then ever third day. Then I gave her one last milking when it was clear she wasn't filling up her udder anymore.

I'm using the same approach with Dahlia. But because Dahli is such a heavy producer it will take a little longer. I milked her half way out for the last week for evening milkings. This week I'll just make sure that there isn't a lot of pressure on her udder and just give her a couple squeezes at night. By the end of the week I won't even call her to the stand.

I can tell she is making less milk because she is producing less and less in the the morning milking (I'm still milking her all the way out). I'll move thru the "half way out for a few days" this week and eventually turn off the tap within 10 days.

In the meantime I'm gathering all the milk I can from her and making small, fresh cheeses. I might be able to get enough milk for a feta but basically either I get that milk - or the little pigz get it.

I'd be happy to have a field of these dahlias. A field of Dahlias would make me insane.

So that's the story on drying out the goats. I'll be making arrangements soon for the ladies to go on "dates" with a local buck. Heaven knows there is no way I'm bringing a buck here.

Happy Monday everyone - are you drying out your dairy does?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Canning Green Beans

Is everyone canning green beans? I got a great deal on a beautiful bushel of green beans from an Amish neighbor. They were stunning....

I got two half bushes boxes just like this - for a total of $17.

Canning green beans is as easy as washing and trimming them.....

These long beans were a breeze to trim. No one grows them like our Amish neighbors.

Cutting them into one inch pieces......and then pressure canning them.

Seven quarts fit into my pressure canner - yesterday I had both of my canners going.

Easy peasy and we'll have green bean goodness for the rest of the year. From that bushel I got 14 quarts of beans then I gave away, had for dinner, or blanched and froze the rest of them. I understand from a canning professional that I would have gotten 21 quarts per bushel if I would have processed all of them.

Looks to be a frost tonite - don't forget to take up the last of your tomatoes!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Working on the alfalfa field

One of the projects we want to get going is our own source of hay. This was a bad hay year - it was so dry that most farmers could not get enough cuttings off their fields. Thats why hay is so darned expensive now. And scarce.
One day this alfalfa seed will become goat's milk.

I saw a rant on craigslist the other day - just before it was yanked down - accusing farmers of being jerks for selling bad hay for exorbitant rates and forcing people to sell off their stock. Its not a conspiracy people, its the drought and things are going to get a lot worse. One of the ways we've been dealing with the upcoming "Hay-Mageddon" was to buy some not-s-bad-hay as soon as we could. And we've been buying a little at a time. We'll buy one more round here soon, but then its pretty much "hope for the best." We've also been grazing the goats a lot to save the hay for later this winter. But more on that later.

The hillside is steep so I left some rows un-tilled to try and keep the seed from washing away.

As for now our best strategy was to get out there as soon as rain was finally foretasted and get our own alfalfa field going. When I say "field" its more like a patch but we are happy to use what we have and keep clearing as we go. And the wheat project worked so well - remember that we fed the hennies for most of the summer on that wheat patch.

The first step was to mow off all the wheat stubble which was a cinch because it was so darn dry. Aside from mowing over the yellow jacket nest, it went off without a hitch.

The next step was the lime the dickens out of that bad soil. And for good measure I used 19-19-19 fertilizer as well, per the suggestion of my feedstore guy. Those of us in the biz call it "triple 19" just so's ya know. I spread all the additives with a scoop and a bucket trying to get it as even as possible. Then I tilled it all in. I did this on the hottest, driest day possible so the roots from the wheat and the much cursed, ill conceived orchard grass roots would all be killed off. I didn't try too hard tho because some grass in with the alfalfa field seems to be a good idea.

I waited a couple days to make sure the roots and weeds were all dried and dead...then marched out there with my seed. I'm lucky because the feedstore guy sells me most seed by the pound. So I got about 5 pounds of alfalfa. Its expensive but worth it.

Shallow tilling in the seed.

Now sure if I had a tractor I'd be going about this in a different way, but since there's really just me, a shovel, and the tiller this is how I do it. Pretty much I just broadcast the seed right out of the bucket as I'm walking along. Then I go back and till in the seed very shallowly.

Last step, sit back and wait for it to rain. Which it did the next day. The seeds all sprang right up and then were helped by the warm days and cool nites with a dew. The rain we got the other night will really get things going. Technically your fall planted alfalfa should get a good six weeks of growing before a hard frost. I might have just eeked under that timeline.

Hopefully next spring we'll have a thick, healthy patch of alfalfa just in time for the goaties to freshen. Then all that alfalfa will be turned into beautiful goat milk.

Here's hoping for a late frost!

Happy Wednesday everyone!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Taking Down the Big Sunflowers

I couldn't wait any longer and spent yesterday taking down the big sunflower garden. I hated doing it because it was my favorite garden.  But it was time to clear out that space so I can start mulching it with barnyard litter in preparation for next year.

These sunflower heads were were huge! (my glove for scale)

The heads were bigger than I originally thought! Most of the seeds had been picked clean by the finches and such. I gave the heads and the stalks to the pigz. They loved the leaves.

Soon. Soon there will be a pie.

I found one fun surprise lurking in the weeds - this big butternut will make an excellent pie one day.

The good news is that the latest planted turnips are doing great. I spend some time weeding and also thinning the just-started-turnips. I ended up with a 5 gallon bucket of tops for the chickens and then a second mostly full bucket for the pigz. That $2 total I spent on 2 packages of turnip seeds so far this year has really paid off...in fact, I think this has been one of our best projects ever.

We finally got some much needed rain - the slow and steady kind of soaking rain that it going to get my alfalfa seeds growing like mad. Soon I'll provide our plan and updated pix of the new alfalfa field. In the meantime, looks like its going to be an inside day with lots of muddy dogs.

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Putting Up Peppers and Corn

I'm still digging my way out from under all those baskets of peppers I scored last week. Luckily I'm down to the last 2 or 3 peppers after making even more salsa and freezing some peppers.

It really is this easy, clean, slice, blanch, cool... bag them up!

Freezing peppers is the easiest way keep some of that lovely summer flavor alive thru the year. Just wash and trim the peppers, slice as you like, blanch in the biggest pot of boiling water you have, cool quickly...then bag them up. I really love Pick Your Own's easy peasy instructions here. The best part of putting up peppers like this is that you can do this with a lot of peppers... or just a few. These sweet bell peppers will find their way into stir fries, nachos, and pasta sauces all winter long.

Grilling is easier for me and doesn't steam up the house.
Putting up sweet corn is just as easy. We don't use much corn over the winter - mostly just a handful here and there in stews, chicken and noodles, and such like that. I like to grill the corn on the cobs, cut off the kernels, then just bag them up.

Plus...who doesn't love roasted corn?

I was not a huge believer in all this pre-cooking until I saw for myself that it makes a difference in the quality of the frozen foods. Quick cooking veggies before you freeze them kills off enzymes that ruin the quality of the produce over time - even in the freezer.

A couple dozen ears is all we need for the year.

One of the things we buy at the store is frozen veggies - specifically the "three pepper and onion blend" in bags. This year we're hoping to walk right by the frozen veggie section of our local store...and just get what we need out of our freezer. Those frozen veggies may be just 10 for $10 on sale.. but I can tell you that I paid a lot less for those pecks of peppers. And with this easy and fast way to freeze peppers at home, why wouldn't I just save all that money and enjoy doing it myself?

Looks like rain tomorrow so I'll be working on weeding and tending the fall gardens today. Happy Monday everyone!

Friday, September 14, 2012

What the Pigz Are Up To

About 180lbs I think.....
Pigz helping me with the pepper processing yesterday - they loved the trimmings.

Actually they are doing great. This is some good lookin' pork for sure. These are the pigz that fell from heaven back in late April. Zander still hates them.

Former fair-pig, now roots for a living.

They finally got over their prissy fair-pig ways and figured out that rooting is the best thing ever. They are dozing up the hog lot for sure.

"Please send me to my bacon destiny!" Pretty sure that's what this one is saying.

On a cool mornings soon, one of these beauties will be going to their just reward. And there will be bacon... oh yes, there will bacon.

And now.. even more peppers. I think I have enough for another round of salsa.  That's what I'm working on today. Happy Friday everyone!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

So many eggplants......

No time to talk! There's too many eggplants!

I got a deal so I scooped them all up....and now... so many eggplants.

And peppers! Look out, people! There's more salsa to be made!

Happy Thursday everyone!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What I'm Feeding the Pigz today

Technically this is what I fed the pigz the other day...but this is pretty typical. And this is what I risk life and limb for out there past the gate.

I guess we could call this the salad cart for the pigz! I loaded up Little Red with all kinds of stuff from the front field. This was the last of the too short corn, some broom corn (sorghum), tall grass and some weeds, a stray pumpkin, and a handful of turnips.

The turnips are just lovely and the pigz really go for the tops. I'm pretty sure they eat the roots too but I can't entirely tell once the feeding frenzy starts. These turnips aren't very big but the greens are about knee high. And technically these are ones that I've thinned from the rows so the bigger turnips can just keep growing.

Along with this "salad' the big pigz have been getting a 5 gallon bucket full of apples every day. My orchard friends have been so generous - I stop by their place Tuesday and Thursdays and they load me up with tons of fruit they can't sell. Aside from the salad and fruit courses...and a few scoops of feed corn here and there, the big pigz will get some eggs now and then.  But really they are doing a great job of rooting up their hog yard. This is helping me tremendously. As soon as they are out of that yard, I'll easily  be able to do one or two quick passes with the tiller and get some winter wheat planted.

The little pigz are still getting a lot of corn and milk, but when we dry off the goats pretty soon here - those little oinkers are going to have to work a little harder for their food.  They've been doing some rooting but they'll figure out pretty quick that the fastest way to a full belly is thru their snout - by rooting in the woods.

The mornings have been spectacular lately. folks - just like heaven. I'd better get to it.

Happy Wednesday everyone! Are you feeding your pigz a trolley full of salad?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Out Past The Gate

I was going to do a post on canning today but my pal D. had a tough day yesterday and asked me for a "tail" of dog bravery... so I told her I'd write up what happened to me the other day out past the gate. Its a dangerous place, out past the gate... there be dragons for sure...

Dogs waiting for me, from this post a while ago.

So the other morning I gathered up the Dog Horde and my tools and jauntily headed out past the gate. I had some work to do to prep that field for planting alfalfa and was happy to have a sparkling, blue sky morning. I still want to fence in this field but its not a priority. And I really don't want the dogs that close to the road. So they sit and wait for me behind the gate and inside the fence. Watching.

Just as I brought my garden trolley full of tools to a halt and stood there, hands on hips, surveying everything that I was master of... I heard the stupid neighbor with the irritating beagle hollering at something. So I turned my gaze to look uphill toward the property line...... just as a huge buck came barreling over that fence!! It was huge and flying clean over that fence! At ME!  It scared me to death so of course I shrieked in alarm.

It landed sideways and in a heap not too far from where I was standing.

"HOLY CRAP!" I thought as I heard the dogs scramble to their feet behind me.....Then I got mad, "Get off my alfalfa you flea ridden, tick laden, bag.....of..... meat."

Bag of meat? Hey.........I could use me a couple hundred pounds of free meat!

I turned and yelled to the dogs, "GET IT!"

The buck got its legs under itself and was hurtling down the hill not quite in my general direction - but the sound of panic and thundering hooves was just heartbeats away. If only I had my axe! I totally could have winged it for sure. The buck crashed thru the underbrush on the downhill side of the driveway.

To be sure, the buck was on the outside of the gate and fence where I was... and the dogs were all on the inside of the fence. But I was hoping that the deer would get the idea to jump over our perimeter fence and right into the awaiting jaws of my two curly tailed bear killers and Lucky.

As he should, Titan ran toward me when he heard me yell - Dog#1's number one job is always to protect me and he sure wouldn't leave me standing there unguarded even if there was free meat involved. He was doing a fine job of trying to find a way over, under, or thru that locked gate. He's also a little bit smarter than the rest of the Dog Horde and he knew that the fastest way to venison was on the outside of the gate. Frustrated he pleaded with me to get that gate open.

But when Ti saw me start to walk toward him, unharmed, his big tongue lolled out of his head and I could tell he was smiling. We both laughed and, still a little shocked, said to each other, in our own way, "Did you SEE that?"  I reached thru the fence and gave me some pats to reassure him I was OK. His big tail swished as he pawed around his nervous energy.

In the distance I could hear my Silent Hunters and Lucky trying to find the deer and realized that buck wasn't as dumb as he was big and had stayed on the outside of the fence. After a few minutes Zander, Kai, and Lucky emerged from the woods wagging and panting and covered with seeds and burrs.

"Good work, men!" I called to them, my crew all smiles and wags.

I looked around wondering what else was going to happen out there past the gate.... later that day I found out. I mowed over a nest of yellow jackets. Me and Ti had to run for it. But that's and entirely different story for a different day.

But I'm telling you, its nothing but danger out there past the gate. There be dragons for sure - or at least action and adventure....and yellow jackets and free meat. Good thing I have my Dog Horde.

Happy Tuesday everyone! Anybody else got free meat flying over the fence at them?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Varmint Killing 101: Rats

Alright folks, huddle up. Let's talk about rats and how to rid your barnyard of that pestilence carrying vermin. Like it or not, rats will be come part of your life if you have livestock. Try as you might there is no earthly way to keep them out so you'll have to deal with them one way or another. Lets talk about it.

My "The Black Death", not to be confused with a pestilence.

If barnyard deaths due to varmints, feed losses, and general grossness doesn't encourage you to rid your place of rats, well then... just remember that The Black Death is still alive and well. As is the hantavirus.  While you might intend to come to the country and live in the Peacable Kingdom, I tell you the truth. The first time you find your sweet little duck momma pitching a fit and squawking, then go to find her singleton duckling missing..... only to find it horribly savaged and half drug down a rat hole.... you'll take up your battle implements, cry havoc, and let slip the barncats of war on those rats, for sure.

Before we get too far into this fair warning - all you tender vittles need to turn away. This is just for the farm people. Life and death spin in a tight little circle out here and city folks and the tender hearted might just burst into tears...and we wouldn't want that. And at the end of the discussion we'll all sing a rousing chorus of our favorite varmint killing songs including "Die Possum Die," and "That Hav-a-Hart Trap Won't Help You Much When I Blast You to Kingdom Come," and "I'll See You In Hell, Raccoon."  In fact why don't most of you just click here and look deep into the calm, limpid pools of Little Mo's eyes and I'll see you tomorrow when we talk about canning. And if you feel the need to tell me that my bloodlust is offensive, well. Just keep it to yourself. I'm clear on your position.

My Fighting Uruk-hai, loves to kill stuff.

If any one is still with me then lets move on.

About this time of year we see a bloom in rat activity. If we don't just plain ol' see them thieving curs running around while we are out doing chores at night, we'll start to see their droppings or damage to the poultry houses such as digging around the buildings or chewing thru the walls and doors. And I can smell those dirty rats. They smell like warm, bad, fur.

Rats will be very happy to eat all your feed, then turn their attention to eggs, and then chicks, and then who knows. At some point the adults are either too numerous or too big for the barncats. And since they breed like rats, well, at some point the population will get out of control. That's about the time you need to take other measures.

To be sure, the barncats do a darn fine job but really we probably need a couple more assassins to really do the job right. We figure that some lost souls will eventually find their way to us, or our Good Vet will call us up and say they have just the feral cats we need. We could probably use a good ratting dog. Anything that is low to the ground and has "terrier" in its name was originally bred to kill rats. Fast, determined, with powerful jaws and designed-to-dig claws - makes you wonder why Grandma Pittypoo would want that little "lap dog" to be her friend.  However, we cant really abide by small dogs so that's not a great option for us. 

What happens when big dogs hear rats. A rat terrier wouldn't make this big of a hole.

We've never had any particular luck with traps. Most of the time we'll go out to find the traps sprung, or lets face it - I'm always afraid that I'll get hung up in the damn things. To tell you the truth the best "trap" we have is a half-full water bucket. Surely the most lethal thing in the barnyard.  Many times we've had all rat-killing measures thwarted only to find a couple of them stinin' varmints drown in buckets. Its a good passive strategy, cuz they were stupid enough to fall in, right? There are actually designs for rat traps based on this principal.

But mostly when we find we're being over run with the cursed Norway rat we'll use poison to knock down the populations.  Did everyone just take a sharp breath in? Yep you heard me, poison. Its a tricky thing for sure but we've found it to be the most effective. Unfortunately while effective, its not very fast. Generally this is a 10 day to two week process of setting poison out and then waiting for the bodies to pile up.The rats will eat the poison for the first 2 or 3 days that we put it out then they will start to die.

Natural Born Killaz on patrol. They can hear rats.

Of course this is a "Code Red" project and should be handled as such. You sure don't want your chickens, ducks, or barncats to get into the poison. We go about this with great care. First, we only ever keep poison in a locking bucket. Next we put the poison out at night in an empty, locking coop - those rats will find it for sure. This way your hens will already be roosting and they cant get into the poison in the morning. And we keep everyone contained until we do a sweep of the barnyard to remove the carcasses. You don't want your dogs, cats, or chickens to eat a poison-killed rat.

Typically on the 3rd or 4th day we start to find dead rats. They generally don't go very far so we do a walk around the poultry houses and the vicinity. Normally I take Dog#1 with me as he'll find them but has no interest in touching them. Kai and Zander, on the other hand, think that dead or dying rats are the best thing ever - don't ask me how I know unless you want to hear the stories of "Rat Tug O War" or "Rat Pinata." Gruesome. So Kai and Zander do not come with me on morning rounds and I do not let the dogs run loose in the mornings as they usually do. I also don't let the barncats out until I'm out there doing chores and can supervise the situation.

About this time someone will freak out and say, "Well what about other cats and dogs?" Luckily the Dog Horde do a pretty good job of keeping wanders off the property. And since we are pretty remote we don't feel this is an issue. For a while the Good Neighbor's barncat was coming around. She doesn't do that anymore after I let Dog#1 tree her. Don't worry, this was a controlled operation to incite Shock-n-Awe and it worked just fine. She's stays on her side now. 

The next shrill question I get is, "But how can you be sure your dogs don't find the rats?"  Because I'm with them all of the time. The ten days - two weeks "Red Zone" time is a long, sad time for the dogs because they are closely controlled and either under my direct supervision or in the house. Also, Dog#1 and #2 aren't really hunters....and my natural born killaz, Kai and Zander, like to bring me their kills. Which is gross but they are well rewarded for their body count so they think its the best thing ever. To our surprise, our curly tailed bear killers are "soft mouthed" - meaning they don't chew up their kills but instead handle them gently...after you know,  killing them varmints until they are dead.

So what do we do with the rat bodies? I get the gloves, the longest handled pitchfork or shovel I can find, and a feed sack. I go around and scoop up the bodies put them in the sack and put that rat-sack in a locking garbage can. Our garbage guy hates us for sure.

There are a couple situations were I would not use poison. First is in the house - especially with The Insane Cat Posse.  There's no way to tell what all goes on with this crew and too many hiding places. Plus I'm usually outside so I can't always supervise them. The inside cats are pretty good hunters so normally mice and rats inside aren't a problem.

Next, I wouldn't use poison if I lived in city where there is no easy way to keep roaming cats and dogs out of the danger zone. I also wouldn't use poison if I wasn't at home to be outside and supervise the areas while the bodies were piling up. In the barnyard the hennies usually like to hop around and scream when they find the rats... so I just listen and watch them closely. Last, I wouldn't use poison if I had kids - especially small children.

So that's the story on Varmint Killing, the Oh Rats edition. Now if you'd like to join me we can all start the morning with a round of "Die Possum Die"... everyone together now.... "Die Possum Die... I can't wait to shooooot you in the eye... Die Possum Die....Watch out for My Fighting Uruk-Hai......"

Happy Monday everyone! Are you seeing more rats? As this weather starts to turn they'll be making their way into barns and poultry buildings.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Cherokee Purple

Finally! My late-planted Cherokee Purple tomatoes are finally ripe!

Aren't they just beautiful? I love the green shoulders. And they are delicious. To me, these are a great eating tomoato altho I'm kinda thinking I'll make a salsa with these "purple" maters and all yellow peppers just because I think that would be fun.

We have more rain coming this weekend so I'm doing all the weeding I can before this place is a over run. And I need to get my alfalfa planted. I have high hopes for next year's hay.

Happy Friday everyone! Are you enjoying your favorite tomato today?

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Thanks to the recent rains from Isaac the turnips are doing terrific! They are turnip-rrific! Turnip-tastic!

  These turnips are growing like weeds!
You'll remember I started an all out turnip planting project back around July 25th. Those seeds have really taken off and after dragging my feet to thin them... wow! Its really paid off!

See these little small fries? This is the row I did not thin. What a difference!

Shortly after the turnips sprouted I went out and used the hoe to thin them to about 6 inches apart. To me this felt like a terrible waste! All those seeds! But as you recall that one package of seeds for $1 is still going strong. After that initial thinning I went out and really thinned them again with great care - so that there were not a couple of them bunched together. After feeding about 3 bucketfuls of the thinnings to the hennies... well... I didn't feel to bad about thinning them at all and it didn't feel like a waste - it felt like a turnip-rrific success!

The next stage of my turnips-as-fodder project will be to start trimming some of the tops to feed to the hennies, the goats, and the pigz. If I had reasonable-not-ridiculous goats I could easily graze them in the turnip patch.  But you know how Nibbles is... and that just wouldn't work.

Now to be sure you don't just want to go whole hog on feeding new forage to goaties - as with any new food you need to introduce turnips and their greens gradually. Not only do you want to avoid bloat or stomach upset.. apparently turnip greens may make their milk taste funny. Which would not be very funny if you were making a spectacular cheese. My goats have never given me "off flavored" milk so I don't have any experience with this.  But apparently its a thing and I believe the folks who've experienced it.

So many uses for turnip greens, lovely and delicious!

The turnips will regrow their greens a couple of times before our frost date so I'm really going to take advantage of this for as long as I can. Then as we get closer to a hard frost I'll take up the turnips and build myself a nice clamp. What's a clamp? Its a big pile of turnips on the ground, on a site prepared to allow for drainage, and covered with a bunch of straw. How great is that?

Then I'll be able to feed the whole turnips to the pigz over the late fall and into winter. And since I like turnips too we'll be having some of them for supper for sure. Not bad for $1 in seeds and my time.

 There's turnips under these greens - already! At Day 43, not bad at all.

There are some great resources out there about growing turnips as fodder. This wonderful overview gives a little of the history of these fabulous root veggies and provides some facts and stats about protein rates and such. Be sure to check out the feeding rates and some of the things to watch out for - especially about not feeding after turnips start to flower. There is also a great fact sheet here that gives a bit more detail. The only thing I disagreed with on these resources was that they make planting and soil prep seem more complicated than it really is. My bad soil - wet, badly drained, and clay-ish - grows turnips really well. Of course, proper bed prep just adds to the success.

You can also read a very practical overview in the spectacular John Seymour book, The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Life It. If you are interested in this kind of small farming this book is a must read. Actually just go and buy it because its a tremendous resource and has a lot of practical advice.

This morning I've got more weeding and more thinning on my agenda. What's everyone up to? Have you gotten all your turnips planted, thinned, and weeded?

Happy Thursday everyone!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

More on wheat - links and questions answered

Hey Everyone!

Thanks so much for the great comments and discussion about yesterday's post about modern wheat described as the perfect, chronic poison. Some great info was shared over on "the Facebook" and also some good questions came up. So lets do a follow up.

The main thing I learned was that even more folks than I thought had issues with wheat and were struggling with what to do about it. We really are all in this together!  One of the great things I saw was that some folks recognized the physical problems (allergies, belly problems, etc) so if you are looking sideways at the piece of bread, you are not making it up or imagining your symptoms. For my $0.02, based on what I've observed, a lot of the medical professionals aren't able to recognize or diagnose some of these problems so in that light - doing your own research and figuring out what works for you is really important.

To that end, I wanted so share the links here and answer a couple questions - and give some great strategies that other folks shared. Obviously...usual disclaimer that I am not now or ever diagnosing you or giving you specific dietary advice!   I am not a doctor, I don't ever want to be a doctor, if you are sick don't tell me about it because I'll just spray you down with Lysol and run away. If you have physical problems go and find a doctor.  But if you don't believe them or they aren't helping you then find another doctor who looks at you when you talk and is actually helpful. If you are trapped under a heavy object please call 911 or whatever the emergency services phone number is for your area. OK ready?

A couple more links from my pal L that better explain the physical reactions of different wheat products as reported by that Wheat Belly guy, Dr. William Davis.   From his blog you can read here .......and also here. He talks about how his blood sugar spiked after eating bread made from different wheats. You'll also notice that when his blood sugar went up he got it back down to normal by taking a bike ride. Interesting....

Next one of the questions was... so what are you supposed to DO about it?  Well. There seems to be a lot of crying involved. So if you or a beloved is diagnosed, or just notices, that regular old wheat isnt doing you any good - go ahead and cry. Really. Its a hard thing. I think its less hard tho, if its your own decision and the decision isn't being made for you because of some really bad physical problems. Across the board tho, folks who get off wheat feel a lot better and can better understand how food affects their body. Being free of uncomfortable physical symptoms, weight loss, etc really keep the momentum going. Until there's some cookies laying around and then there is more crying. Until you eat some of those cookies then you just feel bad. This is what happens when I eat fast food so believe me, I get it.

I've also noticed that folks who have kids who have been diagnosed with wheat sensitivities are more likely to take up the banner and charge that hill than if they had to just do it for themselves.

But what are you supposed to do? That Dr. Davis guy says to avoid wheat products all together and eat single ingredient, real food.

Or, some folks say you can also try alternative grains.  From the comments yesterday, my pal J says that

"...We've gone to strictly locally grown organic spelt. We have to drive an hour to get it, but it's worth it. We mix it with whole wheat. We have to buy the wheat berries at the health food store. It's a little expensive and time consuming to make. When we don't have time to make it, we go without..."

Isn't she superduper smart? And I love that she says they just do without if they don't have time for all that monkeying around. Is it entirely giving up wheat products? Nope. But I think she is very practical because this is what works for her. And since she hasn't starved to death, I'm betting she just found something else to eat during the "doing without" time and is doing just fine.

My pal V shared a terrific link for Tropical Traditions - a wonderful company with many fabulous offerings. They have information on an ancient grain called Einkorn which is pretty wheat-like and its what they used to grow back in the old, old, old, OLD days. You can buy a bag ground and everything for not an unreasonable price (scroll down on that page to purchase). And check out that they sometimes have free shipping! You can find out more about their specials by "liking" them on the Facebook.

Or you can grown your own grains. I know I know.. some folks cant even imagine baking a loaf of bread let alone GROWING grains. But really - its easy peasy. Run right out and get Gene Logsdon book on Small Scale Grain Raising and find give it a try. My pal D shared a terrific link here for finding seeds for ancient grains.

If this all sounds like a lot of gobbledygook and you know you've never had problems with wheat... or at least you are pretty sure... or maybe not.... How are you supposed to tell if your body is being affected by this crazy wheat anyway?

Well, you can stand there gripping your sack of Wonder Bread and dare anyone to pry it out of your cold, dead hands... or you could try giving up wheat to see what happens.  How are you supposed to do that? Just give up the stuff of life? I asked my pal Freemotion for some guidance. She's a Nutritional Therapist who took the plunge - with her husband - to do an elimination diet a while ago. Check out those dramatic results!  When I asked her how long you should try this wheat-less thing she said,

"Go wheat free (be sure to read labels!) for 2-4 weeks.  Better yet, go completely grain AND sugar free for this time.  Why?  Because you may have some challenges with how your body regulates blood sugar or physically deals with stress that you may not yet be aware of.  This can confuse your wheat symptoms and actually make you think you felt no difference in only two weeks. That was true for me and for some of my clients. Its tough but you'll be amazed at the difference!"

Is your head spinning? Are you reeling? Are you throwing your hands in the air? Nah.. come on, friend. What if the reason you can't sleep at night, have allergies, or can't lose weight isn't because you aren't trying hard enough - but what if your food is working against you? My belief is that everyone's body is different so you won't know until you try.

Sure two weeks sounds like a long time, and there could be crying involved. But at least you'd know, right? Freemotion has a class coming up about nutrition where you can learn more or you can contact her directly for a personal consultation on her blog.  Or find her on the Facebook.

Are you screaming to yourself wondering, "So what are you supposed to eat? What's left? Oh the inhumanity?"  Yeah.. um.. there's lots of resources out there with specialized plans, support groups, and a lot of folks who are excited to sell you something. Personally, I just eat something else. We usually don't eat processed foods - so I just don't eat anything that comes in a box and I don't do a lot of baking.

How do I avoid wheat products?  Well, after a weekend of binging on bad food I hoisted my near-comatose-due-to-over-processed-food carcass up on the paleo-ish wagon. For breakfast I had an omelet with goat cheese and salsa (no toast!), later I had a bunch of nuts, then I had a spectacular goat cheese and beet salad (with greens tomatoes and stuff), then I had a huge slab of ham and zucchini fried in lard.

Was it tough? Didn't I want some toast? Or cookies?  Sure....By about 2pm I likely would have sold Nicholas for medical experiments if they woulda gave me enough money to go and buy another box of fake-iced-pumpkin cookies from Giant Eagle. By 4pm I was stalking around like a caged tiger. Then I got over it. You'd think I would weigh 500 pounds but my shorts are looser today. What do I feel like today? Lighter, breezier, and I don't have any sugar or carb cravings.

If you want to go whole hog with wheat elimination then be sure to read labels because, just like corn products, wheat products are in lots of processed foods. I noticed that Dr. Davis does not advocate special "gluten free" prepared foods - probably because they are just highly processed with other stuff.

So that's what I know. Thanks again or everyone for the great discussion and comments. I know that this can all be pretty confusing and really you have to do what is best for your body. But if you are someone you know is struggling with wheat-related problems you might just want to do some research.

Happy Wednesday everyone! Now put down that bagel and go and have an omelet!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Modern wheat a "perfect, chronic poison"

Did that get your attention? It got mine too. Did everyone see the clip of Dr. William Davis on CBS This morning yesterday?  I only caught a few seconds of it but I did hear him say that modern wheat is a "perfect, chronic poison."

Strong words, but really - haven't you been wondering about this? As you know we lean heavily toward a paleo-kinda diet. I tried for years to be on the no/low fat, high carb thing and all it did was make me sick and tired and decidedly not that perfect size. So I threw everything I learned about nutrition from women's magazines out the window and started thinking for myself.  Now I'm not sick, not tired, and altho I'll never look like those anorexic girls parading around on the runway, I don't have any health problems and I don't take any of those medications advertise on TV.

Looking around lately I've been shocked and a little horrified at the number of people I personally know who are on some kind of restricted diet. Now these aren't foodie elitists trying to make some kind of political statement, these are regular, working people who can't afford the specialized diets that are improving their health. I know a lot of these people.

It has really been grinding on me lately - why are so many people so badly affected by their food? We didn't have food allergies when I was in school. I knew one kid who was a diabetic and there were only a handful of fat kids. So something changed. And why were so many people having so many digestive problems? One question has been noodling around in my noodle....

What if it wasn't the donuts themselves...what if it was a step back. What if it was the wheat?

Of course people have cultivated wheat for thousands of years, bread is the stuff of life, and the Bible talks about wheat as a blessing... so what gives?

Lean in, friends, your world is about to change..... what is currently being produced in this country is not the same wheat we've had throughout history. Its not your grandma's wheat and certainly not your great-grandma's wheat. Its a relatively new thing called semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat. Its great for growing - as advertised it produces extremely high yields. Unfortunately one of the unintended consequences is that it produces a new protein called gliadin. Now this isn't the same as gluten, its different and it seems that most folks a susceptible to the health problems it appears to cause.

To be honest I've avoided Dr. Davis and his Wheat Belly. Mostly because he seemed a little like a slickster and I thought he was just another flash in the pan diet guru. But this interview with him (it runs about 4 minutes) is worth the watching. The interviewers had some pretty interesting expressions. I'm not sure if they thought he was nuts or if they were about to jump up from their chairs and throw away all of the bagels they were about to have for breakfast.

I was even more shocked to learn that his advice for folks is largely what we've been doing - eat single ingredient, non processed foods. Not what I expected from a slickster or a diet guru.

I did some further investigating - does everyone know my pal Wifezilla? She's got a blog about her nutritional experiences and is a lot more scientific than I am. So I asked her about this Davis character and she gave me some links that explain his ideas:

First Dr. Davis has some nuts and bolts info about this new wheat and why we might wanna be a little suspicious of it.... and then also there is the short version of it.  These links are from his blog about heart disease prevention here. There is also his blog about the Wheat Belly book.

What if this is all quackery and snake oil? Might be - but I sure think it warrants further investigation. What I know is that I cannot live by bread alone....and certainly not from the highly processed, chemical laden baked goods made with a "perfect, chronic poison" found on store shelves. Even if I make my own bread I know that I feel better if I stick to my meat-n-fat diet that keeps me upright, happy, and free of sickness and health problems.

Of course the easiest way to find out if its all just a bunch of baloney is to try it yourself. Can't give up your cheap $1/loaf sandwich bread, Puffy Wheaty-O's, or Costco sized tub of "cookies?"  Come on, friend, you can take some baby steps. And what if you did it? What if you admitted to yourself that what you are eating is largely culturally based and almost always because of marketing? What if you stopped wondering why you are sick and tired and not healthy and tried something different?

I assure you that you will not burst into flames, altho you might burst into tears the first couple of days. Find a program that works for you or just find something else to eat besides that "no, really its GOOD for you" cereal at breakfast, or "what else is there to eat besides a sandwich" for lunch, and what if you actually made dinner from real food?  You'd be surprised what is out there - real food. Right there waiting for you and its not in a can or a heat-n-eat tray. You can do it.

I'm not pretending that Dr. Davis has all the answers but it sure settled some questions that I've had for a while. I'll be keeping an eye on this.

That's all I've got for you today, friends. Looks like another day inside, we are still being soaked by the last of Hurricane Isaac. While I can't stand the humidity oh gosh am I glad to see the rain.

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cat Rack

Improves gas mileage and allows you to haul your felines anywhere you want to go! Its the new Cat Rack! A "must" for all crazy cat people who's feline count has passed maximum cat-pacity!

Note: no cats were actually driven around using the new Cat Rack. This is just what we found this morning....  That's Shine our King of Barncats and the elusive Bobbi.

Happy Saturday everyone!  Holy cow - can you believe its September!?!!

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