Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Intellect and Strength

No photos today, it's been TOO COLD to get outside if I don't have to. And the inside is dirty. So I'll tell a story (without illustrations).

My husband and I linger after the alarm goes off. We start our day slowly. This morning we had a conversation.

Him: Mwah mwah mmm wah wah (a la Charlie Brown adults)
Me: (something sensible)
Him: nannie nannie BOOOO booo moo moo (yes, he really said that)
Me: Now there's a comeback that really shows off your superior intellect.

-- time passes --

Me: Well, we can't put it off any longer. We MUST get up.
Him: I can resist the urge to crawl out of bed. I'm strong.
Me: Oooh, superior intellect AND strength.

I'm so mean to that poor boy.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Field Corn and Rabbits

This summer I tried a Three Sisters garden and while it didn't do well due to the drought and my neglect, I did stash a few ears of field corn in a box.

Field corn is also called "dent corn" and it's grown primarily for animal feed and sometimes it's ground into cornmeal. I planted Hickory King which can also be eaten on the cob in its early stages.

On cold mornings I sometimes take an ear out of the box and carry it to the rabbit colony when I give them food and fresh water. They snuffle around the corn but don't go crazy over it. Yet, when I go back later, all that's left is the cob (if that).

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Water and Cold Weather

When it gets real cold here, the water gets a skim of ice on top. If it's snowing, sometimes the water turns slushy. If it's real cold, the water freezes pretty thick on top (an inch or so). Thick enough to support a rabbit, anyway.

The rabbits leave the water dish all nasty with muddy footprints and little poop berries frozen into their water.

We got these little three gallon rubber dishes from our feed store. They were $8.99 each. We use one for the rabbits and one for the chickens. They stay very flexible even in extremely cold weather. I just turn them upside down and step on the bottom a bit. The water and most of the ice come out. Then I pick it up and, holding it upside down, I flex the sides and the rest of the ice just pops out. It couldn't be any easier!

I take them fresh water to the animals in the morning and evening, summer and winter. In the winter if it's REAL cold, I take water at midday too.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Foxes and Chickens

Day before yesterday my husband was outside and he came rushing in saying "It sounds like something's getting slaughtered out there!" He got the Ruger .22 and went out the back door, where we saw a fox out by the chicken house. It was a beautiful fox, ginger colored, and it was FAST. My husband shot a few rounds towards it but didn't hit it. It's fox season right now so a direct hit would have been nice, but he at least scared it off. We need to zero that scope in for 100 yards; it's zeroed wrong for what we use it for the most (scaring varmints from the chicken house area).

We saw a couple of big piles of feathers but the chickens were under cover and not coming out. I counted all of them when I locked up at night, but they were huddled together so I couldn't tell if anyone was hurt or not. Yesterday morning, I didn't let them out of their house but instead let them into the attached run. Everyone ran out except this poor tailless hen.

She has a big naked spot on her butt, so I went inside and got some Blue Kote and sprayed her wound with that. Blue Kote is great on chickens because it's an antiseptic spray that fights germs and fungi; it also turns the naked skin dark blue so the other chickens aren't nearly as likely to peck at the wound. I got mine at my local feed store; I've never used the site I linked to but they had the best online price when I was writing this post.

The chickens will be on lockdown for the next several days. I am glad they are locked up because I heard and saw a huge hawk this morning as I let the chickens out into their run and gave them food and fresh water. We've lost two chickens to hawks this month. Grrrr.

We keep our dogs inside a "radio fence" and we're thinking of getting another transmitter to expand their territory so that it includes the chicken house.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I think I might occasionally post an odd sign or label in my blog. Odd signs and labels crack me up (and sometimes they piss me off, because I'm a Grammar Nazi). Over the holidays I ate Chinese food with a couple of my family members. We got fortunes. One was normal, one was odd until I thought about it a bit, and the other one just left me speechless.

The first one, "It is not the strong, but the responsive, that survive." is normal, if a bit boring.

The second one, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Wonton or Dumpling?" struck me as odd when I first read it. The "Wonton or Dumpling?" seemed such a non-sequitur. But eventually I realized it's like asking "Do you prefer noodles or rice?" The best or most beautiful choice depends on the person doing the choosing. Okay, I'm cool with that.

The third one, "It's over your head now. Time to get some professional help." just left me speechless. I know, I said that already, but I have no other words. I'm speechless, remember?. I mean, what if this fortune fell into the hands of someone already in a fragile state? Might they crack?

Speechless, I tell you.


Monday, January 14, 2008

FoodSaver and Bulk Meat

Since we've moved out into the country and have a large pantry, I've really gotten into the whole "food storage" thing. For one thing, I don't have to worry about getting snowed in. That doesn't happen often, but my neighbor tells me they were snowed in for over a week once, unable to even get out of the driveway (which we share with them).

But mostly, it's a heck of a lot more economical if I buy in bulk or when things are on sale. I also save trips to the store by always having something on hand for dinner.

Here's a lovely pork loin that was on sale this week. I snagged it.

$2.99 a pound is a good price by any standards. Meats here go on sale for ridiculously low prices (compared to Atlanta) but the produce selection is poor, frequently wilted, and expensive. That's okay, I have a garden. I'll happily take the cheap meat.

We like boneless pork chops so instead of buying boneless pork loin chops like I used to do, I get the whole loin and slice it up into thick chops myself. I could probably ask the guy at the meat department to do that for me, but I just never have bothered. Boneless is easy to slice!

I put three chops in each bag and seal it up. Then I label it and put it in the freezer. This loin yielded 5 packs of three chops each, plus a leftover end that I'll use for soup or fried rice. $3 for a pack of three thick boneless loins. You can't beat it.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Hot Pepper Jam/Relish

This summer I tried making jam for the first time. I've canned lots of stuff, even meat, but jams and jellies have always seemed daunting to me. I think it's due to a traumatic childhood experience when I made "fudge" at my Aunt's house. I was in high school, I think, or early college. I'd bragged and bragged to her about my great fudge, and one time when I was visiting, I made some.

It didn't set.

It was raining outside, and I blamed the weather. I still do. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. We ate sticky tarry chocolaty goodness with spoons and almost lost our teeth in the process. So I'm understandably wary of things that should jell or set.

We had an extra long growing season this past summer and the peppers produced at the last minute, in great quantities. Had it not been for the extra two frost-free weeks, we'd have had a meager harvest from our dozen or so plants, but as it was we had an abundance of peppers. So, I set out to find things to do with all those peppers. One thing I tried was hot pepper jam (or relish). I got the recipe from the little paper fold-out in the Sure-Jell box. They call it relish, but I call it jam.

Hot Pepper Relish (or Jam)

*4 cups stemmed, seeded, and chopped peppers
1 cup cider vinegar
5 cups sugar

*Approx 2 medium green peppers, 3 medium red peppers, and 10 large jalapeno peppers. I used a mixture of bell, Italian, and jalapeno.

1. Fill boiling water canner half full and bring to simmer.
2. Wash jars and bands in hot soapy water, rinse well. Bring lids just to a simmer then cut off the heat.
3. Measure exact amount of peppers, 1 box Sure-Jell, and apple cider vinegar into 6 or 8 quart sauce pot (yes it needs to be this big!). Add 1/2 tsp. butter or margarine to prevent foaming, if desired (I did).
4. Measure exact amount of sugar into separate bowl.
5. Bring pepper mixture to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.
6. Stir in sugar quickly and return to full rolling boil for exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim off any foam.
7. Ladle quickly into prepared jars, leaving 1/8 inch head space. Wipe jar rims and threads, cover with lids. Process in a boiling water bath for ten minutes (you may need to add water to the canner to ensure the jars are covered by 1 to 2 inches).
8. Put jars upright on a towel and allow to cool for 24 hours to ensure a seal. If one doesn't seal, reprocess or eat it first.

You see why jams and jellies make me a nervous wreck? Just look at step 6. Return to a full rolling boil for exactly 1 minute. Well I spent a good 20 seconds just wondering if I was looking at a full rolling boil or if it needed to bubble just a little more strongly and consistently. My timing could have been off by half (or more), and timing is critical to a proper jell.

And another thing! How do you measure *exactly* 4 cups of chopped peppers? How finely do you chop them? What about air space in there? Do you pack it down? Do you make it so the tops of the peppers reach the four cup mark, or do you let it go up over the mark a bit, to compensate for the places where the peppers don't quite reach the mark?

Things like this keep me awake at night.

As it turns out, the relish/jam was a grand success. It tastes FABULOUS with cream cheese on bagels or crackers. I think it would be fantastic on a turkey sandwich, too, but haven't yet tried it. I give this recipe A+++. Will prepare again.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Saving Marigold Seeds

When I planted garlic a couple of days ago, one of the plants I had to tear out was a dead marigold. This photo shows the blossoms all dried out and withered; some still have the remnants of petals clinging darkly to them.

Saving marigold seeds is easy! Just pick a flower head and open it up. It's full of seeds. This photo shows the flower head split open with three seeds lying beside it: the petals are still present and even have a bit of orange color to them, though the flowers were bright yellow. I'll save a bunch of these seeds and plant them in my garden next year plus trade some with friends.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Finally Planted Garlic

The weather was so nice yesterday that I found myself gardening. I had to change into a tee shirt it was so warm. I planted garlic. Garlic should be planted in October or November, but I'm not really one to rush things. I'd been meaning to get it done but it was either raining or the ground was frozen or I had to work, or something else was interfering. So I planted mine on a 70*F day in January.

This is my lovely garden before I planted the garlic. I haven't yet gotten around to my fall cleanup. I need to, because the weeds that lie there now will germinate in the spring. Many of them have already dropped their seeds so my procrastination will bite me in the butt. Still, we do what we can as we find the time to do it, and I haven't found time to clean up the garden.

I use wide deep beds in my garden; I don't plant in rows. I began extending the beds on this end of the garden just a bit last year. I got the dirt dug deeply but didn't shovel dirt out of my paths and into my beds. That's why this first photo just shows a weedy flat spot and not anything remotely garden looking. So yesterday I shoveled the dirt out of the path and into the bed.

Much better! The weeds have been cleared away and the bed is now more clearly defined. I grow four types of garlic. This is not because I'm a garlic connoisseur but rather because I am clueless and didn't have the slightest notion about what kind of garlic to plant last fall. I found a sample pack of four types of garlic on sale and figured if one type died another would thrive. They all did pretty well.

I saved my three best bulbs from each of the four types. You always save your best for planting the next year, so your crop stays strong. Over the years as you save seeds and bulbs you select for the plants which do the best in your garden with your gardening methods and your stock improves.

When you open up the bulb of garlic you can see the individual cloves. You keep the bulb intact until you're ready to plant, then you separate the bulb into cloves. You plant each clove individually with the flat bit (where the roots are) down and the pointy bit up. Each clove will be a bulb next year. If it doesn't die. And you'll save your best three and eat the rest.

Here are my little cloves of garlic spaced out ready for planting. I like to lay them all on top of the ground before I plant them. That way I don't end up with some all bunched up at one end of the bed.

I also lay out the biggest cloves first and then kind of fill in the gaps with the small puny cloves. I don't know why I do that, other than it makes spacing easier and it seems to make sense not to have all your best cloves in one corner, in case you step on it or have a ground hog or other pest munch on one bit of the bed.

After putting the cloves into the ground so that the top pointy bit is an inch or two below the surface of the soil (no photos, it was pretty boring looking) I got some mulch from the ginormous pile of grass and leaf clippings beside the garden.

I mulched the bed thickly and not too carefully. The purpose of the mulch is NOT to keep the garlic from freezing, but rather to maintain a more consistent ground temperature in the Spring when the ground "heaves" due to repeated thawing and freezing. New garlic roots are fine and fragile; ground heave can cause the garlic to be torn from its delicate roots; killing the garlic or setting it back so that it produces an inferior bulb.


Friday, January 04, 2008

Happy (Belated) New Year

It's cold and snow covered, but sunny at Palazzo Rospo. I went to Atlanta for a week and saw relatives. I stopped at the amazing Harry's Farmers Market on the way home for some Organic 365 Truffles. I think I got a dozen boxes. Those things are killer and I haven't found them anywhere else.

I also stopped at a liquor store and got some good Scotch. We don't drink much but our local liquor store has never heard of Tonic Water. Need I say more?

This morning it was 4F. Our home has two natural gas heaters; we also cook with natural gas and have a gas hot water heater. The gas pressure is low so when it gets real cold and there area lot of demands on the gas, it fails. We woke up to a 33F bathroom (pilot light gone out) and a 58F kitchen (heater struggling). We fired up the woodstove and fought back the chill.

Right now we have an open pot of water on the stove, for adding humidity to the house, and a tea kettle, for teas and hot chocolate. That tea kettle is as old as I am. My grandmother gave it to me and I love it even though it's aluminum and probably makes us more senile with every cup of tea we drink.

I love our woodstove. It has glass doors so we can see the fire burning inside. It is a soapstone stove, and all that stone has to warm up before it starts radiating heat, so it takes a while before you feel the effects of the fire. But once it's going, it will radiate for a long time. It's beautiful, too.

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