Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lizard

We were out exploring the other day, and we ran across this lizard. He looks much better if you click for a larger view.

He's missing part of his tail, which means he left it behind somewhere in a skirmish. He's probably alive today because he was able to run away while his attacker was distracted by the detached wriggling tail.

He's got some interesting coloration going on. At first glance he looked very plain, but he's worth a second look.

We didn't even notice his throat until we looked at the pics on the computer. Wow!

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Lockdown

Well our chickens are going to be confined to their palacial coop for the next good while. I let 32 chickens out the other day to wander about, munch on grass and bugs, and enjoy the sun and breeze. That night only 22 came home to roost. The next day two more showed up but I'm still down to 24 chickens from 32. We have no idea what could have taken so many chickens in one day.

Then this morning I chased a raccoon out of the chicken coop! Chickens sleep quite soundly. They just kind of melt over the roost and they're GONE. A raccoon can take their buddy from right beside them and they won't wake up. Needless to say, I'll be setting traps. That poor old coop is anything BUT predator-proof, but it's as good as it can be. It's old and cobbled and falling apart.

We're making a large chicken "tractor". This is a portable coop/yard combo that we can move weekly or daily as needed. It should give the chickens protection from predators and a chance to enjoy sunshine, breeze, greens, bugs, and dirt. We figure each one should house about 8 hens and a roo. It's not to be manually dragged around; we'll use an ATV or maybe the tractor.

We're using a trailer for our building table. Corrugated red roofing is in the foreground, and fencing that we'll use for the walls and "ceiling" of the run. The vertical pieces will support walls and a sloping roof. The roof will be hinged for egg collection, and access to food and water dishes. They don't eat much food when they are allowed to free range, but I always have it available to them anyway.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Postal

A couple of folks have asked about Postal . Wow, I guess she's about a year old now, if not a year and a couple of weeks. How time flies. She lives outside now, mostly hanging around the equipment shed to sleep and we feed here there. She became an outdoor cat after Meccie's kittens were born. She didn't adjust well, and peed on the beds and pooped under them. That frustrated us. When she peed on my husband while he slept, she became an outside cat.

The mouse population is down, but nowhere near under control. Meccie's kittens should help that. They need to get fixed before they move outside, though.

Postal is REALLY affectionate and sweet. She's super skinny and I worry about her making it through the winter. She has food available to her all the time, but she just doesn't eat much. Sometimes she'll eat a bunch, usually she just picks. She's surprisingly dim, and may have suffered brain damage as a teeny kitten from not having proper nutrition during critical developmental periods. I think she literally forgets to eat. I have to show her where her food dish is fairly often. It's always in the same place, but I think she forgets.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Alien Devil Rabbits

I was playing around with the camera at dusk the other night. In this photo you can see how truly evil fluffy little bunnies can be. If you don't believe me, click to view a larger image.

When they detect your presence, they all turn and advance, slowly, menacingly, and with an other-worldly mechanical synchronization. Or maybe they're just wondering "Hey, what's up with that bright light thingie?"

This is a rabbit getting a drink and another rabbit curiously sniffing the water jugs. It's blurry because of the low light but still interesting 'cause it shows my rabbits just being normal. It's hard to catch them just being normal sometimes.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

The "Kittens"

The kittens are 4.5 months old now, and just about as big as Meccie, their mama.

Above are Rory and Allie. I mistake Rory for his mom all the time now. Allie is the SOFTest cat EV-vah.

And a sleepy Komiko, the little tortoise child.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

'tater Turtle

I planted the potatoes in a new spot this year. The ground is clay-ey and VERY hard. My potatoes were very small as a result. Still, I went out to dig some. They would make good canned potatoes that I can toss into a pot roast later on. And look what I dug up, along with my baby 'taters. A baby box turtle :)

Look at that beautiful mug. Shy, to be sure - but also beautiful, in a turtley way.

And a profile, just for good measure. Click and view the large image if you want a better glimpse of the lovely textures on his (her?) shell.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Scenic View


One of the things I love about West Virginia is the natural beauty of the state.

This is a view from a drive we take occasionally, headed west on Hwy 47 into Smithville. The new metal barn, the well tended pastures and fence, the cemetery behind the barn, and the church off on the hill always make me feel peaceful.

As always, you can click on the photo for a larger view.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Making Grape Jam

Last year I made jam for the first time. The instructions in the Ball Blue Book of Canning said to use Concord, Muscadine, or Scuppernong grapes and to slip the peels from them, chop up the peels, then put the peels into the jam later. I don't know what kind of grapes grow here - they are on a trellis and were here when we bought the place. So I called my Grandmama to see how you peel grapes.

Apparently those three types just jump right out of their peels. I thought all was lost, as I have "regular" grapes, but Grandmama told me how to make jam with the grapes I have.

Pick the grapes - pick the super ripe ones and the not so ripe ones. The ones that aren't quite ripe have more pectin in them, and pectin is what makes the jam jell.

I used the ingredients and proportions in the Ball Blue Book. It calls for two quarts of grapes. I've learned, after several batches, that I need to be generous with what I consider "a quart". Above is a four cup measuring cup and as you can see I fill it quite a bit more than four cups.

After the grapes are washed I put them in a saucepan. Some of them have fallen out of their peels during the washing process. I don't add water (there is a bit on them from having been washed), I just start at low heat. They will juice a lot as they cook.

At this point I also put three pint jars into my canner, submerse them in water, and put the heat on high. Jam is canned with a boiling water bath, and it takes a long time to heat up all that water. So start early.

I simmer the grapes until they're mostly slipped out of their skins.

Once they're cooked and pretty much soft, put them through a ricer or a Foley mill. This will separate the skins and seeds from the juice and pulp.

Use a big pot - 8 or 12 quarts. When you cook the jam it boils up amazingly, impressively, and just a little big frighteningly.

Add six cups of sugar. That's a lot of sugar! I bought my sugar in 25 pound bags at Sam's or Costco, and it was under $12. The bag says 25 lbs. is just over 56 cups.

Pop a small bowl or saucer into the freezer. You'll need it later.

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Cook the grape/sugar mixture until it reaches the jelling point. Stir frequently to keep it from getting thick and sludgy on the bottom. Don't let it boil too high because it will want to splash onto your hands when you stir it. Boiling sugar/fruit juice is VERY hot and doesn't like to come off.

The jelling point will vary depending on ambient temperature, humidity, pot used... it's a bit of a black art and, frankly, I'm never sure if I've made jam that will be too thick or too runny. I tend to make it thicker than I think I'm making it.

You can get it approximately to the jelling point by bringing some water to a boil and checking your boiling point on that day with a candy thermometer. The jelling point will be about eight degrees higher than the boiling point of water. Don't assume water really boils at 212F where you live.

I find that it takes about 20 minutes for my grapes to reach the jelling point, but I usually start testing after 15 minutes, just in case.

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To test, remove the jam from the heat so it doesn't cook while you're testing. Put a bit on your cold saucer or bowl and pop it back into the freezer for a minute or two.

You should test it when the jam is "room temperature." It's hard for me to tell what "room temperature" is after hovering around stirring boiling jam. I know it's cooler than my wrist (and cooler than my tongue).

The jam above is still too runny. I was rocking out to a Journey CD... sorry for the racket.

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This jam is about right.
I think.
It may be too thick.
What do I know?

This shows how the jam looks in the bowl after testing and tasting ;)

Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes (pints). Adjust for altitude.

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