2013 summer growing season is well..sucking.

I think I’m a little bummed about this first year garden here at Blueberry Acres. We did a lot of things wrong this year that frankly, we knew better than to do. We started late..partially because of the ridiculous May snowfall but also because we were just overwhelmed with animal activity. We also didn’t set up our garage greenhouse to start our seedlings. We started some in our kitchen (epic mistake), some in the living room and some went right into the ground as seed. Sheldon didn’t believe planting the seeds directly in the ground would work in our soil, but God proved him wrong and these little boogers grew like mad.

Then (and if you could imagine the song “Flight of the Bumblebee” here for effect) came the invading hoardes. Squash bugs, grasshoppers of all shapes/sizes, slugs, lions, tigers, bears…oh my. It was enough to make an organic gardener want to find some agent orange and blast those *%@(&$ to oblivion. Alas…we did not. We continued to manage our pestilence through DE, Neem Oil, beer (for me and the slugs), chicken buffets (Lana, our head chicken is very good about catching grasshoppers) and good old fashion squooshing.  However, I can’t be naive..we’ve been decimated.  Sheldon said that we were hit this hard once in Texas, but I don’t remember it.  I have been researching/studying/praying for ways to better manage the pests so they don’t turn into plagues for next season, but I think it’s going to take a major overhaul.

For one, I’m going to eliminate all of my raised beds save for one.  While I don’t think this contributed to my pests exactly, I can say that we had a hard time keeping up with the grass/weeds around the beds and I think that contributed to more bugs.  I think also having to spend time on the weeds around the beds meant less time for the beds themselves…ergo, more bugs.  Beyond eliminating the beds, I’m planning on razing the existing garden to the ground outside of the strawberry plants.  Every time I say this, Sheldon laughs as if this is just the insane ramblings of his crazy wife.  Butttt, no.  I plan on burning this thing down to nuthin if I can help it.  Why allow the little buggies somewhere warm and rich to live over the winter?  I plan on burning what I can, and destroying what I can’t.  When I’m done, I hope to be able to expand the width/length of our garden fence to include a garden that is about double in size of what this year’s garden is.  We haven’t had any trouble with bunnies eating our crops, but it’s fair to say that our area is absolutely loaded with bunnies, so we have taken no chances with a bunny and deer detering fence.  From there, I will plan on putting in proper rows covered in weed fabric and hopefully prelaid with soaker hoses prior to the next planting.  We have rain barrels that are cut and almost ready to go for some hose manifolds to help feed the watering needs.  I figure it’s going to take me the better part of the fall/winter to revamp the garden, but I’m convinced it will be worth it.

Well, the turkeys, chickens and dogs are in tucked in.  The cats are on patrol for some wild rabbit (sorry bunny lovers!) and I have a little more paid work to do before I call it a day.  Hope you all have a fantastic evening!

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Updated: DANGHOLSTEIN!: The final chapter

For those of you who have kindly been following along with our cow follies, today the DANGHOLSTEIN! chapter of our journey comes to an end when Sheldon drives her to the happy hunting ground (aka the butcher who will process her) in the sky.

courtesy of soda head

courtesy of soda head

After she is dispatched, the meat will age at the butcher for a couple of weeks and then we will be able to pick up our cuts.  We have sold half of the cow for zero profit (should be at least break even) and will probably sell/trade a little bit more of her.  Since this was our first endeavor and not the breed that we are making a long term run with, our goal was just to fill our freezers up with grass fed beef for the winter.

While DANGHOLSTEIN! isn’t anyone’s automatic choice when it comes to beef cows, we have learned that it’s not uncommon for a Holstein to go to processing after her milking days are over.  Plus, we believe that the benefits of a grass fed cow are so incredibly strong, we have a hard time being anything but grateful for the meat that she will provide to us.  We anticipate the meat to be sweet-probably sweeter than what we have had in grass fed Angus and/or Belties, but we shall see.

We have talked candidly to the Blueberry about today’s event.  In fact, she has started licking her lips when we drive past DANGHOLSTEIN! in the pasture.  Something that creeps me out to no end if I’m going to be honest….but, I appreciate that my little pragmatic farm girl can take such a matter of fact perspective on this process.

Today in about an hour, our family will gather together to say a prayer over DANGHOLSTEIN! to thank her for her blessings on our family and wish her a speedy journey into the happy hunting ground.  For animal lovers, this may rankle, but our perspective is that we have probably provided her a much better life than she ever would have gotten in a commercial feedlot, plus her meat will provide for our family (and other families)-her life will not be wasted.  So, I guess in the end, she will not be DANGHOLSTEIN! at all, but despite the frustrations of learning to raise cattle, she will instead be known as ThankyouHolstein in our family.

UPDATED:

We heard from the Happy Hunting Ground (aka Cloud’s Meat Processing) that TYHolstein’s hang weight was 570 lbs.  While we didn’t know her live weight at time of butchering (she wouldn’t fit on my weight watchers scale…), the average percentage of hang weight versus live weight is typically between 60-63% with some range up to the high 60’s.  Taking this into account, she either had a big roll of quarters in her pocket or she lost weight from the time we purchased her to the time we took her to process.  We learned some things along the way from this, the purchase of our first feeder cow.  If we have to buy another feeder cow (hoping our #Beltie herd will be built up before that is necessary), we won’t do it during the height of summer.  Lands were dry, grasses were puny and while the cows had plenty to eat, it wasn’t the grass-a-palooza that we saw early this spring.  We also learned that we aren’t buying another heifer unless she is going to be used for some baby makin’!  For some reason, TYHolstein didn’t like our existing herd and ran like proverbial hell to get in our neighbors pasture with his Angus heifers.  Not sure why, but she never looked back and once a cow is committed, well, I think she is like a stubborn old woman-no changing her mind.  We think had we bought her younger, she would have had more time to acclimate to our herd.  I’m sure as the months/years go on, we’ll figure out what else we did wrong this go around, but at least for now, we remain forever grateful for her gifts.

Found on these blog hops:

found at www.modernhomesteaders.net.  Go check 'em out!

found at http://www.modernhomesteaders.net. Go check ’em out!

 

It’s getting hot in here! A newbie’s guide to hay combustion

The other day as he was leaving for work, Sheldon made an offhand comment about keeping an eye on the hay so the heat doesn’t build up.  When I must have given him my usual whatyoutalkinboutwillis face, he told me that hay can spontaneously combust.  While I was able to keep my facial composure, I cannot tell a lie that in my head I immediately thought that he must be smokin banana peels and that was just another crazy thought from his sometimes paranoid mind.

Except, he was right.  Kinda….

Now, our hay hasn’t combusted since I had my smart arse thoughts.  As far as I know, it’s still minding it’s own business in the barn awaiting the day that our cows/Festus will convert it to poop.  However, being the Bing-er that I am, I had to get online and see what the deal is.   From what I could research on a couple of sites (including this excellent one from WSU), hay isn’t going to spontaneously combust just ’cause you talk ugly to it.  A variety of factors need to build up including heat, moisture (ironic, no?) and bacteria.  Obviously this isn’t going to happen overnight.  But if you have packed your barn tight with hay with limited air passage around your bales, you may find that you have created the kind of environment where moisture and heat can get easily trapped.  So, what’s a newb to do?

Well, think about foundation/stacking.  Most of our bales are small squares that one adult can easily pick up.  We also have some large round bales that we got from a neighbor, but they aren’t a huge concern.  We are planning to use those first just to get them out.  For the rest of our bales,  we have created stacks of hay that are loose-ish.  That is, they are strong enough that our 5 year old can stand on a stack, but not tight enough that I would trust her (or us) up there alone.  This allows air to pass through and reduces the chance for moisture build up.  In addition, we have stacked our bales up off the ground.  While our barn is solidly built, our floor is dirt meaning that moisture will seep up with anything that is in direct contact with the ground.  Some freecycled pallets worked well as our foundation to get the bales off the ground.

You also want to decide to cover/not to cover.  Sure, any rains that you get could eventually get dried by the sun but what are you losing in that process?  Not only are you increasing your chances of more moisture, more bacteria=greater risk for combustion, but you are also junking up your hay.  Remember, unless you are using this hay as bedding for animals, you need to be mindful of protein content.   If you don’t want to be running to the feed store once a week to feed your cows/donkeys, you need to make sure that the hay you supply is still a good source of protein for your animals.   A study by the University of Minnesota West Central Experiment Station at Morris, Minnesota has some great information on hay storage and the resulting effects of protein loss based on storage method.

So, while I’m not saying that we have figured it out in terms of hay production and storage (Ha!  We’re a long way from there)  but, I do feel better having spent the time to do some research so that I feel confident about how we are protecting this investment.  Look forward to hearing from anyone who has even more info to share!  Happy Haying!

Dear muck boot makers…you are wearing me out.

another one bites the dust....

another one bites the dust….

I would like to direct this open letter of complaint to everyone who has ever made my muck boots.  Your numbers are legion.  In the year-ish that we have been at Blueberry Acres Farm, I have gone through no less than 8 pairs of muck boots before completely wearing them out. That is a “shelf life” of approximately 45 days per pair. I have bought these boots all over the place from the big box store to thrift stores to sporting goods stores. I have even attempted to buy your boots online, but I have found that in the world of one size fits all muck boots, it’s hard to get good information about fit for something that most manufacturers seem to think is an afterthought.  Some homesteaders have pudgy calves.  I am one of those.  Can you please not make boots that feel like they are trying to strangle said calves?  Shoes that are too tight are bad enough, but wrap some rubber around your calves and then start sweating…well, I am pretty sure that is what hell feels like.

I calculate that I have spent between $200-$300 on these boots, which might lead some to ask…why don’t you just buy the expensive boots and be done with it? Alas, at 45 days a pair, I’m a little afraid of dropping that kind of cash on boots just to have them follow the same cycle of wear. I don’t think I’m particularly hard on my boots. I wear them typically no more than 1-3 hours per day on regular days and probably closer to 6 hours on heavy work days. I would imagine that many homesteaders/farmers are the same. I prefer not to work outside in clogs/shoes/flip flops because of snakes..Missouri has more than our fair share of them. As a result, muck boots are my shoe of choice and right now, that choice stinks.

So, dear manufacturers…I’m wondering.  Does anyone actually have a muck boot that will stand the test of time?  I’m not expecting something to last for years…but months would be nice.  Sigh.  Rant over…I need to go find a new pair of muck boots.

Ding, Dong, the witch is dead and other assorted things….

…..and by witch, I mean hay!  I know-it was a stretch, but it’s absolutely how I feel.  We finally got the hay in our large pasture cut.  Sheldon finished bucking the many bales last night.  The hay should have been cut close to 2 months ago, but alas, we counted on the word of someone who proved to be a little less than dependable in deed.  However, some very hardworking folks came to our rescue and despite their baler giving out on them multiple times, they were able to finish the vast majority of our field.  Is it the world’s finest hay?  This late in the season, no.  But, the field is cut and the little bit of green left will quickly be finished by the cows and Festus.  We already talked about when they will come out next year and how we hope to double our load of hay at that time with an early cutting.  Sooooo…painful first year lesson to learn about depending on others that you don’t know well-both when they fail and like the folks who cut our hay, when they succeed despite obstacles.

Now, we are prayerful for some rain.  It’s been weeks and weeks since we have had anything fall out of the sky save for bird poop.  The lawn is all but dead (and I’m too stubborn to water it-water is for veggies and animals, not my 2 acres of lawn grass dang it!) and the dirt road is making horrible dust devils all over the place.  I feel like I can’t keep my house dust free for more than 2 minutes and frankly in this heat, I don’t want to even think about cleaning!   So, for this week, Blueberry and I are going to do what we can outside without bursting into flames in the dry heat.  We have swimming fun on tap, the library, going to visit the Grand-Blueberries and studying weather.

This cute little weather tracker from Smart Lab came in one of Blueberry’s Christmas gifts.

WP_000833

This morning as she was outside with it studying the clouds while the dogs looked expectantly up with her, she learned the difference between the different types of clouds thanks to Mom’s geeky love of weather and this handy little website that not only has great weather pics, but some cool weather activities too.  We’re going to be studying weather all week as we begin that downhill slide to the first day of K for Blueberry.

How are you keeping cool in these hot dog days of summer?

Holla! I mean…challah!

Hello, my name is Shellie and I’m a bread junkie.  I’ve been a bread junkie for 40mumblemumble years now and I do not see an end in sight!  When I think of a perfect meal, it always involves bread, butter and cheese.  Maybe some grapes.  You know-the kind that comes in a glass and makes everyone look better.  And when I think of that perfect meal, one of my favorite breads always comes to mind: challah.

image courtesy of jewishrecipes.org

 

Thinking back to my younger days, one of my favorite treats as a little Shellie was the joy of freshly baked Challah bread from Publix.  It may have been grocery store bread, but it was so good all the same.  If you have ever had challah, you know how amazing it can be.  Eggy and rich with a golden crust that shines.  I like to imagine I hear angels singing “ahhhhhhhhhhh” when I bite into it.

Now, full disclosure.  While I have made bread many times, I have never attempted challah.  Not quite sure why, but instead of riffing, I decided to follow a recipe on Allrecipes (one of my favorite sites to be sure!) for challah.  I thought this was a good recipe and since I’m a newbie to making challah, I don’t think I can improve on this recipe…yet.

However, I do have some thoughts about the recipe.  Make sure that you have tons of flour.  I mean tons.  While the recipe calls for lots of flour (8 cups), it isn’t explicit in terms of how much you need to add during the kneading process.  This is normal as humidity levels, etc differ from kitchen to kitchen.  However, I found that on a day where temps in the evening were in the low 80’s with humidity below 45%, I had to add far more flour than I do in just about every other bread recipe.  Probably another 2-3 cups.  To be fair, maybe I was distracted by the Blueberry when I was adding in flour and I missed a cup or two, or maybe my kitchen is just ridiculously humid, but in the end I think it’s just what the recipe needed, which sometimes happens.  Also, since this bread calls for eggs, have high quality eggs.  Many of us know exactly where our eggs come from, but for those of you who rely on grocery store eggs, think about spending the extra money for organic.  Since egg is such a star in this bread, you don’t want to skimp with lackluster eggs.

Is it wrong that I heard Barry White singing "...your love babe.  Can't get enough of your love babe" while I was taking this pic?  Yeah.  Probably.

Is it wrong that I heard Barry White singing “…your love babe. Can’t get enough of your love babe” while I was taking this pic? Yeah. Probably.

Also, the recipe calls for braiding the bread.  Hmm…I’m too lazy for that.  I tried it and it kept breaking but I think it’s just lack of practice.  In the end, I created 3 boules and 1 loaf.  The picture doesn’t do it justice, but the crust is still shiny and golden, worthy of all it’s praise.  Generally speaking, challah doesn’t rise too much in the oven.  I didn’t try it in bread pans, but I wouldn’t expect a huge fluffy loaf.  But, that’s ok because the flavor is sublime.  Try it with your favorite sandwich.  Use it instead of white bread in french toast.  Let it go a bit stale and then use it for croutons or bread pudding.  Ah, the possibilities are endless!

Happy baking!