Old Home Farm


Summer Time Is Harvest Time

farm signSummer is always the busiest season for me. Between grandchildren activities and the garden I have very little free time. Which is why my blogs have been few and far between. My daughter's children are all athletes so we have lots of summer games to attend. I find my time with them being scheduled in with all of the summer activities. These are not farm kids. They live in a suburb-type rural area and they keep busy all summer with sports, swimming, summer camps, and the movies.

grandkids

But sometimes my activities and theirs coincide. My youngest granddaughter came over just as school was out with a couple of cabbage plants. Their teacher had given the class each two plants and challenged them to raise the biggest cabbage possible to compete in a contest. Having no garden of their own, MJ brought her cabbage to us and she and her Poppa planted them. She came over a couple of times to check on them, and then when they were ready, she came to harvest them.

MJ and cabbage

When not spending time with the grands, we have been busy with our own harvest. The beans came on first, and are still producing. I freeze my beans by par-boiling them for 7 minutes, then plunging them into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Then I lay them out to dry, bag, and freeze them.

beans

The tomatoes started ripening next. I have my black Brandywines and Purple Russians – which are much like a Roma tomato. I also have some volunteer Cherokee Purples coming up among the carrots! Well, as the books says “Carrots love Tomatoes”. I have been drying the tomatoes.

tomatoes

July is also harvest time for onions. I had to wait until I had three days of full hot sun. Onions are pulled, the tops cut off near the head, and laid out in the sun. After three days I will bag them in some mesh bags I have collected and hang them on the back porch.

onions

My garden has done extremely well this year. I had a marvelous asparagus corp this spring, and now I'm feasting on peppers, egg plant, cucumbers, and strawberries. Earlier in the spring, I harvested an entire crisper drawer of turnips. They are still sweet and good and will last into the fall. And soon I will have spaghetti squash.

produce

The one thing I have not been able to do yet is make a root cellar. That is high on my to-do list and one day I'll achieve that goal. Until then, I will be freezing, drying, and putting up for the winter. And in another month I will be butchering chickens. Yep, summer is definitely my busy time of the year!

Life With Farm Snakes

farm signI grew up in an old farm house, originally built by relatives who were not carpenters. There was no insulation in the walls, floors, or ceiling. A basement had been dug by hand, but was pretty much just a hole in the ground to give access to the under part of the floors where the pluming pipes hung exposed, or to hide in during a severe storm, which we never used for that purpose. The wiring was all on the outside of the walls and covered in flex leading to plug-ins. And the roof, as well as the outside walls, were covered in fiberglass type singles.

Over the years, Daddy remodeled it—adding insulation, fixing the plumbing, replacing the roof, moving the wiring into the walls, paneling the rooms, and adding real siding. But while I was very small, it was just an old, drafty house with many places for the 'critters' to get in. We had a nest of pack rats in the attic, which we never could eliminate until the remodeling began. A few bats lived up there, as well. And we had snakes.

Every summer at least two or three black snakes found their way into the house. I imagine they were hunting mice for the most part, though occasionally we found them in the dog food sack in the pantry. And now and then, we mistook them for electrical cords as they slowly crawled up a wall. We never got bit, or found them in our beds or closets. But I saw enough of them that I learned not to be afraid of them.

Once the house was securely remodeled, and Mom got her flock of guinea fowl, we seldom saw snakes around the house. But there were still many snakes in the area. Grass snakes in the flower beds, spreading adders in the fields, coach whips, blue racers, copperheads, and even a king snake who lived in the barn. Daddy always gave him a saucer of milk when he fed the cats. Daddy taught me which snakes were poisonous and which were not, but to respect all of them and stay out of their reach.

Our first few years here on Old Home Farm we had to be very careful of snakes. Copperheads and black snakes were pretty thick around here. Greg got bit one evening by a copperhead when he went out to check on our puppy. And there were always black snakes invading the chicken nests and eating eggs. But they didn't invade the house. Then came the chickens and guinea and they disappeared. We began to feel secure again.

Then, about three years ago, we were having a family picnic and my sister-in-law called to me from my guest bathroom which also doubles as the laundry room. She said she saw a black snake sliding behind my mop bucket. Greg came with the hog catcher and when we moved the bucket we found a pair of black snakes curled together in the corner. I suspect the female was looking for a place to lay eggs. We removed and killed them. We kept an eye out for a long time after that, but didn't see any more. Greg dropped moth balls down the holes around the pipes leading to the washing machine and filled them with steal wool. And we thought no more about it.

1 snakes in laundry room

My flock of a dozen guinea had begun to dwindle about that time, and a year or so later, I started to find black snakes in my hen nests again. I simply shot those. After that we didn't see any more. But we did find where they had shed their skins.

2 snake in a nest

As I said in my last blog, I am down to one adult guinea, and my chickens are getting on in years. So I am raising up new stock for replacements. Last Father's Day we spent the day with Greg's Dad. We arrived home to hear frantic chirping from the cage I keep my new keets in. We ran to see and found a young black snake inside. He had already swallowed two of my keets, and had the rest hemmed in a corner.

3 snake in the cage

We managed to get the surviving keets out and Greg caught the snake's head with the hogcatcher. Then Greg used the bolt cutter to decapitate him. We believe the snake had heard the keets chirping and had come in through the cat door. So, once again we scattered moth balls and covered the cage with bird netting.

4 snake and keets

Life on the farm is never dull. You just have to learn to live with the critters, and deal with them as best as you can.

Guineas: That Great Speckled Bird

farm signI love Guinea Fowl! When I was a teenager, Mom got the first flock for our place. It was a dozen lavender colored birds with white speckles. They raced madly around the place flowing together like a wave on the ocean. Almost immediately we noticed a difference in the pest population. Ticks disappeared from the yard and in a wide radius around the house and barn. Fleas also disappeared, as well as flies, and gnats.

And the Guinea were good entertainment. Back then, it was common to find most families sitting on their porch, or under shade trees in the late afternoon having a brief rest and glass of ice tea. We sat and watched the guinea race about dodging each other and snatching treasures from each other's beaks. Whoever invented some of the early video games such as Asteroids, or Space Invaders must have spent hours watching guinea fowl in action. They are the original epitome of ADHD.

guinea fowl

Of course, there are drawbacks to having these winsome birds. They are LOUD. As soon as the first rays of the sun peep over the horizon the guinea are up and talking about it. They make a wide range of sounds, but only the female can say 'buck-wheat'. Females (which is typical of any of the species) can imitate the males as well as make their own calls.

This rather spectacular sound makes for a good alarm system. Guinea Fowl are intensely aware of their surroundings at all times and notice the least thing out of place, or any sign of an intruder. Let a shadow drift across the yard from a large bird or a grandchild's kite and the air is filled with warnings. Move a lawn chair from its original position, or introduce a new one, and it is immediately surrounded by a circle of chattering birds. They have also been known to gather and stare in my front door to see what they can see.

looking in the door

Guinea fowl are also death to snakes. If one rears it's ugly head anywhere in the vicinity, it is instantly surrounded and pecked to death, then fought over by the entire group.

When we put our house here on the old home place, I started searching for guinea. They aren't always easy to find in our area. Thirty three years ago, I was forced to order them from an exotic pet store. Later, I found them locally from an exotic bird supplier who also sold pheasants, peacocks, and quail. Then the farm supply stores began to bring in keets (guinea chicks) by special order. But thankfully, today most feed stores will get in a supply at then end of May and often again around the end of August. They get 'over run' stock, so there is no having to meet order limits. You just reserve the number you want and pick them up when they arrive.

new keets

It isn't easy to keep a large flock. They are curious, nervous birds who always have to keep moving. And it seems the highway is a magnet for them. Perhaps they inspired the Atari game 'frogger' as well. Guinea Fowl love to race back and forth across the road regardless of oncoming traffic, totally ignoring the rule 'look both ways before crossing'. We've lost a lot of birds this way.

I usually wind up with only one or two by the end of a three year period and have to buy more keets. Raise my own you say? HA! Guinea hens are the worst mothers in the animal kingdom. They hatch their eggs and then dash off into the field, leaving the tiny little fluff balls to follow as best they can. Most get tangled in grass and either die of neglect or are picked off by the local felines. Mom never seems to know how many she has, and doesn't seem to care. By the end of ten minutes or so her entire brood is scattered and she has forgotten they even exist. Once, I lucked on to a nest just as they were emerging and was able to gather them up and raise them. But that is a very rare occurrence.

So I just pick mine up at the feed store whenever I run low. This year was a 'renewal' year for me as I only have one hen left whom I named Mildred. Mildred has taken up with the chickens and even goes into the chicken house with them. But I know she craves the company of her own kind, because she spends a great deal of time by the pen where my Dominique chicks are. They are black and spotted much like a guinea so she must feel some kinship with them.

Mildred

Soon, my new set of keets will be big enough to go out to a brooding pen, and then she can be close to them. For these are very social birds and the more the merrier as far as they are concerned. And I can't wait to see them zipping around cleaning up the pests and providing entertainment – the best kind farm life has to offer!

Things That Go Bump In The Night

I first heard it on a Tuesday night. I was on the porch around 10pm giving my latest bum lamb, Gracie, her last bottle of the day. Suddenly there was a feline screech just over the back yard fence. The woods come right up to my fence line and the sound seemed to come from just to the right of my old shed.

shed by woods

At first I thought it was a cat fight. But there was only one cry, and I suddenly thought maybe my Siamese became someone's dinner. I jumped to my feet and began calling said cat. Nothing. He usually stays in front around the carport, so I went to the front porch and called. After a few moments, he came creeping out from under the rose bush and dashed past me into the house.

I decided it must have been the stray that had taken up residence in the barn, and thought no more about it until the next night.

Once again, I was feeding Gracie and suddenly there it was – the same yowl in the same place. Beau rushed to the fence barking and I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I've heard cougars cry before when I was a child and knew that this was not it. I locked up Gracie in her cage where we keep her on the back porch at night, and went inside.

Gracie in cage

I knew I had heard that cry before, but couldn't place it. So I did some surfing on U-tube the next day. Definitely a Bobcat.

The next night, I brought out the .22 my Daddy gave me when I was 12 and laid it on the table on the back porch. I wasn't necessarily interested in killing 'Bob', just scaring him so he would go away. I was making the bottle when I heard him. He was early! I dashed out and put a couple of careful shots into ground just inside the woods. “There, I thought, that will send you on your way.”

Just to make sure though, I set the gun out again the following night along with my book. I fed Gracie and waited. Right on time, Bob showed up. This time I was ready for him. I fired at his approximate area. Suddenly the pig started squealing. I knew I had fired nowhere near the pig, so I decided Bob was stupider than I thought and was looking for a pork dinner. I am no dummy. Facing a Bobcat with a .22 is not bright. I ran through the house and woke Greg, who got Daddy's old shot gun.

gun ready

Together with our guns, we went down to the pig pen. No Bobcat, and the pig was fine. But a Raccoon was shimming up a tree just on the other side of the pen. He probably decided to help himself to pig food and Porky didn't like it. We let the bandit go. Unless he gets in the chicken house or barn, I won't bother him. But Greg did put a shotgun round into a tree nearby, just in case Bob was still in the area. A blast from a .22 may be scary to an animal, but a shotgun blast is down right terrifying.

This evening I again fixed the lamb's bottle and gathered up my gun and book. I sat there for almost an hour and a half. I heard the hoot owl over near the pond. I heard little screech owl deep in the woods answer. The gray fox gave his funny little yelp down in the hollow. And the local skunk ambled across the yard upsetting the rooster. But no Bobcat. I think maybe he's decided to give us a wide birth from now on. And that is just want I wanted. I'm all about protecting my livestock, but if I can scare off the threat instead of killing it, that is my preference. Because the country is chock full of wildlife, and you just learn to live with that. And even to enjoy it.

feeding Gracie

Straw Bale Gardening

farm signEvery year I try a new plant as an experiment. It adds variety to my diet as well as tests the endurance of different types of vegetables. This year I went with a squash from Africa called Red Kuri Squash. It is supposed to be heat resistant (a real plus for our summers) and disease resistant. Of course squash bugs may be a different matter. Its because of those little beasts that I've given up trying to grow my two favorite squash – Yellow straight neck and Zucchini. Now I mostly go with Spaghetti squash, Acorn, and Butternut.

This year, along with the new type of squash, I decided to try straw bale gardening as well. Rumor has it that squash bugs will not inhabit straw bales. We set up a bale and a half in the garden and followed the instructions in from a new book, Straw Bale Gardens by Joel Karsten.

book

Last March, I brought out all of my squash seeds and started them in my mini green house.

starting the seeds

 

Then we set up the bales and Greg began conditioning them for me. You work compost and manure into the bales, along with the other nutritional requirements of the plants, and let them sit in the weather for a month or two. Every week, Greg added more compost and old horse manure to the bales. Bill, my grandchildren's mini horse, lives in the pasture next to the garden, so we had a ready supply.

conditioning the bales

Then, last week, I planted my squash plants. So far so good. They seem to be thriving. And now we will see if the squash bugs appear. If all goes well, I may try more bales and different plants next year.

plants in the bale

Frontier Days

farm signRural schools in our area try to remind local children how our world has changed over the decades. Living here 20 or 30 years ago is vastly different to what it is now. So the schools bring together local craftsmen and artisans to show the children how their ancestors once lived. This teaches them history, and opens up avenues for new experiences and self-reliance. They call it Frontier Days.

Usually there is a wide variety of participants, but this year due to weather and unforeseen personal circumstances, (some broken bones and doctor visits) attendance was down. But the children still had a wonderful time and learned new things.

A local band set up in the library and played folk music. A member of the band is a retired music teacher, and she brought along some old instruments and gave the children a talk and allowed them to try each piece.

1 the band

The students learned about making butter and got a taste of the 'real' stuff. They also learned about crocheting, knitting, and weaving.

2 activities

There was also a local rug maker who demonstrated her craft of making braided rugs.

3 braded rugs

And a local artist came with an assortment of his work and painted a picture for them.

4 local artisit

Local wildlife is very important to our community, so the local Wildlife Conservation Officer was there discussing animals, their habitats, and how to safely interact with them. On the domestic side, a local woman who trains Service Animals brought a dog and explained the importance of them in the lives of so many.

5 wildlife

Many years ago, our way of life here was much different in many ways. One such way was the play time of local children. It is hard for most young people today to conceive of play time without television, DVDs, internet, NETFLIX, video games, or cell phones. So some of the teachers provided 'old time toys' for them. And in the hallway, I found a 'wooden pony race' going on. The children seemed charmed by this, and hopefully it sparked a desire to put aside the electronics for a time and really get down and play. Because that is the best experience of all. Real imagination that leads to ideas and inventions and exercises both body and mind. And that is what being a country kid is all about.

6 horse race

 

Ozark Gold: Harvesting Morel Mushrooms

It is said that April showers bring May flowers. But that's not all they bring. For those of us in the Ozarks, the first few weeks of April have us scouring our woods for the elusive morel mushroom. There is nothing like it for flavor, and the hunt is half the fun. I've even heard it described as 'an Easter egg hunt for adults.' And not only are these spongy fungi great-tasting, they are very pricey. This year, I actually saw some up for sale online for $35 a pound!

mushrooms on the ground

We had always had a good 'crop' of morels on Old Home Farm, until the ice storm of 2009. We've had ice storms before, but nothing like that one. It took down large old trees, destroyed forests, and knocked out the power in our area for 14 days. I admit to weeping over the oaks, walnuts, and sycamores we lost. They were like old friends to me. And their demise also destroyed large areas of prime mushroom habitation.

ice storm 2009

After a couple of years of empty-handed searching, we gave up and stopped looking. Then, just last month, a miracle happened: Greg was in the woods and looked down to find a HUGE morel by his foot. He picked it, came home for me and a string bag, and off we went. For two hours we gathered mushrooms.

We went to all of our old haunts, even though the trees were down, and only broken stumps were left. And there were the mushrooms, growing all around them as if nothing had even happened. I don't remember ever getting such a haul. By the time we started for home I couldn't lift the bag and Greg carried it over his shoulder.

in the woods

Once home, I began the cleaning process. You must soak morels in cold salt water to draw out the tiny bugs that are found in the sponge-like surface. I had five 1-gallon jugs in my refrigerator, and that is after I gave some to both my son and my neighbor.

cleaning the mushrooms

We ate mushrooms for days. I rolled them in cornmeal and fried them. I sauteed them in butter, I made soup, we ate them in omelets. In fact, we ate so many that Greg developed a mild case of gout. So out came the dehydrator and I stored up a large jar of dried mushrooms for future meals.

dehydrating

I don't know if next year will be as good, but it's nice to have them back on the land. A treat to look forward to for years to come.







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