Saturday, July 31, 2010

Guess what I've been doing all day?

Making salsa!

I knew when I did it that I had planted way too many tomatoes... But I do that every year.  I can't stand the thought that by some cruel twist of nature (deer, drought, blight) that I might not have enough tomatoes, so I usually end up over-planting to compensate.  It does eventually get to the point where you can't even give them away and I end up hurling tomatoes at people as they try to flee from my home.  Funny how most of the summer you desperately long for that first vine ripe tomato, then very quickly you become almost sick of them and can't force yourself to eat another bite.  That's when I break out the canning jars...

My little tomato-munching monster stands ready to jump in the second she thinks I'm not looking and start poking holes in their shiny, tender skins.  She is more of a threat to my tomato harvest than an army of hornworms or a flock of chickens.  Daily she left behind juicy, seedy piles of devastation on my porch last year.

Ava doesn't get sick of them.  She could eat four or five at a stretch.

Last year I made some good salsa using the Mrs. Wages' spice packets.  At nearly $3.00 a packet, I didn't find that very economical though, so this year I tried to grow most of the ingredients myself.  I used the Ball Blue Book recipe for Zesty Salsa, but after spending all day chopping vegetables I am not really happy with the results.  It came out with way more onion and pepper than I'd like.  And also hotter than I like.  I have a few ideas where I might be able to tweak it--which tomato types to use and definitely less Hungarian Hot Wax Peppers or maybe use a chili pepper next year.  You can use less peppers/onions than called for, but certainly not more.  :P  I'll find some use for it either way.  Maybe it would be good in chili...or to marinate a roast.

I'm working with a better canning set-up this year...


I moved everything out onto the porch, which frees up a lot of counter space and keeps the kitchen from getting quite so hot.

I bought two 6' x 2.5' folding tables at Ollie's for $35 each.  They'll be handy for a number of things...cookouts, yardsales, butchering chickens.  And I also bought a Coleman Outdoor Grill and Stove which is a really useful thing to have.  When I decided to get a new ceramic cooktop stove, I realized I couldn't use my waterbath canner on it without risk of damaging it because the bottom of the canner is fluted and wouldn't make for good heat conductivity and the heavy weight of it could crack or scatch the stove.  I've wanted a camp stove for a while anyway.  It will also be useful for butchering chickens to boil the scalding pot and also a good thing to have on hand if the power goes out or for going camping (if I can ever talk my husband into going tent camping again).

This set-up worked really well and was very efficient.  I like that my kitchen is not so cluttered and I don't have to work around rows of jars that must sit undisturbed for a day.

I've had a pretty good harvest so far and I have many days of canning ahead of me yet.  Today I'll work on finishing up the rest of the tomatoes as plain canned tomatoes, which is pretty easy.  Then I'll move on to making Hot Pepper Mustard (Butter) which is mostly for my Dad because he really loves it.  I made sauerkraut a couple days ago out of a dozen cabbages that I just harvested and it still has a few weeks of fermenting in the jar, then I'll can it.  I froze my blackberries for now, waiting until I had enough to do several batches of jam.  Then it's on to apple sauce, juice and jelly...and somewhere along the way I've got to find some place to buy a couple bushels of peaches because ours didn't do well this year (mildew/disease).

Here's what's left of my storage onions after making salsa.

That should get me to November perhaps.  I planted a lot, but seemed to use them daily right from the garden once they started to get up to size.  The reds aren't good keepers.  They were very determined to flower, which messes up the integrity of the bulb even if you do pinch them off.  This was the first year I did well with onions because I actually took the time to study up on when and how to plant them this time.  The earlier the better!

We've been eating fresh watermelon and canteloupe daily too...

I planted five vines on the spot where I had penned my Cornish X broilers last year and they LOVED IT.  I harvested 17 Crimson Sweet watermelons so far, two were huge--over 20 lbs each and most of the rest were 15 lbs!  Unfortunately with canteloupe and watermelon, they all seem to turn ripe at the same time, so I've been giving a bunch away.  As with the tomatoes, you can only eat so much watermelon...then you're done!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hardest Working Person in America Contest

I know some of you will be interested in participating in this.

Mitchum Deoderant is sponsoring this contest to find the "Hardest Working Person in America" and one of our own Jackson County residents, Jason Perlak has made it to the Top 10.  Jason and his wife founded the Wilderness Christian Camp which offers spiritual support and outdoor activities like hiking and rustic camping for troubled teens who just need unplugged from the world for a bit.  Any votes you can add will be appreciated.  Top prize is $100,000, all of which will go toward improvements for the camp.  You can vote once per day from each computer you own/use up until August 15th.  Click the banner below to check it out.  Thanks!

Mitchum - The Hardest Working Person in America

Friday, July 16, 2010

Horsey Neighbors

It's always been high on my wish list to be able to look out of my kitchen window and see horses grazing in the field beyond.  Originally this dream came with the desire to have enough acreage to pasture my own horse.  I would love to have 100 acres and more horses!  But with only one acre to our property, my gaited paint gelding, Journey, is kept on my Dad's farm 10 minutes down the road.

We got some new neighbors last April and recently they brought in their four horses, which I will enjoy watching in the 13 acre field below our house almost as much as if they were my own.  I get to enjoy them without having to pay for their feed and care, which sounds like a good deal to me!  ;)

This is their little herd of four mares.  It's been raining a lot lately, but I ran out the door with my camera when I saw they were close enough to the fence line to get some good shots.

Horsey Neighbors

This dappled gray mare is my favorite.  Aside from being very pretty, she is also the most friendly of the four.

Dapple Gray Mare

This mare could be the twin sister of my own horse, Journey, except that she is probably 2 hands taller than him.  Her markings are brown and his are black, but the placement is very similar.

Journey's Twin Sister

They also have four cattle as well.  Here are the two steers.  (Don't get attached to them.  They probably won't be around long.  I will call them Cheeseburger and Steak'um.)


Here is a cow with her calf.

Cow and Calf

My chickens came running up to the juncture of the two fence lines as if to say, "hey, we're cute too! "  (Or quite possibly, "hey, where's our treat?")

Laying Flock, Summer '10

The grass is always greener on the other side!  The bottom was originally fenced for a couple of dairy goats and for use as a rabbit pen for training the hunting beagles that the previous owner raised.  

I think they said they are also getting "fainting goats".  I'll get pictures of those too when they arrive!

Grass is Greener...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Attack of the Killer Wasp

My husband has been on vacation from work this week and we've been trying to get a few projects done around here while he's on "Stay-cation".  (Aren't those the best kind?!)  We were getting ready to build a double gate for the chicken/soon-to-be goat yard, taking measurements and checking the plumb on the gate posts when we decided one of the posts needed a brace, so I went to the little red barn to pull out a landscape timber from the big pile of scrap wood.  I was standing there, tossing a couple of pieces of wood around, when a wasp spotted me and decided I was a threat to her nest.  She flew out in a fury and quickly stung me on the leg.  Dang!  I hate wasps!

I didn't think much of it, because I've been stung by a wasp before, so once I was over my initial consternation I walked to the backdoor of the basement to get an ice pack out of the big freezer and went back to work.  Some 15-20 minutes later I started feeling really itchy all over.  It was a 95 degree day working outside, so I figured it was just some heat rash.  I told my husband I was really itchy and he said my face looked red and splotchy.  I went inside to check it out and found that I was covered head to toe in awful hives!

Did you know that you can suddenly develop an allergy to stinging insects even when you've previously been proven demonstratively to not be allergic?  Neither did I! 

About this time last year I had been stung by a wasp on the forearm when I went to the farm to feed the horses.  I had nothing more than a red, swollen, itchy place on the sting site, maybe 2 inches in diameter.  I have also been stung by my bees 4 times since I got them.  Three of those were on the same day, and one this past April on my cheek.  Those stings barely produced a tiny, itchy bump where I was stung.  (I don't know to what degree successfully scraping off the stinger that the bees leave behind may have helped me.)

Well, I fortunately had a few Benadryl in the medicine cabinet and I took two of those.  I could feel the swelling getting worse and worse and I got scared so I took a third, crushed up in a glass of water.  In addition to freakish hives all over, my ears puffed and got red-hot, and the skin around my eyes, and weirdly enough the skin on my ankles and wrists puffed up too.  I later learned that this is called angioedema, a step up from hives in symptoms.  I never had any shortness of breath and my lips didn't swell, thank God.  That would be the next step up--anaphylactic shock.  I live 20 minutes from the nearest hospital!

After looking around on the internet for some advice (and not knowing that I should have been calling 911), I figured I better go to the Quick Care, just in case.  They weren't open and after the long drive there sitting in front of the AC turned on full blast, my hives started going away.  We stopped in Fruth and picked up some liquid Benadryl (faster acting) and I took another dose of that and decided to go home.  The ER is so expensive, even with insurance, it's prohibitive.  I was glad to not have to go.

I called my family doctor today to see if I needed an appointment with an allergist and she chewed me out for not going to the ER.  She said I was lucky I had Benadryl and that it could have been BAD.  She called me in an Rx for methyprednisolone (don't read the papers that come with it or you may think you'd rather not take it anyway--nasty stuff).  She told me I could still react to the sting even a couple of days later and told me to keep taking 25 mg of Benadryl 3 times daily.  My leg is so swollen I can't make out my kneecap, but the Rx seems to be helping that go away.  I've got a doctor's appointment Monday.

Soooooo... Lesson learned:  Any allergic reaction to a sting is a bad one.  If you have itching/redness/swelling anywhere other than the sting site, it's an allergic reaction.  If you have shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or your lips start to swell--you are in big trouble.  You should call an ambulance/head for the ER before any of those things happen, because you don't know at what point the allergic reaction will stop progressing and you would rather be safe than sorry!  Not being able to breathe is a bad thing.

If you are like me and think you're too tough to go to the ER and didn't know this stuff before, well now you do!  Be careful stomping around in those barns this time of year, ok!

I am hoping and praying that this will not stop me from keeping bees.  I have read that you can be allergic to wasps and not be allergic to bees.  They also have a desensitization program they can do for bee stings as well.  I am guessing that the 3 rounds of antibiotics I've had in the past two months (2 for an abscess tooth and a Z-pac for bronchitis) may have messed with my immune system and brought on this sudden allergy for me.  I'll know more when I talk to my doctor Monday.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Three Sisters Companion Planting

There were a couple things I tried differently this year.  One of them was a Three Sisters planting.  I've not tried growing corn up here before.  I've been wary of it blowing over, but I thought maybe this method would help it to hold up better on our windy hilltop.

A Three Sisters planting is basically alternating hills of corn and squash, with pole beans using the cornstalks for a trellis.  The directions I followed were found on this site.  They had good measurements and diagrams. 

I followed it pretty closely, however I planted more corn to a hill than they indicated.  It only called for four, but I planted twelve instead.  So far this has not been a problem.  I was doubtful that only four corn plants would be able to properly pollinate each other, given the distance between the mounds.  Also, I did not want to assume that all four would germinate in the first place!

I've got a variety of different things growing in the squash mounds, not all of them squash.  I planted mini pumpkins, sugar pie pumpkins, sweet dumpling squash (they're so cute), french melons, canteloupe and also watermelon.  The watermelon have proven themselves to be the thickest growing vine and an effective living mulch.  The canteloupe are thriving.  I can see so many melons setting on them and they will be ready here in probably less than a month.  I am really looking forward to those.

Now my beans, those are coming along, but have not really grown as fast as I thought they should.  I planted Nickel beans -- a slender, white, heirloom Appalachian cornfield bean.  Fortunately I didn't plant the whole package, so if they fail and I cannot save seed from them there's always next year.  The instructions were to plant the beans when the corn reached 4" tall, but it seemed like they took forever to germinate.  I think maybe I should have either soaked them first or kept the ground watered until they sprouted.  Maybe they'll catch up.

So far so good.  I like this arrangement.  It makes efficient use of my garden space.  We've had a couple windy storms already and the corn stalks have held up very well.

I think it may end up being difficult to get in there to harvest everything when the time comes.  It's very dense!