Thursday, September 18, 2008

Canning and clipping

I canned more heirloom tomatoes the other night. Varieties above include gold medal, red zebra, sungold cherry, large red cherry, and unknown yellow. Hubby helped with peeling and coring. Now I have eight quarts of tomatoes. Doesn't seem like much.

Goat update: The goats are doing fine. After a bout with worms, Dawn is on the skinny side, but is gaining weight quickly. In two months I will take Dawn to a breeder, so hopefully we will have kid(s) next April. The goats are now pastured in our old garden/weed bed, and though they are doing a great job eating the weeds, they are also doing a great job getting seedheads and burrs stuck in their coats. Burrs and mohair are not a good combination.

I gave Dawn the worst shearing job in the history of all things sheared the other week. I had a blade attachment on the clipper, which apparently I shouldn't have had on. After over an hour of struggling, yet with most of the job done, I had to stop and pick up my kids from school. That night I checked around on the internet and realized my mistake. The next day I took off the attachment, and finished the shearing in five minutes.

Shearing Eve will be easier, except for the fact that this will be her first shearing. She'll be more scared and wiggly. It might be easiest if I 'hog-tied' her and laid her on the floor on her side. That way I won't be fighting to hold her still, and I will be less likely to accidently cut her.

Photo credit:

So right now I have a plastic grocery bag of brown mohair, looking very similar to the photo above. After picking out the burrs, washing it and picking out all the bad bits, I should have about two pounds. What will I do with two pounds of mohair? Who knows. I have the names of a couple of spinners in the area, maybe I'll give them a call.

By the way, even though Blogger says this post was made on September 18, it was really posted on September 19, 2008. Also, the wrong time is on this and the last post. Maybe everything I post on here now will be dated at 1:35 pm on September 18. We'll have to see...


I was driving home from Watertown on Tuesday, after bringing some of our outside stray kitties to my sister-in-law, and came across a hay trailer stopped in the road.

When I passed them, I exchanged waves with one of the guys standing next to the trailer. He had one of those "what can you do" smiles on his face. I like people who can laugh at themselves, especially when something like this happens.


Took the plums, washed them, crushed them and put them through a potato ricer to extract the juices into a bowl. Messy messy.

Followed the directions for wild plum jam from my new pectin recipe sheet. Since I've switched my type of pectin, I've had no problems with batches 'setting'. Before, using the standard fruit pectin, only about 50% of my batches set. Since I switched to citrus pectin (Pomona brand), I've had 100% success. And I can add as much or as little sugar as I wish, or even use honey instead of sugar.

All of those plums made ten jars of jam. I tasted some of it, and it's a bit tart. But still good. Next time I'll add more sugar.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Pillaging plums

Finally! The plums are ready for picking. A bit beyond ready in a few cases, since some of the fruit had already fallen. I picked a gallon and a half of plums, and have the scratches on my arms to prove it. My hair needed some rearranging too, since plum branches seem to stick out every which way and love snagging in hair, clothes, eyeglasses, etc. It seems the biggest, ripest plums are all clumped just beyond reach, just beyond a tangled mass of dead branches and fallen logs.

The ripe plums will have a pinkish hue to them, so the ones in the above photo still have a week or so to go. This year everything, including wild fruit and garden vegetables, is ripening up to a month later than normal. Plums don't normally bunch up like those in the photo; usually you're lucky to find three or four growing next to each other.

Working in a state park has its benefits. I know where most of the wild fruit and berries grow, and can keep an eye on them as they ripen. It seems no one else is interested in picking wild things, as I often see tons of fruit fallen on the ground. Birds and deer have a field day (literally) in the fall here.

Also ripe at this time are rose hips and wild grapes. I've made both rosehip jelly and wild grape jelly, with mixed results. The rosehip jelly was very tart, and not too much flavor. But rosehips are packed with Vitamin C. The wild grape jelly was so loaded with pectin that the jelly had the consistency of peanut butter, with a nice sweet/sour wild grape flavor. I think I doubled the normal amount of sugar called for in the recipe for domestic grapes.

Below is picture of my plum harvest, plus some wild grapes and a rosehip thrown in. It is such a gorgeous day outside, with the feel of autumn in the air, yet knowing winter is still a month or two (or three, if we're lucky) away. Enough time to finish the harvest, fill up the larder and prepare for the long cold.

Now where did I put those jelly bags ...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Barn to be

My sister requested updated photos of the barn-in-progress, so here goes:

The plywood is on the roof, the second floor floor is finished, the siding is finished on 1 and 3/4 of the sides, all the windows are in, the goat door is in, and half of the internal wall separating the main barn area from the animal run-in area is built.

I'd say it is probably 2/3 done, from start to finish. And it's only taken three months! I warned the barn builder, who occasionally reads this blog, that I was going to get snarkier the longer it took him to build it. So he was forwarned ... Soon I will start comparing the timeline of this barn's construction to that of the Sistine Chapel. Maybe I'll give my kids some finger paints and let them loose on the ceiling.

The dogs return

One of our neighbors, who actually lives about six miles away, owns two (at least) large Pyrenees dogs. He runs a ton of sheep, and the dogs supposedly help keep away the coyotes.

Unfortunately, this neighbor hasn't trained his dogs to stay on his property. Last fall they visited my house and chased after our free-range chickens. Simon and I heard a loud "woof," ran outside and saw the dogs running amok. We chased them away, but not before their damage was done. One of our chickens had a broken neck, and had to be put out of its misery. This is never a pleasant thing to do.

We called the sheriff, and the sheriff talked to the owner, who assured him he would take care of the situation. Well, this spring we get another visit from the dogs. No chickens killed, only because we saw the dogs and chased them off quickly. Then came another visit in July. I called the sheriff again, who talked to the owner again. Meanwhile, I discovered several other neighbors are having problems with the dogs too.

Last week we bought a pellet gun to use on the dogs if they should show up again. Yesterday morning I look out the window and see them. The gun is still in its box. I run outside, yelling and waving a large stick, chasing the dogs away. There are feathers everywhere in my yard. I find a dead chicken lying in the grass. I call the sheriff again.

The sheriff says he will turn the case over to the county attorney, who will decide whether to issue a warrant. The sheriff says the owner needs to get the message, that he can't let his dogs run around harassing folks and killing livestock.

Yesterday night, I locked the chickens in and did a head-count. Besides the dead chicken, one other is missing. This morning I took photos of the remaining injured chickens to share with the attorney. I wish I had taken a picture of the dead hen (not that I would have posted it here) to add to the case, but I wasn't thinking straight at the time, and only wanted to dispose of the bird before our outside cats found it. Not good for them to get a taste for freshly killed chicken.

Here's the photos I took of our damaged birds, with one normal-looking yellow hen for comparison.

The upper left picture is of our beautiful Ameracauna rooster. Here's a picture of him taken earlier this summer, with a normal rooster tail.

As you can see, the tail is completely gone. Apparently the dogs like to bite the tails off the birds they are playing with, as most of the injured chickens are missing their tails.

The upper right picture of our black hen actually shows the open wound on her back, courtesy of these dogs. There's not much you can do for an open wound on a chicken, aside from spraying it with antibiotic. Actually, I've found that chickens have an amazing ability to heal, so I expect her to make a full recovery, unless the other chickens start picking on her.

So, now the pellet gun is out of the box. We'll see what the county attorney says. It's too bad - I'm sure these dogs could be just the sweetest animals in the world, if only their owner wasn't so irresponsible.

Sage advice

Some Yukon Gold and Kerr's Pink potatoes, alongside my Red Zebra and Supposed-to-be-Black-Prince-but-obviously-is-not tomatoes, harvested from the garden. The trivet I found in some of my Mom's stuff (she's an antique dealer) when I first moved away from home. It's been in my kitchen ever since.

Changes in the land

An aerial photo of a random quarter-section (40 acres) of land in Big Stone County in 1939:

And that same quarter-section in 2003:

The top photo looks like it was taken around August. Some of the ephemeral wetlands (about fifteen of them, big and small) look dry and you can see the squiggly rows of stacked hay (not baled!) in a couple of the fields. The different colored strips of land indicate different crops grown. I see at least four farmsteads in the photo, with pasture surrounding some of them for livestock.

With the bottom photo, it's kinda hard to tell what month it is. My guess is probably April or May, when things are starting to green up and the lower areas are showing some water. The farmers have carved ditches in the land to drain the wetlands, creating more crop space. There's miles of drain tile buried underground, increasing the drainage off the fields. The landscape is uniform, with only one crop type grown. No ponds, no pastures, no tree groves, and only one sole remaining farmstead along the lower roadway.

Seeing these pictures makes me wonder (again) what 'progress' means.