Saturday, March 26, 2011

Seriously, I laughed til I Cried

We have been working the old farm house project for a little over a year now.  The farm house rehabilitations are slowly, but surely, moving forward. Still, here we are, facing Spring, and wanting to begin our various crop trials.  We have lots of "issues" with the land, of course, but are looking for creative ways to make them work in our favor.
Lots of Water
Our hunt for different things to try led us to BAMBOO.  Bamboo? Sure, why not?  It can work as an effective privacy screen and such.  As is our norm, we began our search for bamboo on eBay.  Everyone seems to be selling the "lucky bamboo" which isn't really bamboo at all, but for which there are something like 600 listings.  Then there are the folks selling glorious bamboo plants in pots and which are EXPENSIVE when one considers this is an EXPERIMENT.  Eventually, we happened on a seller whose offerings were for  the rhizomes from their mature crop.  This seemed like the best method for our experimentation.  We considered bidding on the 5 rhizomes auctions, but decided we wanted to get on with the experimentation, so bit the bullet and bought the 50 rhizome BUY-IT-NOW lot.

We bought and paid for them yesterday afternoon and later last night I receive a thank you for the purchase from the seller, in which she informed me they would dig the rhizomes on Monday and ship them out.  She included planting directions and warned us not to open the box inside, unless we wanted dirt to poof up all over the house.

I noticed she had a link to a blogspot blog at the end of her email, and simply could not resist taking a peek.  I was not sorry I did.  This little lady is hilarious.  She does not post daily or anything, but everything I read had me chuckling... some actually had me laughing until I cried.  I could picture the scenes as she described them and the pictures were just funny!

I'm adding her blog to my "like to read" list on the right shoulder here, so you can enjoy them too (if you need a quick laugh).  A couple that I really enjoyed are here. (To read these stories from here, just hover your mouse cursor over the titles and then click on the link). Ex-Husbands , The Garden Hose , ZUMBA, and of course, Pet-Smart, but really, every one of them that I read had me chuckling.  Don't let me decide for you, check them out for yourself!  All of you eBayers (like us) will particularly enjoy this one, which includes her eBay solution to her dilemma... Beverly Hillbillies Does Bahamas.  OK, OK, you get it, I think this woman is a funny story teller and look forward to reading the rest of her stories.  To link directly to her blog, you can click here, on the lifewithlittlejo  link. I've read maybe half of them so far.

And back here on the old farm, we (I love using that word when the truth is that Joe has been doing all of the hard work while I have been doing my day job) have managed to get the berry patch started.  When we stand on the deck of the garage apartment, we look over what, with a little imagination and luck, will one day soon be a blossoming, leafy, fruit producing patch.  The plum tree and peach trees are already blooming. The fig tree was all geared up to bud out when it got hit with a freeze and looks as if it is having trouble recovering. The "sticks" we purchased from another eBay seller, and from some on-line plant companies are carefully planted and will, hopefully soon reward us with blueberries (four varieties), black currents, raspberries (golden and red), cherries (grown on bushes), apricots and grapes. We still have some strawberry plants we plan to transplant from another spot to test them in this location.  Should be an exciting Spring!
You Can See them Blooming Right?

The Planting Process

The Planter

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's Raining Crawfish and Turkeys

This morning it rained.  It rained HARD and the hard rain was accompanied by lots of lightening and thunder.  Now, all over this place are patches of freshly tilled soil and there are also a couple of "pond starters."  When the rain ended and we were able to venture outside, I was pleased to see that our two ponds were already doing as intended... catching runoff water, helping (I hope) to eventually allow us to be able to control this wetland farm.
New Pond Holding Water
While we were making  "the rounds," inspecting the state of our weekend toils, Joe noticed we had a new visitor.  Sure enough, there, hanging out in a puddle, not yet even having made it to the pond, was a crayfish.  I had to laugh.  This is the first one I've seen here, but when I checked on-line, Wikipedia assured me that these little critters, "are also mostly found in brooks and streams where there is fresh water running, and which have shelter against predators."  Well, there you have it.  Our yard is nothing more than a brook or stream... no wonder we are always under water!
Puddle Crawfish
During my Internet education on Crayfish (I don't care, I'll continue to call them "crawfish,") I discovered that the odd mud "chimney" looking thing we saw in the community trench, er, community "stream," is actually a crawfish burrow.  Live and learn, I suppose.  We did just happen to take a photo of this burrow this weekend when we spied it.  We thought it must be a frog creation... silly us.

Crawfish Burrow
At any rate, after a sufficient photo op with the crawfish, Joe relocated him to the pond, the very muddy pond from whose floor he had, yesterday, successfully extricated the tractor.  Of that I am quite thankful, for had the tractor remained mired in that mud overnight, I'm afraid she would have been drowned after this morning's deluge.

We also managed to catch a glimpse of the local turkey lodge on one of their rare group outings.  It is not unusual for us the see one or two of these guys every now and then, but this group was a turkey hunter's dream... I did get a couple of shots (the photo kind) from the deck, but when I tried to get a little closer, I spooked them and they all took to the trees.  Those are some big birds, but they can make a pretty hasty getaway.

Seven Turkeys

There were more, but these were all I managed to photo
The last two... "brave" ones
While there was still a little light this evening, I managed to get the first lot of asparagus planted.  I will need to exercise incredible patience while I await the success of this trial crop... as I understand it, if all goes "swimmingly," I should be cutting and eating asparagus bright and early in the summer of 2013.... I can hardly wait!
Planting Asparagus
Tomorrow, hopefully, we will get a break from the rain and will be able to start the tree planting.  I have seriously lost count of how many we have to plant.  I know for sure the number is greater than 40.....  Meanwhile, I guess the crawfish will be enjoying the "digs," (pun intended).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Tilling, Summer Bounty?

The weekend began Friday afternoon with a late run to the "local" equipment rental store.  We'd decided this would be the weekend to do the first major tilling here at the old farmhouse.  A month ago, when we rented the "Merry Rough Terrain Mower," we'd inquired about renting a self propelled tiller.  As it turned out, there was not one in their inventory at the time, but the owner/operator assured us he was going to an equipment show the following week and intended to buy one then.  The new tiller was delivered to the rental store at 5:03 PM Friday.  As promised, the owner called us as soon as it arrived and, while he assembled the new unit, we made the 35 minute drive to pick it up.... not a bad deal, considering the shop normally closes at 5PM.

And with that, our weekend was defined.  We tilled in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening, until darkness fell.  Our first "test" run with the tiller was interesting, but Joe soon got the hang of it and by 8PM Sunday, he had tilled EIGHT new garden spots and two ponds.  The new gardens vary in size, with the smallest being about 12 feet by 40 feet, and the largest being about 25 feet by 125 feet.

Getting in touch with the new tiller
Large Garden Plot

Nice Soil Garden Spot
Back Garden Spot
Shady Garden Spot
Future Berry Patch
This will be a year of experimenting with the land, flowers, vegetables and fruit. We have big ideas about what we want to try, but realize we will be lucky if only a fraction of our experiments reward us with produce.  Still, it is just DELIGHTFUL to be able to work outside in the early spring sun and shape the dreams of summer bounty.

Of course, the weekend was not without mishap.  Nothing ever seems to go completely as planned.  I was doing the final till of one of the new gardens while Joe was scooping out the freshly tilled dirt from one of the pond sites.  When he'd finished scooping out that layer of loosened dirt, he headed back to the first pond site.  His intention was to scoop out the loosened dirt from that pond.  No, in the thirty minutes since we'd performed the last tilling of that pond site, the dirt had moistened sufficiently to make the tractor work treacherous.  By the time I took a break from tilling to go see what Joe was up to, he was literally up to his axles in MUD.  The poor tractor just could not get out of the pond site.

The pond started innocently enough
And the scooping was no trouble the first time
Nice dirt, easy to scoop
Time to start digging her out!
The next twenty minutes was spend extricating the tractor, hosing the mud out of the wheels and putting her away for drier times.  The time was late and Joe was determined to complete the final tilling of as many of the new garden spots as possible before nightfall.  I seriously heard him speculating that with the "Super Moon" he'd be able to continue tilling after dark!  Thankfully, a light rain put those ideas to rest (I hope!)
Moon 3/18/11
So tomorrow morning, the tiller will be returned to the rental shop.  It did a good job, but it was NOT fast.  The tiller has one forward speed, which the manual states is .7 mph.  I can assure you, walking for more than 8 hours at a time is tiring.... walking at .7 mph for 8 hours is maddening!  And Joe did that two days in a row!

What did I do?  (Besides taking photos of Joe working, of course.) Well, I tilled a little (very little) and I weeded existing flower gardens, and I mowed the lawn, and I gave Killian a much needed hair cut.  Of course, now she looks ridiculously naked and rather thin... guess I need to start feeding her more!  Benson, always an attention hog, insisted on trying to be part of the "sheering" operation.  Miah was smart enough to steer clear of the "excitement."

Taking pictures
(anything will do)
Killian, desperately needing a haircut
Sheering Killian
(Might have considered cutting the "lawn" first?)
Hahaha... Killian looks, ummm, hacked?
Benson, guarding the Killian fur
Mowing the weeds
Weeded flower bed
Plum blossoms opening
Daffodils Blooming

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gardens, Brushing and Yeast Bread

I finally got a chance to try "baking" yeast bread in my crock pot.  After reading several recipes on-line, and several crock pot methods for baking the bread, I decided that, since it was all experimental, I should experiment only with the process, not with the recipe, for my first round.  So I tried my experiment with a store bought sourdough bread mix.  I followed all of the preparation directions through the kneading process.  From there, I oiled the crock of a round crock pot and placed my kneaded dough directly in the crock. With the lid on, I set the crock pot on the "low" setting until the dough had risen (about the first hour).  I then turned the the temperature to the "high" setting, and let it go for another 90 minutes.

After removing the crock and placing it on a cooling rack for about five minutes, I loosened the crust from the crock, using a spatula, and turned the warm bread loaf out of the crock.  The smell of the freshly baked bread had been teasing us for more than an hour, so I sliced the first couple of slices and we enjoyed it with a little butter.  It was pretty darned good!  Now, I suspect my cheap crock pot does not heat evenly, because I noticed the crust was a lot darker on one side than on the other, but it was not too dark to enjoy.  I consider the experiment a success (we ate nearly the whole 2 lb loaf today).  Next I will experiment with bread recipes and, I am sure, find some that will become a staple in my crock pot recipe book.

Yeast Bread Crock Pot Loaf
Little Over Baked on One Side
Meanwhile, "back at the farm" we have been doing those Spring things.  We sprung ahead with the rest of the world that observes "fast time," as an old lady I once knew used to call it.  We have been enjoying working in the yard later in the evenings with that extra daylight, but I'm not certain my brain has made the mental adjustments quite yet.  Still, this weekend I managed to till my small garden and plant my first vegetable crops (peas and spinach). Next weekend we hope to till the big garden areas we have planned... if the weather cooperates.
Removing the Earth Boxes from the Garden Area
Breaking the Ground with Little Mantis
Pulling Out Tree Roots...
First Day of Tilling Complete
Day Two, Planting First Crops
Day Three, Preparing Ground for Flowers

Since the recent VERY heavy rain, right after Joe had managed to get the new roads started, the tractor has been sitting idle in her carport.  The ground has been too wet to continue the road work... perhaps tomorrow.  Nevertheless, Joe has kept busy hand clearing the thick underbrush.  We have PILES of brush to burn when that phase arrives.  We have cleared almost enough to allow us to plant the trees we will use to create our noise and privacy barrier, while allowing us easy access to the community drainage trench which requires regular maintenance.
Clearing to the Community Trench
Clearing and Brush Piles
Hand Clearing Brush
Making Headway
Brush Be Gone
Clear, Clear, Clear

I am SO looking forward to Spring.  The peach, plum, cherry and pear trees are all getting ready to burst forth with their first year of blossoms, here at the farm.  The figs were looking VERY good, VERY ready to blossom, when they got hit with a hard frost.  I think we will be lucky to get anything on those trees this year.  I just hope the trees recover.  The apple trees are not yet showing the same, "ready to blossom," as the others. Still, I imagine they will in their own good time.

This weekend will be filled (we hope) with the BIG tiller (rental), creating gardens and planting trees.... I think we have 40 trees to plant...... wish us good weather!

This afternoon I baked a mini cake in the crock pot.  I used half of the batter for the typical white birthday cake, which results in a perfect mini-loaf cake.  For grins, I decided to add chocolate frosting.  I'm still too full from supper tonight to have a slice, but I'm thinking that birthday cake for breakfast sounds yummy!

Breakfast Cake?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

No, NOT Catholic Bowling

Last I wrote, I had just discovered the great crock pot secret... I can bake in it!  Since then I have made lots of mini loaves of sweet breads and cakes, and a most delicious batch of brownies.  Life couldn't get much better than this!  But, life consists of more than having fun with a couple of crock pots, and we have been having our share of fun!

Last Friday I left home in the wee hours of the morning to meet my step mother at the hospital where Dad was to undergo the procedure to place a stent in his carotid artery.  The drive was nice and easy, and I arrived at the hospital just a few minutes after Dad had been taken back for the pre-op prep.  I visited with Lynne for a while until the buzzer they'd provided her went off, alerting us that we could go back and spend some time with Dad while he awaited his turn.

The day was a long one, but I had a really nice time visiting with Lynne, and with Dad after the procedure.  The great news was that Dad did well and the artery, once 90% blocked, was restored to fully functioning flow.  Friday night, after waiting more than six hours after the procedure, Dad's room was finally ready and he was admitted to the hospital for an overnight stay, to ensure all was well before releasing him on Saturday.

Now the trip from the "cath lab holding" (NOT "Catholic Bowling" as Lynne and I both thought they'd said) to his room on the 4th floor was quite exciting.  By this time, Dad had been able to get up and walk around a bit, but they required the trip to the room be made in bed.  Lynne and I carried the bags of clothes and belongings, and followed the nurse who steered the bed toward the elevator.  It was almost immediately clear that the cath lab holding room was too small for all of us, so Lynne and I ducked out into the hallway, tucking ourselves as much out of the way as possible.  With a strong push, the nurse managed to get the bed to roll toward the cath lab holding door....and with a very loud thwack and shudder, the bed hit the door jamb....

No complaints from Dad, but I certainly cringed.  The nurse tried again, and the bed hit the wall again.  She was pushing for all she was worth, and the bed's wheels were like those on the shopping carts I inevitably manage to get when I make my Walmart runs.  The harder she pushed forward, the more the wheels wanted to go sideways.  At one point the nurse managed to get the bed rolling so wildly that it actually slammed into me, pushing me up against the wall.

Eventually, we all ended up coaxing that ridiculous bed to the elevator, onto the elevator and finally off the elevator onto the fourth floor.  Before we made it to the room, the nurse insisted Dad be moved into a different bed, one they could actually control.  And so, when he finally got to his room, it was in a new bed, and he was complaining of a little headache.... ummmmm.... I wonder if the bumper car ride had anything to do with that!!!

Nevertheless, it was like "old home week" for Dad and Lynne as they visited with several of the nurses who had worked with Dad a month ago when he'd had his stroke.  Everyone was in pretty good humor and Dad was happily telling stories of his last stay.  Though he seemed so vulnerable to me as he lay in that hospital bed, his quick wit, his ridiculous puns which required us to retrace whatever we just said to "get" the joke, assured me that Dad IS on the mend.

After he'd eaten his supper, Lynne and I left Dad to take a nap, and she and I went out to share a meal at a local restaurant.  It was a nice relaxing meal and a nice way to end the day.  I made the three hour drive back home, arriving here just after midnight, happy I'd made the trip, and happier still that the procedure had been as ho-hum as anyone could hope for.

When I returned home, I found that the plans to pour the "cement slurry" inside the old farmhouse had been put off for a couple of weeks.  Though the contractor had wanted to do it Friday, since he would be working on another job site this week, he and Joe agreed, we were just not yet ready for the pour.  We still have some prep work.  So things move along a little more slowly than we would all like, but I am sure it is better this way.  Nothing like this should be rushed.

With our week off from the farm house renovation, we turned our focus back to the road building, which has been a constant task since we bought this place a year ago.  Tuesday we took delivery of 20 tons of road dirt, 20 tons of crush and run, and 20 tons of #68 gravel.....  The deliveries began at 7:00 AM and by noon Joe was working the roads.  He worked both Tuesday and Wednesday until after dark.  Under the threat of torrential rains, he wanted to get as much completed as possible.
Deliveries of 60 tons of road materials
Road Building
Spreading Road Dirt
Making headway
And another road....enough for day 1
Day 2 starts with digging a trench
to bury a conduit under another road

And is temporarily delayed
by a flat tire on the lawn tractor cart....
Perseverance... road #3 is looking good
Adding a layer of Crush and Run
under one carport, as night falls
So, the rains began last night and have been pounding us all day.  Our place is flooded, of course and the newly laid roads are puddling, though not washed away, yet.  I recall last year when we were buying this place, and remarking about how wet it was.... the locals all told us the weather had been unusually wet that year, and not to over react..... I suppose they would NOW tell us it has been an unusually wet TWO years....

And I kid you not, three weeks ago when this place was burning with wildfires, the folks on the news kept reminding us of the fact that we were in a drought.... HUH???? Well, I'll be happy when the dry weather shows up and sticks around awhile.... enough rain, enough snow, enough cold already!

(Time to go get the latest batch of brownies out of the crock pot.)