Tag Archives: Farm life

Olio: 10/5/2018

Olio: a miscellaneaous collection of things

Yes the blog has been quiet.  It seemed that every post was another harvest, another canning session, and some stress thrown in for good measure.

The stress from several fronts, a family illness that hopefully is on the healing end and will put about 6 weeks of stress and discomfort to one branch of our children’s family behind them.  Stress over the political climate, an immature, ignorant bully for president, a Congress of Good Ole Boys that think “Boys will be boys.” is an adequate excuse to dismiss sexual assault claims, and those claims bringing down on me 53 years of repressed memories of my own sexual assault in high school.  I finally have blocked, unfollowed, unfriended many on Facebook and am almost to the point of leaving it entirely.  If you are a reader of my blog on Facebook, you might want to start following it from the link on the side of the blog as it may soon disappear from that source.

Fall is in the air and with it comes Fiber Festivals and retreats.  Last weekend we traveled north in the state to spend a couple of days with eldest son and family and attend the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival.  Part of the reason for this trip was to pick up an antique sitting quill wheel that I bought from a friend of a friend sight unseen and the friend railroaded it from it’s original home, to her home, to the festival for me to pick up.  She is a lovely little old wheel with some remade parts but she spins beautifully.  The wood is stained but otherwise unfinished and dry.  Regular treatments of Howard’s Feed and Wax are happening and will continue.  This little wheel will be the one that goes with me for living history events.  The legs are hand hewn with a draw knife at the top to fit into the mounting holes.  The axle is wood and the parts pegged together with wooden pins rather than nails.  The only metal are the tacks holding the wheel spindles in place and the quill.

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The weekend before last, was an opportunity to be part of a Revolutionary War encampment as a spinner at the Fincastle 50th anniversary Festival.  These events draw plenty of interest as people walk through the encampment to see how they are set up, to view the period clothing, the period crafts and old weaponry.  At 10, 12, and 2 p.m. the old cannon was primed and fired which in itself is quite a display.  I often have children sit in my lap and “help” me spin, lots of pictures being taken by parents, and the child getting to go home with a necklace or bracelet of yarn they spun.

Though fall is beginning to show some colors, we are still experiencing above average temperatures for the time of year.  If it didn’t rain a drop in October, we would still be well above the average rainfall for the year, but rain is still forecast today and tomorrow and later next week as well.  When it isn’t too hot or too wet we are getting out to walk and a walk in the woods was enjoyed a couple of days ago.

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For the past month or so we have had a huge garden spider that took up residence first on the shelter over the heat pump then as Hurricane Florence remnants blew through, she relocated to block the basement door with her huge web and web writing.

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Their black and yellow bodies and the web writing fascinate me, as long as they stay outside.

The waning daylight has brought on molt with the hens and their run, coop, and the yard look as though a chicken exploded or they are having pillow fights.  A motley looking crew they are and egg production is down to less than 4 a day from the remaining 15 hens.  One laid down in the driveway a few days ago and didn’t get back up.  None of them appeared ill, and there was no physical damage that showed an attack.  It happens.

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Their molt also produces some strange eggs when they do lay.  One this week looked more like a football than an egg.

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The cooler evenings and earlier setting sun have produced some beautiful sunsets lately, this one was captured last night.

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Yard work continues as it is still warm and wet.  The garden is beginning to shut down, the corn is done and needs to be pulled or cut down, the asparagus tops have browned and need to be cut and burned, the cucumbers are gone.  We are still getting some late tomatoes that had a burst of regrowth after the blister beetle blight.  The peppers are over whelming me and with no extra refrigerator in the basement anymore, I am going to have to water bath can the rest of the peppers as there is no more room for cold storing them.  The second crop of green beans and the lettuce are producing and soon there will be some broccoli and cabbages.  After the first frost, the garlic will be planted for next year.  The Creeping Charlie is trying to take over and I am at a loss as how to rid it, pulling and weed whacking don’t make a dent.  The raspberries still have not been pruned and thinned and they are over run with Creeping Charlie.  At this point I may just dig them up, relocate the bed and try to smother the insidious weed with a tarp to try to reclaim that area.

As I have become less active on Facebook, I have taken to Instagram, there I don’t have to see the political climate and can enjoy the pictures of those I follow.  I am spn_knt there, but I have to approve you if you request to follow me, I don’t allow commercial followers.

Until I decide to blog again, enjoy the fall colors, be safe, and try to enjoy life.

A Touch of Fall

This past weekend was to be a staining weekend.  Son #1 and Grand #1 came in on an early morning bus Saturday, but the day dawned as many have lately, overcast, foggy and high humidity.  As the fog cleared, it was still overcast, so the staining was put on hold yet again and since he was here to work, we tackled the garage door that hasn’t worked properly in a couple of years.  We have had to hold the button constantly to raise or lower the door and the electric sensor was not working at all.  This rendered the remote in the car useless.  We made a trip to the nearest hardware store, in the next town since our local one went out of business and purchased a circuit tester and a few odds and ends.  He was able to isolate where power was no longer reaching the sensor and with a bit of rewiring and door adjustment, it now goes up, comes down gently and reverses when it hits an obstacle or the light beam is broken.  The morning harvest sat on the counter throughout the day.

Yesterday was similar weather, but he managed to get the garage doors caulked with me following as clean up before he and Grand caught a bus for home.  Once back to our farm, I tackled the Saturday harvest and made and canned 10 pints of Tom Tom Salsa, though I left out most of the lemon juice as hubby felt it was too tart for his taste.  Yesterday’s afternoon’s storms brought a significant temperature drop.  This morning dawned quite cool and still cloudy.

Each time I can, I get my exercise hauling empty jars up to the kitchen and full jars back down to the root cellar.  The shelves in there are quite rewarding now as they fill with jars of tomatoes, chili tomatoes, salsa, pasta sauce and XXX hot sauce.  The drying shelves are filling with garlic and Burgess Buttercup Squash.  There are many more of them ripening in the garden and I can’t get to the sweet potatoes anymore until the squash and pumpkin vines start dying off.

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As I was taking Son #1 to the bus, I asked him if there was a good way to reinforce the bottom of one of the pseudo orange crates that I purchased years ago at Michael’s Arts and Crafts so that I could load the full jars to the basement and for bringing canned goods and produce to them when I make my trips to their house.  We started purchasing the crates when he was in college and his library that he hauled from dorm room to dorm room to apartment were shelved in them.  Each semester, adding a few for new texts and other acquired books.  When I moved across the state to our new farm, my handthrown pottery, china, and books were packed in similar crates for the move.  Some of those crates have the bottom slats stapled on at an angle, others straight in.  I have feared having the bottom drop out of one.  He suggested taking a 1/2″ thick board cut to the width of the crate, drilling pilot holes and screwing the boards on the bottom across the slats.

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One of my projects this morning was to reinforce one of those crates, then to prepare and can 11 pints of pasta sauce and a pint of Pickled Jalapeno peppers.  My past two days have produced 21 pints of tomato products.   The garden is still full of tomatoes and peppers, but the jars are getting scarce.  I haven’t been able to locate any on Craigs list this time of year and I don’t really want to buy more in Big Lots or the Grocery.  I will can using the last 5 pints and last 11 quarts then start freezing bags of tomatoes.  The freezer us under utilized this year, other than chickens.  Unless we end up buying apples to pare and freeze, there will be plenty of space for quart or gallon bags of frozen tomatoes.

Today as I was boiling a pot of water for peeling the pounds and pounds of tomatoes, one of the burners on our flat top stove failed.  I had mixed feelings about a flat top stove when we bought our appliances 7 years ago, but for it to match the refrigerator and dishwasher, that was my only choice.  I guess we are going to have to get a repair estimate, but this isn’t good timing with canning going on and with estimated taxes due.

Suds and Sweets

Nope, not beer, though I have been known to make it too.  I realized that my homecrafted soap was nearly gone and as it takes 3 to 4 weeks to cure, I knew that I was going to have to get brave and make a batch or two on my own without my mentor’s help.  I have made two batches in her kitchen and only one here alone.  I have been procrastinating but realized that if I didn’t get over my reluctance and accept that I am still a novice and it might not be perfect, we were going to run out.  Summer is not a good time to run out of soap.  Sure, I could go to the grocery or the Farmers’ Market and buy some, but that goes against my nature.

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Yesterday, the soap making box was hauled out.  I quickly realized that I didn’t have the exact oils that the recipe I selected called for, but know that you can substitute some.  I quickly forgot rule #1, that in soap making, everything is weighed and I measured out the water for the lye mix in liquid ounces.  I measured the oils by weight though.  The recipe that I selected only filled my good mold about halfway, but I covered it, wrapped it in old towels and put it aside to saponify.  Today, when I pulled it out, it was a bit softer than the soap I made with my mentor, but the 6 bars are curing for use in a month.  Since the recipe only made 6 bars, I resupplied on the oils that I was missing yesterday so that I wouldn’t substitute and followed a new recipe to the letter.  When I added the essential oils to scent it, the soap seized and it is crammed and packed in the molds, covered to saponify.  It won’t be pretty, but it will be soap.

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Batch one curing.

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Batch two about to go under cover to saponify.

Today’s raspberry harvest brought me up to the 4 cups I needed to make jam.  Mind you, I don’t need any more jam, still having blueberry and blackberry left from last year, peach that I made a week ago, but I grew these raspberries and I want to savor them all winter.  So down came the pots and jars, the berries mashed, the sugar added and jam making round two for the season begun.

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Jam cooking while the jars heat beside it.

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Six one cup jars ready to for canning.

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Six jars cooling on the counter, as I listen to the satisfying pop as they cool and seal.

The rest of this year’s harvest of raspberries can be eaten as I pick, put in yogurt, and frozen for treats during the winter.

Lovin’ life on our mountain farm.

Olio – June 10, 2014

Olio: a miscellaneous collection of things

Nine years ago today, we received a call from Asheville, NC, a tired, satisfied and obviously in love voice announced that we had our first grandchild, a boy.  It hardly seems possible that he is now 9 years old.  The young man that I visit several times a year to provide day care for when his Mom’s and Dad’s school/work schedules require someone else to step in.  He will be spending 7 weeks with us this summer, in the house where he spent his first few years as they moved here when he was only 9 weeks old to supervise and do all of the stone masonry and finish carpentry in our home and then we all moved into it together for several year.

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Taking a break at the zoo in April.  Happy Birthday, Loakum.

It seems that the teenage pullets think I am the Pied Piper.  Each morning after I open their coop and let them loose in the pen with fresh food and water, at least half of them then follow me back down the run to the gate.  I don’t know if they think there will be a special treat for them if they do or if I’m just Mama as they came to me as tiny chicks and were raised in a brooder in my care until old enough for the coop.

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The garden is starting to brim full of good things to eat and other things to dream about.

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Chard and kale, peas with plumping pods, bushes of raspberries and blueberries slowly ripening in the sun.  Peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, winter squash, summer squash and sweet potatoes getting larger with each rain storm and sunny day.  Garlic almost ready to harvest and cure.

Yesterday was a busy afternoon.  After having a skin cancer removed a few years ago, I make an annual visit to the dermatologist for a full body check, that visit was in February, but a few spots appeared that caused me some concern, so a return visit started the afternoon.  Everything is fine.  Once home, Jim and I finally tackled the cleanup of the burn pile from a few weeks ago.  We were concerned that it would start filling with weeds, making the task more onerous than it already was.  Upon burning the wood that was there, we discovered a significant pile of large rocks.  I remember than eldest son had discussed putting the chicken coop there when the garden was much larger than it is now and he hauled that rock in his pick up truck from remnants of building the retaining wall, to use as a foundation for the coop.  With much grunting and groaning, the use of the tractor bucket, we moved the largest flattest of those stone to the culvert on one side of the driveway.

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Where it will be turned into a guardian/warning wall like this one on the other side of the driveway.

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These are to warn folks that there are car and tractor eating holes on either side of the drive that feed and drain the large culvert under the driveway and prevent it from washing down into our garage.

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Once the rocks were removed, several tractor buckets of charcoal, nails and screws that had been in the wood, and rocks too small for the wall were scooped up and dumped where unsuspecting tractor or truck tires haying or hauling hay won’t meet with a flat.  The area was then leveled as well as it could with the edge of the tractor bucket and the surviving rake.  Once eldest and family settle into their own house after degrees are complete, I guess I will have to buy myself a new rake as the surviving one is his that I am storing.  Mine did not survive the burn pile control as it proved to have a plastic fitting.

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On each pass from the burn pile to the culvert, I mowed a swipe through the orchard and back on the return trip.  Once the burn pile cleanup was complete, I just had to finish the job I had started and mowed the yard and orchard as close as I could with the tractor.  After a quick late dinner from the grill and a salad, the lawn mower was hauled out and the finish work around the fruit trees, chicken pen, garden and close to the house was done, just as the sky was darkening with the chickens settling in for the night.  With them closed up for the night, personal cleanup of bodies and laundry and a rest were in order.

Life is an adventure on our mountain farm.

Beauty and Hazards

The snow pack is thinning.  Our neighbor that hays our fields for the bulk of the hay came down after dark Saturday night with his behemoth tractor with climate control cab and plowed out our driveway.  As he was the one who constructed it for us a couple of summers ago, he knows generally where it is under the snow.  This allowed us to bring both vehicles back down to the house.  To change things up a bit, this morning we drove into the university town to a little local diner for breakfast.  The nearest parking is across Main Street and slightly uphill and though the access was cleared, the parking spaces have been trod by many feet in the past half week and between each parking space is an ice slick.  Both of us had slides, fortunately with no fall just trying to get out of the car and to the cleared walkway.

Yesterday as the roads seem to be mostly cleared, we took a jaunt 2000 more feet up our mountain to see more snow.

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If you ever watched “Dirty Dancing,” this is the “lodge” in the movie, also know as Mountain Lake Lodge, a hotel with adjacent cabins.  Though it is closed this time of year, except for special weekend events, it is still beautiful.

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The elevation there is about 4400 feet and the ridge has trees frosted generally from frozen fog that forms.

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The property on the near edge of this valley belonged to my grandfather’s family, though when we bought our farm, I had no idea that it was literally walking distance away.  My hubby teases that I did know, but I had never even been to this county or seen that area at the time.

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As we were going up to see the lake and the hotel in the snow, we saw this.  It is not our car, there was no one in it, but this is a lesson on why you don’t drive a 2 wheel drive vehicle on snowy, icy mountain roads.  The only thing keeping this car from tumbling on down the mountain side is the tree behind it that it hit as it slid over the embankment.  Hopefully, no one was hurt.  It will take a thaw and a creative, daredevil tow truck driver to get that one out.

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That is the mountain on which the red car, the hotel, and our home are located.

Fortunately, this snow did not take out our power, so all of the prep we did for it does not have to be done again for the ice storm due tonight that more than likely will steal all of the conveniences from us for at least a day or two.

Life is good on our mountain farm.

Back on the Farm

The return to the farm has brought with it the return to Virginia winter weather. Today’s high occurred early this morning with a chilly day and frozen night in the forecast. With dusk last night came rain all night long, creek flooding rain and snow possible as the day wears on. The ridge behind us shrouded in low thick clouds.

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Last week when I was babysitting in Northern Virginia and available regardless of the weather, it was sunny and warmed to the 40s and 50s, today they are on the rain/snow line of this storm and likely having to deal with another weather closure or delay. That problem, I remember well, having three children and both of us having professional level jobs that were difficult to miss.

It is good being home, watching the antics of the dogs. Ranger the English Mastiff romping with the German Shepherd indoors and out, but having much less stamina and collapsing on his back outdoors, or into this position next to Jim when he is spent.

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The only place he is allowed to do that in beside hubby in his oversize worn out recliner.

When I got home yesterday afternoon, I went out to check on the chickens and do a bit of coop maintenance, I don’t ask that of Jim when he is chicken sitting for me and finally caught a Buff Orpington sitting on an empty nest, so now I know which eggs to set aside for brooding when one of the hens gets broody this spring.

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I don’t know which breed is laying the pinkish tan eggs far left, the Olive egger is obvious, the nearly white tan eggs are the Buff Orpington (at least one of them though I think the pinkish ones might be the other one. The darker brown even colored ones are the Red Stars, nice sized consistent eggs with good yolk structure and flavor, and then there is the girl with the faulty sprayer that lays a brown egg, sometimes speckled always with a color distortion on the wide end and the girl that lays extra elongated pointy eggs. I may never know though, because as soon as there are 14 Buff Orpingtons including Cogburn or his descendant, the rest will go to freezer camp and my eggs will be boring, but my flock self sustaining.

 

 

Weird Weather Year and It’s problems

Yesterday it was snowing here.  We didn’t get much accumulation, just a dusting as each of the other snows this year have been.  This snow triggered a memory of one of my first blog posts, a voyeuristic peek into the bare woods that nearly surround our homestead.  Our 30 acre farm is primarily hay fields.  There is a rock bar at the top of the property above the barn, a sink hole that swallows our two creeks to the west of that rock bar.  The upper part of the property is returning to woods, the west side and south edge of the property are wooded, the upper east side belongs to a neighbor and it is also wooded.  These woods give us a sense of isolation, we can’t see our neighbor’s houses at all in the summer and can see their lights at night in the winter, but the winter with the falling of the leaves, clears the view the brush obscures during the summer and we can see the wildlife that a mountain side farm supports.

Last summer, we thought we were going to need to build a boat if the rain didn’t stop.  It rained well into the time of the summer that is usually too dry here and it affected the garden, severely reducing the produce from some of the crops.  The young pullets and cockrell that we had started in March spent most of their day under the coop and the design of the coop, allowed rain to enter the drop down window on the east side.

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I struggled with an idea for sheltering that window so that the chickens didn’t get wet when perched below it inside.  My solution was to tack an 8 foot tarp just under the roof on that side, stretch it over three flexible poles that were anchored to the fence with cable ties.  That seemed to work for a few months, providing shade and rain shelter on that side of the coop.  This winter, however, we have had wind.  The farm is in a hollow on the south flank of John’s Creek/Salt Pond Mountain and it funnels the wind sharply across our land.  The wind tore the tarp free at two points and the flapping raised 3 of the fence stakes from the ground on the coldest day this winter, when our high only reached single digits.  The fence came down, the ground was too frozen to hammer the stakes back in, but the chickens were cooped to try to keep them from frostbite.  Unfortunately, the rooster and one hen suffered some on their combs and wattles anyway.  Our winter has alternated between mild, up into the 50’s days and frigid windy weather.  Today is the later, the sky is clear and gorgeous and 22 f.

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The coop problem however, still exists.  Generally the rain comes from the west and the west side of the coop has two glass windows that can be raised opposite the perches and an overhang that helps shelter them from all but a horizontal driving rain.  The fence posts have been reanchored, but the fence is really inadequate and has no real gate.  I guess when the weather and budget allow, we will begin the fencing for our pastures and at that time, perhaps the orchard in which the coop sits and the garden on the edge of it, will be fenced as well and the chickens will be able to have a larger area to free range.  Right now, their free range must be supervised because of our dogs, the neighbor dogs and the coyotes.

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For now they have to enjoy the bugs that hide in the old hay in their run, the pumpkins and other treats that I offer and the supervised outdoor time they can be afforded when the weather permits supervision.

Life is good on our mountain farm.

The Deep Freeze

The wind howls,

The snow blows ( wish it would stick),

Chickens are locked in their coop with extra straw, food, water and scratch grain for entertainment and digestive warmth,

The wood stove is blazing and will stay stoked

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Wish I could stay in and enjoy, but eggs will quickly freeze in these temps so forays to the coop will have to happen til late afternoon.

Stay warm and safe my friends.

Return to Normalcy?

Last night, instead of sitting home like a pair of old fogeys, we used the internet to find a party at a hotel in a nearby town with a buffet dinner, a comedy show, then a DJ with dancing and a champagne toast at midnight. It took the DJ an hour or so to realize we weren’t 18 years old and he finally found some rock and roll music that got more folks onto the floor including an 87 year old partier who danced with all the gals.

Our New Year’s day tradition starts with huevos rancheros for brunch and the beginning of the packing away of the holiday trappings.

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The tree has been removed, the needles vacuumed and the furniture returned to its usual seating configuration.  The shelves dusted, all the Santas carefully wrapped in bubble wrap and stored in their large plastic tote.  The windows and sills have been wiped down, the Christmas linens washed, dried and folded for storage for another year.  One guest bed linens have been laundered and the bed remade.  The basement guest bed still remains to be done.

The Christmas leftovers were removed from the freezer and tonight we will enjoy hot turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy with one of the green vegetables that I carefully froze and packed away last summer.

The helter skelter of the holidays is behind us to be remembered and savored until next year.  The winter calm is settling over the house.  The farm chores are returning to our daily schedule and it is good to be getting our own eggs again, instead of them leaving with the neighbor that cares for the chickens when we are away.  We are glad to be home again.

Life is good on our mountain farm.