We caught another fat little rat in the trap yesterday. I guess I ought to start keeping a count like I did last year, when we caught and killed over 100 rats. Our rancher neighbors did a LOT of burning off (aka: Controlled Burn) of their pastures last year about this time, and I don't expect this year to be any different. All the rodents that live in the pastures then come to the residential areas for food and safety, and, if you're careless about leaving your garage door open, for warmth.
Yesterday I started working on my seed list for 2016. It's a task I don't look forward to, but if I don't do it I lose track of what I have.
This is my "Workbook". I pull up the 2015 version and highlight everything in yellow. As I add new, and verify what I still have, I change the yellow back to "no color". In this way, I can see instantly what I no longer have, and can delete those lines. I have set up a lot of columns that I just haven't used so I think I'll be deleting columns this year, as well. As you can see, bottom left, I have separate tabs in the "workbook" for Flowers, Grain, Herbs Vegetables, Trees/Shrubs, and Ornamentals. I use gallon-sized clear zip-lock bags with these same labels on them. I start with the empty bag and add packages of seed as they are added or verified. Normally I keep my seed in little clear zip-lock bags that I buy at Wal-Mart in the crafts section. They are not expensive. If I have larger amounts of seed than will fit in the little packet, I use a ziplock sandwich bag. There are also lots of printable patterns for seed packages available on the Internet but they have to be printed, cut, and glued. Just doesn't justify the cost savings, if you ask me.
I like to add the descriptions that the vendor has on their site, it keeps me from having to look up information later, and just involves a copy and paste (and usually editing out excess verbage). If it's seed I've been given I use the information given me with the seeds. Otherwise I may go to Dave's Plant Files and see what people say that I can put in that field. As I have experience with the plant, I'll add my own opinions.
Now's the time to start collecting cuttings for propagation. I still have one little Possum Haw (Ilex decidua) alive from cuttings I took off a tree at an estate sale a couple of years ago. The rabbits ate it down to the ground last winter but it came back up, and now it sports a chicken-wire cage for protection. Pesky Wabbits!! It's not big enough to get another cutting yet and I don't remember where the "Mother Tree" was, now. Guess I should keep my camera in the car to take a picture of the mature plant (because sometimes I don't know what the plant is, exactly, and the owners sometimes don't, either) and write down the address. Normally, if you tell the owner how beautiful you think something is and ask politely if you can take a couple of cuttings, they are happy to let you do it. Since we go to a lot of garage and estate sales, during early spring and late fall I start watching for things growing in yards that I might like to propagate. I take my cuttings carefully, from a spot where it won't show, so there is no harm to the "mother plant". Often the owner will dig out their own nipper and do the cutting for me and that suits me fine. Picking off seeds is another option but sometimes you don't get the plant you expected from the seed. Or, in the case of Possum Haw, the new plants might be the wrong sex, and they won't bloom or make berries. But the cuttings stand a better chance for survival if they are taken in early spring or mid- to late fall. Cuttings just won't survive under jars if the weather's warm, because the heat collects in the jar and the cutting either burns or mildews. And the jar is necessary in order to keep the cutting humid enough. Leroy and Sherry, our friends who have the apple tree, save the half-gallon glass jars they buy pickles in, and I cloud the clear glass by dabbing on a thin layer of white paint, just in case I don't have much shade. As long as they are where the roaming neighborhood dogs don't walk (or poop), this is really all I need to do: stick the cutting in the ground, with or without growth hormone powder coating the stem, set the jar upside-down over the cutting firmly in place, walk away. Come back in spring, when the temps start to warm, and uncover for gradually longer periods of time each day till time to remove completely. This is generally when the cuttings die if they are going to, at least for me. I find it helps to just replace the glass jar with a plastic milk jug with the bottom cut off. And the lid removed. These are bad about catching the wind and blowing away but a small tomato cage over the plant will help keep the milk jug in place. This provides transitional conditions between total cover and no protection at all. From there I might replace the milk jug with a bottomless Folger's tub, without the lid. The lid can quickly be snapped on if a sudden change back to frigid weather is forecast. Oh, and you want to keep the grass pulled back from the cutting, if it's in a spot where this could be a problem. I've seen You-Tubes where cuttings have been rooted in other ways, outside, but this is the only way that's worked dependably for me so far. And thanks, Paula. HERE are all the You-Tube hardwood cutting lessons anybody should ever need. Lots of things can be rooted in water in spring when the new growth starts coming on. New growth is softwood, which is easier to root. Last spring I bought one raspberry plant and rooted two extra off the softwood from it. Boo-yah, three raspberry plants for the price of one, and they are all still thriving in the ground today. Some things just don't root well no matter what I do. I've been trying to get a start off my Alabama Crimson honeysuckle for Carole for a long time, and I just can't make it work. Carole roots things like geranium successfully in little squares of Wet Foam Blocks but I haven't quite gotten the hang of it yet. Amazon sells these for about the same price that Walmart does HERE, and shipping is free.
Every day that I can, I get out into the garden and pull up stuff that's done producing. Yesterday it was a few tomato plants that have died, a few melon plants, some bush bean plants that never produced very well (so much for Provider, I'll be going back to Lazy Housewife at the trellises from now on), and the last of the Purple Hull southern peas. I grow southern peas in the garden every year because they will produce in the heat and the dry when hardly anything else will. Every year I grow a different one of the four varieties that I have: Purple Hull Pink Eye, Lady peas, Whippoorwill peas, and the standard black-eye peas that you get when you buy a bag at the grocery store. I like the Purple Hull because of the color of the pods. Some people cook the pods and make jam with the purple "juice", and I have done that, but the fact that this kind of jam requires the addition of pectin is a drawback for me. If I have home-canned apple juice, generally I will combine the two, and the pectin in the apple will do the gelling. But otherwise I don't make Purple Hull jam. I generally have enough other stuff available to make jam with. I don't know what variety is in the bags that we can buy at the grocery store, but the kind that I grew last really produced heavily, so that's a plus for the gardener. Generally, if you save seed from things you buy at the grocery store, you will get plants that are big producers, unless the plant has been a hybrid. Then it's no telling WHAT you're going to get. Lots of people complain that some of the varieties of southern peas are just too hard to shell. Lady Peas, for example. I pick my southern peapods and let them dry, unshelled, spread out on a big tray in the house, and when dry they split open easily. I then let the shelled peas lay out on the tray for another week. Then they will store in the pantry just in a jar with a lid, no canning required. Usually I will use my FoodSaver to vacuum out the extra air, but they keep just fine with just the lid on, ordinarily. They need a little longer cooking time when stored dry, but they are still good, with onion, peppers and bacon, and some corn muffins on the side. Maybe some potatoes, fried crispy on the edges. Or some okra, cut into 1/2" (or thereabouts) rounds, dipped in milk and then half flour and half yellow cornmeal.
I'm using out of my last bag of frozen okra, so I'll grow some more next summer. The only kind I will grow is Cowhorn. The plants themselves are beautiful, they look like 5' tall tropical trees. The okra itself is still tender when it's 'way bigger than you could allow it to get on any other variety, so you can get a good crop from just one row. I always save seed, but it seems to take forever for the pods to get to the point where the seed is mature. Generally I will put a clothespin on the stem of one of the largest pods on some of the plants. This is so anyone picking will know to leave it there. I let it mature on the plant until the pod starts losing its green color and starts to split along the ribs. At this point, you know the seed is going to be mature enough. Mature seed is black, and looks like a little round bead. I plan to try canning okra next year, instead of freezing. HERE is a YouTube presentation of how that can be done. Oh, I know, there's a lot of hollering going on about how some canning methods aren't safe. I get a little weary of people who get up in your face, all alarmed, when you share a recipe that uses the canning methods that your mom used, I mean, a lot of us grew up on things canned by methods that wouldn't be considered safe today and no member of our family was ever sick from things we ate. I know their hearts are in the right place and they're just trying to do a public service, but some of them get so militant and hateful about it. So if you're afraid of this method, don't do it, that's all I'm sayin'.... Maybe there's a way to can it in a way that will satisfy "the Canning Police" on NCHFP. But I've got to say, I can't get a decent jar of home-canned pickles following these new methods.
I've started gradually bringing things in that won't tolerate freezing temperatures. Yesterday it was the scented, variegated, and vining geraniums and the Aloe vera mothers and pups. The sweet potatoes have cured and are in the pantry now. I pack them just one layer thick in the bottom of paper grocery bags, then close the bag down snug. We've been forgetting to ask for "Paper instead of Plastic" at the grocery store and I was about to run out of paper bags. Now that I've reminded Hubs and we've been shopping, my supply has been built back up again.
I brought in the Hopi Red Dye Amaranth plumes yesterday.
That'll be to do all over again after the plumes dry out a little more. The only grain that I've ever grown that's harder to clean is quinoa. OMG. Won't be doing THAT again.
I can see how there might be merit to going out and shaking the plumes over a container of some kind without breaking them off the stalk, if that's even possible, as seems like there were sooooooo many little pink immature seed to winnow out. Amaranth is an ancient grain, and this variety was used to make dye with, hence the name, but I have never actually eaten any of the seeds and I have wondered how they would work, when used in place of poppy seed, for instance, in baked goods. Amaranth is high quality protein, and even if you don't plan to harvest, is worth growing because of the beauty of the plumes and the fact that it tolerates heat and dry. I'm pretty sure chickens would love it and would scavenge for it themselves; I see flocks of birds coming in and settling down on the ground under the plants so I'm pretty sure I'm contributing to their health in providing something they can fatten up on in preparation for winter. I'm just a regular Bird Mommy this year, between this, the sunflower seed, the poke berries and the berries on the Malabar Spinach.
This is now Monday.
Yesterday the winds were calm enough that I could burn trash, and so I burned garden debris, too. Tomato vines are not good for throwing into the compost. And some things, like stalks of spent zinnias and sunflowers, just take too long to decompose. So I pile them a decent distance from the burn barrel and they get burned when the trash does. Eventually the ashes from the burn barrel, carefully scattered, make it back into the garden so it's all good.
The garden is quite a project this time of year. It's easy to get overwhelmed and do nothing. But I make myself do something, even if it's just a little, in the garden each day. Before I know it, I've got it where it's manageable again. We don't think how far "a little nibble" will go. Even if you make a deal with yourself that you'll work on a project for only fifteen minutes, it will eventually get you to the end of the task when doing nothing at all will mean you are looking at an unfinished project every. dang. day.
Still freezer diving. Finally made that beef-vegetable soup yesterday.
I almost forgot to take the picture. But let's see.... A pint container of cut-up roast beef. Half a pint container of chopped swiss chard. Okra and peas. All from previous gardens, stored in the freezer. The last of the carrots in the refrigerator crisper. About 3/4 cup of dried southern peas, from this year's garden. The last several small pickings of the green beans. Part of a can of whole-kernel corn left over from supper a day or two ago. Half a quart jar of whole tomatoes, the first half having been used in the meat mixture for the Taco Salad a few nights ago. Several damaged tomatoes from the garden with bad parts cut out. Two quarts of vegetable broth from the freezer. Garlic from the garden. Chopped onions from the garden. This had to simmer a little while, because of the carrots and southern peas, and ended up as more of a stew. Really, for us it makes more sense this way. Hubs used to be such a big eater and now it seems hardly worth it to cook for him, no more than he eats. So if there was extra liquid in this, he'd be hungry again an hour later, and making toast and jam. And sometimes I think he eats such small amounts just so he CAN have room for toast and jam later. What was left filled three quart containers and went right back into the freezer, but that's three quick meals I won't have to cook or mess up the kitchen for. And I am still ahead in The Freezer Diving Game because I took out more containers than I put back in.
I found a four one-cup containers of frozen blinky milk, so I'm thawing two today and I'll make pancakes for supper tomorrow, with eggs and some of those Hormel Little Sizzlers sausages that we bought at Homeland last weekend. They are 12-oz packages and were on sale for $1 per package.
I probably should mention here what I kind of assumed everyone already knew, but maybe some don't. I have trained myself to scan through the refrigerator almost every time I open it, to make sure I don't let something languish. If, by some oversight, I have done that, it goes on the compost. I don't like to waste food but Hubs and I have never had a food-bourn illness and I don't want to start now. It's enough of a risk, just bringing things home from the grocery store! Also, when I try a new recipe, many times I will make only half the recipe. And if I have bought or prepared something Hubs and I just flat-out don't like, I won't usually keep adding things to it to try to make it taste better. For instance, we are not big fans of seafood, so usually it's something in this category that someone told us, "Oh, even if you don't like seafood, you'll LOVE this!" Yeah. Right. A nice, fresh, filleted Crappie, rolled in flour and cornmeal and fried crispy in an iron skillet? YUM. Otherwise, meh. Hubs loves shrimp but I can barely look at them. They look like little embryos to me. We used to love to buy deep-fried fish at Long John Silver's, but we don't even like THAT anymore. It's too greasy. We don't care for oysters and no way in this world would I ever eat one raw. That we cannot afford to buy caviar doesn't bother us a bit. --Aren't we picky?? We also don't particularly care for pork roast. We buy pork tenderloin every time the price is right, sometimes we can get a whole loin for $1.99 a pound or less, which is a lot less than beef costs. Now and then I may slow-cook a small pork roast, but I shred it and we have it in sandwiches with barbeque sauce on it. Normally we just have it sliced 1" thick at the store, and I fry it instead of buying pork chops. Pork chops are usually so full of fat and bone that you never get your money's worth. Or I'll cube it and make Sweet and Sour Pork. I usually grind some with my KitchenAid meat grinder and mix half and half with ground beef for meat loaf. Once I seasoned some of the ground pork roast and made sausage patties but it was too lean and it just didn't fry up very well. We don't eat sausage that often except for an occasional breakfast, and my Runza recipe calls for crumbled sausage. Around the holidays I'll usually buy a good ham, and once in awhile I buy bacon, but we don't eat a lot of it, and now that the World Health Organization says cured meat is a carcinogenic (something we've all heard before), maybe the price will go down. Heh. I've said this before: The reason why overweight people are more prone to diseases than normal weight people is not because they are overweight. It's because they are taking in more chemical-laden foods. Preservatives, concentrated "sugars" like high-fructose corn syrup and now they're saying the highly touted agave nectar is even worse because of all the processing it goes through. Then there are flavor enhancers, artificial colors, growth hormones and antibiotics that the animals were fed, weed killers and pesticides that were sprayed on the growing fields. That sort of thing. I have often said that nobody really needs to come over here and kill us. We're doing it to ourselves.
Rose Mountain Herbs sent a link to me in an e-mail to a free herbal remedies on-line class. They say it's OK to share it, so HERE is the link. Mention was made of a herbalist named Jim McDonald and I kind of dinked around to see if I could find any of his stuff. I came up with THIS page, looks like it's full of some good reading.
I got my flu shot at The Health Department today. Good thing we got our shingles shots last month, people were coming in and asking about them today while we were there, and they were being told that the grant money that allowed them to give the shots free to Senior Citizens was all used up. Those shots are pretty expensive and Medicare won't pay for any of it. However they are saying that if the person who wants the shot has a medigap policy, sometimes that insurance will pay part of it, if it's submitted to Medicare, but not all will, and then the person who got the shot has to pay. It's getting complicated.
Oh, and by the way, if you've got little ones around, and you haven't had a whooping cough booster in ten years or more, GET ONE. If you garden and you haven't had a tetanus shot lately, GET ONE. Sometimes the tetanus and whooping shot boosters can be given in one shot, or so I hear. Call your doctor or local County Health Department.
Grandson JR and wife had a baby doctor appointment yesterday. Apparently the twins are not identical, they're fraternal. Identical twins are the splitting of one fertilized egg, and both babies are in the same sac. Fraternal twins are the fertilization of two separate eggs. Fraternal twins may not look alike, with different color hair and different features, and often one is a boy and the other is a girl. The doctors said they couldn't tell what sex one of the babies is, and thought maybe they'd be able to tell next time. But the one they can see well is definitely a girl. JR said, "If both babies are girls....... just shoot me now...." (they already have one child, a girl, who is about three now.) Heh. Oh, JR. It's Payback Time..... Apparently this twinning thing is not passed down from Hubs, this time. His mother and her twin were identical.
This is now Wednesday.
The basil plants in the garden lost their leaves and had gone to seed. I was going to pull them all up yesterday but they were so well rooted that I had to ask Hubs to do it. Even he had to use the fork. It doesn't help that the ground is so dry out there. I want to have basil in the garden again next year so I shook each plant well over the spot where they had grown as I gathered them. Hopefully the seeds will volunteer next year and all I'll have to do will be to thin them out. The plants are very woody so they went into the burn barrel. I stayed out a little longer to pull grass roots out of one of the beds. That particular bed was filled with wood chips and they have finally broken down, so the resulting soil was soft and the roots were easy to pull out. I don't know if I'm going to be able to do a "No-Till" garden because I need the tilling to knock the Bermuda grass back. *Sigh*. That's life on The Oklahoma Prairie.
It rained lightly this morning. Probably not much accumulation, though. Mesonet says our temp is 55º with a high expected of only 68º. Hubs changed the thermostat to "heat" yesterday and I heard it come on at 2:30 this morning. The thermostat was set to 73º. We usually keep it at 68º for night time heating. I was too warm and had to go downstairs and fix it, I knew I'd never go back to sleep so just started the coffee and stayed up. Mesonet says we're supposed to get a good rain Thursday night. That's what they said for last week and we barely got half an inch. So many of us have been disappointed so often, within the past several years, that we have gotten a little jaded about the whole thing. I don't think I fully understand the whole subject of wishing to make things come true. They talk about those "Visualization Boards" and my daughter was really into that some years ago. I have noticed that when I mention, out loud, that I need something, I will almost always find it on the next weekend of going to garage sales, and I tend to think it's God, giving little gifts of love. But I have actually prayed for rain and not had my prayers answered. So maybe I ought to get myself a "board" and tack on a picture of a garden getting rained on. Well, I guess it's just too late for that this year. But I wonder if the fact that so many of us that live around here just shrug and say, "Yeah, RIGHT." when we hear a forecast for rain, might we be in some weird way, preventing ourselves from getting it? Bad vibes? Self-fulfilling prophesy? I'm of the opinion that there is so much about the human brain and our spirituality that we don't know. I've heard that we only use a small portion of the capabilities of our brains and then I've heard that this is a myth. So I don't know..... But I don't think anybody else really knows for sure, either. I mean, they come out and say, "This is how THIS works," and we all go around repeating it and get ourselves convinced that's how it really is, and then somebody gets a grant for a new study and they announce, well, what we've thought all along just wasn't true. Till the grant for the next study, anyway.
This is now Thursday, the 29th.
I finally got around to making pie. It's not my best, I'm afraid....
I haven't made meringue in at least a year and I guess I'm out of practice, because some unexpected things happened. The water and cornstarch mixture got really thick, really quick. Did I mis-read the recipe? Yeah, I think I must have. Either that or it was the fact that when I spooned the cornstarch out of the box, I leveled off the measuring spoon by pressing it against the inside of the box as I drew it out. Well, doggone it, I probably ended up putting twice as much cornstarch in the recipe as should've been there, because I think it "packed down", kinda like brown sugar does, and yes, I knew better. I just wasn't thinkin'. But I seem to remember having it get too thick before, which is why I made sure to put a lid on the saucepan just as soon as I took it off the stove, and used it while it was still warm. Next time I use this recipe, I'll think I'll make sure to take it off the stove just as soon as it starts to thicken, yet is still pourable. I did a little dinking around on the Internet and found this recipe several places, but some of them called for mixing the cornstarch in 2 T. water, with all the other ingredients the same except some didn't call for Cream of Tartar, which is a stabilizer. So I've changed my recipe to allow the addition of an extra 2 T. of water if the mixture's too thick, at the end of the cooking time. I can see little clumps of cornstarch and water in the meringue, but Hubs says if they're there, he can't tell. And believe me, Hubs would say.
This is an old recipe that made the rounds among the women at the Copan Methodist Church during the 1950's, and was given to me years later by one of those women:
Never-Fail MeringueThis rises beautifully in the oven. If mixture becomes too thick to pour, stir in up to 2 T. water.
1 T. cornstarch½ C. water
6 T. sugar
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
Combine cornstarch, water, and 2 T of the sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly till thick but still pourable, translucent and shiny. Cover and set aside. Combine egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat just till foamy. Add cornstarch mixture (it's OK if it's still warm) and beat till stiff peaks will form. Pile onto pie and bake till nicely browned, at 375º for 10-15 minutes.
I've seen where certain cooks stress that perfect meringue cannot be made unless the eggs that go into it are fresh, fresh, fresh! I'm sorry, but in my opinion that's just so much food snobbery. If that was the case, nobody would be able to make perfect meringue unless they kept their own chickens, and I know several women who make perfect meringue from grocery store eggs.
We are expecting the temperature to drop tonight, near the freezing point. Often we will get frost when they don't get it in town. So I went out today and picked all the little tomatoes and peppers, and even if it doesn't freeze, I'm going to call it The End. I'm ready. We've had a decent harvest of most things, and though the Cheese Peppers didn't do much during the summer, they picked up as the weather cooled, and I've been able to get enough to last us till next year's harvest.
I'm always amazed at how big the yield is from these little guys. I grew reds, yellows and oranges this year. Usually I bring them in when they're still green and let them finish ripening on the counter. Did you know that the fact that so many people eat and use sweet peppers while they're still green is because of a marketing ploy? They had to be picked and shipped while they were still green so they'd still be fresh when they hit the stores. So the marketers built recipes around "green peppers" rather than "sweet peppers", so women would buy them even while they were still green. Weird, huh? I personally don't like the taste of sweet peppers while they're still green. If you let them change color before you freeze them, they will be much sweeter and not have that bitter tang that makes some people, especially kids, think they don't like sweet peppers.
I was interested to see that, over on Taylor-Made Homestead (on my sidebar), Tammy has a "Hack" where she cooks brown rice in vegetable broth that she collects from cooked vegetables. I never thought of making rice with it and I bet that'd be really good.
I did not get the basil that I grew in the garden harvested in time. But Lime Basil is growing around a flower bed near the patio and it still has nice green leaves on it. So today I harvested some of that. They say basil doesn't hold its flavor well when you dry it but there's a workaround. Dry it away from heat and the light, then pack in a jar and keep it in the freezer. I've tried freezing the leaves without drying first and they turn bitter. You could also make "Basil Tea", or maybe make pesto, and freeze it in ice-cube trays for adding to Italian dishes through the winter. But this is just easier for me, and takes less room in the freezer.
Well, that's about all I can think of to write. Halloween will soon be here, but we long ago quit decorating for it OR celebrating it. The stores are already full of Christmas stuff and that countdown has begun. I'll get back to my seed list and try to lay some plans for next garden year, including choosing what seeds I will Wintersow, starting in December, and I'll have to decide how I'll handle onion seed sowing, since I haven't done that yet. I never did have that garage sale I intended to have, and the garage is all cluttered up with that. I guess there'd still be a few weekends when the weather would be nice enough to hold a garage sale. But do I have the "Get Up And Go" to do it? Must think about that. Maybe spring is a better option, then I can sell surplus seedlings and little plants that volunteer in the garden. Pa Kettle is rubbing off on me. Can you tell?
Till next time, Rock on... Hugs xoxoxo