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marlingardener's Blog

Farm living and laughing

Cackleberry harvest

Category: Farm Doings | Posted: Thu Sep 29, 2011 11:53 am

eggs galore ( photo / image / picture from marlingardener's Garden )

Despite drought, heat, and adjusting to each other, my ladies are laying fine eggs! The young ones haven't quite got the hang of using the nest boxes, so I have to be careful where I step when I go into the coop. Right now behind the water station is a favorite spot for one of the girls. I keep showing them the lovely, well-decorated nest boxes, but they are being perverse.
The older ladies, however, have abandoned their old nest boxes for the newer ones. I cleaned out the old ones and put in new shavings, but they prefer the view from the new boxes.
The girls' eggs are smaller and lighter colored, so I can tell who is using nest boxes and who is playing "hide and seek" with eggs.

egg size comparison ( photo / image / picture from marlingardener's Garden )The center egg is one of the young hen's. It is smaller and slightly lighter in color. When they lay an egg it's practically white, but it starts to darken a bit immediately. As they mature their eggs will become a rich brown.
The ladies are actually getting protective of the girls (or my dominant hen sees an opportunity to enlarge her sphere of influence). Two of the girls wandered out into the barn aisle while I was cleaning the coop, and Ruby Begonia went after them, flapped her wings and shooed them back into the coop! Ruby didn't want to lose any of her constituents, I suppose. However, when it comes to catching grasshoppers, it's every hen for herself!

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A little rain, all the difference

Category: Nature | Posted: Wed Sep 21, 2011 8:47 pm

Last Sunday night we got 1" of rain. That was the first rain we had received since late June, and it made all the difference in the gardens (and my attitude!).
The culinary sage that I thought was a goner has started to put out new growth. The oregano and mints are also perking up, and looking less like they ought to be in ICU. The rue still looks awful, but there is new green at the base of the plants. I'd hate to lose all our rue--the butterflies love it so!
We have Bishop's Weed blooming in the pasture--it's much like Snow-on-the-Mountain, and the tiny low Ruellia has blossoms on it. You can't kill that plant!

low blue ruellia ( photo / image / picture from marlingardener's Garden )
Getting up in the morning and seeing mist over the pasture; being greeted by bird calls as they gather around the feeding stations; and not hearing the grass crunch under your feet sure makes a person have hope that the fall may bring relief!

This blog entry has been viewed 322 times

Ice Cream Social

Category: Farm Doings | Posted: Fri Aug 12, 2011 8:24 pm

Every August the church up the road holds a community Ice Cream Social. In the 1850's, a German baron sent a group of retainers here to populate and farm a land grant. Many of their descendants are still here, farming the "old home place." Even if you attend another church, or none at all, if you live in the vicinity of the church you belong to the community. You should meet some of the community members.
Margaret and Arthur are mainstays of the church. Arthur farms and runs some cattle, and their place is a model of neatness and efficiency. Margaret volunteers at the local hospital and at the elementary school, plays the organ at church, and bakes the best cookies in the world. Grown men faint over her tea cakes!
Eileen lives on her farm and dotes on her grandchildren. She makes the best kolache (a raised dough with a fruit filling) and cleans the church because she does it better than anyone else could.
Mary is famous for her dill pickles. When the bingo game gets going after the Social, her pickles are one of the best prizes. Fights don't exactly break out over her pickles, but that is only because the preacher is there.
Leona is tiny, beautiful, and just vague enough to be charming. When she won a basket of our hens' eggs with a note from "Rosie, Ruby Begonia, Bianca, Lucy, Eileen, and Slo-Poke" hoping the recipient would enjoy the fruit of their labors, Leona said, "I don't know these people!" Someone explained the "people" were hens--big black hens that had laid the eggs.
W.C. (in Texas a lot of men go by their initials) mows the church grounds and cemetery, sees after the building, and rings the bell at 10:30 on a Sunday morning. He and his wife Anna (who quilts and paints and cooks and is absolutely dear) are expert fisherpersons. They have won many fishing tournaments, and always supply the fish for the April Fish Fry at the church. W.C. fries a good fish!
Clark is a deacon, and does the readings. He has a beautiful speaking voice, and sings awfully well. He leads our pitiful attempts at singing (we are not the most melodious group) and if it weren't for Clark, we'd have to give up trying the hymns and just hum. He also paints beautifully, and has had several shows of his work.
So, those are a few of the members of the community who have welcomed us and made us feel part of the community. Who knew that moving out of a "community" of 16,000 people to a small farm would put us smack dab in the middle of a real community of kind people with good and giving souls?

This blog entry has been viewed 1580 times

High IQ chickens

Category: Farm Doings | Posted: Mon Jul 25, 2011 2:30 pm

I realize that the common perception of chickens is that they are pretty dumb. Chickens don't get invited to join Phi Beta Kappa and the Mensa Society doesn't recruit them. Chickens are the butt of a lot of "dumb as a chicken" jokes.
Our chickens are not dumb. Granted, they get all excited when their treat dish comes and run around in circles; the shadow of a passing cloud sends them squawking into the indoor coop; the little ones haven't discovered that they can fly up to both perches (one they try hopping up on, which doesn't work, and when they get frustrated with that, they fly up to the other perch which is exactly the same height off the ground); and generally they just don't look all that intelligent.
However, consider this--a college graduate arrives to clean their coop, freshen their water (filtered, of course), dish out meals (pasta primavera is a favorite), and stand guard while the chickens stroll around the gardens. Another college graduate has built a large coop for them, installed two perches, made a climbing ladder so they can get to their nest boxes, and spent time in the broiling heat making sawdust from scrap lumber so their nest boxes will be comfy.
So, who's dumb? The ones who are catered to, have body guards, and don't lift a finger (oops, forgot chickens don't have fingers), or the "staff" who clean, feed, provide entertainment, and do handyman work for the "dumb" ones?
I don't think the two-leggers will be invited to join a high IQ group, either.

This blog entry has been viewed 1115 times

Vampires, beware!

Category: Vegetable gardens | Posted: Wed Jul 13, 2011 3:54 pm

There will be no vampires within five miles of Red Gate Farm! I have been cleaning garlic the past two mornings (I do it in the morning to let the aroma disperse before my husband gets home from work and faints).
We dedicated a bed to garlic this year, and I may have planted a tad too much. We hung it in the barn to dry, and now it's ready to have the outer paper removed and put into storage, one way or another. When half of the tops are falling over and yellowed, we pull the garlic; wash it off to get rid of the dirt in the roots; tie three or four heads together on each end of a long string; and hang the string over a rope stretched between the barn rafters. With our humidity we let the garlic hang about six weeks. The test for readiness is to take a clove and squeeze it between your thumb and forefinger. If your fingers are damp, wait. If the clove doesn't have enough juice to dampen your fingers, it's ready to be cleaned and stored.
I freeze garlic. My favorite, although labor intensive way, is to freeze garlic puree. Cloves are peeled, put into my mini-food processor and chopped fine (I could do this with a knife, but laziness prevails!) and enough vegetable oil is added to moisten the garlic. Then the garlic puree is put into freezer containers, labeled, and frozen. It will last up to two years if you don't have a garlic loving family. The puree can be scraped out, even while frozen. I never thaw the puree--just grab a spoon and dig out what I need.
Garlic cloves, peeled, can be frozen whole. It's really great to be able to pull out three or four cloves when you are in the middle of a recipe and realize you haven't prepared garlic for it.
Whole heads of garlic can be frozen, also. In this case the heads are not peeled--just remove the outer paper until you get down to the "clean" and put into freezer bags or containers (I prefer bags so I can squeeze out the air) and freeze.
We also roast garlic and make roasted garlic butter to sell at the winery down the road, and to our own valued customers (the ones who pay cash).
Roasting garlic is really easy. Take a head of garlic, cut off the top 1/4" or just enough to expose the ends of the cloves, place the heads in muffin pans or any shallow baking pan (8" cake pans do well, but don't plan on baking a cake in that pan anytime soon). Drizzle with olive oil, cover with aluminum foil, and bake at 400 degrees for 30-45 minutes (depends on the age of the garlic.)This is great squeezed on toasted French bread, added to oven-baked potatoes, or mixed with chopped tomatoes and spread on Foccaccia bread as an appetizer.
Even though the local vampires hate our garlic, we sure enjoy it!

This blog entry has been viewed 1113 times

Welcome to the world!

Category: Farm Doings | Posted: Wed Jun 15, 2011 5:39 pm

We introduced our chicks to the outside world this week. They have a portable outdoor playpen to keep them safe (and to keep me from having to chase them all over 10 acres).

Whole new world ( photo / image / picture from marlingardener's Garden )

At first they huddled together, then they assumed the classic Western movie "circle the wagons" position in which all their little hind ends are together, and they stretch their necks and keep an eye out for predators.
They didn't seem to be enjoying the great outdoors much until one caught a grasshopper.

Protein! ( photo / image / picture from marlingardener's Garden )

Protein on the hoof! One girl grabbed the grasshopper and started to run with it, which initiated a great game of keep-away. After they disposed of the grasshopper (it wasn't pretty, so I'll spare you the details) they all cuddled up and took a nap.
This morning was their second foray into the wide world, and they immediately started looking for grasshoppers. I think I'll make outdoor girls of them yet!

This blog entry has been viewed 319 times

"Mexican" imports

Category: Flower gardens | Posted: Sun Jun 12, 2011 4:06 pm

Here in Texas we have lots of plants that have "Mexican" in their common name. Mexican honeysuckle is neither a honeysuckle, nor Mexican.

Mexican honeysuckle bloom ( photo / image / picture from marlingardener's Garden )

When it's out on the town and being fancy, it is Justicia spicigera. It makes a nice evergreen shrub, and the flowers attract hummingbirds.

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) ( photo / image / picture from marlingardener's Garden )

We also have "Mexican petunia" which is ruellia, and "Mexican buckeye" which is a nice little understory tree that isn't Mexican, but does have buckeyes.
When we lived in town the people in back of us were going to a deer lease (hunting area)and offered to bring me cuttings of a "Mexican rose" that grew wild there. I got all excited--a new rose for our garden. They brought back cuttings of bougainvillea!
We have lots of Mexican imports here--produce, clothing, all sorts of things. Unfortunately, many of the supposedly Mexican plants aren't among the imports but people credit Mexico for about half our decorative plants!

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Why it takes me two hours to run a half-hour errand

Category: Farm Doings | Posted: Mon May 16, 2011 7:32 pm

I try not to go into town more than once a week, and here's why--I spend two hours doing things that ought to take a half-hour at the most.
On my to-do list: get turn-buckles for new coop door, get gas for mowers, pick up more chicken feed. First stop the hardware store. One of the clerks asks me how the garden is doing, and we commiserate about the drought and discuss how high our corn is, and another customer chimes in with the amount of recent rain and whether it will do any good. The other clerk and I have an interesting discussion about hens, which we both keep.
As I'm paying for my turn-buckles, a neighbor walks in and asks if I saw the gazebo going down our road. Nope, I missed that one! Our new neighbors that are about two miles away had a gazebo built by the local Amish settlement, and it was delivered last week. Sorry I missed taking a picture of the gazebo passing by. However, my neighbor said the new couple are talking about throwing a big barbecue to introduce themselves and inaugurate the gazebo (deciding what to take to the barbecue will involve several phone calls and discussions with the other ladies on the road and there goes another hour).
Got to the filling station and have my cans filled, ready to put into the truck. Some gentleman who obviously thinks I am a delicate flower of Southern womanhood tells me he'll load them for me. Then we get into a discussion about how the grass is growing because of the rain, and he wants to know where our farm is, and when I tell him he remembers several folks who used to live up and down the road. I get a background on the neighbors, past and present. Useful knowledge!
I know that the feed store is a hotbed of information, rumor, and tall tales, so it's no surprise to me that it takes 45 minutes to get a sack of feed. But heavens, the things you learn! The local garden club's president is the mother of the man who runs the feed store, so you get town gossip and country gossip, all in one convenient location.
When my husband comes in from work and asks me what I did today, I can honestly tell him, "Nothing." But I sure had fun doing it!

This blog entry has been viewed 989 times

What don't you understand about "Barn"?

Category: Nature | Posted: Mon Apr 18, 2011 9:56 pm

As y'all know, we love birds, bugs, snakes, mammals, and all critters. However, there are a few that try our patience.
Barn swallows! Why on this good green earth do they insist on building their nests over doorways, on ledges over the patio, and on the carport? Can they not understand they are to build nests in barns?
They are NOT tidy birds! Their nests are made of mud and some other unmentionable stuff, which drops on any surface below it (like a new car). Airplane chassis could be held together with barn swallow nest ingredients.
They also have absolutely no plumbing problems (as evident on aforementioned car). A doormat that says "Welcome" isn't all that welcoming with a pile of white deposits on it. "Oh, just step over it, the barn swallows have a nest above the door. Would you like an umbrella?" Sure cuts down on visitors.
We have inside-out circles of duct tape on the patio and carport lights; our front door is festooned with Christmas tree tinsel (I read this repels birds, but I suspect the barn swallows think it's the latest in home decor). My husband goes out at 11 pm in his underwear to squirt the little birdies with cold water (we keep a spray bottle in the refrigerator for that purpose and pray we don't have to explain to any guest rooting around in the fridge).
We have a barn, a welcoming, clean barn with lovely rafters just perfect for a barn swallow's nest. They ignore it. Can't lure them into the barn. My husband is threatening to get a butterfly net, swoop up a swallow, and tie it to a barn rafter until it gets the idea this is it, no other choices. I just hope he isn't in his underwear when he does it.
Barn swallows are pretty little things, though . . . .

This blog entry has been viewed 1285 times

Good news/bad news in the chicken department

Category: Farm Doings | Posted: Sat Apr 09, 2011 7:27 pm

I called our poultry supplier and found that no chicks would be available until June! Bad news! It seems that everone and his cousin wants backyard chickens and the supplier is swamped with orders. I'm so tired of being on the "cutting edge" of fads! So, all y'all that ordered your fancy chicks, your bantams, and your strange breeds, back off! I need eight Black Australorps and I don't want to wait for them.
Good news is that Niaomi (we are on first-name basis with chicken suppliers) called and they have my chicks reserved, and I can pick them up on June 1st! Picture two 60-ish people, driving 27 miles in a pick-up truck to get a small cardboard box of chicks. Picture 60-ish lady sitting in passenger seat, clutching cardboard box that peeps, and occasionally opening it to coo at the little yellow fluffballs in the box.
Then when we get home they go to their incubation box (small shallow waterer, special starter feed, shredded paper on the bottom that gets changed daily) in the guest bedroom. Two weeks later they move to the inside coop in the barn with a temporary barrier to contain them in a smaller area. Sixty-ish lady spending most of the day hovering over the coop, protectively!
Pictures of new arrivals will be posted later.

This blog entry has been viewed 343 times

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