Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 State of the Ranch

 This was a big year for us. So much happened that we didn’t do much posting. For that we are sorry.

Munchkin is legal to drive. Dude’s job location changed. I was home full-time. We have awesome friends that made quick work of many projects. We have new neighbors, and we can see the house sites across the orchard. Animals came and went. Preservation of food was a priority. We hit sustained highs of over 100*, and are now facing a hard winter for the first time in years, with temps already in the single digits. We took a family vacation this summer, the first in five years. And yet, there’s still "this much to do"…

Instead of focusing mostly on demolition of the old, we began construction of the new this year. New deer-proof garden fence, plowing the garden for planting, redesigning animal pens, remodeling a valley into an RV park  (the Bogg) for visiting friends, finishing the round pen for the horses, training the horses, constructing the new road to the Parson’s place, rebuilding the old cattle guard, digging out water ponds and dried out water holes and an ancient well, prepping for a greenhouse… it was nice to see progress forward instead of just a large cleaning project.

But much didn’t get done. The garden fence isn’t done. The garden was never planted. The animal pens are on hold until the ground thaws. The Bogg is currently a swamp. It’s too cold to manage the horse saddles, so no riding has occurred yet. The road north still needs a last layer of gravel. The ponds will need to be redug. The ancient well will need to be relined and covered. The greenhouse is waiting on a delivery vehicle. But the cattleguard is done!!

Not much has happened indoors through all this. The insulation we put in last winter has resulted in snow staying on the roof – pretty, but the ice claws staring through our windows are terrifying. We have yet to find a chimneysweep who will provide us with service – after a six-month search. We have discovered potential problems with the grey-water system, which affects our noses in the house. Our closet is still stud walls with no cedar. The tools in the basement are still unsorted.

But we did put new lighting in the kitchen, and bought a brand-new refrigerator. We finally arranged for the 10’ mirror to arrive from the antique mall, where it’s been sitting for five years. And we put down a few rugs on the floor, which only solves the problem of lack of comfort for the footsies.

With Behemoth and Little Dog gone, we found the Avenger, a smaller version of Behemoth, but with a beautiful mask. She has continued to protect the ranch from invaders, but at a closer perimeter than her predecessor. This spring, the cat population exploded, with 30 babies born on the property; but as of now, we have only about ten – and only my old indoor cat, the ancient Siamese, and the Tiger outside remain from the previous batch. But the Avenger has been adopted by her own cat, so is that progress?

We’re probably down to ten chickens, no ducks, the three horses, two indoor cats, eight outdoor cats, and… hmmm…. That appears to be it. But we have plans for pigs and goats, at least, and plenty more meat and egg birds.

Well, that’s enough for this year. Looking ahead to all we’ll accomplish in the next 12 months…

Happy Holy-Days and a Hopeful New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Removing salt grass
Cleared for a round pen
The spring after we moved out here, I began planning a round pen in which to work our horses. Having been trying to train them for the previous four years at a stable a few miles from home, I knew they needed this specialized corral and I was excited to have them just outside the back door to get that training done more efficiently.


The llamas like it
Forgotten and puddling
I decided to make it out of old barn wood laying around the ranch. We had plenty of wide, long boards, and we could lay them in a basket-weave pattern with the ends to the outside for safety. At that point, I didn’t think too far beyond that, but figured it couldn’t be that difficult.

Lots of help
Need to pull the grass...
I began clearing a 40’ circle in the lower salt flats, ripping out big salt grass bunches with the backhoe and trying to replant them elsewhere. The replanting was unsuccessful, but I had a nice cleared spot that seemed level. I staked a t-post in the center and measured out from there to 16 perimeter t-post locations. We began gathering boards from the various wood piles, using the widest ones at the base and the thinner ones toward the top. The giant 1” drill bit my folks bought for my birthday came in very handy (I love that thing!), allowing us to tie the boards to the t-posts with baling wire. Dude’s ancestors would have been proud!

Then winter happened. And then my political campaign. Somewhere in the spring, someone found the cordless drill batteries still in the snow and mud, destroyed. For goodness’ sake… So I hired Munchkin and Pixie to continue the work, their proceeds going to church camp fees. The boards were done in a weekend, but then nothing else happened the rest of the year. I couldn’t chase down chore lists when knocking on thousands of doors, after all.
Munchkin and Nickel
Mrs. Dude on Sticky

So this year, I determined to finish the job. The quarter horses went off to training in July in Big Town, and in our lessons, Munchkin and I began to understand the true power and benefit to a well-designed round pen. I asked about the kind of sand needed, watched the activities occurring there, and the needs of the trainer in that ring. Just before they came home in October, I cut up old tarps and new tarps to use as a bottom edging so the sand wouldn’t spread outside the ring when the horses kicked it up. Being in the middle of canning still, I had Dude and Munchkin attach them to the lower boards… with baling wire, of course. But they missed the instructions about using the new grommets I bought.  

Yet another waiting period and reworking of the project. This was beginning to become an impediment to a happy marriage and home life.

Dude made a gate for me. Large plywood sheet that had previously been shading kittens born in a stack of tires. Used 2x4s as bracing. Only a few little parts like a wheel and clamps were purchased. He put it up, but didn’t make a latch. So we removed it, which was good because the sand man, who seemed to have a bit of miscommunication with me on which gravel project was a go and which would wait, had a tough time getting the gravel truck inside the pen, instead leaving it in front of the pen. I can’t blame him, but it was yet another wait while we moved the sand into the pen and tried spreading it out with a shovel… all 1200 square-feet -plus of it. And that was, of course, after pushing Dude to plow it with the backhoe, since the grasses had grown back into the space; the backhoe was replacing the rototiller that won’t start for some unknown reason, which took a few days to ascertain.

 All this time, the horses are watching from across the driveway, maybe hoping we wouldn’t finish it so they wouldn’t have to work. We tried longeing them in any empty corner of the pasture, but in order to really get their attention, they needed the spatial pressure of the pen walls.

Finally, the gate was on, the ground was plowed and covered in arena sand, and we were ready to get them to work again – six weeks after they came home. It was a cold windy day, but beautiful! The girls weren’t really fond of the uneven ground, especially the changes between compact and loose. We decided to plan more work re-leveling the ground, and switched to saddling them. We had made new mecate reigns and were anxious to try them out, even if only leading them in a circle for a bit. I had a new-to-me saddle and needed to make serious adjustments. Even the new headstalls needed adjusting. All in the bitter cold. With new, stiff leather. Yay.

By the time we were done, we had both lost saddle blankets, and both saddles slipped sideways, but we set the headstalls properly. I never did get to set the stirrup length. We took pity on the girls, and let them free into the pasture again.

And there was yet another wait. The weather turned arctic cold, and then we had a few family holidays and all the busyness they entail. But finally, a few days ago, we asked Swamp Man with his 4-wheeler and pull-behind rake to take a few spins in the ring. Munchkin took the girls out afterwards, and reported that they were okay with it and back to their usual tricks.

So all told, it took two and a half years to build the round pen. But it’s made of ranch materials and fits the land and the character of the ranch. When we get the girls back in daily working mode, we’ll venture out on our first ranch ride, but not until we bracket all the gates with large rocks so we can remount.

That might be in 2018, at this rate.

2015 Canning List

2016 motto

One of the many reasons I didn’t post much to the blog this year was the canning load under which I was buried. It was entirely self-imposed, of course, but we usually found ourselves drowning in produce. I say “we” because I drug Munchkin and even Dude with me into the swirling waters.

In our area, we have a gleaning program, put on by a local ministry to seniors. If you’ve never encountered the concept of gleaning, let me delve into some Biblical history for a moment. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and described in the story of Ruth, the nation of Israel was commanded by God to provide for “the least of these” (New Testament reference, but the same concept). One of the ways this was directed to be done was to leave the edges of the field un-harvested and to only make one pass through the field; what was left was “gleaned” for their own use by widows, orphans and the poor – those who had enough work ethic to go out and do the work (remember the directive in 2 Thessalonians 3 that those who don’t work, don’t eat). In an agrarian society, there was plenty of food for all.
Gleaning caravan

We find that here in our area. Gleaning programs, produce stands, and simply just knowing out neighbors means we have access to a plethora of food. By the list below, you’ll see the wide variety of foods our local farmers grow. For those of us who can and preserve, it’s heaven! Veggies, fruit, grains, beans, and on and on and on… When a field is picked for the commercial world and there’s still some left, or a hail storm takes out the tree fruit and they can’t do anything with it after the insurance payment, or the tomatoes you grew outgrew your ability to pick them, the gleaners are often allowed to come in and clear the crop. Some of us were more diligent than others, bringing home full car-loads of produce.

The cherry haul
Being from families who did this kind of thing for generations, we’re definitely not new to the process. But there were some learning curves we didn’t know we hadn’t learned.

If you’re going to use pickling lime, you must rinse it off before canning.

Drying things in large chunks results in rocks.

the broken new canner
Drying too many things at once results in blown breakers.

The ancient family crocks make pickling easy. 

Ginger comes not only in hands, but in monster heads too.

Over-processing, especially in a pressure-canner, results in mush.

not quite a peck of pickled peppers
And the cause of that one… canners may not be perfect out of the box, and threatening the company with a fraud suit may be the only way to prompt them to replace it.

Accidents can be delightful (onion BBQ sauce) or nasty (shriveled sweet pickles).

Vinegar in jelly is weird, but lovely on pancakes.

watermelon and vinegar jelly
Peter may have picked a peck of peppers, but they weren't pickled until he smoked them in his pipe (and we're still questioning whether that was really pepper, or something more pronounced....).

Rats like potatoes and onions, and will cart them off to hidey-holes if they get into your cellar.

Scraps of any fruit can be made into syrup or jelly. Or honey – but it takes far longer than you think.
rat-bit potatoes

A giant pumpkin can be reduced to only a gallon of dried stuff, making storage far easier.

Stores quit carrying jars at the end of summer, so stock up.

Old “62” jars from the war area are great for not only juices, but walnuts and other things that don’t need spooned out of the jar. But lids are hard to find.

Tattler lids are great, but the rings can warp out of shape. Stock up.

Fascinating things happen when a veggie sprouts inside itself.
Slinky and the mater

Frozen cherries are still sticky.

Gnocchi is too time-intensive to be worth it.

Don’t get suckered into picking up pinto beans by the bean. That’s definitely not worth it.

Dried hashbrowns are black, but taste fabulous anyway.

Kittens think tomatoes are playtoys. 

Powdered ginger, crystallized ginger and fresh ginger do not measure the same.
ChevyMama and the ginger monster

When drying food, don’t dry for the time listed in the book. The time needs to be adjusted based on how much is in the dehydrator and the humidity level. Better to dry for doneness, which is always longer.

Ketchup really needs a lot of salt. Really. Don’t skip it.

Dried Asian pears taste like candy.

Ground cherry candy will turn to rocks if they aren’t separated.

Homemade cranberry sauce is far better than commercial stuff.
monster carving

Don’t can cilantro. Add it in when serving it.

Walnuts last longer in the shell. And apparently, repel spiders... If the cat leaves them in the corners…

Drying blackberries not in leather form is not a good idea.

Canning with friends can be fun, but takes longer. Because it's more fun...

Corn silk tea is supposed to lower blood sugar. Will have to see…

Good chix, bad chix
Paprika spice can be made from any sweet pepper.

Cherries make a big mess.

Asparagus can be dried and pulverized to add to soups for post-spring eating.

Even if you do everything right, anything can go wrong. If it doesn’t look right, don’t eat it.
green sprouts inside peppers

Dried milk lasts less than 6 months, especially when in the cupboard above the canner. Not worth the effort.

Homemade yogurt is fabulous, but doesn’t last long. If the milk supply disappears, the little starter supply dies. And you can add your favorite multi-billion probiotic, instead of just the Acidophilus.

And lastly, I love canning. I love looking over this list and seeing all the fabulous things that we produced this year. I love thinking about what to eat for dinner, and what we have downstairs that I wouldn’t have purchased, but have at the ready because of the summer’s effort. I loved watching Munchkin learn the joy of a popping jar lid, even though she swears it’s just relief that it sealed. I loved leaving her to can something by herself, and coming back to see the pride in her eyes. This is our heritage, and I’m delighted to pass it on.

hail-damaged cherries
There’s still more to do. I still have six giant pumpkins and two other giant winter squash in the basement, as well as more potatoes and a giant bag of onions. In the living room, I still have over 30 butternut squash. In the fridge are pomegranates and a package of dill to dry. But these will be added to next year’s list, and will motivate me to continue canning and drying and freezing and otherwise preserving in the bland early spring months.

So, from our pantry to yours, happy eating in 2016!

2015 Canning List

22 quarts, one pint cherries
Mrs. Dude, ChevyMama and Mrs. Security
2 gal dried cherries
16 cherry fruit leathers
6 raspberry fruit leathers
15 strawberry fruit leathers
1 cup dried blackberries
2 cups dried strawberries
32 quarts, one pint applesauce
One quart dried rhubarb
1 ½ gal dried apricots
19 quarts peaches
1 ½ quarts raisins
Gallon dried peach chips
Munchkin, Pixie and the troops
2 quarts brandied peaches
2 quarts spiced peaches
3 quarts frozen bing cherries
5 pints fruit cocktail
4 quarts, 2 half-pints dried bananas
2 quarts dried Asian pears
4 pints cranberry sauce
½ gallon dried apples
Maestro, Munchkin and cherries

Jams and Jellies
6 half-pints apricot butter
7 half-pints apricot-pineapple jam
2 pints, one 4oz apricot jam
5 half-pints strawberry-orange-cherry jam
8 pints, 6 half-pints apricot-cherry jam
2 pints cherry marmalade
3 half-pints, one pint blackberry jam
4 pints strawberry-blackberry jam
10 pints chrry-orange-macadamia compote
6 half-pints bing cherry jam
tomatoes in the greenhouse...
3 half-pints cherry jam with honey
7 pints peach butter
3 pints spiced peach butter
15 half-pints peach melon jam
5 half-pints ginger-pear preserves
6 half-pints watermelon jelly with pear vinegar
6 half-pints watermelon jelly with lemon-lavender vinegar
6 half-pints watermelon jelly with raspberry vinegar and cherry juice
... and still more tomatoes
19 half-pints peach-orange marmalade
10 half-pints harlequin compote
2 half-pints plum jam
6 half-pints strawberry jam

30 pints creamed corn
Quart dried Hungarian paprika peppers
Gallon dried carrots
Gallon, pint dried asparagus
86 quarts carrots
3 ½ gallon dried corn kernels
Monster pumpkins
70 lbs cellared onions
3 cups dried cucumbers
½ gallon onion flakes
Gallon, quart potato rocks
16 quarts stewed tomatoes
21 quarts, 14 pints pumpkin
Quart, cup dried pumpkin
13 quarts, 30 pints, 10 half-pints tomato sauce
butternut haul
5 quarts dried tomatoes
2 gallons dried butternut squash
1 quart dried acorn squash

2 quarts dry kidney beans
6 ¾ gallon dried walnuts in shell
13 quarts chicken
butternut fields
5 quarts chicken stock
Cup salted dried pumpkin seeds
3 quarts, one half-pint turkey stock

8 pints Danish cherry sauce
10 pints cherry relish
3 pints blackberry relish
cellared onions
5 half-pints black forest cherry sauce
24 12oz corn cob syrup
12 12oz peach syrup
2 cups blackberry vinegar
4 pints spicy ginger-peach relish
3 half-pints peach rum sauce
4 pints peach chutney
16 half-pints peach salsa
4 cups caramelized onion (BBQ) sauce
3 pints ketchup
8 half-pints salsa verde
11 pints green ketchup
weighting down the crock

4 pints sweet pickles
3 pints beets in wine
11 quarts asparagus
12 pints beets
32 quarts carrots
10 quarts gardiniere
6 pints pickled onions
4 pints watermelon rinds
2 quarts quick dills
4 pints short-brined peppers
watermelon rind pickles

One spice bottle dried rosemary
Quart dried ginger
Quart dried cilantro

Gal, cup dried cornsilk
Quart dried whole milk
Pint ground cherry candy
51 frozen pierogi
Gallon frozen gnocchi
drying rosemary
¾ gal dried hashbrowns
14 quarts potato mush