Monday, September 27, 2010

Prairie Fall --- Harvest 2010

Dusk outside the kitchen window
The squash is ready and I've picked over 120 total of Waltham butternut and Table Queen acorn! Friends stopped by yesterday and I sent them home with bags of tomatoes, carrots, squash and sweet potatoes that we all picked while they were here. This crop will go into the root cellar after hardening off for a couple weeks. We'll continue to share with friends since we have SO many!
85 squash picked on Sunday - that's a LOT
of squash no matter how much you love it

Here are today's squash - OMG!
another 36 for the cellar

potato harvest

The potato bed was overtaken by the squash so I think they may have compromised the potato crop. I didn't get as many as I had hoped. We have been eating fresh potatoes this summer in potato salad, baked and steamed and they are delicious. I have to admit it is nice just lifting the straw and picking the clean potatoes; so easy to harvest just before dinner --- so I will plant them on top of the ground again next year. I planted yellow German Butterball and white Caribe potatoes from Seedsavers Exchange. The German Butterball has yellow skin and buttery yellow flesh with a creamy texture. The Caribe has beautiful lavender skin, white flesh and is simply delicious. Both are gourmet heirloom potatoes and I will plant both again.

Long straight carrots as a result of the raised
beds. Perfect!

Sweet potatoes are the last thing in the ground. The vines are dying back so the sweet potatoes are ready. It's one of those crops that grow underground so you don't know your yield until you dig them up but I'm betting its big. We dug a few yesterday and they are fabulous!  We love sweet potatoes and eat alot of them so this is good news for our winter storage. I planted Georgia Jet sweet potato slips.

I planted a tank with succession plantings of Swiss chard, lettuce, arugula and spinach. Fall greens is such a treat and with the cooler weather they are coming along nicely. For lunch I had steamed potatoes, carrots and Swiss chard with a splash of olive oil, salt & pepper and 2 poached eggs on top. Luscious and simple.
Our fall green crops - delish!

Now we'll be working on tilling the beds and getting them ready for the winter. Gardening is just about done for 2010. I can say that the raised beds (stock tanks for me) were a back and knee saver and had the added benefit of reduced weeds and greater moisture retention.  It was the best idea of all in our garden this year.

The last dill pickles from the last cucumbers
in the garden

Have you ever seen a hedge apple? This was
found on the road north of our ranch. They are
inedible and according to folklore, they are natural
bug killers. They are also known as Osage Orange and
are native to the US.

Foggy morning on the ranch

Autumn color is beginning

My favorite image of the ubiquitous Nebraska prairie---by Michael Forsberg


I have a favorite non-fiction author, Sarah Susanka, who is an architect.  She developed  the "Not So Big House" concept a number of years ago and has written a series of The Not So Big House books about it. She calls it "a Blueprint for the Way We Really Live" and it makes so much sense. If you are remodelling or planning to build a house, you owe it to yourself to check it out.  I believe with the change in the economy, the uncertainty of the world today, and the Green movement, her designs are especially relevant. She challenges the McMansion style of the last 20 years with all the wasted space and non-functioning space within them. Oftentimes there are rooms never or rarely used and the design keeps the family physically apart instead of together. Mark and I definitely wanted a smaller house for the two of us in retirement and our cottage is perfect - it is small and lives very well. It also fits in with some of her concepts and I love the coziness & functionality. I hope more builders come around to this concept in the future. 

Sarah also wrote a wonderful book called The Not So Big Life - making room for what really matters. Another of my favorite non-fiction authors, Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, said about her book, "This not so big book will help you find your human scale and a life that suits you. It's practical, inspiring, and brilliantly conceived."  I couldn't agree more. I hope you look into them; at least browse through them the next time you are in a book store or check out her website at: or

The Not So Big House Collection: The Not So Big House and Creating the Not So Big House

More Not So Big Solutions for Your Home

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

First Day of Autumn & Seasonal Reflections

This picture is a typical view of autumn in this country; soon to be followed by the trees and grasses turning color. We went from 50 degree weather last weekend to 90 degrees on the first day of autumn. Wow - that is a change.  Tonight is supposed to be a full moon and of course Jupiter will be the brightest star in the sky.  Hopefully you had the opportunity to check it out. Our sky was covered in clouds so no Harvest Moon here!

The modern world of food is being closely examined these days for both health & safety. When I saw the article (below) in the paper today, it caused me to reflect on food and what I have been doing here for months. The Local Food movement - Buy & Eat Local and the Slow Food movement are both gaining momentum across America. There are a lot of interesting concepts these days about our food sources and about home food preservation. The idea of home canning often brings to mind an old fashioned picture of our mothers or grandmothers in their aprons in a hot steamy kitchen, wiping sweat from their brows, looking worn and tired. Of course they didn't have A/C or modern appliances and most HAD to put up the food for the winter. But its a picture that most women don't want to insert themselves into!

Over the years as the modern world changed, especially as women joined the outside work force, vegetable gardening and home food preservation fell out of favor. Instead we accepted the food industry's idea of convenience foods. We've recently learned that they processed the foods with chemicals we can't pronounce along with high salt content and high fructrose corn syrup in both canned and frozen foods.  We totally trusted the food manufacturers and we didn't know that the modern foods were causing us to have health problems until recently. So as these health issues and food safety have been highlighted, the public has started to change ideas about their food and that includes such ideas as home gardens, Buy and Eat Local, organic, fresh markets, home food preservation, etc.

Food preservation definitely involves work - it doesn't happen magically - but small batch processing is the answer as I've mentioned before.  If you practice succession planting in the home garden so the entire crop doesn't come in at once; or if you make several trips to the Farmers Market rather than getting all the produce in one day, then small batch processing works. It is such a satisfying activity. I'm happy to see this trend back to preservation of local food.  The last few years before I retired, I started to think about our food and its source--- reading labels, eating less processed foods, changing to whole grain pasta and bread etc; and for the entire 10 years we lived in California, I went to the Farmers Market every Saturday we were in town, rain or shine, to purchase our produce. After retirement I wanted to garden and preserve as much food as possible for the winter. I think I've made a great start but we won't know the real success until we see how the food lasts us through the winter. I can say it has been a tremendously fulfilling process. Check out this article about home canning that started my reflections today:

I'll end my musings with this magnificant video showcasing the book, Great Plains by Michael Forsberg, a Lincoln, NE author. You will see the incredible sky, the vast land and nature that we live with daily here on the Plains ...Enjoy!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Good News --- The Guineas are BACK HOME!

    Very scared cold guineas on their way home to our place
The mystery of our disappearing young guineas has been solved!  Yesterday morning a neighbor stopped by to ask whether we were missing some young guineas. Of course this caused some hopeful excitement around here.  Evidently when I saw them disappear into the tall grass, they continued to eat down the hill, across a couple pastures with lots of hills & ravines, to our neighbors place which is about 1/2 mile from us.  We didn't think of checking with him because he has lots of cats at his place and they can be the enemy of guineas. He said there were originally 12 but now just 7. Roosting in trees is dangerous! Mark went down there today to help catch them and bring them home.  We have to confine them into the guinea house for 30 days so they imprint our place as their home before we let them out again otherwise they'll try to get back to our neighbors.  We made an error by letting them out too young and they hadn't imprinted our place as their home yet. Oh well, we're learning. Anyway, the seven are safe and sound. I'm so glad they are back.

Yesterday it turned very cool in Nebraska.  Our high for the day was in the low 50's and we turned on the furnace for the first time. I'm seeing a tinge of color in the trees and bushes - the sumac are turning red and there is some gold high up in some trees. I hope we have a colorful fall this year.  Last year it was so windy & rainy that the leaves never really put on a show, they just blew off, soggy and brown.

Hot soup ready to eat - it tastes as good as
it looks!
I picked quite a few potatoes yesterday afternoon and used some in homemade chicken noodle soup along with carrots, onions, garlic,  and a little kale and Swiss chard---all from the garden.  I added a slice of fresh ginger, some ground coriander, celery seed and a bay leaf along with salt & pepper for flavoring. Oh it was delicious! Soup is so comforting when it is cool. Looks like soup season is upon us.

Lunch for one today & the leftover soup is even
more delicious!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dr. Seuss Was Right - There ARE Green Eggs!!

Check out this picture, two blue eggs + one GREEN
egg! The three Easter Egg chickens are all laying
and one is producing GREEN eggs!
Each season holds its own loveliness and Fall is unfolding it's show starting with the cool, cool nights and cooler days. That will soon lead to leaf color changes, pumpkins ripening, crops being harvested, and other traditional fall activities.  The wild plums in the thickets are ripe and actually falling off the branches.  I picked some and have made plum jelly.  This will be the last preserves in the pantry for the year. I've made myself a note for next year to begin watching the plum thicket in mid-August so I get plums at the beginning of their season instead of the end.

My girls in The Dot House have upped their production and I'm at 14 eggs per day!  I may have made a fatal mistake, it is certainly against the philosophy that I established when I first got the chickens, and that is I've named one of the hens with her own name instead of just being one of the Dots.  She is Goldie - one of the three Easter Egg chickens that started laying blue eggs first.  Of the three, she has a golden head, the other two have black or grey feathers on their head. She frequently follows me or greets me when I go outside.  When I leave the house, if she isn't on the nest, she'll come running from anywhere in the yard to greet me. Now, that is irresistible. Her willingness to run to me makes her vulnerable to getting run over. I am very diligent but it could happen when machinery or horse trailers are moving through the yard.  I just hope she has a little sense in that tiny head to run away from danger. I never thought I'd get attached to one of the chickens! Oh well, I do love them all.

I'm beginning to think about how I will plant the garden next year. I'll have to rotate certain crops (e.g. tomatoes & potatoes) so I don't encourage disease. I also need to make sure the squash has room to grow without compromising other crops, and determine how much of everything we will need next year. We are going to put in a automatic drip irrigation system in the vegetable garden and in the flower beds around the house so we have more consistent irrigation with less work. Hauling the hose and sprinklers around the yard is hard work and time consuming with inconsistent coverage no matter how hard I try. The planning is an exciting part of gardening - well, actually for me, I love all parts of gardening from planning to harvest. It has been a successful and fulfilling gardening season for me. I have been saving seeds from the vegetables that we love so I have the seeds for next year. 

...another beautiful Nebraska sky!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Life Around the Ranch

Here is a carton of our still small eggs as compared to
a store bought large chicken egg.  See the two
blue eggs in the front? Cool, huh?
We went from four eggs to eight eggs a day within 4 days so the hens are really starting to lay --- and we are getting BLUE eggs too!!! So that means the Easter Egg chickens are starting to lay too.  8 eggs per day adds up fast!  I am looking for egg cartons and will be giving the eggs to friends. The fresh egg yolks are lovely in color (deep orangy yellow) and tasty which makes this all worthwhile. You know that very fresh eggs are not good for hard boiling because it is difficult to peel off the shell. I will have to save back a few eggs to age a bit whenever I want hard boiled eggs.
The Dots had fun exploring the hay bales

The Wyandotte chicken is such a beautifully designed chicken.  They are big hens, solidly built with a very gentle nature. Our chickens are so healthy, their eyes, combs and feathers reflect their health. We went to the Nebraska State Fair last weekend and the chicken exhibit was the most interesting with all the varieties and the gorgeous roosters. We don't have roosters here at the ranch because hens are calmer without them plus contrary to common belief, roosters don't just crow at sunrise but many start at 3AM and they crow all day. Most annoying. I must say that the Dots are as beautiful as any of the show chickens that we saw at the State Fair.

Three hens enjoying grazing in the front yard.
Here is a closeup of one of the Easter Egg chickens. Their heads are so small and their faces look like an owl --- they are funny looking. They are so curious, they often lead the Dots all over the yard checking out something new.

We have the original adult guinea pair that roams the yard and pastures--- all that is left of the original adult dozen. The dozen young guineas that we raised have gone native too. (boo hoo) I was mowing last Friday and watched them graze the lawn and then the garden and then saw them move into the high grass and I had a sinking feeling...and they haven't been back to the guinea shack since. Oh my, this is the part that is so hard.  I don't want to lose the guineas. Mark is confident they will come back...I hope he's right. He says he sees bird trails through the tall grass.

And check out this bucolic picture of the miniature cattle. Mark has the patience to catch these fabulous animal pictures.

These picture were taken through the screen door this week, but I had to include them since these are the first turkeys we've seen this year --- this is a wild turkey family, a tom and hen and five young babies. Click on the pictures to enlarge so you can see them better. Isn't it great to see these remarkable birds lounging in our front yard? It is still amazing to me. I can't get enough of watching them.
On the right, the turkey hen is sitting in the grass and the tom is standing.  If you look closely you can see his beard at the bottom of his neck. There are 5 young birds - some sitting in the grass and some eating. They stayed in the yard for about 30 minutes. The Dots didn't bother them at all even though at times the hens mixed with the turkeys.
Remember the apples we picked last week? Well I made 2 apple pies, one to freeze, and one to eat and froze 4 quarts of sliced apples. Tonight Mark and I picked a little over 15 gallons of apples from that old tree and we put them in the root cellar for this winter. I don't know what kind of apples these are but they are sensational tasting both fresh and in pie.

And finally, another beautiful Nebraska sky. The weather has definitely cooled and there is the tinge of fall in the air. I love every season and it is so great to be back where I can experience all four seasons. I have to admit that I wasn't up early enough to see this in person, but Mark captured this sunrise one morning this week. Isn't it full of promise?