Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tucked in for the Winter

The final vegetable harvest is in - gorgeous HUGE sweet potatoes! We're not sure what kind of winter we will be having this year since last year we had our first snow on October 10th and it has been very dry and warm this October so far. The garlic is coming up and the winter onions look fabulous. The last tomatoes are picked and the green tomatoes are wrapped in paper waiting to ripen. All the beds are rototilled. The garden and I are ready for a rest. We're tucked in for the winter.

The last of the tomatoes

The iris are in the ground, thanks to Connie B for sharing; just waiting for the tulip bulbs to arrive by mail and then the flower beds will be covered with chicken wire and ready for spring. For those who asked about plants coming through the wire, we'll just cut the wire and enlarge the hole if needed when perennials begin to poke through in the spring and I'll cut a small hole into the wire to plant the annuals. It's a good theory anyway, we'll see how it works next spring.
 Some vignettes around the house...

The geraniums are in for the winter

The fuse box in the laundry room is
an odd size so it has become the
picture board instead of the refrigerator.
More geraniums & other houseplants
enjoy the sunny room.

Dove guarding the french doors
Dove partner

A little table on dividing wall
You can see all the natural light we get in our
cottage!  This is the view from the entry.

One of the living room end tables

My 14 month old friend, Lucas, whom I have the
privilege to look after occasionally. He LOVES
the Dots - his face shows it! He just arrived with
his Mommy and once out of the carseat headed
straight for the Dot House.

It was a cold windy day but he could have stayed
right here all day. We visited the Dots a couple more
times this day only with coats & hats on.
GUINEA KEET - A FACE ONLY A MOTHER (& DELORES) COULD LOVE; The answer to the function of the 'bump' on the top of the guinea fowls head

These are our young guinea fowl patrolling the yard around the house.  They are
around 15 weeks old and the 'bump' or (official term) helmet on their heads is beginning
to show. The helmet controls the internal temperature for the birds.

Head shot of a 9 week old pearl grey Guinea fowl keet.
This picture is from The Guinea Fowl Blog. Strange looking creatures,
especially this close, but they are beneficial birds including great watchdogs, er,
watchbirds, since they make a racket when someone enters the yard. And, they are
master bug catchers.

Now, this is the adult guinea fowl showing the helmet! Don't they look prehistoric? As
the guinea ages the helmet begins to look more bony - like a horn. The Creator certainly
had a sense of humor with some creations including these birds. These are the birds that love to look at themselves in a mirror! Go figure.


A sunset that resembles a fire on the prairie

Last nights sunset - as pretty as any over the ocean

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

We Have (Many) New Babies!!!!

This was my first sight of the new Mother &
her keets today
So, today I was in the kitchen making lunch and looked out the kitchen window. OMG! There before me was our guinea hen with all her new little keets scurrying around her. We thought we had lost her since she was gone for several weeks. As it turns out, she was a good guinea mother and was sitting on her nest. I just have to share the darling pictures.

We couldn't get an exact count - between 12 & 14
keets.  She has made up for all our bird losses in this one

So after lunch, we discussed the new family and the risk of living in the wild. We tried to 'herd' the guinea hen but she took off and SCREAMED to put us off. I was almost right on top of her and the chicks when we were walking through the grass but she took off and the chicks scattered and were so quiet that I couldn't find them anywhere.  We left her alone until late this afternoon. Mark saw her in the open pasture so decided he could herd her and the chicks into the Guinea Shack. I checked out the window and there was Mark in the pasture quietly and patiently moving the new family toward the barn. Just about then I saw all the horses coming over with curiosity and they were scaring the new Mother. I went out to help. Mark got the horses away while I kept her moving to the barn. Not long she and the family ran into the seven young guineas and the babies ran to the young guineas and they all calmly walked back to the Guinea Shack!  YEAH! Mission Accomplished!  My man can herd ANYTHING. The babies and Mom are safe and all is well with our world on the ranch.
They are being herded through the pasture back
to the Guinea Shack in the barn.

Almost home!
The young guineas are now free range too and coming home to the Guinea Shack at far, so good. They are really getting big but haven't developed the 'bump' on their heads yet. I wonder when that happens in their development? They accepted the new family immediately so we were happy about that.

As I've mentioned before, we live in the grass hills above a river valley. So we have hills and trees in our area and there is some farming but it is mostly pastureland. We learned from one of our retired neighbors who uses his land exclusively for hunting that he has stationed a camera on his land to see what kinds of animals live there. He said there are bobcats (yikes!!), porcupine, turkeys and deer. We just lost a 'Dot' (sniffle) so we're down to 16. It's a tradeoff that we understand for free range birds. Those that range too far from the safety of the ranch will be in danger. We are curious about what critters visit our place at night - we may get a camera too. Last week when I was driving to town, I saw a very very large cat with a very very large long tail cross the road and jump into the creek just in front of me. I immediately called home to describe it to Mark. He asked me several questions and we concluded that it was a mountain lion. I've never seen one in person before and it was awesome to see such a large powerful cat. Just hope he doesn't come near our ranch.
Another visitor to the country birdbath
       If you click on this picture, you will see the Sandhills
       Cranes flying south over our ranch. There were many 
       more much higher. Migration is in full force.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Amazing Bubble Plant!

The Amazing Bubble Plant!
Wouldn't it be nice if it was real? Marvelous photography borrowed
from scottyblue @

After planting the peony's (9) we then added hay
followed by the chicken wire. We fit in the rose
and the butterfly bush on the opposite end.
We are preparing the beds for winter including the flower beds. As I've mentioned before, the "Dots" have loved feasting on bugs in our flower beds and who knows what damage they have done to the perennial plants and bulbs with all their scratching. We'll find out next spring. We are installing chicken wire over the beds to discourage the scratching which is so destructive. I love my flowers and I love my Dots so I have to find a compromise so I can have both.  Check out our first endeavor in the peony bed - the kitchen window garden. We're keeping our fingers crossed.  I love peony's and want to have a bed full to look out onto from the kitchen and to bring into the house to enjoy up close. We'll be doing this with all the flower beds around the house.

All the Dots are laying - 17 eggs today! We are both amazed because usually there are a few hens that just don't lay eggs. This means ALL our hens are laying, mostly brown eggs but also the 2 blue and 1 green eggs from the Easter Egg Chickens. I have to admit that it is a delight to see those colored eggs in the carton. 

My sister Bonnie found our Mom's pickle recipe which I have made before but couldn't find when I was making my pickles this year.  The pickles that I've tried so far are soft so the texture isn't great  but the flavor is good. Ugh - pickles are supposed to be crisp! How disappointing after all that work. When I opened the first jar and the pickles were soft, I went to the bible for pickling, Ball's Blue Book, and found a notation in the trouble-shooting section that it is recommended to "prick the whole cucumbers" before placing them in the jar. Now, why didn't someone include that in the recipe? My Mom's recipe DOES include the direction to prick the cukes so the brine enters the cucumber and makes it crisp. Well, there is always next year.

The wild birds are beginning to flock together here in preparation for migration. The bluebirds have been making use of the country birdbath regularly. Other birds are coming back to the feeders in preparation for their long journeys. If you follow this blog, you know we have a number of bluebird houses and they were all full last summer so we have alot of bluebirds around here.

Check out the water flying while one of the
bluebirds is taking a bath!
We are lucky to have a teen friend who builds birdhouses. We've already bought 3 from Sydney B.; and she has committed to building more for us by spring.

Project Feeder Watch through Cornell University will be starting up again in November. I'm excited to participate again this year. It was a fun experience, we learned about many birds that were unfamiliar to us and we are helping with a worthwhile North American scientific project.

A Look at the Quiet Prairie Autumn

It's been almost a full year since I had my total knee replacement. Life has been good since that surgery - I got my mobility back and I no longer have pain. What I do have now is a noisy walk - I click when I walk! But I can garden, mow, take walks, care for the animals, do yoga and generally move again.

While I was recuperating, a dear long time friend, Judy S., sent me a lovely gift - a book called If You're Not From The Prairie by David Bouchard & Henry Ripplinger. It is a beautiful little book that captures the spirit of the prairie through a poem and gorgeous illustrations of the prairie. There is a paragraph that resonates---

When travellers pass through across our great plain,
They all view our home, they all say the same;
"It's simple and flat!" They've not learned to see,
The particular beauty that's now part of me.

The beauty of fall in the prairie includes the grasses. We don't have the massive forests of trees like the Northeast US; rather our trees follow creeks and rivers, surround homesteads and line city streets. Corn fields, grain fields, and grasslands cover our landscape. Nebraska has some forests but they are in specific areas not across the entire state.

The trees that we know have taken so long,
To live through our seasons, to grow tall and strong.
They're loved and they're treasured, we watched as they grew,
We knew they were special --- the prairie has few.

The trees are turning color but the awe for me are the prairie grasses that show off the same color as the trees in the fall - burgundy, red, rust, gold and yellow. Wow! The prairie fall is more subtle but once you experience it, it makes you appreciate the quieter things in nature too.

Pink and gold grass
More color in grass

gold with some rust grass

silver, gold and pink grass

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Polka and Pesto

This picture shows the fog sitting above the river to the
south of our ranch
This past Sunday we went to a Czech festival. The local heritage is primarily German, Polish and Czech. My family heritage in 100% Czech. We had the most marvelous Czech traditional meal at the festival - Czech sausage, sauerkraut (zeli) and potato dumplings (knedlik) with pork gravy (To Die For!- maybe literally).   I would have bought the gravy if they were selling it but unfortunately they were not. All that lovely ethnic food was followed by kolache - the traditional Czech sweet roll with fruit filling. Wow!

These are my homemade Kolache from my Mom's
recipe. The fruit is cherry and blueberry along with
the traditional poppy seed - our all time favorite!
Of course, we ate lunch with POLKA as our background music!  At one point there were 30+ people on stage playing the Beer Barrel Polka with accordions. We had to laugh - my Mom would have LOVED it - she was so into dancing the polka! And of course, they had the Czech queens in native costume from all the various towns around NE and Kansas.  It was great fun!
Wash herbs

Remove leaves from stems

Thoroughly dry herbs before freezing

Add enough leaves to Ziploc bag to pack tightly
into a roll
This is what the packed herbs look like; next
roll up while pushing out all the air

The rolled herbs in the air tight bags sealed on
each side with rubber bands & labeled

Place the wrapped & bound herb packages
into a larger Ziploc bag to store in freezer; you
can simply cut off the amount you need from
the frozen roll
Today I'm freezing the fresh garden herbs for the winter.  It is really an easy process.  Cut the herbs, wash and dry completely.  Once dried, put into a plastic Ziplock bag and roll up, removing all air, and zip!  When you want to use during the winter, just cut off a piece from the roll and use in soup or whatever. It's a way to have fresh herbs without paying the big bucks for them during the winter. 
Pesto in freezer trays ready for freezing

I also made pesto, one of my favorite flavorings for many dishes.  I used the traditional basil herb but you could use parsley or other herbs.

1/4 C walnuts
1/4 C Pine nuts or Pignolis
3     T diced garlic (9 cloves)
5     C fresh basil leaves, packed
1     tsp kosher salt
1     tsp freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 C good olive oil
1      C freshly grated grated Parmesan cheese

Place the walnuts, pine nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade; process for 30 seconds; add the basil leaves & salt & pepper.
With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube  & process until the pesto is finely pureed.  Add the Parmesan cheese and puree for a minute. Store the pesto in the refrigerator or freeze.
Once frozen remove the pesto cubes from ice cube tray 
and place in plastic bag. You can use a cube or two at a
time in your savory dishes this winter

To freeze: When basil is in season, I  make pesto and freeze for the winter. I put the pesto in ice cube trays, top each with olive oil to cover, then freeze. The oil locks out the air which will keep the herb green. Once frozen, remove and place in freezer quality zip lock bags to be used later.  It is delicious added to pasta sauce and soups.

We are having cool days and very cool nights.  The Swiss chard, spinach and lettuce is doing fabulous and we are enjoying it every day.  We have been cleaning up the garden and getting the beds ready for next year.  I've planned the garden layout for next year and have dried many seeds so I'll have a head start in early spring and will start seedlings for early planting.

The turkey family visiting the Dots early morning;
of course, there is lots of delicious corn they'd like
to share

I can't resist including pictures of the local turkeys. They feel safe at our place and I find them fascinating as they roam around.  Before living here, I had never seen a wild turkey up close. It is amazing to be this close to nature.

They spotted me so are running off

Dot Update: I am now collecting between 15 and 16 eggs per day! I wish more of you lived close so I could share them with you. There are a total of 17 chickens so one hasn't started laying as yet.