Tuesday, January 29, 2013

chicken-fried venison backstraps and other earthly delights

Jay made chicken-fried venison backstraps the other night. I cannot even begin to explain how delicious this meal was. It was difficult even capturing a picture because it got devoured so quickly.

There was clear jealousy from the puppy dogs. (Tally is around there somewhere -- just didn't make it into any pictures.)

Then, today, I followed this lady's recipe for winter sowing annual flowers. It was almost 70 degrees out today, y'all. I needed me some flower sowing. I sat/worked in the sun ALL THE LIVE LONG DAY.

We finally figured out today that the best way to let the puppies run around and burn off energy (because we don't have any fencing) is one at a time. Otherwise, they take off into the hills and do not heed any call to obey. I will begin obedience training very soon with these two because they are little hellions when they are out running around together. But they are angels when they are on their own and/or with Clyde Dog.

Then I built a bean trellis out of a dead, decorative tree that I cut down last fall, and Jay cleared some of our ATV trails with the chainsaw (hereon referred to as Husky) and Polly. I can't express how much I love the sound of chainsaws off in the distance. It must be a mountain girl thing.

I am experimenting with floating row cover and welded wire supports in preparation for spring garden beds. Jay said that this looked like a worm of sorts.

Sometimes fat, little puppies have a hard time making up it up steep hills.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

soil blocks (and hopefully artichokes)

I oftentimes have a hard time doing things the traditional and/or tried-and-true way. I like to make things complicated and difficult and set myself up for disastrous results from whatever absurd endeavor I've relegated myself to.

Conversely, I'm fond of shelling out money on something of reasonable quality and/or usefulness that I can reuse over and over instead of having to reinvest in time and time again.

Seed starting is a good example of meeting the above two criterions.

I'm not going to buy those shriveled little peat pellets that expand when wet or those plastic flats that my clumsy fingers have to wrestle young seedlings out of or coconut coir pots or felt grow bags or whatever trendy nursery item they've decided is perfect for starting seeds in. And I won't buy bagged seed starting mix either.

Nope, I want to do it the hard way.

So I made soil blocks from homemade seed starter mix. And it was the most fun I've had all day. In case you've never heard of them, they're basically soil mixed with enough water to stand on their own with no vessel of any sort.

First, I needed to make the soil blocker itself. You can buy soil blockers starting at around 30 bucks (and up to hundreds of dollars for one that does multiple blocks at once), but again, I want to be extra difficult, er, I mean thrifty. So, I stole this lady's idea and went to the hardware store and had the nice gentleman behind the counter cut me 12" of 1.5" PVC pipe. I asked him if he had a 1.5" wooden dowel that would fit snugly in the PVC pipe, and he rummaged around in the wood pile until he found one (part of a closet rod) and then just gave it to me. I think it was because I had Clyde Dog with me, and he really wanted to give Clyde some good ear scratches. He also thought what I wanted these two items for was fascinating, so I will likely patronize this establishment again just because he took a keen interest in what Hillbilly Girl was making (and didn't laugh). Total cost so far: 66 cents.

Next, I had to make the seed starter mix. I grabbed a bucketful of barn dust (aka, ancient poop from animals that previous owners of our farm had -- it's a goldmine, I tell ya) and sifted it with an old window screen I found in the barn into a small stock tank we lugged out here from Cali. The result was a very fine and light product.

Then I mixed in vermiculite (about 20 bucks for a 2 cubic foot bag at your nearby big box home improvement store) at a 1:1 ratio to make something nice and fluffy that I think I would very much like if I were a seed.

I brought half a bucketful of the mess into the house to try out my new tool.

Waitaminute, here's a cute puppy first.

Okay, so there are some really complicated soil block recipes out there on the interwebs, and I thought it was a ridiculous notion to have to go out and buy all the ingredients for Elliot Coleman's recipe, for example (peat, sand, compost, garden dirt, lime, blood meal, collodial phosphate, and greensand -- NO). I might regret this decision in the future when nothing happens and I'm giving clods of dirt lots and lots of love and attention like a crazy person with nothing to show for it. 

Anyway, I mixed the following recipe in a plastic container:

1 cup barn dust/vermiculite mix, loosely packed
1/3 cup warm water

Stir, stir, stir, stir.

Then the fun part. I packed a 1/4 cup measuring cup with the stuff, then spooned it into the PVC pipe that was positioned over a colander on a plate (I figured out the colander part later on). I used the dowel to firmly tamp down the mixture (water should pool onto the plate), then while holding the dowel, I slid the PVC pipe up, and voila!

I used a chopstick to poke a hole in the top of the soil block for the artichoke seed. I plan to attach a broken off push pin on the end of the dowel so that the seed hole is already formed and the structural integrity of the soil block isn't compromised as much as with using a chopstick (a few hairline cracks formed, but I think they'll all stick together fine.

At Wally World, I bought:

(2) 48" fluorescent shop lights
(2) warm white fluorescent bulbs
(2) cool white fluorescent bulbs
(4) 13"x9"x2" aluminum cake pans
(4) 16"x12"x2.5" aluminum all-purpose pans

... at a total of $60.35.

The reason for the aluminum pans instead of plastic trays is that I'm using capillary action
to keep the soil blocks moist. Watering them overhead would cause them to disintegrate, and misting is an option, but I'm lazy and forgetful so I needed something better. I inverted the smaller pan and placed it into the larger one, draped a piece of flannel fabric from an old bed sheet I had on hand over the smaller pan so that the ends reached the bottom of the larger one, then filled it with a half inch of water or so and placed the soil blocks on top of the smaller pan. 

I seeded 22 Tavor artichokes, which need a whopping four months' head start before being transplanted into our zone 6b garden. Jay and I both love artichokes (we did used to live near the artichoke capital of the world, after all), so I'm really hoping all these shenanigans pay off in the form of delicious homegrown chokes.

For a grand total of $82.35, my artichokes would cost approximately $3.74 each once harvested, which is ridiculous, but remember that I'll also be using these same supplies and methods for tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, celery, and onions and hopefully for many years to come, so I figure it's all a reasonable investment.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Polly + new garden beds + hellhounds

I... can't tell you how ecstatic I am to finally have an ATV.

Jay wants me to point out that, in the above picture, he was standing while riding because the seat was wet from a recent hosing down.

Although Polly (a Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.) makes things like hauling so much easier on the farm, I think I actually work harder having her around because there's just so much awesome shit you can do with her.

Case in point: building garden beds.

The previous owner of our property left a little 3'x4' dump trailer from the local co-op (which I'm now referring to as Coopy) in the barn, and it's the perfect size for hauling down smaller pieces of wood and aged manure from the barn stalls. We also got a 5'x8' utility trailer from Tractor Supply to bring Polly home on (which I'm now referring to as 5-Spot), which will also be used for hauling larger items.

Jay already cleared some of the trails on our mountain using Polly -- the easement had a pine tree fallen across it that made it impossible to pass. He also cleared the trail up to the horseshoe pits for when the weather gets better. Because summer is just NOT THE SAME without playing horseshoes.

I failed to do some stretching before doing all this work, and now my muscles are protesting. I'm also pretty sure I sunburned my face because it was awesome and sunny out all day.

I let the hellhounds run around on the mountain for a bit this afternoon. They are doing pretty good with understanding when they're doing something I don't want them to do and how to rectify an undesirable behavior. The come command, however, needs some work. They never completely ignore me, but they only come when they want to, and that needs to change. However, they are very eager to please (a pocketful of cookies helps in that regard), so I don't think it will take long to get them to the point of being assets on the homestead, even if that means being a porch dog. I can't imagine our farm without them now.

We think Moosie is going to be lazy like Clyde Dog and Tally is going to be Jay's squirrel dog.

Clyde Dog continues to be an angel in every regard. He is the best dog ever, HANDS DOWN.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

rain, snow, hair straightening and an ATV

I feel like we've been living on the planet Venus in Ray Bradbury's All Summer in a Day because it has been raining non-stop for four fucking days.

Now, normally I like the rain, especially since we have a hole-free roof nowadays, but good grief, this is a bit much. However, I still love some good weather.

We were told by our mailman that he's never seen rain like this here before.

Flooding everywhere!


The Clinch River normally only rises to below that first tree line.

No parking today, folks.

Danger, danger, Will Robinson!

Looks like we're not going much of anywhere today.

Then, it finally stopped raining. And started snowing. But I will take snow over cold rain any day of the year. (Let me be absolutely clear that WARM rain is always welcome in my book. Which is one of many reasons why we moved to the South.)

Like, giant 3" diameter flakes. I'm not kidding!

All the above snow pictures were all taken within an hour of each other.

Also, Clyde Dog was made for this kind of weather.

Lastly, I straightened my hair the other day for the first time in eons so I took a picture for posterity's sake.

That is all.

Oh, wait, one more thing: we're picking up this bad boy tomorrow, woo hoo!