Thursday, January 31, 2019

Rockie's Spur-Rings??? The Farm Report 02-01-2019

Rockie's Spur-Rings??? 

The Farm Report 02-01-2019

Drum roll; Fanfare! The naming contest has been closed and a winning entry has been selected. The new names for the two new roosters will henceforth be: The Two Jerks. Roosters are in fact, usually jerks.

This isn't actually Rockie, but it looks just like him. He was a Barred Plymouth Rock rooster. He was very unusual in that he landed with us here at Oakdale Farm, and we allowed him - extremely bad attitude and all - to live to almost 4 years old. That is very unusual, and that will probably never happen again here. The older roosters get, the meaner they become.

"But he was just a harmless little farm bird," you say. Baloney! He was a nasty back-attacker with spurs that had grown to be dangerous daggers! If you look closely at this pic, you can see 'em sticking out on the back of his legs. He had taken to running up behind me, then jumping up and kicking the bejabbers out of me. He drew blood! If he hadn't been so comical, he would have met the soup pot ages earlier. He reminded me of Fred Allen's comic character, Senator Cleghorn. Warner Brothers named a cartoon character like him Senator Foghorn. Both would have been appropriate for Rockie. He was loud and self-important.

Well how much of this baloney can a guy tolerate? Me? Not too much but some. After one serious sneak attack, we caught him - my neighbors and I - and tied him up in a fruit tree upside down. This is embarrassing for a rooster, but harmless.

He was hoping his hens hadn't seen his humiliation. A guy's gotta save face in front of the girls, you know.

Well, he wasn't ready for the soup yet, but I was ready for him to stop kicking me and drawing blood. So, what would you do if you were a professional furniture restorer who had access to some very fast setting epoxie putties? Probably just what I did. We made little epoxy stick-on boxing gloves to cover the needle sharp points of his spurs. He could still punch, but he couldn't stick 'em any more.

After we let him down, he strutted his new spur-pads for the girls like he had thought of them and ordered them custom made from Amazon. It was a great idea, and it did buy him the rest of the summer parading as the Grand Sultan at Oakdale Farm. Eventually though, he kicked off the boxing gloves and proceeded to sharpen his spurs to an extra fine point. The last time he kicked me, the spur stuck in my shin bone. I'm not kidding; he actually stuck that spur point into my bone. I still have a bump where it landed.

So, his last act ended his game. Here is the evidence. Now for those of you who are playing along here trying to make sense of where I'm going with this, you need to understand one of our family traditions. Beginning at least with my Grandma Chlorus, and maybe before that, we have always had an artistic challenge to see what creative things we could make from unusual stuff. It was about this time that my sister, Beth, said, "So what are you going to make from those?" I think she was sorta kidding, but hey! Challenge accepted, Sis. One of my readers asked what I meant by 'Spur-Rings' last time. So here it is.

Chicken spurs are like little cow horns. They are like pointy strong fingernails. They are hard and sharp - with a bone section inside them.

One of my professional turning mentors was a fellow in England named Bill Jones. He was a 5th generation ivory and hardwood turner. He made most of his living making the most beautiful and extravagant chess sets you've ever seen. They sell for thousands and thousands of dollars. Although he was at the top of the ornamental ivory and hardwood turners' level (and that is THE top level of turners) he referred to himself as a 'Bone Grubber.' He hated waste and could turn bone into something that looked like ivory. He was my teacher. Cutting off the material I wanted was the next step.

Knowing the anatomy of the spur, I just cut down to reveal the bone segment at the end and mounted 'em on my lathe.

A little later, and with a contribution from Rockie's hens, Hey Presto!, and we have Beth's Christmas present, Rockie's Spur-Rings. Who wouldn't want some. So that's a long way to go to tell you that The Two Jerks will not be expected to get old enough to produce this wonderful animal byproduct. But that's the point. It will be soup sooner rather than later, I'm afraid, for them.

Outdoors, it is just awful weather, so I've been indoors thinking about being outdoors. I came across these logging pics the other day and thought you might be interested. I made a heavy duty 'Not Much For Pretty, But Hell For Stout' table to fit up to my log splitter. I needed this because I was going to be splitting some really big rounds.

Like this! This is one of the last large logs from the fabled Red Elm trees. They once grew like weeds in The Timber at Oakdale Farm. Disease and change have pretty much eliminated them from the scene. As a firewood, it is unparalleled. It burns like coal. Literally. It 'coals' down into pieces that actually look like coal, and it gasses off and burns as hot as coal. It is wonderful wood. 

The tree produced these two logs as the trunk. It was a huge tree! Honey Locust has pretty much replaced it in the woods. Pignut Hickory has also come in. 

Why am I sitting indoors thinking about outdoors? Here is why. The actual temp was -22F the other morning. That and winds strong enough to blow limbs out of trees, and you're talking cold friends. Real Cold! In fact, if you're reading this and you're not from here, they closed the United States Post Office (Remember, they are the ones who always liked the motto: 'Neither rain nor hail nor sleet nor dark of night will stay these swift couriers from their rounds' or something like that.) The United States Government closed the United States Post Office in ALL of Iowa and ALL of Minnesota because of this storm. If you are from here, you already know that - and you know why. BRRRRRRRRRR!

Inside though, we have green and growing. We always plant some spring bulbs in forcing pots every fall. It is super easy to do and just about now, when you're ready to crawl into a warm corner and sleep it off until spring, you can bring out a pot of flowering bulbs and enjoy the show as they grow and bloom. A wonderful side effect of these hyacinths is the aroma. It is almost narcotic. I have these near my big comfy chair where I have coffee in the mornings. When the sun finally does come up - and it does a little even in winter - the light triggers the blooms into action. I'll be sitting there enjoying a nice cuppa, and all of a sudden, my nose tells me the hyacinths are firing off perfume again. No wonder the bees can find 'em outdoors.

So other than the obvious, all is well at Oakdale Farm. I'm soft, warm and flexible. Hope you are too.  

Friday, January 18, 2019

Bread and Snow: The Farm Report 1-18-2019

Bread and Snow
The Farm Report 1-18-2019

This one's for you, Kev! Not much happening on a 'Farming Level' here right now, but it is snowing outside again for the second or third weekend in a row. So what to do? Make bread and think about spring! I've had input about growing and using my own wheat berries, so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and do a baking primer.

As you might recall from last summer's posts, I planted a nice bed of Glen Spring Wheat in the garden. I planted it as early as I could walk on the ground without sinking in - March-ish.

You have to watch the progress, but along in July sometime, the heads get 'right.' The little berries will crack between your teeth when you bite down, and not be doughy or gummy. Since I'm a machine guy, I used my restored David Bradley Walking Tractor with sickle mower attachment to cut it. Yes, you could go old school and use a scythe; they work probably just as well. When you've got a David Bradley, you want to use it. 
I lined the hauler on old Emmie - my 1947 Farmall M - with a plastic tarp and loaded all the straw and wheat heads into it. Old school, I would have tied up the wheat in bundles called sheafs to dry. Either or either, it all works out the same the way I do it. You won't find this pic on many quaint nostalgic greeting cards, that's what fields of sheafs are for. But drying down the grain is the goal here, any way you can. I parked Emmie and the wheat inside my shop building to keep it safe from the elements.

Missing pic: (I thresh the grain from the straw with a simple little 'weed whip' leaf shredder. It works a charm, but I'll have to show you that some other time. (Here is a link to the threshing blog.)

Meanwhile, back to baking, find something strong and hang on tight! Here we go with the drill. First, get a scale. It is so much easier to make bread with a scale than with measuring spoons and cups. Next, get a recipe.  And last, Get a Grand Champion Sweepstakes Winner teacher to show you how. That, of course, ain't me. It was Joyce and that is her ribbon. She won two of these awards for her baking at fairs. I used to weight 90 lb. but when you live with a champion baker, things change. I'm the soup maker. If you like my soup you should enjoy it; you'll probably never get it again. I use recipes for guidelines. Artistic license is good when you make soup. Tinker and fine tune 'til you like it. Bakers are lab rats. They don't use recipes, they use formulae! And you'll get exactly the same bread every time.  If it says add 35 grams, then it doesn't mean 36. No variation - and you can expect exactly the same product over and over. That was Joyce; Champion Baker! (My neighbor, Steve, and I share two things in common. One, both our wives were middle school teachers. Joyce taught 'Home Ec/Family Consumer Science. The other thing we have in common? We agree that as a result of living with middle school teachers, we are both in Permanent Fifth Grade for life! We do what we're told, and we don't give no lip! "Yes, Mrs. Inman.")

Here's my recipe. Simple basic bread. Works every time.

Well, OK, I do make little changes. One of 'em is adding my own wheat berries ground into whole wheat flour. It adds such a wonderful nutty flavor to the bread. I don't use a lot of them. Whatever this little coffee mill holds is what I put in. I grind the berries immediately before I make bread. Per Mrs. Inman's lessons, when the wheat berries are broken open, the oils immediately begin to spoil by oxidation and lose their flavor. Whole wheat flour from the store tastes sour sometimes because it has begun to go rancid. Once you try grinding fresh whole wheat berries just as you make the flour, you won't go back.

Buzz the grinder until the flour is the way you like it. I like mine pretty fine. Add this to the scaled ingredients as you add the flour. I include this whole wheat as part of the regular flour weight called for.

Gasps! You cretin! Ok, Yes, I use a bread machine. Why not? We have made our own bread, Joyce and  I, for almost all of the nearly 47 years we were married. Kneading is fun and satisfying, but a bread machine is unbeatable for convenience. I love them. Joyce even learned to like them. (Her champion ribbons didn't come from a bread machine though....) 

Bread machines are lousy baking ovens. We only use the machine to mix, knead and proof the dough. Once it has risen correctly (Follow the Machine Instructions) then make the dough into a conventional loaf and bake it the old fashioned way.

Mrs. Inman, like I suppose all skilled craftspeople are wanton to do, sometimes withheld certain tricks of the trade. I don't really think she was trying to fool anybody, because that was just not in her nature. I think rather that she just thought this was probably something everybody knew about. Well I didn't! This is a 'pastry cloth.' It is just a piece of fabric - cotton duck in this case but anything will work. It is 'loaded' with flour rubbed in on one side. The dough will not stick to it! No spilling flour on the counters or making a mess to clean up later. Just put the risen, proofed dough out on the cloth and knead it - SIX TIMES ONLY - and form it into a loaf. Then, carefully fold the pastry cloth - floured sides in - and put it into a zip-lock bag. Store it in the flour bin and it will be ready for you next time you bake.

You can use a pan, or just free-form a loaf shape. Your pleasure. Cover it and let it rise for half an hour in a warm place.

Bake for another half hour at 350F and you're there. Unbeatable Homemade Bread. I like sesame seeds on mine. I make cuts to relieve the gluten cloak so it won't split where I don't want it to. No rules on this.  Remove the hot loaf from the pan and cool a little, then begin eating.

Oh, and the snow part.... As with the last two or three 'Office Window Calendar Shots' this is how it STILL looks outside today. That's why I'm baking.

Last weekend, we had 12 inches of really heavy wet snow. We also had something very unusual: No wind! So, the snow just stacked up on everything.

This is Henry Ford. The steering wheel is to the left, the seat is on the right.

Zoey's ranger was outdoors, too.

Ding Dong Bell, the Farmer in the Dell? Our farm bell got a top hat.

The Windmill Orchard is asleep. I'm going to do a grafting class for the Mills County Master Gardeners in February. Even though it looks like nothing is happening, I will be going out collecting grafting scionwood any day now. For the class I'm going to be teaching, we need dormant scion or 'top' wood. Now is when you harvest it.

The bee yard is pretty, but snowy.

Check back a week ago. This is where we were splitting wood!

No heat on the compost project yet. Drat! I'm patient and hopeful though. My Dad once told me he had never seen concrete fail to set up if you waited long enough. I've never seen wet hay fail to rot either - if you wait long enough. Go order some seeds, Tim.

Yikes! My greenhouse didn't like all that heavy wet snow on it! The roof caved in!

This is what was outside. With no wind and heavy wet snow, it just stacked up. This greenhouse withstood 80 and 100 mph winds last summer just fine. But a foot of wet snow? Nope.

Fortunately, the steel cattle panels are pretty hard 'springy' metal. Once I was able to get the snow load off, they popped back into place. Well, about 99% in place. I'm impressed! For those who have asked, I do plan to do a whole blog post on how I built this greenhouse pretty soon. They are a trap. I originally planned on a cold 'polytunnel' that would be used to start little plants and extend my season in the fall. But it is sooo much fun, I have been adding a little heat. Now, I'm thinking about adding a little more heat and getting started the first of February. And just think, I could buy carrots at Walmart for $2 a bag. Boy am I saving money growing my own! I love growing things though. I don't drink or dance much, so maybe this is how I spend my fun money.

Did you catch it? Look again. You might have to go back to last week's post. He moved a little. Not much, but he did move. O.J. isn't lulled into thinking spring is coming anytime soon. He seems to like his Christmas present don't you think? Hey, don't be a mooch. The only reason he likes this sleeping pad is because I bought it for Zoey when she couldn't jump up into her chair anymore. 'I'll take that for myself' he said smugly when Zoey was gone. Then he curled up and began to dream again. All is well at Oakdale Farm. I hope with you, too.

Friday, January 11, 2019

A Good Man Down: The Farm Report 1-11-2-19

A Good Man Down

The Farm Report 1-11-2019

After last summer's 80 and 100 mph winds, we sustained significant damage in The Timber at Oakdale Farm. I haven't shown you much about The Timber, but it is my special place. The Timber at Oakdale Farm is part of a 90 acre tract of virgin Iowa woods. We live only about 18 miles from the Missouri river, so we are in the Missouri River Woodland Hills. It is a wonderland. The woods are mainly oaks and walnuts. After the devastating Dutch Elm disease of the 1960's and 1970's, we lost most of the red elms which had once been abundant here. Now, 'weed trees' like honey locust and mulberry have filled in a little, too. The tree in this pic is a pig nut hickory. Where the trunk snapped is about 18-inches across.

Actually, we have more than one good man down. We have a number of them to report. This one is a hackberry.

All living things die. This grand old burr oak was at the end of it's time. The wind didn't help it, but it was time for it to go. As you can see, for this one, it is time to go into the furnace!

Logging is my winter fun. I just love to go into the woods and find dead trees to cut up into firewood for my cozy heat. I use an outdoor wood burning boiler, you may recall. But logging can be dangerous - really dangerous. This log is what we call a 'leaner' or more accurately, a 'widow maker.' That log is heavy, probably a ton or more, and you never know when and where it will break and fall. That! my friends is part of the fun of it all!! What is life without a little danger from time to time?

Once I've got 'em down, the Ranger and I pull the logs to a better place. It is pretty amazing to me how much a little dune buggy with an overpowered attitude can pull. These things are tough and strong. 

This area is what Joyce always called 'Picnic Point.'  The logs are ready to be linked up into sections and then split and made ready to dry and burn.

How do you split all that wood? Well, with equipment of course! No mauls and huffing and puffing for me if I can help it. A guy needs machines. Plus, now I'm an old guy with a bum back, so I need even more equipment! This jib crane is a new addition to the splitter for this season. It does the heavy lifting. A little electric winch reels in the cable, and that yellow gizmo is a skidding tong. It has sharp points that grab the logs and pinch in tight and hold the log for lifting up onto the splitter bed.. 

A little while later, and 'Bob's your uncle.' Henry Ford and the Hauler are ready to take a load to the boiler. Simple pleasures, but I love it. It makes you feel alive to actually do some physical work, and how can you not enjoy using a natural, renewable resource when you have it available.

So, I'm sorry it has been so long between these last posts. Here is the January calendar picture. It looks a lot like the December one. That's what winter is: same thing over and over. A time to rest and recharge. A time to do some reading and planning for the busy garden season to come - and to come pretty quickly too! It will be time to start seeds in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, life ain't all bad. I have been trying my hand at sausage making. Charcuterie is the $50 word for it. But really it is just smoking meat. My Grandma Chlorus was quite the cook, and I'm trying to follow some of her recipes. This is smoked Canadian Bacon. It (was) delicious. I have a new batch in the brine as we speak. Honey/Maple cure of my own (and Grandma's) making. Per her habit, I'm using good old fashioned Iowa corn cobs for the smoking. Can't beat it!

The chickens are an issue. The Two Henriettas are doing fine. Both have molted and the silver one has actually laid a few eggs lately. The black one is still out on strike. But the roosters! They are just beautiful, but they are roosters.... If you have never experienced the fun of male chickens, let me tell you - they ain't pets! They become mean and nasty. They are prone to sneak attacks and just general bad attitudes. I need help re-naming them. I had originally thought about calling them 'Leno' and 'Linus.' 

The one I thought about calling 'Leno' has a white stripe in his glorious tail feathers - reminded me of Jay Leno's white hair streak back when he had one. Leno is pushy and cocky; Linus, the other one, reminds me of Linus in the Peanuts comic strip; sorta nice but clueless most of the time. He is the Junior Partner in this Mafiosa Family.

They are elegant though. So then I thought that maybe Senator Foghorn and The Duke of Hensley might be a better name. They are both full of themselves. Then this afternoon, when the striped one kept circling around where I was working, I thought maybe they could just both be named 'JERKS!' Jerk 1 and Jerk 2. Like the old TV show that had the brothers Daryl, Daryl and his other brother Daryl. If you want in on the contest, you need to hurry with your entry. They may both end up in the stew pot pretty soon. I can guarantee it if they decide to go beyond being jerks and begin attacking me. Sorry Beth, these guys will not get a chance to grow out their spurs to add to your jewelry box collection. There will be no Spur-Rings from these boys.

O.J. has just chucked it in for the winter. He spends most of his days like this. One ear open 'just in case' but the rest of him is 'lights out.' The difference between cats and dogs is that cats are not goal-driven. They are strictly about comfort - THEIR comfort. Dogs have a purpose; they are on a mission.

And this is the last Good Man Down I have to tell you about. Or in Zoey's case, a Good Girl Down. The harness on Zoey was her Ranger Crash Control. Her mission on the farm was to go everywhere and see everything. She loved riding in the Ranger. We had a strap in the Ranger which we snapped her on to keep her from going flying when we stopped or turned too fast. Unlike O.J., Zoey just took naps at noon so she could get back to work right away. Alas, this is the last pic I have of her. Just a couple of days after this pic, Zoey had a stroke that ended her long and happy run. She was almost 15. She was the most gentle dog we've ever had. She was happy and always happy to see you. She was my public relations officer for the shop, and the overseer for the farm. Zoey had been showing her age, but I didn't want to reflect on that; she also thought she was still a teenager most of the time. But like all living things, there is a beginning and an ending. Zoey's ending was gentle and good. Rest in peace my sweet companion. You will be missed.

Finally, let me tell you I have been just overwhelmed with all the requests for me to continue posting The Farm Reports. This simple idea of mine has somehow grown a life of its own, and you my dear readers have taken ownership of it. I have made a personal New Year's resolution to be more regular in my posting and to keep you informed as much as I think will be interesting to you. My life is new and different now without my Joyce, but having all my readers (and there are a LOT of you, and you are all over the globe!) supporting me is something beyond what I could ever have imagined. Thanks. With that, I'll stop for now and continue with more later. All is well at Oakdale Farm.