Thursday, December 24, 2020

'Twas the Night Before.... The Farm Report 12-24-2020

 'Twas the Night Before....

The Farm Report

"Before what, Tim? Before what? Spit it out buddy! I can't wait to hear - before WHAT?" This will be Annie Oakley's first real Christmas and she's probably pretty excited. 

It has been a crazy year, but this is Annie a summer ago. She obviously had the attitude, but she was just too little to know about Christmas fun.

We've both grown a lot this year. (Ahem....) Some of us in ways we might not prefer to acknowledge. COVID-19 gain anybody else? Annie has her favorite leather boot to chew on, and she's becoming more of a lady now. She's still a temperamental teenager with mood swings to prove it, but she's coming into her own as a great dog. Can you say, 'Intense!'?

OJ remains 'scabbard and sheathed' but on the ready all the time. Fully armed and very dangerous, he doesn't spend his time worrying about things he can't control. When the need arises, he will take instant and corrective action, but otherwise he lets life slide on. A lesson there?

Just below the surface, is OJ's surprise. Annie still hasn't figured out where his knives come from. She does know he has knives, and they are in his feet somewhere!

My neighbor, Ron, has been working on a project here on the farm. Smoked turkey legs! No, those are not lamb's legs or pork shanks. Those, ladies and gentlemen, are turkey drumsticks. Think how huge those toms must have been!

Really! Them was serious birds....

All for fun, and really - they are wasted on me. I've never eaten a smoked turkey leg, so I wouldn't know the difference between a good one and not. The only way I can tell the difference between good wine and vinegar is by the shape of the bottle they come in; and these legs didn't come in a bottle.

We soaked them in a curing brine overnight, then added some smoking meat rub seasonings - and then in the smoker they went.

After several hours in my Grandma Chlorus' favorite smoking resource (plain old Iowa field corn cobs) they were done. Now, the joke is on me. They are delicious. I think if somebody cut the meat off and served it to you without your knowing what it was, you would think it might be the best smoked ham you'd ever tried. I'll definitely try this again sometime - but I'm making ham and bean soup with the meat right now.

Out on the farm, we had to have Dad's old Farmall H repaired. The tire rim had rusted out. One of my school mates is a farm tire guy. He knows how to do this, and came out to fix the rim and give H a new tube. Wonderful to have the repair, but sadly I think this might have been my friend's last 'big' tire repair. He is retiring. Maybe it is just 'sadly' for me - and I hope he has a joyful retirement! He's almost as old as I am, and beating huge tires off farm implements is really a younger man's game. Still....

Trees get old and die just like everything else. Cutting up good solid oak for firewood from a tree that served it's days is fun - and a little dangerous, of course. That's what makes cutting wood fun!

On nice days, Annie spends her time sleeping in the driver's seat of the Ranger. I think she's dreaming of the days when she can start it up and go for a ride on her own. She only made it as far as Puppy Kindergarten in school, so she couldn't pass the written test. She doesn't have thumbs either - so the driving test would be hard for her, too. I doubt she'll ever be able to get her drivers license. Doesn't cost much to dream though.

"Don't keep changing the topic, Tim! Let's get back to that 'night before' stuff. What's coming?" Well, you know and I know that what is coming is a day we all celebrate for its Joy, Peace, Love and Hope.  Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, we can all enjoy a season with those four words as goals.

OJ doesn't do a lot of celebrating, but we can all be at peace as much as he is. Here's my prayer for you and yours to have a Merry Christmas and for goodness sakes, here's to a much better and much happier New Year.

Merry Christmas from Oakdale Farm.

Oh, and the new seed catalogs are coming!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Don't Be Fooled: The Farm Report 11-25-2020

Don't Be Fooled
The Farm Report 11-25-2020

Sometimes, things aren't what they seem to be.

Dogs live in the moment; cats plan ahead. Annie was thinking she was really making progress having O.J. like her the other morning. Like most young girls, she wants to be 'popular.' They were acting like besties, at least that is what Annie thought. Everybody else in the room (me and O.J.) knew differently.

"Oh, O.J." Annie said to herself, "we can be best friends after all."

O.J. responded to Annie's love nuzzles with a purring kitty head bump. It was one of Annie's best mornings so far.

Annie was going into a love trance. O.J. was simply working Annie into position for what was to come next. You could see him working her, and if you've ever been around them, you knew - you just knew! - what was coming next.

Then when all the wheels were in their correct alignment, and using his finest sarcastic stage whisper and all the contempt an old tomcat can muster - and that is A LOT, you could just hear O.J. say to himself under his breath, "You stupid dog." Annie was even beginning to smell a rat when, out of the blue and faster than a speeding bullet ...

O.J. smacked Annie a good un right across the Schnoz.

Annie looked at me like, "What happened, Tim?!"

"Why does he do that to me, do you think?" Annie doesn't get mad or very offended. She just seems to roll with the punches and is a little disappointed. She'll keep trying to befriend the old cuss though. She never gives up! Of course, neither does he for that matter. Maybe Annie's cold nose pushing O.J. in places he would rather not have her cold nose push him might have something to do with his contempt for her - and the urge to get even. It is infinitely entertaining to me though.

This picture doesn't do the sight justice, but it helps explain where I live. One afternoon as I was headed to the timber to cut wood, the skies were crisscrossed with jet trails. Truly, I live at the center of the world where everybody 'flies over' regardless where you're coming from or going to. Fine with me!

My fun ain't everybody's cup of tea. I love to haul in logs to the 'Picnic Point' clearing as Joyce named it, and split it into firewood. And just for the record and to keep things on an even keel, this pic should help you to understand that firewood heating is probably the single most expensive way there is to heat your digs. It takes (joyfully!) a lot of gear and equipment - plus you need a good insurance policy 'just in case.'

Still and all, there isn't much more peaceful to me than to link and split logs in the ebbing light of the evening on a crisp fall/winter day. It is satisfying to me, and the sleep that comes from the exercise is deep and restful - as long as the ibuprofen bottle is kept full.

Annie's version of heaven: A stalk of corn to eat and play with, and a tire rim to 'hula hoop' with when she's of a mind to.

This afternoon on 'Lunch Break' Annie was barking and barking. She's not a barker, so I knew something was up. I suspected coyotes. Nope.

Way down there in the trees this is what she was barking at. He stayed there for over 2 hours. He is the most magnificent bald eagle I think I've ever seen. Perfect! and Huge! He was not intimidated by Annie one dropper full. In fact, he was about the same size as she is, and he kept doing the hawk/eagle binocular vision thing where they move their head back and forth measuring distance before the attack. I really was a little worried he might swoop to give her a lesson, and me a thrill. He didn't.

Me and mine have all decided the best thing this year is to stay home and stay safe. The boiler is full of wood, so I'm warm.

Annie thinks she's a lap dog, but she isn't. Well, she is, but still, she isn't!

I've got my books and my tunes and my entertainment. A fire to keep me warm and nostalgic in the evenings, and I'm fine. I hope you are all fine, too. Right now, let's think about staying safe by staying with our heads down just a little bit longer.  We've come so far. To come out right now would be a little bit, to me, like saying to yourself, "I think that machine gun is almost out of bullets. Maybe we could get out of this trench for a while and be OK." Don't. Please don't. I plan on being around to annoy you for a long time yet - and I need an audience like you to annoy. Eat more turkey, or pizza, or brats.... I haven't decided yet what I'm going to cook Thursday. I'll fix something though. Maybe just popcorn. Who knows? Cheers from Oakdale Farm.


Monday, November 9, 2020

Time for a Change: The Farm Report 11-10-2020

 Time for a Change
The Farm Report 11-10-2020

Well, for one thing, we need to change where we keep things out here on the farm. Much to my chagrin, I discovered the other night that the two cans in the pic look very much the same sitting on the pantry shelf by each other. I also discovered that while they look the same on the outside, what is inside them is altogether different. One is good to make the bread crust 'buttery' and soft when sprayed on the loaf immediately out of the oven, and the other is good to make the furniture extra smooth and polished. Neither can be substituted for the other, however, I learned. Especially when sprayed liberally on your fresh baked bread hot out of the oven. I thought that smelled funny......

Time for other changes too. It is November now and it would be a fool's errand to think the seasons won't change pretty soon now. The garden needs a good clean up and a long winter's nap. But where to start?

Henry Ford knows! I just happen to have (Ahem!) a little 2-bottom plow that fits Henry's 3-point hitch. Henry Ford made the tractors, and Harry Ferguson made the plows. Their names are on each, repsectively. This is a history guy's way to enjoy gardening and old machines at the same time. Old timers always plowed the fields in the fall. It is not the best practice, and we don't do it anymore at Oakdale Farm. In fact, we are a no-til operation here. The soil is better for it, and the harvest results prove it. But hey! I have the stuff and like doing it. A little plowing around in the dirt in my garden does make it cleaner, and that's that. No other justification needed.

Plowing is an art. It is a trick of planning. Do you start in the middle and go out, or do you start on the outside and work your way in? I did the outside and worked to the middle. Annie hunted toads while I plowed. The garden is full of 'em.

After plowing, then what? Well, out to 'implement row' and put on the landscape rake. Henry does it all.

A few times around and all is smoothed and leveled.

Check! Garden done and ready to put to bed. I may plant some oats for a cover crop if the weather holds for me. The Romans figured out the benefit of cover crops. We forgot all about that from about WWII until the 1990's. Gladly, we re-learned and now we're back at it. Cover crops do work to hold nutrients up in the soil for next year, and they add organic stuff, too. All good. Oats freeze off so I don't have to kill anything out next spring with chems or blades.

There's always something more to do in a garden though. The tarp garden will be last. Though it looks a mess, the tarp and frames make it a snap to clean. Stay tuned; we'll get to it.

It has been so dry here. We need a rain. Annie and O.J. are looking out at Walnut creek. It isn't foggy or misty - that is harvest dust in the air so thick it clouds the whole valley. No, I haven't got COVID yet, but I'm hacking and gaging like I might just as well have. 

Of course, there's always water to be found somewhere, and if there is, you'll find Annie Oakley there playing in it! Through all my years with all kinds of dogs, I've never known a dog as in love with water as our Miss Oakley. 

But wait! What's this? Another sign of the things that are changing. I've got the Ranger set up and ready to put on the snow plow at a moment's notice. I know Iowa!

Annie called Shotgun! She'll surely be a big help plowing snow...... not. But she'll want to ride with me anyway. I will have to put her in her Pink Tutu Harness and hook it to that jerk strap you see behind her to keep her from jumping out and trying to herd that snow into place. Yes! she will do that! She seems to like being hooked up though. She seems to know it is her safety harness. She comes right over to me on the seat for me to snap on the hook when it is time.

Blue sky at night; Sailor's delight.... or something like that. It was a pretty evening sky when I was driving Annie around the farm for her last run of the day. I drive the route and she rides with me while we go. Then, when we're back at 'Go' she bails out - after I give her permission - and re-RUNS! the whole path. Then she will settle down for the evening and be nice. Too much energy!

But if you'll use your 'Super Zoom Biggie-fier' and zoom into that pic, this is what I was really seeing. The one on the left is a big doe; the one on the right is a big buck deer. The seasons they are a changing around here - in more ways than one. Deer hunting will be next on the list. I have a story for you on that one, too! But it will have to wait until next time. For now, let's just say that the venison this year will taste a lot like carrots. I don't particularly care for venison, and I'm not a hunter, but I do like my carrots. Grrrrrrrrr. All is well here at Oakdale Farm. Be safe, breathe out, change gently as the seasons pass. All is well; we'll all be OK.

Monday, October 26, 2020

No More Mosquitoes! The Farm Report 10-27-2020

No More Mosquitoes!

The Farm Report 10-27-2020 

This is what I woke up to yesterday morning. My outdoor thermometer said we had 25F (-4C) for the overnight low. Tonight, we're supposed to get down to 18F (-8C). There are some unappreciative types who live around here who head out for the winter at the first sight of this. They like to go where it is hot. Then they come back here for the summer, when it is REALLY hot. I don't get it. If I had the spare scratch, I'd buy a place in Canada for the summers, and stay here the rest of the time. You can't grow good tomatoes in Canada though. There's always somethin' I guess.... Our AFS son, Carlos, tells me I should just move to Costa Rica where he lives and it is about 75F (24C) all the time. Hmmmmmmm

I like outdoor things, and wood cutting and heating is one of my favorites. I don't do axe work - I like machines! Annie likes to supervise me and she likes Ranger rides more than just about anything.

It is a 'guy thing' I suppose, but there is just something super satisfying about watching and hearing a giant hydraulic ram push a log through the splitter wedge. Pure destructive power. Gotta love it!

Annie would drive the Ranger if she had thumbs. She doesn't, so I drive it for her. She's always ready to go to the 'next' place - where ever that is. "Hey Tim, let's get this wood into the boiler and go for a run!" Annie runs at the full gallop about 3 or 4 miles every day. She just absolutely loves to run!

Some veggies are better when it is cold. Tomatoes are NOT among them, but broccoli is.

Cauliflower likes to be chilly, too. The best sweetest heads come after a frost. See Above: We HAVE HAD FROST!

Eliot Coleman says, "Sugar is Mother Nature's antifreeze." Carrots left in the ground until after it gets cold are the best, and the sweetest you'll ever taste. "But isn't a carrot a carrot," you ask? NO! Like tomatoes from the grocery store or the garden, the same goes for carrots. Once you've eaten one from the garden, the grocery store ones are just a polite reminder of what they really can be.

And don't believe everything you read. My soil is heavy and hard. I like Royal Chantenay carrots for their flavor, and they're stubby too. They do fine in my non-sandy soil. "Oh, they're so much work," people moan. Not when you've got equipment, and I have equipment.

This is an insert belt I made for my Harbor Freight Cement Mixer/Spud and Carrot Washer. You put it inside the cement mixer and it washes the veggies for you. Let it run long enough and it will peel them, too.

"Tim, buddy! I just KNOW this thing will use water when we get it going." Annie likes water - and things that use water.

How to? First, you take out the mixing paddles that come with the machine for mixing cement.

Then you stuff the belt inside and fasten it with two little bolts. You can see the heads just behind the line if you look carefully. The white belt is made from a section of a throw away plastic shipping drum. The fingers sticking up are rubber chicken plucker fingers. I found a deal on them when I made my Whizbang Chicken plucker and had spares left over. Now they're veggie washing fingers.

All set up and ready to wash. Add veggies and water. Turn it on. Stand back and laugh while it does it's thing. Red Green would be proud of me!

It really does work though. Promise!

And that's how we wash our carrots out here on Oakdale Farm.

Beets are ready to put up, too. I don't remember what variety these are, but whatever they are, I won't grow them again. I think I must have believed the catalog copy that said they would be superior. Fooey! Next year I'm going back to good old Detroit Dark Red beets, and I'll let the chickens make eggs out of these.

Time to clean off the pepper patches, too. These are Jalapeno.

These are my favorites. They are Anaheim. Big on flavor, low on heat. I put them in when I cook a roast or a chicken. Delicious.

Of course it is more fun when you have another homemade machine. This is my homemade adaptation of a giant dryer. I actually made this for drying paint brushes and heating picture frame 'compo' ornaments back when I was teaching professional furniture restoration classes.

It is just a Harvest Maid round dryer adapted so the drying box can sit on the heating unit.

I just cut the guts out of one drying tray and fastened that to the box. It lifts off and stores away when I'm not drying big loads of stuff  or paint brushes.

I made trays that go on the runners inside. These peppers are cayenne.

Anaheims washed and ready to go in.

It is really hard to get peppers to this stage where I live. It is an accomplishment, and I'll probably jink something by bragging on myself, but ain't they pretty?

Bell peppers get a different treatment here.

I chop them up and actually dry them on the trays as the trays were intended to be used. A disappointment for you, I'm sure. But sometimes a guy has to go along with the crowd - much as that goes against my nature.

I don't know why I do this: red n's on one tray, green n's on another. I mix them all up in the same storage jar when I'm through anyway.

Ah well, so while I'm polishing off the garden and getting ready for the next (much more pleasant!) season, this is how it is actually supposed to look out here in October, but you never know.

I also had a bit of luck growing some popcorn this summer. Not much, but some. When this is dry and ready, I'll pop some and enjoy it some blizzardy night. Annie and I like popcorn; O.J. doesn't much care for it. We'll all enjoy being in where it is warm thinking good thoughts for the next adventure though. Take Care! All is well at Oakdale Farm. Vote early and vote often, as they used to say when I lived closer to Chicago!