Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Squirrels, Ants and Me: The Farm Report 08-31-2022

 The Farm Report
08 - 31 - 2022

Squirrels, Ants and Me

We're all getting ready for winter out here. I am especially joyful about that. But "First," as my Dad used to say, "you've gotta get ready." I wrote about the storm damage to my roof a few issues back in the spring, when Oakdale Manor suffered from the blows. Well, Jake Borntreger and his crew showed up and here is my glorious new roof!

Ain't she a beaut!? All steel and permanent - at least it will be permanent unless a tornado rips the whole thing up out of the ground and I get a chance to meet Dorothy and Toto. Barring that unhappy event, these roofs are rated to last 50 to 70 years minimum. This is a shot from an aerial drone; something you might not think an Amish crew would have. Jake says this is the most complicated roof he has done so far - and he's been doing this since he was a kid. Who says you can nod off in geometry class and not pay a price for it? Intersecting planes. See those junk piles on either side of the house. Make a mental note; I'll come back to this later.

Here's a link to a photo file if you just need a huge major fix on roofing pictures. 

It is tomato juice time! I plant lots of tomato plants so that when I want to put juice in jars, I can just head on out to the garden with five gallon buckets and come right back in with big clean plump juicy 'maters to work up.

My secret weapon: The Electric Roaster. After a wash and core - and cut out the bad spots, of course - I squeeze the maters and heap 'em up in the roaster.

About an hour after they start cooking, I start lifting out the excess juice into another pot. If I didn't, then I'd have one he&& of a mess! Usually I get this started before lunch, then when I come back after lunch break, this is what I have. 

You know me! If there is a machine for it, I'm in. This is my new little electric Squeezo tomato juice mill. It is fantastic. That whole roaster full of tomatoes goes through it in under 9 minutes. I've timed it. I've done multiple batches this summer. Excuse the rough kitchen. This is actually where I used to resilver mirrors. The mirror pan is the perfect wet sink for juice making.

This is all that is left after the electric squeezer has done it's thing. Skins and seeds. The chickens make this into eggs. Waste not/want not, they say.

Crude but effective. The pot on the right is exactly like the one my Grand Mom used back in the 1960's when I used to help her can. The one on the left is just the standard Presto pressure canner, sans pressure lid. I can a bunch at one time this way. Boiling water bath is all you need for tomato juice. The USDA standard is 4.5pH or less for water bath canning of high acid product. My tests papers show me that my tomato juice is actually 4.0pH. I like to know so I'm safe!

Chili, tomato cocktails, whole tomato goulash, more chili - Oh boy! After the smoke clears up a little and I get a breather, I'll label and date each jar before taking it into the house and putting them on my pantry shelves. Let the snow blow this winter!

Oh, and just so you'll know, I still have and use Joyce's Official Ball Blue Book nailed to the wall above the canners. This is the Bible of Canning. Get one; use it. USDA has a newer version of their own. If the old Ball Book was the bible, maybe the new USDA book is the New Revelation. Whatever, follow the rules and be safe. 

Part of the joy of a 'Canning Kitchen' is the fact you get to clean up with a garden hose. No mess in the house, and everything is clean and spotless at the end of the day. Even my cabinetmaker's clamps get into the act.

Sweetcorn is another story this year. I was soooo hopeful, and soooo happy. I put up about 15 bags and was ready to really get after it the next day. Except the next day when I went out to the garden, the raccoons had destroyed the ENTIRE REMAINING PATCH. Apparently my going in and out of the corn had raised scent cues that were undeniable. I did have an electric fence around the sweetcorn, but only on 3 sides. Who would have thunk they'd find that invisible wall of opportunity? They did, and I lost.

Ambrosia is the variety. It is unbeatable. Delicious, big, robust. MMMMMmmmmmmmm.

I use an old fashioned Lee Corn Cutter to remove the kernels from the cob. A sharp knife works, too. But if you've ever tried a Lee, then you know how to do it - and you won't want to use a knife anymore.

My sister, Beth, gets the MacArthur Genius Award this year! To have really good, really high quality long lasting frozen sweet corn in the freezer, you MUST blanch it before freezing. I use nylon/polyester vacuum/cooking bags all the time. I freeze my food in them for later. So, Beth said one day, "Why couldn't you just put the raw corn into the bags and seal them, then blanch them in hot water AFTER they have been packed and sealed? GENIUS!!!! You can, as it turns out. No hot water boiling the ears and then into ice water and then sloppy cutting and etc. etc. I just simply cleaned the ears, cut the corn and packed it into the bags. Sealed it, THEN, I dunked the bags into the boiling water/ice water and into the freezer. This is so much easier, cleaner and better. Perfect!

You'll read on the interweb about how people don't blanch their produce before they freeze it. Then you'll also read about how their corn was tasteless and mushy and not as good as when they put it in the freezer last summer. You've gotta blanch it! This kills/stops enzyme activity and that is what spoils your frozen corn/veggies flavor. This isn't a 'food safety' thing; it is a 'food quality' thing. Doing your blanching INSIDE the freezer bag is just so much easier. Thank you Sis!

Broccoli: Same drill. Gypsy is my favorite variety. It produces one big head in the spring, then these wonderful side shoots all summer long, until freeze up.

I do still steam blanch my broccoli the old fashioned way. I think it is better. This is my (Joyce's) steamer.

I like it a little more 'cooked' than blanched. Once it has that special color (about 5 minutes for me) then it gets popped into the ice water to stop the cooking music.


We discovered years ago that a salad spinner is not just for spinning salads. It makes the perfect tool to get all the water out of the broccoli before it goes into the freezer. This makes a much better product after it comes out of the freezer, I think.

"Hey Annie!" I was showing her my harvest of basil. I was excited. I thought Annie would be, too.

Nope. Annie is almost all Australian; Australian Shepherd Daddy, Australian Cattle Dog Mama; there's nobody named Luigi on her family tree. She just doesn't see much of anything good about Italian food, either. She took a sniff and headed off to check the terraces on the farm. "Bye Tim. I'm busy. Call me if you put a shrimp on the Barbee."

Look familiar? Yep. Washed and cleaned the basil leaves, then gave 'em a spin in the salad spinner to get rid of all the water. Obviously, Annie was impatient and bored, and couldn't wait for me to get this job done so we could go back out in the Ranger.

First, though, we needed to get those basil leaves made into what I call 'Pasta Pesto.' It is just like real pesto, but without the nuts and cheese. I just whirrrr the basil together in the food processer with garlic and olive oil until it looks a lot like cow poop. OK, I'm still in 5th grade. But it does, doesn't it!?

This is so good in the winter. I refrigerate this mess until the oil hardens (overnight). Then, I use a little baby ice cream scooper to make little balls of Pasta Pesto on a cookie sheet. That goes into the deep freeze. Once really hard, then the little Pasta Pesto Balls go into a freezer bag for winter. When I make pasta, or whatever, I put one ball into the boiling water with the s'ghetti. Delish!

Back to the mess piles on both sides of my house. Nails everywhere on the ground! Henry Ford suffered a sore foot, but so did Emmy the old Farmall (both front tires), my truck, and my lawn mowers. I've fixed a LOT of tires this summer. And we're still not done.

It has been a super busy, super hot dry and miserable summer. OJ and Annie sort of came to an agreement. 

Too hot to fight, too hot to care. Neither wanted to just let the other one know that they weren't watching though. Still on duty regardless.

And nothing really changes. For those of you who don't know much about dogs and cats, let me use this photo to enlighten you: Dogs can't leave cats alone. "Let sleeping cats lie." Or was that dogs? I can't remember. Well, when Annie can't let a sleeping OJ lie, this happens. Annie was stirring up trouble while OJ was asleep. If you are new to Old Tomcats with an Attitude, look at OJ's head. When a tomcat flattens his ears and his eyes begin to go crosswise, you should get ready and LOOK OUT! Yep, the next move was an explosion that happened so fast I couldn't provide you with a picture, but it was funny for all of us except Annie - who acted surprised even though she's done this to him about sixty hundred times.

All is well at Oakdale Farm. The seasons are changing and I'm glad for that. 

Monday, August 1, 2022

WHEAT HARVEST: The Farm Report 08-01-2022

The Farm Report


Wheat is the 'Bread (or Staff) of Life' as they say. With all the troubles in the Ukraine, and my own pleasure in growing my own stuff - and baking and eating the rewards of my efforts! - I decided to plant some Spring Wheat this year. Growing wheat is easy. It is the harvesting that is the problem, especially for a small scale guy like me. Challenge accepted! Wheat is also a pretty crop to see growing on the edge of your garden when you go visit it. There is an anthropological connection between man's belly and that glowing/blowing golden wheat out in the field. It is peaceful and satisfying to see it.

Well, it starts here. I did not think fast enough to grow Winter Wheat, which is planted in the fall. So early this spring - as soon as the ground could be worked - I cleaned up a little strip on the edge of the cornfield and made a place for my wheat field.

Of course, Annie was the crew boss and head supervisor. She always has this watchful look on her face that seems to say, "Tim, do you really think you know what you're doing?"  Or, "What are we going to plant out there today, Tim?"

This stuff, Annie! Johnny's Seeds happened to have Hard Durham Spring Wheat seeds in stock.

At first, I thought I'd use my little Earthway seeder to do the planting. Well, after a few trips up and down the patch, I said 'Nuts!' to that. So I went back to the tried and anciently true method of just sowing by hand. Yep. A bucket of seeds and a backhanded scattering toss as I walked. 

My Dad always said to sow half as much as you thought you should, then go back over the patch a second time and do it again. That way, you'd get a more even planting. He was right. After that was all done, I set some posts with flags to keep the herbicide sprayers off my wheat patch. I also used a little harrow on the back of Henry Ford to rake in the seeds. That's all. The seeds know what to do after that.

Time was my friend, and I got a good stand. The herbicide applicator understood the fence post signals, and got right up to the edge. The corn said thanks, and my wheat said thanks, too. We can, as it turns out, all live together in harmony if we just give it a little effort.

More time passed. If you look carefully, you can see the far end is still a little green. Wait. Wait. Wait.

So when it all starts getting that golden glow the poets love writing about, it is time to really get serious about catching the harvest - before the BIRDS do!!! They have been watching and waiting, too.

This is my little daily test. I pop off a seed head and roll it in my hand like I was wadding up a piece of paper.

As the wheat berries - the actual grains - ripen and mature, they will release from their husks better and better each day.

On 'that' day - the day when the wheat berries release cleanly, and the 'bite test' results in a little crunch instead of a bubble gum gooey feeling on your tooth - it is time to reap what we've sown. And reap it NOW! Wind, birds, dogs, and anything else running amok in the patch will leave the wheat berries on the ground instead of where we want 'em. Which is in wait for my flour mill and a bread loaf pan!

The harvest equipment for the Oakdale Farm self-sufficiency wheat patch. As you know, I love old machines and like using them. I bought this old David Bradley walking tractor for $40 at a garage sale several years ago. It was made in 1947. After a lot of TLC, some paint and a new motor, and new tires, and a good neighbor who supplied me with a bunch of attachments for it, and I'm ready to cut wheat.

These walking tractors were sold by the Sears Roebuck Company from World War II up until about the time I graduated from High School - 1967 for anybody who's guessing. They were built like Sherman Tanks, and other than the motor and rubber, they can't wear out. There are lots of them still in use.

The sickle bar mower on the front is just the ticket for cutting wheat. I just walked up and down the wheat patch mowing it off as I went. I walked up and back 3 times to get the whole field cut.

I didn't have it mounted this time, but they even came with a set of bars that deflect the wheat off to one side as you cut. You could do acres of wheat with this if you wanted to. If I had acres of wheat though, I'd want to sit in an air conditioned combine to do the harvesting today! Wheat ripens in July here, and that is never a time you need a jacket when you're out working in the garden....

All mowed down. Now, get it piled and up off the ground RIGHT NOW! If you don't, you'll quickly realize the birds will be there benefitting from your efforts to knock the wheat down to their level for them - and regret it.

It isn't hard. I used a tined fork to just lift and pull the cut wheat stalks into piles along the edge of the rows. I have an old fashioned tool called a 'corn rake' which is perfect for this. It looks like a pitchfork, but with the tines bent over like a lawn rake. Easy.

Old Emmy was called into service for this one. I put a cheap plastic tarp in the bottom of the hauler so the grain wouldn't fall out. That's the tined fork I use to lift the wheat and straw stems into the carrier.

Not too long after, all the wheat and straw was lifted off the ground into the hauler.

I left a 'tail' of the tarp hanging so I could bring it up over the grain when I was finished. This helps keep all the good stuff where I want it.

Now for the threshing part. This is where I think Tim should get at least 'Honorable Mention' in the Great Ideas Department of the Small Scale Grain Farming Handbook. This is my 'invention' for thrashing small amounts of home grown grain and beans. See that green thing? Well, that is a string leaf mulcher. It is not much beside an ordinary weed whip turned upside down and held in a stationery plastic tub. I actually bought it to shred bales of hay to make mulch for my garden. I bought it 'used' from Amazon, and I think I only paid about $75 for it several years ago.

Here's what makes it work inside. See the red weed whip 'strings'? The motor is underneath.

All set up ready to thrash. This is a little messy, and I'm greedy about getting ALL my wheat berries into the cannister for this winter's bread. 

Oh! And there's one other key component. A router speed controller. I was using this contraption to whip the soup bean seeds out of their pods one time. It was cracking a lot of the beans in half. Dang, I said. I wish this didn't run quite as fast. Then the little guy who sits on my shoulder tapped me and said, "Excuse me smart guy, but aren't you the world class furniture specialist they read about in the magazines?" Well, guilty as charged. He went on to say, "Buddy - don't you have a speed controller in the wood shop you use to slow down your big he-man router motors?" Again, guilty. The message soaked through finally. I could use that router speed controller to slow down this weed whip leaf blaster!

And by golly, it works! A router speed controller is about as common in stores as routers are. They're everywhere, and they're cheap. No reason not to have one. I'm guessing for around the price of a Ben Franklin, everybody could be set up and ready/able to harvest and thrash their own wheat and soup beans.

To use it, you just grab a handful of wheat straw and heads, and push it down inside the machine. It 'sucks' in the grass, so you really only have to get it in the area - then the leaf shredder takes over.

On mine, this is the 'just right' setting. Just on the mark between medium and full power. I set it just fast enough to knock off the hulls, but not fast enough to crack the wheat berries.

Like this. Push in the wheat, and the shredder does the rest. It feeds about as fast as you can bring it another handful of goodness.

Since it is a string whip, it isn't too dangerous. If you put your hand in there, I'm sure you'd remember not to do that again. But you'd still have your hand! Plus you'd have a good story to tell the grandkids.....

'Taint all roses. See that ball of wheat straw down in there? Well, when you see that, it means it is time to replace the whip strings.

The machine is built to do that. It isn't difficult at all. I can change mine in under 10 minutes.

And we're back in business. There are several different brands of these string leaf shredders on the market today. I think they're all the same, and they're probably all made in the same place, too. I bought this particular one because it was the cheapest. And it still works.

The shredder thrashes out the seeds from the husks and chops the straw into fine bits.

Here is what it looks like after it has gone through the leaf shredder. The wheat is down in there with everything else right now. The next step is to winnow the wheat berries out of the straw chaff. Winnowing will have to be a whole blog post on it's own. It isn't hard either, but I want to show you how I do that, too.

That whole load of wheat straw and berries took me only about an hour and a half to thrash. That includes set up and clean up time, too. It goes fast.

The green bag is full of chaff and wheat, and so is the blue tarp. The time pressure is off now - I have my wheat! I just don't have it cleaned and washed and stored in the house yet. That can happen later. I'll wait for a day when I have time, I'll wait for a day when it isn't 110F outdoors. I'll wait for a day with a pretty stiff breeze. If I can get everything except the breeze, not to worry. I have a motor tool for that!

All is well and looking good for the winter's bread. Cheers until next time from all of us out here on Oakdale Farm.


As I write this note, October 25, 2022, I have begun the winnowing project. For the record, it appears we will have between 45 and 55 pounds of wheat from this harvest. One bushel of wheat is 60 pounds. So, from a 4 pound bag of seeds, I'm getting around a 10-to-1 return. Not bad!