Tag Archive | farm life

Meet Ruby

Meet the newest member of the Phoenix Farm rabbitry, Ruby, a chocolate angora doe.  She was born here on the farm at the end of April.  Although she is not yet six months old, she is the same size as her mother and her fiber coat is lush and long.  The hairs are up to seven inches long!  When this baby is full grown she could well produce hairs to eight or nine inches in length!  Below is Ruby with some of her siblings in June.

Ruby was named by my granddaughters.  I think the name fits perfectly.  She is a gem of a bunny!  Her parentage is mostly French angora with English, German and Giant mixed in.  The ears and face show her ancestry as French angoras tend to have very little long fiber in those areas.  The German and Giant in her contribute to her large size.  Bigger rabbits produce more and longer fiber.

I have just started harvesting her first shedding of fiber.  Our rabbits are hand pulled, a process that does not cause the rabbit any discomfort since only the mature, loose hairs are removed.  When she is done harvesting, her coat will be about two inches long instead of the current six to seven inches.  She feels like a big fluff ball, all fur covering a much smaller bunny body underneath.  The fiber is excellent quality with a superior length, lovely cream color shading to brown and grayish-brown at the tips, with a good crimp.  I know it will spin up into gorgeous yarn!

Ruby shares an over-sized, comfortable cage with her mom, Moonstone.  Frequently they come out to hop around the barn.  Moonstone loves to dig holes!  Mother and child really enjoy being together and I will try to house them in this manner for companionship.  It is harder to keep angoras in groups because the constant rubbing together of their coats creates mats.  They will require more frequent grooming.  It is the least I can do for bunnies who are so generous with their fiber.

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Red Pear Jelly

The red pears are ready during the first part of September.  These early organic pears are delicious, fragrant and sweet, but they don’t hold long.  They must be picked when they are still a little crunchy and ripened under close monitoring.  In a couple days they can go from perfect ripeness to all brown on the inside.  The ones that survive my appetite for fresh pears are turned into jelly.

My pear jelly recipe was developed through trial and error and adapted from the apple jelly Sure-Jell recipe.  Pears have a similar pectin content to apples, but they contain more juice and are sweeter.  To make perfect pear jelly, select ripe fruit that is still slightly firm, not gone too mushy.  The skin and cores contain pectin, so they are retained.  The low sugar version of Sure-Jell reduces calories and allows more of the fresh fruit flavor to come out in the finished jelly.

Pear Jelly

4 lbs pears to make 4 cups pear juice

1 cup water

3.5 cups sugar

1 package low-sugar Sure-Jell

Wash pears well, remove stem and blossom end.  Cut the fruit, with the skins and cores, into approx. 1″ cubes.  Place in a large saucepan with the water.  Simmer, covered for 20-30 minutes, until soft.  Mash the fruit, place in a jelly bag or within several layers of cheesecloth and drain off all the juice.  I like to put the juice in a covered pitcher in the fridge overnight so any pulp that makes it through the cloth will settle to the bottom.  Then I pour off the clear juice, leaving the sediment.  You should have 4 cups of juice.  Add up to 1/4 cup water if you are a little short.

Place the juice in a large stock pot that is at least four times the volume of juice to allow for expansion during cooking.  Mix the Sure-Jell with 1/2 cup sugar then add to the juice.  Cook on high, stirring, until the mixture boils.  Add the rest of the sugar all at once.  Continue to stir and return the mixture to a full rolling boil that can not be stirred down.  Boil for one minute.  Remove from heat.  Skim off any foam.  Immediately pack in hot containers.  Process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes.  Cool out of drafts.  Check for a seal before storing.  Makes about 6.5 cups of jelly.  Yum!

August Garden Tour

The garden is in full swing and I’m barely keeping ahead of it, especially the wax beans.  The weather has been in the 90sF and 90%+ humidity for days on end.  It is hard for me to work outside in such hot weather due to breathing difficulties with asthma.  The weeds keep right on growing.  After the thunderstorms finish tonight, we are supposed to have at least three days of temps in the 70s-low 80s and much lower humidity.  I’m so looking forward to that!  Hope to get my garden in shape then.

I’ve just managed to stay ahead of the wax string beans.  So far I’ve canned 6 pints with 6 more to do and another big bag to pick tomorrow.  Beans love hot, humid weather.  The only problem is they can’t be harvested if they are wet.  It causes the beans to get rusty marks on them.  Timing bean harvesting between thunderstorms can be tricky.

I like to place my rows of plantings close enough together so that when they are mature they fill the whole area, choking out weeds.  The plants shade the soil and retain moisture without the need to apply mulch.  Above we see pumpkins on the left, beans in the middle and tomatoes on the right.  There are a few weeds in the tomatoes.  I’ll get rid of those this weekend.

The tomatoes have formed a jungle and are producing more fruit than I can eat.  Soon I will be freezing tomatoes for winter soups.  Fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes right from the garden are so much better than the store-bought variety.  Store tomatoes should be sold under a different name, like cardboard tomatoes.

The indian corn started out slowly this year due to a month of drought in June.  The lack of rain was also hard on the grass.  The hay harvest is poor.  The corn looks better.  Rain, mostly from thunderstorms, has help the plants reach for the sky.  They are about six feet tall and busy tasseling and making ears.  I plant pumpkins as companions for the corn.  The vines run around the stalks where they have plenty of space to spread out.  The large squash leaves shade the ground around the corn, discouraging weeds and helping conserve moisture.  Sunflowers like to grow with the pumpkins as well.

In June I went to a clearance sale at a local greenhouse and saved the last two pots of straight-neck summer squash.  They were very unimpressive, root-bound, yellowed pitiful plants.  I figured, give’em a chance and stuck them in where the carrots failed due to the drought.  In no time they had taken over that spot and are now flexing their leaves over my bed of sweet basil.

From struggling seedlings, the plants have grown into squash making machines.  I pick the squash when it’s very small, about the length of my middle finger, to keep ahead of production.  Small squash are tender and delicious.  Any that get away to grow to monster proportions are fed to the chickens.  They love garden extras, especially squash and tomatoes.

Last year I planted sweet basil near the edge of the garden, right beside the fence.  Something ate all my plants and I never got any basil.  This year I made a bed near the center of the garden.  The basil is growing unmolested and I have harvested a bunch already to dry.  The fresh leaves are also yummy tossed in a salad with tomatoes and summer squash.  The new growth is pinched back by about 6″ or so to encourage branching and prevent the plants from going to flower.  I make bundles using four spears of basil then hang them upside down in a dark, airy room to dry.

This year I again planted the crazy tendril peas.  I didn’t give them any support since they are supposed to hold themselves up with the luxuriant over-growth of tendrils.  It works pretty well.  They do lean over a bit, providing perfect cover for a mouse who is stealing pods and eating my peas before I can pick them.  I guess there’s plenty for everyone.  I’m just worried the rodent will move on to the tomatoes when the peas are gone.  Once I harvest the peas, I’m going to replant carrots in that spot and hope for a fall crop.

By planting sweet peppers in the shade thrown by the corn, the plants get protection from strong sun and the extra moisture they need to perform well.  There will be lots of nice peppers this fall if all goes right.  Last time I got a good pepper harvest, I roasted the excess on the grill, sliced and froze them.  When I needed pepper for topping pizza or tossing in pasta, I just chopped some off the frozen block.  That worked very well, so I plan to do it again this year.

When I was a kid, I did not like chard.  Now I love it!  The drought was tough on chard, but I got several plants that I transplanted to fill out a small row.  They seem to be having a competition to see who can produce the largest leaves.  I particularly like rainbow chard, such a pretty mix of colors when it grows.  

Just for fun and a splash of brightness in the veggie patch, I always grow some flowers.  This year bachelor buttons volunteered from seed dropped last year.  The mass of plants has to be tied up to prevent it flopping into the path and all over the neighboring plants.  These make lovely cut flower bouquets for the table that last over a week.

The zinnias have just started to bloom.  I almost got a picture of a hummingbird on the big red zinnia flower, but I wasn’t quite quick enough.  Hummingbirds also like the sunflowers.  Sometimes when I stand in the garden, the aerial hummingbird battles going on around me make me duck.  The tiny birds are very territorial and don’t like sharing even when there are plenty of flowers to go around.

Female ruby-throated hummingbird on the sunflowers, taken in 2017

This year I planted nasturtiums in the garden for the first time. Some didn’t do well, I suspect the drought got them.  A few have thrived and are producing orange, yellow and red flowers. So pretty. The flowers are supposed to be edible, but I probably will leave them in the garden rather than toss them on a salad.

Now we’ve reached the end of the garden tour.  Time to can some beans!

 

 

Little Bunnies One Month Old

Moonstone’s three babies are achieving maximum cuteness at one month of age.  The angora rabbit fawns are little bundles of fluff that fit neatly in your hand.  Two are white albinos with red eyes and one is a chocolate point with blue eyes.  I believe the chocolate point and one white are female and there is one boy.  They are still so young that I can be fooled when sexing babies.  I’ll check again in a month.  At that age their sex will be fairly obvious.

By copying what mother does, the little ones have learned to eat pelleted feed, drink from a waterer and bowl and nibble grass, hay, fruit wood twigs and apples.  Young rabbits have big appetites.  We go through a lot of pellets when there is a litter of rabbits to raise.  Happily, there are only three this time so the feed bill won’t be as big as when there are six or eight to grow.  

I talk to the babies and handle them frequently so they will be gentle and accustomed to humans.  As they enter four to five weeks of age, the fawns develop a natural curiosity and are moving away from the protection of their mom.  This is a great time to socialize them with humans. 

Mom still nurses her fawns and allows them milk once per day.  Whenever anyone tries to get a little extra drink, she hops smartly away.  At two months she will wean them and the little ones will be ready to go to new homes.  If the chocolate point turns out to be a doe, I may keep her for my rabbitry.  She is adorable!

Fox!

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Here are some of this year’s chick hatch, all different ages together in a nice little flock.  They are safely within the wire and net enclosed run.  That’s because we have a fox!

For most of the summer, the chicks’ house has been open so they can go out and free-range at their pleasure or come in the house to get food and water or to roost for the night.  The doorway was covered with wire and had a small opening just big enough for young birds to squeeze through.  That way the adult chickens could not get in. In the morning when I did chores, I would spread scratch grain in their run and call them.  Soon, all the chicks would come rushing for their favorite scratch treat.

About two weeks ago while the chicks were eating their scratch, I counted them.  There are supposed to be twenty-three, but one was missing.  Because the birds move around quickly when they eat, I assumed I counted wrong and didn’t think much of it.  Then I began to have premonitions about a fox.  I shrugged them off.

Four days ago when I fed the chicks, none responded to my call.  I could hear them talking in the hedges and stands of daylilies and within other cover in the yard.  Suddenly, no one wanted scratch.

Then, when I went to tend the horses, I discovered the half-eaten body of one of my young black roosters in the paddock.  I looked the body over and suspected a fox attack due to the nature of the injuries.  That evening, rather than going to their roosts when it got dusky, the baby chickens came running to me.  I’m their mother.  They stood around staring at me and yammering.  I took them to their house and made them go inside.  It was a struggle.  The young birds were afraid to go in.

That’s when I realized a predator, probably a fox, had entered their coop the night before though the small opening and stole the rooster as he slept.  I counted my babies that evening and got nineteen!  Oh no!  I locked all their doors and reinforced the wire fence around the run.

The next morning one more little black hen was waiting outside the coop to join her siblings.  She had hidden in the hedge for the night.  So now I have twenty chicks.  The loss of a black rooster is not such a disaster.  He would have been sold for $2 otherwise.  Sadly, I don’t know what other babies were stolen.  Probably some lovely little pullets, knowing my luck.  I’m glad to say my most prized ones are still with us and not fattening some nasty fox.

Also that morning I discovered the three most recent rabbit graves, one about two weeks old and two dating back to spring, had been newly dug up overnight.  It was obviously the work of either a fox or small dog by the size of the holes.  So, I’m pretty sure it’s a fox.  There was nothing edible in the graves.  That didn’t stop the creature from digging them up again the next night.  Now they are weighted with rocks.chick2

All the chickens must now spend most of the day penned up.  I have no idea when this fox may try another sortie against my birds.  They are allowed to free-range for about two hours in the evening while I and the German shepherds are outside.  So far no fox has shown its face.  The older birds are indignant about the restrictions, but the younger one actually seem relieved.  They happily go to roost in their safe, locked-up house at night.  During the day they act content to be within the protective wire of the run.

Watch out, Mr. or Mrs. Fox.  Your days are numbered.  If I see the animal in the yard, I will get rid of it for good.

 

Morning on the Farm

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It’s a beautiful July morning, sunny with a bit of a breeze.  The dew is still on the grass.  Time to do the farm chores.  When I step out the door, snapdragons and a heliotrope greet me.  The blue flowers have a wonderful, sweet fragrance.

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Otto and Holly tag along.  They love to follow me everywhere.

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The fig tree has four good-sized fruit with many more small ones on the way.  Time to give this tree some fertilizer to help ripen the crop before frost.

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My new yard centerpiece, impatiens on a log.  They actually sit on the septic tank clean-out cover, marking it so nothing heavy (like a tractor or horse) goes across it.

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Day lilies and bee balm brighten the garden beneath the crabapple tree.

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Vista and Maddie, hard at work mowing the orchard.  Cheap laborers who love their job.

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Kai and Cary are out enjoying a little morning sun before their major nap of the day.

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The black raspberries are ripening!  Time to make some jelly.

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Black-eyed Susans make a lovely wildflower accent beside the iris bed.

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The recent rain has spurred the garden to exuberant growth, both vegetables and weeds.

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Finally made it to the barn!  The first and third chick hatch eat together peacefully.  The second hatch is too busy catching bugs and hasn’t responded to the breakfast call yet.

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Little guys and big sisters share the water dish.

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Someone else would like to have breakfast with the chickens.  Two chipmunks live in our barn.  They were being pretty decent little guys until one decided to chew the nozzle off a gas can.  Not sure what the attraction was, hydrocarbons?  Maybe it’s time to bring home a Barn Friend cat from the Humane Society to send the chipmunks packing?

With all the distractions, it’s a wonder I ever get the barn chores finished!

 

 

Garden Tour

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Today’s cool temperature and fine mist is a welcome change from drought conditions and day after day in the 90s.  Last night we had a thunderstorm with heavy rains.  I can almost feel the plants breathing a deep sigh of relief at the much needed water.

g2Despite the adverse conditions, the vegetable garden is doing well.  The indian corn was knee high on the Fourth of July, so we’re right on schedule there.  A few days ago I beat the weeds back with the mantis.  Still need to rake the loosened weeds and throw them out.  Also need to weed right around the plants again.  I did that about two weeks ago.  Weeds don’t seem fazed by drought.

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The red sweet peppers are doing much better than last year.  I planted them closer together and am trying to make sure to give them plenty of water.  They are all beginning to bloom.  The beets are ready to be thinned for the greens.  Can hardly wait for a steaming bowl full flavored with salt and butter, yum!g3

Carrots are ready to be thinned as well.  I already thinned the pumpkins and squash.  They have out-grown the threat of squash bugs and cucumber beetles sucking the juices dry.  I think it was a hard year for those bug pests, I didn’t see hardly any.  Could be they don’t like very dry conditions.g6

The tomatoes are blooming and some have several small fruit forming already.  Can’t wait to harvest my first tomatoes!  These Early Girls usually have fruit ready by the end of July.  We’ll see how they do.  The lack of rain may have slowed them down.  I watered three times, but I suspect tomatoes like even more moisture.g7

The wax bush beans are beginning to flower.  Once flowers show up, watch out!  There will be beans to harvest in no time.  I still have about a dozen cans of beans left from last summer.  That’s ok, never too many beans.g5g8

I planted head lettuce that is ready to be thinned and also beds of marigolds, zinnias and bachelor buttons.  One bachelor button plant volunteered from last year and has lots of pretty mauve flowers already.  Always enjoy a little color in the vegetable garden.g10

The sunflowers struggled a bit, but are now growing well.  Most are about a foot tall.  Once they get this big, they begin to shoot toward the sky, nearly doubling in size every week until they reach six to seven feet.  They will be covered with bunches of small blooms that later form black oil seeds for the birds.g9

So, everything is growing right along here in the garden.  Am hoping the rain returns more frequently so I don’t have to water too much. We’ll check back in a couple weeks to see how things are going.