My New Fav Gardening Tool – and it’s Made in the USA!

Summer is here in Oklahoma. Meaning it’s 1000 hot! It’s when our outdoor chores are done early in the morning before the blistering breathtaking heat begins to bear down. Spring and early Summer brought rain and more rain. In Oklahoma we never complain about too much rain, but this year we’ve come close. Gully washers blew in while trying to plant my garden. I had such high hopes this year for a good garden but much smaller than the banner garden we had last year. Too Many Projects (I’m ready for Fall!) I’m thankful for such a bountiful harvest that we canned enough for two years!

After the garden was planted, the rain came, then more rain, more weeds, mud too deep to weed and no garden. Does anyone with a blog admit failure? But, when one door closes another one opens. I focused on weeding my neglected flower beds. I was determined to keep ahead of the weeds. But I needed the right tool. I’m a lazy gardener, if there is such a thing, so it had to be easy to use. After some research, I found this wonderful little tool made by Craftsman, made in the U.S.A and sold by Lowes for under $20. An area off my back porch, about 4′ x 10′, was completely overtaken with weeds. I was interrupted several times so it’s hard to give an exact time to clear it, but about 30 minutes. Not bad! To see it in action, click on this link https://youtu.be/_alpK6kOaZ0

I haven’t given up on a garden yet. I’ve never had a Fall garden. By the time canning season is over, I’m done. This might be the year for the Fall garden. I better get busy, early, when it’s cool….er.

Black Gold Discovered!

Not oil, even though I live in the oil rich State of Oklahoma, but almost as good. Recently, I wrote that I wanted to go to a mushroom farm that sells mushroom compost to use in our garden this year. Garden Dreaming I still think it would be a great soil additive, but it would involve a long drive for us. Why do this when in my own backyard, one of the richest sources of fertilizer is free for the taking?

Compared to other manure sources, rabbit manure is rich in Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium.

Manure TypeN Nitrogen % P Phosphorus %K Potassium %
Rabbit2.41.4.6
Cow.6.4.5
Horse.7.3.6
Pig.8.7.5
Chicken1.1.8.5
Sheep.7.3.9
Comparison of Average NPK for Animal Manures1

Some Like it Hot, Some Like it Cold

Many sources online report that rabbit manure can be applied fresh without composting. They call it a “cold manure” because it will not burn your plants. The other animal manures are considered “hot” and must be composted before use in the garden.2Still other sources state that because urine and hay are usually mixed with the rabbit manure, it’s best to go ahead and compost to prevent diseases such as E Coli and Salmonella. You decide. It seems many are using it fresh with good results.

Tea Anyone?

I’ve never made a compost or manure tea but seems like all the bloggers are singing it’s virtues. Supposedly it’s a rich organic fertilizer that helps prevent bad pathogens. I’m a simple kind of gardener (lazy) and the easier the better. Making Compost manure is a more complicated procedure than spreading and tilling in fresh rabbit manure. I won’t go into the steps here as they’re all over the internet. I try to get my information from College Agricultural Departments that actually do studies on these kind of things and it looks like not only can the results be questionable, but even harmful.3

I’ll go the simpler route. If you’ve used rabbit manure or tea, I’d love to hear about your results.

1“Bunny honey: Using rabbit manure as a fertilizer.” Dixie Sandborn. Michigan State
University Extension, September 1, 2016.
https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/bunny_honey_using_rabbit_manure_as_a_fertilizer

2 “Animal Manure” Kathy Wolfe, November 13, 2020. https://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/2073/2020/11/Animal-Manure-in-the-Garden.pdf

3https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/good-growing/2019-08-14-compost-tea-miracle-product-or-snake-oil

Spring Has Arrived!

Spring has arrived swimming up the creek behind our property. Sand Bass meet once a year for a week long mating party, hundreds of them. We make sure we crash the party and invite them to our house for a big fish fry.

Southern gal that I am, they have to be fried with homemade tartar sauce, fried potatoes, corn bread and a dollop of pickled green tomatoes on the side. The pickled green tomatoes were canned from the end of last year’s abundant tomato harvest.

I have to get busy cutting up fish filets but thought I would include a couple of recipes:

Southern Fried Fish

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 cup white flour

1 cup corn meal

Lowrys Seasoning Salt to taste

Fish filets

Vegetable Oil – enough to fill about 1 inch in a frying pan

Cast Iron Skillet

  1. Heat oil in cast iron skillet.
  2. Mix white flour and corn meal together in flat bottom dish or gallon size bag.
  3. Rinse fish in water and dredge in flour mixture
  4. Add fish to pan after testing oil with a drop of oil. It should sizzle.
  5. When fish starts to float in oil and is slightly brown, turn with tongs to cook other side.
  6. Remove fish to paper towel lined platter and lightly dust with Lowry’s.

Tartar Sauce

2 cups Miracle Whip

1/4 cup diced onions

1/4 cup chopped dill pickles

Lowry’s to taste – about 1/8th teaspoon

Mix together. Slather on as desired.

Yum!

Prepping for Polar Express 2021

Frigid temperatures (for Oklahoma) have been with us for a week. We’re looking at 10 to 12 inches of snow this weekend with below zero temps. Extended cold weather for weeks is new for us. It was our native Will Rogers who said, “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute and it’ll change.”

However, dramatic and severe weather events are expected; deadly tornadoes, daily earthquakes, extended droughts, devastating fires, and the dreaded ice storms. We’ve learned to be prepared for anything. Yes, there is still those who make last minute runs to the grocery store to stock up, even if it’s going to be just a little snow event, which is gone the next day. Because we live in a rural area with a large household, we can’t wait until the last minute.

Heat

Frigid weather with ice, always a possibility, means losing electric is always a concern. In 2011 we lost electric for 14 days. Because we have a gas welder/generator, we kept power without any loss of food. Having a supply of gasoline to run the generator is important if we’re unable to get out on the roads to get more . We have propane heat and a stove that does not require an electric start. We know we’ll stay warm and can eat hot food.

Water

We’re on well water that depends on an electric pump. An automatic heater is kept in our well house to prevent frozen and busted pipes. I would love to have a hand pump but we have a very deep well and it’s not practical. I keep a supply of water stored in our storm cellar for short term outages. We also fill up our large bathtub if it looks like the electric going out is a real possibility. This will get us by for a day but with 9 people, rabbits and chickens, we’ll have to hookup the generator.

Animals

This is the first year I’ve put egg laying chickens in a movable pen that includes a small chicken house. I’ve raised broilers on the pasture but they were only out for less than 5 weeks during early summer. I don’t have a source of heat available to the pen. Their house has a door that we can shut at night and this does help but it means we’re going out to the pasture every morning and night to open and shut the door. Right now it also means several trips to break ice and provide drinkable water. Next year a traditional pen needs to be built before Winter. Laying pellets and scratch is bought in bulk and stored in 50 gallon rubber barrels.

Food

Because we’re a hunting family with land nearby, we’ve been blessed to put venison in the freezer each Fall. I try to stock up on other sources of meat during the year when I find a sale. We’ll also raise a steer or pig occasionally to add to our freezer. This Fall we killed the roosters from our baby chicks we purchased in the Spring. Tougher than hens, the roosters make great chicken and dumplings! We have a good supply of canned fruits and vegetables.

I don’t care for the taste of powdered milk but Gossner Foods Foods produces boxed milk that is shelf stable for at least 6 months. I really like the taste and it prevents last minute runs to the grocery store when we’re out of milk. Dollar Tree sells this in their stores for $1.00 a quart or $12 a case online. I order online and have it delivered to their store for free shipping. During most of the pandemic I was unable to order online. Recently I noticed it was back in stock and purchased 2 cases that I picked up just in time.

Neighbors and Family

Last minute calls were made to our “city family and friends”, who don’t always live by the weather, to make sure they are ready. Many were, some weren’t. Most of our neighbors have been out here for years and are prepared. Some are living pretty thin and need a little more help. We’re a community and try to help each other. Even though my nearest neighbors are a mile or so away from me in all directions, I know them so much better than I knew my next door neighbors in town.

It’s not a totally perfect plan. We get lazy and put things off, but we have the basics in place. Then we trust the Lord for the things we did plan and the things we forgot.

Garden Dreaming

Dark gray skies, walking past last year’s now empty garden on my way to feed the chickens has me dreaming of juicy red vine ripened tomatoes. Memories of weeding tomato plants so high that I was hidden from view, hot sunshine on my back and legs, resulting in a “farmer’s tan”.

Wake up! It was a wonderful garden that produced every kind of vegetable from my daughter-in-law Sarah’s seed stash for preppers; heirloom tomatoes, beans of several varieties and pumpkins as large as my 8 year old grandson! We could’ve had a great market garden if not for Covid. Just as the garden started producing Sarah was recuperating from surgery and John and I were struggling to keep up with the garden chores. Then came canning, freezing, drying, giving it away. It was a challenge to preserve tomatoes; canned whole, diced, tomato preserves, dried, catsup, spaghetti sauce, plain sauce. Too tired to do anything else, I froze them whole. They’re still in my freezer. I really need to do something with them. This was repeated with every vegetable. A new favorite I tried was jalapeno jelly.

Garden Plan for 2021

  • This year the size of the garden will be cut in half. My son’s family of 7 who’ve lived with us for the last 1 1/2 years while remodeling a 4 bedroom mobile home they bought for cheap should be ready for move-in sometime this Spring. Even with half the size of the garden, it will produce more than enough, if all goes well.
  • The variety of vegetables was fun, but I’m only ordering what we like and will plant what we can reasonably eat with a little extra just in case. Weather, bugs and the unpredictability of what is growing well any given year makes it a challenge to predict the harvest.
  • I ordered my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, located in Mansfield, MO https://www.rareseeds.com/ Mansfield is about an hour’s drive, South and East of Branson. We took a little side trip there to visit the final home of Laura Ingles Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie series. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about Baker’s Seed or their Spring Planting Festival. They have a second location in Santa Rosa, CA where they host a National Heirloom Exposition which draws over 20,000 people who come to learn from gardening experts, listen to music, check out the vendors and enjoy food from their Asian restaurant. These activities are closed this year. Their seed prices are very reasonable with free shipping and a good supply of seed. They also supply a free seed packet. I’m excited about the White Tomesol Tomato seeds they sent. Many of the seed companies this year are low on seeds and shipping is delayed due to Covid. I was pleasantly surprised when I ordered my seeds on January 27th and received them by February 4th. I saved a good supply of Okra seeds from last year’s harvest.
  • Now to get the garden plan on paper!
  • It’s already time to start tomato seeds indoors!

One Season Ends, a New One Begins

The last few weeks have been a blur of canning and freezing as the end of the garden season comes to an end. Besides the usual diced and whole tomatoes, salsa, tomato and spaghetti sauce, I’ve tried ketchup and tomato preserves. The tomato preserves are surprisingly delicious. Another new experiment this year was Jalapeno Jelly. The mixture of spicy and sweet has proved to be addictive. Okra was a big producer this year so we’ve froze it both battered and plain. Okra is a wonderful addition to soups. My mother always made okra cooked in tomatoes, bacon and onions which is quite yummy so I’ve canned okra and tomatoes. However, my brother and I are the only ones who like it this way. It has to be battered and fried for everyone else!

The night before last we were warned of a possible hard frost. It was all hands on deck to try and save as much as possible of the last of the tomatoes, both green and red, and a mountain of Banana, Hungarian, Bell and Jalapeno peppers. The harvest filled a deep wheelbarrow. We were happy to split it up and share with relatives and neighbors.

To get out of the house and the kitchen, I took a little trail ride with John to see his latest tiny cabin on stilts (hunting stand). Bow season for deer hunting has started and it soon will be muzzleloader or primitive arms season. This is a very big deal in our family as I’ve talked about before in https://osageprairie.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/man-week-has-arrived-a-k-a-thanksgiving/. This is not just sport but food for our family. John never harvests anything that is not food.

John designed his cabin to avoid climbing and hunting from a tree stand which can be quite dangerous. Now he has a comfortable place to sit with a propane heater when it’s cold, drink his coffee and even fall asleep without falling out of a tree. He invited me to climb up and inspect. He even has carpet on the floor! The pictures at the top right was my view out of the windows. Very peaceful with only the sound of birds. All summer with the hustle and bustle of family life and a big household I’ve been dreaming of a quiet place to get away where I could be alone with God and pray.

I think I found the place.

Projects on the Prairie – Part 1

The Food Pantry

We have two families under one roof with 9 people. Sarah’s older son is visiting for the summer.  Since the Covid 19 pandemic we’ve been eating together.  I was cooking separately for John and I  because we have some dietary restrictions and we eat earlier in the day. That was just too complicated and too many cooks in the kitchen!

I’m fortunate to have a lot of cabinet space and a separate laundry room/food pantry.  But over the years the cabinets and laundry room have become a place for extra storage.  I have a reputation in the family for being a “tightwad”.  I call it frugal.  The thought of renting a storage unit to store extra junk would never cross my mind .  However, I’ve resorted to buying a pantry for extra food storage when I could sort through all the cabinets to make room for the extra food that is coming into our house.  Right now with gardening, raising chickens, and canning I just didn’t have the energy.  This unit I bought can always be used for my quilting and sewing supplies if it’s no longer needed for food in the future.  Plus, I got a great buy.

I purchased this direct from Sauder online.  Years ago I purchased a Sauder office desk when I was working from home as a Mortgage Broker and it’s still holding up very well. I love the built in shelves on the side door.  Shipping was free also.  This is not a paid commercial!  The only downside is that it came in many pieces.  John is quite mechanical but he really wasn’t in the mood to be putting this together.  After he laid out the pieces it went together pretty fast. 

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Retrofit, Recycle, Reuse

Back in The Three R’s – Reuse, Restore, Recycle The Three R’s – Reuse, Restore, Recycle I told how I took a old rusty swing set that had been passed along to my grandchildren and extended the looks and life with some metal paint.  Four years later and the set has not only lost it’s looks but had become dangerous.  One of my granddaughter’s fell from a swing and hurt her back when a chain broke.  The swings and slide were promptly removed. Our newly expanded garden would be needing trellises for green beans, squash and cucumbers.  My daughter-in-law had the wonderful idea to use the swing set frame for one of the trellises.

A neighbor who has a tire shop was happy to give us some tractor tires. The tires are a smaller tractor tire but larger than pickup tires. These will be used to grow potatoes.  As the leaves grow up another tire is stacked up, dirt added and more potatoes are added. This method not only saves space (which isn’t our problem) but saves labor (which is our problem).

Another reuse project is converting a well used sand box that had lost most of it’s sand, actually small river rocks, to a kitchen garden.

Farmers, ranchers and homesteaders have always had to make do and reuse what they had on hand.  Funds, time and shopping options are limited.  We’re carrying on that tradition.

 

 

Best Laid Plans

In a recent post, Life Has Changed On The Prairie I told how my son and daughter-in-law brought their rabbits when they had to move. The rabbit family has kept on growing and it was time to harvest and process. This time Sarah asked me if I would can them. I’ve canned chicken and the process is basically the same. I always rely on USDA guidelines for processing which can be found online. Please do not use blog sites or family as the final authority on instructions or processing times. It’s not worth the risk!

Sarah did the hard work of harvesting and deboning. She decided to can without the bone. I just got together all the equipment needed:

  1. Mirro Pressure Canner with weight, rubber gasket and canning rack
  2. Canning jars (no mayonnaise jars)
  3. Lids and rings
  4. Jar lifter
  5. Towel and wire grates to set hot jars after processing
  6. Large Deep pan

After reading the instructions, I determined the processing time was 90 minutes with a 10 pound pressure for our altitude. When Sarah started harvesting, I placed the jars in the dishwasher for washing and kept the jars in the heat cycle until we were ready to pack. The rabbit was put into the large pan filed with water and a brine ratio of 1 tablespoon canning salt per quart. This helps draw out the blood. If the rabbits were wild it would help remove the gamey taste.

I put about two inches of water in the pressure canner on low heat when the deboning began. Working with a pressure canner is really much easier than a water bath because you’re not working with a heavy canner filled with hot water.

Once the jars were loosely packed and lids and rings added they went into the canner. It’s important that the warm jars go into water that’s also warm to prevent glass breakage. After putting in 6 quart jars, we closed the lid and started the process known as venting. This is bringing up the heat to the point that a full head of steam is coming out the top vent for a period of 10 minutes. This helps remove all of the the air from the canner to get the correct temperature and pressure. The pressure “jiggler” is then put on the top of the canner.  The countdown begins.

Once I hear that “rockin and rollin” noise with the “jiggler”, I can start my 90 minute countdown.  Each pressure canner is different.  My instructions says it should jiggle 1 to 3 times per minute.  It’s important to go by your instructions so you can maintain proper pressure.  If you have a dial type canner, then the pressure is shown on the dial.  After 90 minutes, the fire is turned off and I wait 45 minutes before attempting to open the canner.  This allows the pressure to drop and it’s safe to open.

So far everything went as planned.  When I opened the canner, I was very saddened to see that one of the jars had broke!  I did inspect my jars but it’s possible there was a hairline crack.  I put the other jars on the counter to cool and seal until the next morning. I did check the lids before I went to bed and all had sealed.

The next morning, on closer inspection, I noticed one of the jars had a thin black line inside of the jar! I’ve never had that happen before so I immediately started checking online and couldn’t find any similar situation.  Even during the Coronavirus Pandemic, the local county Extension Agents were available, but working from home. A picture sent (see bottom middle picture) to the agent and I had my response the next day.  Because my seal was intact, she felt the line is a reflection of where the liquid level was either when the jars went into the canner or at some point during processing.  It was possible that it could be a combination of denatured proteins (a change in the structure of the protein). She felt the food was safe but recommended boiling for 11 minutes prior to tasting as an extra precaution.  If there was an off odor at any time, to discard the food.  I felt relieved with this information.  After losing one jar (one rabbit) to a broken jar, it’s tough to throw out another.  But better safe than sorry!

One might ask if all the work of canning and possible losses is worth it.  I still enjoy freezing food but when you’re busy it’s a blessing to have a healthy dinner in a jar.

 

A New Twist on an Old Way

This paradigm shift we’re experiencing right now is forcing our family to think in new or rather old ways.  A few years back I purchased Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois for myself, my daughter-in-law and my best friend for Christmas.

Frugal person that I am, I purchased it from https://www.thriftbooks.com/share/?code=NeichQeK9l6gc0ie11qkdw%253d%253d  Ok, this is a shameless plug that will give you a 15% discount off their wonderful selection of books and give me a discount off my future orders.  Most of their books are under $4.00 and there is free shipping for orders $10 or more.  These are used books and you can pick the condition.  Most are in good condition.

When I purchased the book, I was very excited about having home baked bread that was not labor intensive and didn’t require an expensive bread machine.  Recipes include The Master Recipe, which is for enjoying an artisan loaf  every day and  so simple to make.  If you want to step it up a notch, there are recipes for pizza, flatbreads and pastries.

My daughter-in-law decided now was the time to dust off the book and start making daily fresh bread.  Yeah!  The less trips to the grocery store, the better. We had our first slice yesterday for lunch.  It’s slightly heavier than  store bought bread,  but still light enough that your family who only eats white Wonder Bread will love.  It’s also a healthy addition to your meal that is actually quite filling.

Our prayers are constantly with our country, our leaders and for those families who are  experiencing loss and sickness.  We’re trying to redeem the time.

redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:16