Monday, June 29, 2020

ZEN MACHINE GARDEN CHICKENS AND LOCKDOWN


The grass is greener but it hasn't grown too much...yet anyway.  Last week we had about 3 inches of rain and the ground was still pretty wet.  Luckily there wasn't much standing water as the ground and trees soaked it all up.  Next weekend the grass should be ready to mow.  But...


...we had to schedule the Zen Machine to be picked up.  Since there was no rain in the forecast Sunday and Monday, I took it out of the shed and left it here for them to pick up.  In fact, as this posts, it should be on its way to the shop.

You may have seen last weekend, one of the pulleys came off and the drive belt went sideways and started burning.  We watched some videos on replacing that belt and it was a bit more complicated than I could handle right now.  Ordering parts, waiting for them to come in, hoping I could get it right the first time, then if I needed to go in, they are closed to walk ins due to the pandemic...all the while needing it ready for mowing as soon as possible.

Just too much uncertainty.  We have an emergency expense fund just for things like this.  Let's hope it's at least reasonable.


Yes, this is a picture from last weekend but as a reminder, this is what we were getting on the tomatoes.  Birds.  When I was out there Saturday some of the green tomatoes had small pecks on them (guess they don't like green tomatoes) so I decided to take care of that.  I forgot to get a picture but what I did was use the freeze cloth covers to create a tent over the tomato bed.  I put some extra support trellises and used clips to secure it.  

We'll see how THAT works.  


I watered the plants on the porch and since there was nothing else to do, came back into town.  I masked and gloved up and went into a store and picked up some whole chickens and some salad greens.  Our philosophy on roasting chickens is that if we're going to heat up the oven to roast one, why not do two and save the meat for later?  

So that's what we did.  Sometimes we change up seasoning or maybe stuff some herbs inside but this time we went old school.  Butter, salt and pepper.  That's it.  They came out perfect!

We ate one over the course of Saturday evening and Sunday then I took all the meat off the other one and vacuum sealed it for the freezer.

Future meal, ready to go!


We've both been craving a salad and so with the chicken we had a nice mixed greens salad, some boiled eggs (is that weird with chicken? LOL) and 2nd Man made a wonderful vinaigarette with honey, dijon, oil, and some minced herbs.  OMG it was SO good.  We forgot being in quarantine meant not a lot of fresh salad greens.  It's amazing the things you miss.

Send good thoughts that the Zen Machine is not outrageously expensive, ugh.  We're starting our first week back in lockdown, it should be interesting.  We're ready, stocked and prepared once again so we'll just obey the rules and hope for the best. 



Sunday, June 28, 2020

BACK TO STAY AT HOME AND A LAZY DAY

We are back to the way it was...


I was back to working in the office for a couple of weeks but as things have started to spiral out of control here in Houston, we went back to working from home.  Then, Friday afternoon, all phones in Houston received the emergency push alert posted above.

We're back to stay at home except for essential activities.  All businesses are now requiring customers to wear masks but as the virus ravages across Houston and hospitals reach 100% capacity, it's best not to leave unless you have to.  For the last couple of weeks, I restocked our food supply (and toilet paper/paper towels, ha) and that's good.


We're ready to hunker down for another couple of months if necessary. 


Today has been a lazy day...as referenced by this picture of Hobart, laying on his side, covered with a blanket...yeah, he's not spoiled and yeah it IS that kind of a day, ha.  

Yesterday I went to the farm alone, not much to do with the mower down and all the standing rainwater.  More of an update tomorrow...

Friday, June 26, 2020

WINE CRATE BOX TRASH TO TREASURE

Regular readers know that I have a favorite place to look for bargains...our downstairs trash area!  Our building has trash chutes on every floor and they feed into a separate room, but for boxes and other things that people can't put in the chute, there is an area (indoor) near the loading dock where people can put the things they don't want.  

I've found several cool items over the last couple of years.  Here is one of the latest!*

*pre-quarantine


It's a wine crate.  And that's about all we know, ha.  There was no lid, I looked for it.  Oh well.


Still though, it is a nice and solid wooden box.  It's surprising how thick the wood is, though given the original contents (expensive bottles of wine) I'm guessing that makes sense.

We can always use a good box for something. With the "wine" name on the front, it might be cool in a bar area or the kitchen.  Time will tell.


We are in a weird weather pattern, clear then heavy rains and storms, then clear, then heavy rains and storms, lather, rinse, repeat.  Not sure what this weekend will hold.  But at least it's Friday...

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

LIGHTNING IN HOUSTON

We had a crazy storm in Houston.  Lots of lightning.  And that's my new thing to try to capture with the camera.  You have to take about 500 photos in a row with the shutter speed set to almost continuous in order to capture it but then when you do, it's like, well, lightning in a bottle...er, camera.


The sky would open up with a glow that told us lightning was about to be generated...either that or the alien mothership and the way 2020 is going...LOL...


In this case it came out from the opening and radiated across the sky.  Super bright at first...


...and then it just gets less bright and disappears.  All in the span of a couple seconds at most.


This one hit the ground somewhere "over there". I always wonder where a bolt like this strikes in that instant. A tree? A telephone pole? A house or building?

As this posts, we are under another flash flood watch and severe thunderstorm watch.  It's going to be one of those weeks.  Hoping I can get some more pictures.  In another life, I might have been a storm chaser.  It's just so fascinating seeing big storms rolling across the sky.


That could come from growing up and spending Summers with my grandparents in Oklahoma where my Grandfather would stand outside and watch a storm in the distance as it grew and moved our direction.  He'd talk about how he didn't like the looks of this cloud or that storm, how we might have hail, heavy rain, or even a funnel cloud...he was a patio weatherman, ha. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

SUNNY AND STORMY WITH VEGGIE AND MOWER PROBLEMS

Saturday we ventured to the farm.


The sky looked like this when we arrived.  Cloudy and sunny but a quick check of the radar showed big storms were coming.


I checked the fruit trees and all is still looking good and no deer bothering the trees.  So far so good.  This is the other fruit tree and it's starting to bloom.  I need to see with this variety when the normal bloom time is.


As for the garden there is good and bad.  Above is the good.  Look at that beautiful squash just waiting to be picked.  There are two more on there (further behind) but we harvested this one.  It's waiting in a basket in the kitchen for 2nd Man to figure out something to do with one squash, ha.


Here is one of the tomatoes.  I had to pull it.  What kind of damage does this look like?  It was up high, not down low so we're thinking birds?  I need to get some bird netting and draped over the tomato plants.

I did get to mow, the usual time and distance, more or less.  But we did have a problem with the Zen Machine...


The nut broke off and the belt came off.  Ugh.  I started smelling burning rubber and a cloud of white smoke behind me.  Thankfully it happened literally at the last moment of mowing.  I was as done as I could be and was mowing over the grass clippings to disperse them a bit when it happened.  So I turned off the blades and drove to the shed.  I'm not sure how to fix this as I have never replaced a drive belt like this but I'm guessing it might not be too difficult, need to check out some youtube videos and see what can be done.  With our weather this week, this coming weekend would be out for mowing so I'll see what I can do.  The dealer does have mobile service so that's always an option too.


This is what it looked like when we decided to call it a day.  It was late anyway and storms were coming.


This is not our pond (we don't have one, yet, ha) but it's across the street on the way out and when I stopped at the mailbox to check the mail, I took this picture.  On first glance, we had an "oh crap" moment thinking this was a funnel cloud but thankfully it just turned out to be heavy rain.

Today though we are having some severe weather and a chance of funnel clouds IS in the forecast.

Hope you had a good weekend!


Friday, June 19, 2020

TIME FOR HOMEMADE VANILLA EXTRACT

For regular readers, this will be familiar.  About every six months or so, I make some homemade vanilla extract for 2nd Man.

We've been doing this for years now.  Once we discovered how easy and how inexpensive it was, it seemed like a no brainer.  Once we used it in baking/cooking, then it became a semi-annual event!
 
Homemade vanilla extract

It couldn't be easier.  A standard sized 750ml bottle of plain vodka (doesn't require a high end brand, we use Smirnoff).  I also buy all of our beans now from VANILLA BEAN KINGS website.  They have great quality and are always fair in pricing.  I get a package of ten beans and use the "grade B" which are best for the extraction process.

A year or two ago the price of beans was skyrocketing due to worldwide problems in vanilla bean production.  Thankfully the prices have come down quite a bit.

Starting vanilla extract

I pour out a bit of vodka (because of displacement) and then just take the ten beans, slice them in half lengthwise (to expose the tiny black specks of flavor hiding inside) and drop them in the bottle.  Lastly, add as much of the displaced vodka back in as will fit.  What you do with the amount that won't fit is up to you, ha.

Put it in a dark place (we just stick it in the back of the pantry) and every week or so just gently turn it upside down a few times to move the beans around. 

Homemade vanilla extract before and after

It is ready in about three months but we usually wait about six months.  On the left is the batch we did last Fall.  You can see the difference in color.  It goes from clear to rich and brown (and smells amazing).

You can filter it (we've done that when we've put into smaller bottles as gifts) but 2nd Man just uses it as is.

It's a great deal in the long run:

Vodka - $11.49
Ten vanilla beans - $20.00

Total: $31.49 for about 25 ounces.  I checked some websites for pure vanilla extract and an 8 ounce bottle was going for $38.00 and up.  That means we have about $118 worth of homemade extract.

And now we wait!


Thursday, June 18, 2020

SEATING AROUND TREE INSPIRATION THURSDAY

Every Thursday we like to post a picture of something we've found online that inspires us to do something similar at the farm. Sort of our own blog bulletin board so that we can eventually look back and someday, hopefully anyway, recreate it...enjoy!

Image via Southernliving.com
We've posted several images over the years about seating around a tree because we have a few trees near the house that would eventually be perfect for something like this.  We like the idea of this kind of seating that completely surrounds a tree so you can sit on any side and have any view you desire.  While we don't need paper lanterns hanging, the blanket and pillows are nice and inviting for sure.

Be inspired!
Be safe!

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

SUN DRIED TOMATO PASTA SAUCE QUARANTINE EATING

Every week or so, we are going to post some food/meals we are eating.  Usually there will be no recipe, what we want to post is just a reminder that simple is easy and easy is comfort...during these times, we can all use a little (or a lot) of that.



A few posts back, we mentioned a meal that we used a package of roasted red peppers in a package.  It was a last minute before lockdown purchase.  I bought a couple of those and a couple of these.  Sun dried tomatoes.  On a separate trip I had already bought a jar of Classico sun dried tomato pasta sauce.

We used a package of farfalle pasta and decided to go for a "Meatless Monday", ha.


2nd Man decided to mince the sun-dried tomatoes with a little olive oil so they would melt into the sauce.  While the pasta was boiling, he mixed the minced sun-dried tomatoes and olive oil into the jarred sauce in a saucepan and heated until simmering.  He drained the pasta, added it to the sauce and stirred in some fresh minced parsley.


Dish it up and serve.  Such great flavors.  By adding the sun-dried tomatoes with olive oil to the sauce, it really kicked the flavors and texture up a few notches, making it richer and more satisfying.  It's a great comfortable meal and pasta is always easy in a quarantine.

During these strange times, that's all that really matters.





Monday, June 15, 2020

FRUIT TREE AND DEER FENCING UPDATE

Well, we are starting week three of having the fruit trees surrounded by deer fencing...
  

...and so far, so good.  Without being there of course there is no way to know what is actually happening but we know we DO have some deer because the trail cam has captured them in the front yard and driveway.  We can't put the camera facing the fencing because the infrared light makes the fishing line glow at night and that defeats the purpose but at least we know there are some around.  With the fencing however...


...we have these two plums!


And these pears (there is a third one higher up).


Deer probably don't eat citrus but regardless, we have these oranges...


...and these limes.

There are also still apples on the apple tree but I forgot to get a picture of them. Last week we got one of the ripe peaches off the peach tree so that was safe too.

So far it seems to be working, knock on wood.  This coming weekend will be time to edge around them for the first time with the fencing up.

Here's to future fruit salad, LOL!

(And for those who missed yesterday's post, you can see our first garden tiny harvest HERE)

Sunday, June 14, 2020

FIRST HARVEST SMALL AS IT MAY BE

Well, here is our first harvest from this year's garden...don't blink or you'll miss it, LOL!


An almost perfect tomato, a small yellow squash and some basil leaves.  I had to harvest it instead of leaving it for another week so I gave it to 2nd Man and said "here, pretend this is the Food Network show CHOPPED and these are your ingredients", ha.


So he chopped the veggies, mixed everything up with a quick dressing of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, pepper, some minced garlic and a sprinkling of flake sea salt and brought me this plate.  Wow.

Not only did it taste great but it looked amazing on the plate!
(of course it is said that we eat with our eyes first)

I adjusted the watering schedule in the garden so the hope is the vegetables will start to take off.  Our weather has been so erratic this season but now we seem to be getting into our usual Summer mode of dry and hot weather so we're hoping that a regular schedule will work.

Friday, June 12, 2020

SOLAR TEA SET FIND

This isn't really a thrift store find, I found this on eBay but we were so excited we had to post.  Ebay works great during the pandemic, ha.

Solar Tea pitcher and matching glasses

This is a vintage pitcher and matching glasses.  They have a sun face image and the words "solar tea".  If that sounds familiar, remember when we posted HERE about the vintage solar tea jar that my Mom had found once at a thrift store?

Click on the link for the background on that.

Solar Tea jar and matching pitcher and glasses

Well, here is that same solar tea maker next to the newly acquired pitcher and glasses.  It's the SAME logo and wording!  So some 40 or 50 years after they were originally meant to be together, now they are together once again, ha.  The glasses and pitcher match the big print on the sun tea jar, exact same font and same sun image.  How cool is that?

The weekend is almost here and it's supposed to be really hot.  I think there might be some sun tea in our future. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

SPLIT RAIL FENCE FLOWER BED INSPIRATION THURSDAY

Every Thursday we like to post a picture of something we've found online that inspires us to do something similar at the farm. Sort of our own blog bulletin board so that we can eventually look back and someday, hopefully anyway, recreate it...enjoy!

Split rail fence image via Morristownfencing.com
Yes another one, ha.  We've always found split rail fences to just look so nice and rustic.  A couple of weeks back we posted an L-shaped split rail fence that had a flower bed around it.  This week we found this one that is a really neat feature for the side of a side or the middle of a yard to separate an area.  Love the plants in here too.  Not sure what they all are but they are pretty and have nice height.

Be inspired!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

VEGETABLE UPDATE

Here is a bit of a vegetable update from this past weekend.


The basil has bounced back and looks great.  Even harvested some leaves.  It's still small but it's growing a little more every weekend.


Some more green tomatoes coming in.

But wait...there's more!


A single red tomato.
Ripe and ready to be harvested.


Now this is the squash plant.  Still some squash growing and plenty of blossoms but some of the leaves are yellowing.  From what we've read, this may be overwatering and I think it might have been the heavy rains we've recently had.  It's still growing but having this issue.  Otherwise it seems healthy.

I forgot to get a picture but the pepper plants have small peppers on them.  Also slow growing this year. Such a weird season.  For everything, ha!


Monday, June 8, 2020

BLUEBERRY BUSHES THE NEXT PROJECT

For those who missed yesterday's post, we had our first peach from the fruit trees.  Check it out.

After getting other stuff done recently, including the deer fencing around the fruit trees, the next project will be working on the blueberry bushes.  Well, it's past time actually but this pandemic quarantine has messed with timing.  Now with stores reopening, we should be able to get the soil we need. 


They have been on the porch and we've been taking care of them. They are already filled out with leaves and doing great...


...one even has two small blueberries on it! We aren't expecting blueberries this season, we're fine with that. We just want to get them into the ground as soon as possible so they can get established before Winter. Our problem has been finding a place with the right soil mix that is open during the quarantine.  Supposedly next week they will be opening more locations including the specialized garden centers.


Because blueberries require special soil, the plan has always been to put them into their own raised beds.

Instead of building more square raised beds, we had these rings that used to hold citrus trees behind the garden.  After we lost them in a freeze a couple years ago we decided to get replacement trees and put the new ones with the rest of the fruit trees behind the house.  I've posted all about that process.

Behind the garden we had metal rings still filled with soil and non producing citrus trees.  They froze below the graft bud and so when they "came back" last year, they did not ever flower.  It was time to move them and clean it all up.


I started by pulling up the trees.  That was not easy since they were still in the ground growing with roots.  Then I had to release the rings from the soil and somehow get them up off the ground where grass had sort of locked them into place, ha.  It took some prodding and pulling (and a few fire ant bites) to get them up but one by one I got them up.  Because these are 48" in diameter, I just rolled them like giant wheels to the new area.  After I moved them, I had to scoop up all the soil and haul it off.


Here they are ready to be used.  I hosed them off to make sure they were clean and will be ready to fill.


The hard part now will be trying to figure out where to put them.  This area is right next to the fruit trees?  There is a similar spot on the other end?

 

Another possiblity is along the back fence (away from cattle) or maybe between the beds?  We'd like all three to be together instead of separated, it makes it easier for maintaining and caring for them. 


It was a busy day but after I got the rings removed and the soil hauled off, I mowed over the area a few times just to disperse stray leaves, branches and soil.  Now we have this empty space behind the garden once again.  The three circles are where the beds were and we'll just let the grass fill back in.

Now to find some soil!