Category Archives: High Reaches

My Way of Country Living

Fall Garden Plastic Protection

Fall is a cold time in the garden. Frost is always a possibility. That is when plastic protection comes in handy.

In a real greenhouse with heat and insulated sides, tropical plants do well. I don’t have a greenhouse. So I grow cold tolerant plants in the fall: cabbage, turnips, rutabaga, spinach, broccoli. These can take night temperatures down in the twenties.

The other night was forecast to be in the teens. Panic time.

Normally I clear my summer crops out in October. This year I picked up walnuts.

plastic protection on the shade house

Each fall I spread plastic over my shade house and remove it in the spring. I get plastic wide enough to cover the entire house at one time. The ends are done with the plastic taped to the panels. The main sheet is put over these. The ends are weighted down with old fence posts. Four or five lengths of baling twine are passed over the top to keep the plastic from billowing up in the wind. It must be monitored on sunny days as the inside heats quickly.

Clearing out pepper plants isn’t too much of a problem. Tomatoes are another story. The vines this year went up over the shade house. And over is the word for it.

In truth, this worked fairly well as long as I held the vines in place with twine so the wind couldn’t blow them off. I could go inside the shade house and pick tomatoes at head height and below.

The downside was one of the varieties I grew. It was a large dark striped cherry sample packet included free with my order. These split whenever I watered, it rained, they got ready to turn color. Then they came down with blight. They were intertwined with others on the shade house so I had to tolerate them for the summer.

plastic protection works for Pak Choi

Pak Choi and chickweed are doing well inside the shade house. On really cold nights I spread split feed sacks over the plants for more protection.

Now the vines were dead from killing frost. The cold crops inside needed plastic protection for the winter. It took several hours to clear the vines.

There seems to be an unwritten rule about putting up plastic sheets. As soon as the sheet is maneuvered into place, the wind blows. Once the sheet is on the ground or draped over your head, the wind stops.

This year the turnips, broccoli and cabbage are not in the shade house. Makeshift wire structures were thrown up around them to hold their plastic protection over them.

plastic protection plus blankets

There wasn’t quite enough plastic for over the cabbage. The make shift place has the open areas covered with blankets except during storms. The cabbage isn’t happy right now as I got home late and the blankets were late in getting put up.

Plastic itself won’t hold plants when the temperatures are in the teens. That’s when old blankets and feed sacks come out. Draping these over the plastic structures or over the plants in the shade house now unheated greenhouse will.

The thermometer read fifteen in the morning. My fall garden made it through.

A side benefit of the plastic protection is heat. Sunlight goes inside and warms the soil and plants up to summer conditions. Venting keeps things under control. And a few more fresh veggies will be available until mid winter.

Nubian Buck Strength

Fall is breeding season for goats. Bucks in rut have only one thought: does. Never underestimate Nubian buck strength and single-mindedness of purpose.

I did.

Nubian buck kid Augustus shows buck strength

Goat kids love to run, jump and play. Nubian buck kid Augustus was no exception. He was born in November, 2014. Even as a kid he had long, thick legs built for speed and power.

High Reaches Silk’s Augustus was such a beautiful little boy. His mother High Reaches Bubbles Silk doted on him, spoiling him rotten. Separating the two was difficult and Augustus gained the nickname Houdini.

Nubian buck kid with mother

As a Nubian buck kid, Augustus was protected and coddled by his mother High Reaches Bubbles’ Silk.

Now Augustus is full grown and big. He weighs over 200 pounds, stands over a yard tall at the shoulders and trots thunderously from place to place. He has also wrested buck supremacy away from Goat Town USA Gaius.

I don’t particularly like to line breed my goats. So, when High Reaches Pixie’s Pamela, Augustus’ daughter, came into season this fall as a yearling, I let Gaius out with her.

Augustus was not happy. He was frustrated and furious at being ignored. His buck strength was enough to batter his pen walls but not enough to break them.

sparring Nubian bucks show buck strength

As Nubian buck Augustus gained his full height, he challenged Gaius’ position more and more often. When Augustus rears up and comes down, his buck strength really shows as he hits hard enough to shatter a metal hasp or even a logging chain.

I was in a hurry and didn’t notice Pamela wasn’t the only doe in heat. Augustus did.

Milking over, I called the herd out to the pasture gate and let them out. They were delighted, racing over the bridge to under the persimmon trees. Gaius was left forlornly calling at the gate.

I walked back to the barn and let Augustus out. He flew out the door and across the barn lot. I reached in to pick up his dish. I froze.

Augustus had shown his buck strength by hitting the pasture gate and shattering the latch board. The gate was wide open. The two bucks were joyfully racing out to join the herd now on the hillside eating acorns.

Nubian bucks Augustus and Gaius

Nubian bucks Goat Town USA Gaius and High Reaches Silk’s Augustus stand watching for the herd.

Normally I can walk out, put a lead rope on either of my bucks and lead them around. Bucks in rut among does, some of whom are in heat, do not want to be caught and dragged away.

The only way to catch the bucks was to drive the herd back into the barn lot. Then the does can go out again and the bucks are left behind.

A herd just turned out happily gobbling acorns is not happy to return to the barn. This is one of the very few times I wish I had a herding dog.

After getting a full day’s exercise and yelling myself hoarse, the herd was in and out again. The bucks were in. And another item was on the ‘To Do’ list.

Love goats? Check out some of my books about goats: Goat Games, Dora’s Story and Capri Capers.

My Nubian Goats Vanished

Since my Nubians are dairy goats, they get milked twice a day. They go out to pasture during the day and come in when it starts getting dark. At least they did until my goats vanished.

A lost kid happens. Each time means a frantic search until the kid or kids are found.

my Nubians start out to pasture

Milking is over. The herd is ready to go out to pasture. It was hard to get far enough in front to get a picture as, every time I sped up, so did they.

This time it was the entire herd.

Everything started out normally. Morning milking was done. The goats poured out of the gate, crossed the bridge and headed for the south pasture.

The point of decisions is here. The herd can go to the north and pasture with persimmon trees. The herd can cross the bridge and go up the left hill or go right down the creek bed and out to the south pasture hill and acorns. The last option was chosen for when the goats vanished.

Over the day the goats vanished into the hills. The acorns were falling and my Nubians love acorns.

Late afternoon arrived. I went out and started doing afternoon chores like gathering eggs and putting the bucks into their pens.

my does raced off then my goats vanished

Nubian does High Reaches Drucilla’s Rose and High Reaches Pixie’s Agate are racing by good grazing in their quest to get up the hill to eat acorns.

The herd was not in sight, but I wasn’t concerned. They had taken to waiting in the pastures for me to come out and call them. (My goats are not spoiled.)

After putting hay out, I opened the gate and walked out across the bridge and toward the south pasture. The walk is pleasant even though time is short. Dinner preparation takes time.

The goats weren’t in the hill pasture. The goats weren’t in the south pasture. I walked to the north pasture. No goats there either. My goats vanished and failed to reappear.

herd in pasture isn't where my goats vanished

Purposely striding across the south pasture my Nubian goats are still headed for the hills and acorns.

Sunset was streaking the sky. I raced back to the south pasture to check the ravine and the hills.

Getting a flashlight I clambered up the hills in the dark. This was not a smart thing to do as this hill was covered with loose gravel at a fifty degree or more slope.

There was nothing more I could do in the dark. I left the gate open and went to the house. My goats vanished. Maybe I could find them in the morning.

my goats vanished into the woods

Notice how the browns and blacks of my goats blend into the hillside. I’ve been twenty feet away from the herd and now seen them. Usually one moves or the leaves rustle. When my goats vanish, they are truly not there.

Before going to bed, I walked over to the barn one last time. I had left the lights on and needed to turn them off for the night.

The brats were laying around chewing their cuds. I closed the gate. I considered milking, but it was already eleven.

The next morning I considered keeping the goats in the small pasture for the day. The brats begged and I relented. The goats vanished again.

This time I saw them reappear and know where to hunt them up next time my goats vanish.

My Fall Garden Survives

Winter walked through my garden leaving a white coating that turned to black in the morning sun. The summer garden ended. The fall garden remains – for now.

Killing frost is rarely a surprise. Average dates are given for my Ozark area about October 17. The days are warm. The nights cool to cold.

fall garden garlic

Garlic planted in the fall will be ready to pull in late spring. In the Ozarks garlic does the best when planted in the fall. I put down a good four inches of mulch, burrow holes through to put in the cloves and watch it grow. It stays green most of the winter.

Already the peppers are harvested. These summer plants like hot days and warm nights. Fall temperatures leave the peppers hanging on slowly ripening. They will ripen as fast in the pantry.

Tomatoes are another summer crop loving hot days and warm nights. Green tomatoes will hang on the vines waiting for the temperatures to go up. In the pantry they will turn red. The flavor isn’t as good as summer sun ripened ones, but not bad.

fall garden cabbage

Cabbage will take a hard frost. It slows down, hunkers down, but keeps growing. The good thing is that the cabbage worms don’t survive.

Squash plants too are summer crops. By fall the squash bugs are killing the vines starting with the summer varieties and moving to the winter varieties. The winter squashes are putting on their thick rinds.

My pantry was filled with sacks of peppers, tomatoes and squash.

Frost can form pretty patterns and edgings on plants. It freezes the water inside the summer plants destroying their cells and killing them.

The morning after killing frost is so depressing. The tomatoes were towering over my head with vines heavy with fruit. Now the vines are limp and dark.

fall garden turnips

Turnips like cool weather. They don’t mind a good frost. I never seem to plant them thin enough, but the extras make good greens. A good mulch along the rows keeps them growing better.

In the beds nearby the fall garden is still green. Cabbage, broccoli, turnips and garlic hang their leaves in the frost.

Once the frost melts, the leaves stand up still fresh and green. All but the garlic will slowly produce their crops in the warm days of Indian summer.

Another fall garden crop is chickweed. This sprouts in the fall growing green and lush with the cool temperatures and moisture. It like the garlic will overwinter.

By November most of the fall crops will succumb to winter’s cold blasts. Until then, they are a welcome bit of green in the garden.

Making Fall Decisions

The idea of fall being as busy as summer seems strange. After all, the growing season is ending. The year is winding down. Yet fall decisions are many.

A possibility of frost sent me out in my garden. Tomatoes, peppers and squash are all frost sensitive. They are cold sensitive as well.

fall decisions about tomatoes

Green tomatoes are popular with some people, not me. Sometimes the green tomatoes will ripen in the pantry. Cold temperatures stop them in the garden. Will these? Should I pick them? How many bowls, trays, sacks of green tomatoes do I want in the pantry?

Tomato plants in the spring sit refusing to grow until temperatures warm up. Tomatoes hanging on the vine stay green as long as temperatures are cold. The same is true of peppers.

Bags of tomatoes, green to red and bags of peppers green to various colors moved into the pantry. Unless we want to eat tomatoes and peppers morning, noon and night for a month, we can’t eat all of these.

butternut squash fall decisions

Frost is coming. The mottling tells me this butternut squash isn’t ripe yet. Should I pick it anyway and hope it ripens in the pantry? Should I leave it and hope the vines survive another week?

One solution is tomato sauce. I like one made with minced garlic, chopped onion and peppers cooked down in tomatoes. It’s packaged in two cup amounts and frozen.

This is a delaying tactic. The piles of tomatoes and peppers changed form, but are still waiting to be eaten. How much spaghetti and pizza do we want to eat every week?

Another solution is to sell or give the extra away. This is easier during the summer when the vines and plants are busy producing more. Now the vines and plants are gone. When the extra is gone, there will not be more until next summer.

evening primrose flowers

A touch of color is welcome. Evening primrose is a bit frost hardy so a few flowers may still be there when the tomatoes are gone.

How much should I keep? I’m never sure. Making fall decisions about this is guess work.

Another set of decisions surrounds the goats. It’s breeding season. Once a doe is bred, she will milk one to two months, then go dry until having kids in the spring.

Summer has made me complacent with plenty of milk, mozzarella, ricotta and feta. When most of my milkers are dry, this will stop.

The temptation is to delay breeding my does. But delaying breeding doesn’t change anything.

Fall decisions loom. Which does will I milk through the winter? Which does are to be bred to which buck? And I do like March to April kids, so breed the does in October to November. The milk desert begins about December.

goat fall decisions about breeding

Nubian yearling doe High Reaches Pamela is old enough to be bred. Maybe Goat Town USA Gaius wants a girlfriend.

One other set of fall decisions sits in my computer room. I have boxes of books. Now is a good time of year to have book signings.

November is Novel Writing Month. I’m not ready. I have two weeks. At least I know I will try to finish the first book of “The Carduan Chronicles” neglected this year as I finished “My Ozark Home” and “Mistaken Promises.”

Fall is definitely not a time to slow down.

Winter Squash Going Wild

Despite its name winter squash is a summer crop. Like all the cucurbit family including cucumbers, summer squash, and melons, winter squash loves warm weather and dies with frost.

The many varieties are called winter squash because they form a hard shell and will keep sometimes for months in a cool, dry place. My pantry has high humidity and I can keep winter squash there for four to five months.

Chinese winter melon

This isn’t listed as a winter squash, but acts like one. This is a Chinese winter melon. The seeds are difficult to get. The melon has a light green, firm flesh with very mild taste. I’m told that, once the white hair haze covers the melon, it will keep for months. It can be eaten at the immature stage like summer squash.

A few years ago I reorganized my garden into beds. These are a generous four foot by ten foot. All the vegetables I grow do very well in these beds.

Except winter squash.

Summer squash forms a large, bushy plant. It sprawls a little. My plants do get big enough to demand an entire bed for two or three hills.

kabocha winter squash

Years ago I tried a Kabocha squash from the market and liked it. The variety this year is like the store one. It had orange flesh and a sweet, moist taste.

This year I grew kabocha and butternut winter squashes. The kabocha grew up and over the pea trellis. Branch vines drooped off the edges spreading out through the bean trellis and across the summer squash.

The butternut plants were planted late in July. The heat and dryness held the plants back even with supplemental watering. Rain revived them. the vines remained smaller than usual, but still overran the bed and invaded the garlic chives across the pathway.

butternut winter squash

Waltham Butternut is an heirloom winter squash. There is at least one modern hybrid, but I prefer the old standard. The vines grow fast and load up with squash. It has a firm, deep orange flesh with the seeds at the rounded end. the goats love the peelings and seeds. They will eat the squash too.

The prize for exceeding its bed goes to two Winter Luxury pumpkin vines. Pumpkins are a variety of winter squash.

These vines engulfed their bed, the neighboring summer squash, the hollyhocks, covered the raised bed including the cherry tomatoes there. Still not satisfied, the vines went out through the fence and spread out into the orchard.

The vines can be trimmed. I hesitate to do so as the squash bugs move in and devastate the vines.

Unlike summer squash that quickly succumbs to squash bug attacks, winter squash has a survival tactic. Those long vines root at the leaf nodes. The extra roots help the vines survive long enough to ripen the squash.

pumpkins are winter squash

Waltham Butternut is an heirloom winter squash. There is at least one modern hybrid, but I prefer the old standard. The vines grow fast and load up with squash. It has a firm, deep orange flesh with the seeds at the rounded end. the goats love the peelings and seeds. They will eat the squash too.

And that is the big reason to plant winter squash. Each variety is different from the others in taste and texture. I like kabocha and butternut, but not buttercup. Acorn will do in a pinch. Spaghetti squash is not on my menu.

Pumpkins are another story. I love pumpkins. And those monster vines are busy ripening a few nice pie pumpkins for me.

Taking Chicken Pictures

I need a cover for “Mistaken Promises” and have decided to use a Buff Orpington hen on it. This means I am taking chicken pictures.

Goats are challenging. They love to strike unattractive poses, hide behind the other goats or drift out of range.

the target hen for taking chicken pictures

The target Buff Orpington hen has spotted me. She is tossing dust over her feathers and watching me warily, ready to flee.

Chickens are worse. Well, my chickens are. They seem to believe the camera is a long distance way to turn them into chicken dinner.

There is another challenge. The gray fox picked off all but one nice Buff Orpington hen. She is skittish.

taking chicken pictures of hiding hen

Spare gate posts lean up against the barn. The Buff Orpington hen considers them an excellent place to hide.

Since the background isn’t very important for these pictures, I can go taking chicken pictures in their yard or when they are out eating grass and bugs. It does give me something to do while guarding my hens.

My vision of this cover is a hen standing looking out with a note hanging out of her beak. This means I want a pose with the hen standing upright and looking at the camera.

The hen disagrees.

maybe pose of Buff Orpington hen taking chicken pictures

This might be a good pose. Can’t you see the note hanging out of her beak? That foot would have to come down on the ground. This picture has possibilities.

This hen prefers to face away from the camera. Failing that she pecks at the ground. If this doesn’t discourage me, she races off and hides.

There is another aspect to taking chicken pictures that seems strange. Chickens, like other birds, have relatively immobile features. They do not smile or frown like we do.

I found it surprising then to find this hen can add emotional aspects to her face. it must be from using her eyelids. She can look very disapproving, even snooty.

taking chicken pictures gets a good pose

This might be a good pose of the Buff Orpington hen. She is definitely unhappy and glaring at me. I must conclude my hens hate having their pictures taken.

Of course, I can’t know that’s how she feels. Her vocal complaints do seem to echo her expressions. Chickens can sound very disapproving, especially when they think I am taking too long to open their gate.

The gray foxes have moved on, for now. The chickens seem to have short memories, but are still jumpy. They are impatient with my precautions.

My taking chicken pictures doesn’t help the jumpiness or impatience of the chickens. All they want is to be left to go out eating grass and bugs. No cameras invited.

Picking Up Black Walnuts

Black walnut trees are nice. They grow a bit slowly but are nice sized in ten years with a wide canopy. They are long lived. They leave you picking up black walnuts.

That is the main reason many people don’t like having the trees in their yards. A big tree drops a lot of nuts beginning in late August and ending in late October.

having a black walnut tree means picking up black walnuts

This is a younger black walnut tree. As it gets older the top will round out more. Walnuts are borne mostly on twig tips. And there are a lot of twigs.

Stores carry walnut meats. These are from English walnuts which like warmer areas than the Ozarks. The nut meats do taste good, but not as good as black walnut meats.

Black walnut meats have richer flavor. They are spicier. They make their presence known in whatever they are in.

We have four big trees around the barn area. The nuts are falling. We can ignore them or we can begin picking up black walnuts.

The case for ignoring them isn’t very good. These can be almost three inches across the hulls. They are hard to begin with and roll under your feet. Small wasps lay eggs in the hulls turning them into a black, gooey mess as the larvae eat the flesh.

black walnuts

Most black walnuts hang in pairs or threes on smaller branches. They are heavy and branches droop down with the weight.

The nuts themselves are extremely hard. Lawnmower blades end up with nicks mowing over them.

The case for picking up black walnuts is better. It removes the risks of wrenching an ankle. It saves the lawnmower blade. They are good to eat, although difficult to crack open. (It takes a special nut cracker or a heavy hammer.) And the nuts are saleable.

Our local feed store hulls and buys black walnuts for around twelve dollars a hulled hundred weight. The price varies over the month of October, higher the first week and dropping over the month.

I use the plastic feed bags to gather nuts in. It takes about six bags to net a hundred pounds of hulled nuts.

I usually gather the nuts in old two gallon buckets. It takes thirty nuts or more to fill a bucket and five buckets to fill a sack.

picking up black walnuts for sale

Black walnuts deteriorate into a black, gooey mess in a week or so. Plastic feed sacks work well. These sacks aren’t full yet. Once they are full, I tie them off with baling twine. It’s possible to put five sacks across, two rows, then pile four flat on top and two on top of those. Another two rows across and pile. I won’t do that this year as I won’t pick up that many. Still, it would be nice.

That is another drawback to picking up black walnuts to sell. It takes a lot of walnuts to make any money. It takes a lot of time.

One year I gathered a thousand pounds of black walnuts. Not now. I don’t have the time. Now I mostly go picking up black walnuts because I hate stepping on them. Last year I sold three hundred pounds. This year I have one sack filled and part of another one and more on the ground to pick up.

Read more about this fall activity in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

New Invasive Garlic Chives

In working on my botany project I keep coming across references to invasive species. There are lots of them, many escaped from cultivation.

I avoid planting these kinds of plants except in my vegetable garden. Vegetables aren’t known for their hardiness away from cultivation.

Except for garlic chives.

New invasive plant?

My garlic chive patch looks like snow in August when the flowers open. It buzzes and hums with activity. The insects are so busy with the flowers; I can brush by totally ignored.

Years ago my father gave me a pot of garlic chives. It was a ten inch pot crammed full. I promptly planted it in a corner of my vegetable garden.

The chives did well. They grew lush and bloomed profusely in August. Butterflies, wasps, bees, bumblebees, beetles, spiders swarmed around the flower umbels.

I didn’t cut the seed heads. Mistake.

My garlic chive patch is now six feet by eight feet. I leave it as it is in a difficult area. Besides, the blooms are so lovely in August and the insects do love the flowers. And I cut the seed heads.

garlic chive flowers

The garlic chive umbel is a partial ball of flowers. I’ve never counted them, but think there must be fifty in each one.

I missed a few. Garlic chives came up all over my garden. They came up outside my garden. This year they came up in the pasture.

At what point does a species become invasive?

My garlic chives haven’t reached it yet. I have given plants to people to plant in their gardens. Each person is warned to cut the seed heads. But, do they? Or have garlic chives spread from their gardens too?

Many invasive species hurt native areas. Autumn olive and Bradford pear displace native plants and aren’t as good forage as the natives.

Others have been here so long, like plantains and ox eye daisies, that they are part of the native flora now.

invasive garlic chive seed pods

Each garlic chive flower becomes a seed capsule. Each capsule contains three oddly shaped, black seeds. That’s around 150 seeds per umbel. When ripe, the covering turns brown and papery, splitting open. The seeds fall to the ground or are tossed when the wind blows the stalk.

Would garlic chives fit into the problem category or the ignore it category? I’m thinking it would be in the latter. Why?

It is a good insect pollinator plant. It is relished by goats so deer would probably like it too as a natural tonic against worm infestations.

In all probability, garlic chives will never become invasive. It does seed freely. However the plants are not aggressive enough when in competition against other invasives such as the grasses.

Still, it makes a person think: What potential problems lurk in my garden?

Fall Overtakes Summer

As fall overtakes summer, many changes sneak into the goats and garden. The noisy changes come from the goats.

Nubians are known for their loud voices. Prime breeding season is in the fall. Roughly every three weeks a doe announces she is in season and displays for the buck.

Nubian buck in rut as fall overtakes summer

Nubian buck High Reaches silk’s Augustus spends hours standing on top of the gym calling to and looking for the does. He has gotten fat over the summer which is good as he now often neglects his grain, grazing and hay.

Bucks produce musk behind where they would have horns. I prefer disbudded or polled bucks for several reasons, safety being high on the list.

My Nubian bucks weigh around two hundred pounds each. Double my weight. They are good natured and I can handle them without too much trouble. Horns would make them dangerous.

Many years ago my father had a black Nubian buck with horns. On Nubians horns go up six inches or so and then turn outward. This buck developed a horn spread three feet across with each horn spiraling a time and a half.

Nubian buck

Nubian buck Goat Town USA Gaius sneaks up on the gym to look out at the pastures when Augustus isn’t watching. He has gotten old and is now second buck.

One day my mother and I were out to trim his feet. He wasn’t very aggressive towards us, had grown up as something of a pet. He felt playful, turned his head, picked my mother – all 160 pounds of her – up on the tip of a horn and set her against the top strands of the barbed wire fence.

As fall overtakes summer and the bucks begin to reek and call for the does, I am glad they don’t have horns.

In the garden many of the summer crops are dying back. The yard long beans still bloom, but are dropping their leaves. The tomato vines are browning at the base. The squash is succumbing to the squash bugs.

broccoli takes off as fall overtakes summer

Transplants are an easy way to get cabbage and broccoli going for the fall. I prefer fall planting as the cool weather keeps the flavor good. Hot weather makes them bitter. The mulch isn’t needed now to hold moisture and can even make it too wet. The mulch does keep weeds down and the soil from freezing until winter gets serious.

As fall overtakes summer, the cold weather crops are coming up. Turnips, beets, peas, Chinese cabbage, rutabaga and lettuce have sprouted. Cabbage and broccoli transplants are in.

The rains have come dropping the temperatures. Here in the Ozarks fall overtakes summer, not slowly, but in a couple of weeks.

Thwarting Raccoons For Now

The raccoon wars are stalemated for now. The fruit trees and chick house are in contention.

The raccoons won some and lost some. So did we.

Most of my apples are gone. One Asian pear tree was stripped in a single night by raccoons.

The lines of electric fence went up. The other two Asian pear trees remain untouched.

raccoons don't like electric fence

The roofing tin sides should have worked as they are four feet high. They didn’t. Raccoons jumped up, caught the top and climbed over last year. This year electric fence wire circles the top and bottom of the metal square. Finally we get to eat some of the Asian pears.

Next year the electric fence lines will expand. The apple tree is still a challenge, but now that we know the electric fence works, the challenge will be met.

That gives a happy ending for the fruit crops. It leaves my pullets at risk. Their house is on the other side of the garden and workshop from the fruit trees.

I built the chick house around 20 years ago. I’m not a great carpenter, even worse then, so it isn’t quite square. I’ve patched it numerous times over the years in an effort to keep the wildlife away from my chicks.

The wildlife keeps winning. Between the raccoons and black snakes, the last couple of years have been disasters.

Next year will be different. I’m remodeling the chick house.

solid building should foil raccoons

Is any building truly safe from raccoons or snakes? I have my doubts. This one is as safe as I could make it with solid walls and floor, securely screened windows and ceiling and four hooks on the doors. The roost sets on two supports and is easily removable to put a brooder and heat lamp in for baby chicks.

There are now solid plywood walls. A tongue and groove floor is in place. The doors are replaced or fixed. A solid door sill went up. This should keep the black snakes out.

Although chicks like to be warm, they out grow much of it in a couple of weeks. They raise a lot of dust growing feathers and dropping manure. Ventilation is imperative.

The chick house had hardware cloth tacked up around the eaves and over the windows. It wasn’t secure. A couple of raccoons discovered this.

raccoons like pullets for dinner

My black Arcana pullets are half grown, but still living in the chick house. Or, at least, they have moved into the remodeled chick house. They had been spending the nights in a cat carrier for safety, so don’t know much about going into a house at night. All of us are glad to dispense with the cat carrier. The pullets were getting much too big to fit.

The remodeled house has a hardware cloth ceiling securely tacked up and under the plywood walls. The problem window is now secure with more hardware cloth over it and slats around it tacking the cloth down.

A roost is in place. It sets on a foundation for easy removal when the heat lamp is in place. Plenty of floor space is left for a water fount and feed trays.

My remodeled chick house and I am ready for next spring and new pullets.

Making Mozzarella Cheese From Goat Milk

Raising Nubian dairy goats means having goat milk in the refrigerator – lots of milk. It’s good for drinking, cooking, spoiling the cats and chickens. Eventually more goes into the refrigerator than goes out until the shelves are covered with it. Making mozzarella is one way to empty them.

There are lots of recipes for making mozzarella cheese. I have a simple one I use.

Making any cheese requires certain equipment. First is a large stainless steel pot. I have three of different sizes for one gallon, one and a half gallons and four gallons of milk. Whey – the liquid left over – is acidic and eats aluminum.

Second is a stainless steel colander with small drain holes. Other items are a stainless steel long spatula, whisk and flat ladle. A cheese thermometer is absolutely essential.

For making mozzarella I use a Pyrex bowl the colander rests on, a Pyrex bread pan and kitchen gloves. The other ingredients are milk, rennet, citric acid and canning salt.

milk for making mozzarella

Many recipes are for one gallon of milk. This makes a little cheese. I like making more cheese as the work involved is about the same. I stash a couple of glass gallon jars of milk in the refrigerator and use 2 to 2 1/2 gallons at a time.

Let’s get started making mozzarella.

Step 1: Set the pot on the stove. Put citric acid in the pot.

Making mozzarella cheese requires slightly acid milk. Normally I add 1 1/2 tsp citric acid to two to three gallons of milk making about 2 pounds of cheese. Goat milk changes a little over the seasons. If the cheese starts getting rubbery, reduce the acid. If the cheese doesn’t set, increase the acid.

Step 2: Pour in cold milk from the refrigerator.

The milk can be a couple of days old, but can’t have any hint of sourness. I check any milk over one day old to be sure. The milk must be cold or the acid will not dissolve properly.

warming milk for making mozzarella

Milk at the bottom of the pan warms faster than at the top. Whisk the milk to mix the temperatures before checking the temperature. If the milk gets too warm, let it cool before adding the rennet.

Step 3: Warm the milk slowly to 88°. I stir it occasionally with the whisk and check the temperature. I take about 30 minutes to warm the milk so it doesn’t scorch.

Step 4: Whisk in rennet dissolved in a quarter cup of warm water.

Rennet strength can vary from different suppliers. It should set up the milk in 30 to 40 minutes. I prefer liquid rennet and count drops going into the water. Fresh rennet is 4 – 5 drops per gallon. Older rennet takes a few drops more.

Using rennet for making mozzarella

Liquid rennet is easy to use. I put a little warm water in a custard cup and count drops as they fall into the water. The water with rennet is whisked into the warm milk.

Step 5: Stop heating, put on the lid and wait until the curd sets.

Step 6: Use the long spatula to slice through the curd. Make quarter to half inch slices across. Cut across the slices to make columns. Cut the columns into short pieces by slicing both ways at an angle. Let the curd set for five minutes.

cutting curd while making mozzarella

The set curd is soft and full of whey. The whey seeps out through the surface of the curd. Cutting the curd into small pieces makes more area for the whey to seep out of. Heating the curd kills some bacteria that would sour the cheese and drives the whey out faster.

Step 7: Start gently heating the curd. Sprinkle canning salt over the cut curd. Use 1 Tbsp per half gallon. Use the ladle or gloved hands to gently stir the curds and dissolve the salt. While the curd heats, set up the bowl and colander beside the pot.

The curd can eventually reach over 120° and be too hot to touch. The cheese forms between 110° and 120° so very slow heating gives more time to work with it.

Step 8: Stir the curd every five minutes or so until it sets. This is hard to describe. The curd gets firm, seems like a soft rubber, starts to melt together. Take the curd out of the whey, putting it into the colander.

pressing the curd into cheese while making mozzarella

The curd is full of whey when it gets put in the colander. Pressing down on the curd and folding it over helps push the whey out . Once the curd is a compact, flat mass, it’s ready to return to the whey.

If you have two pots, you can strain the curd out while transferring the whey to the second pot. You need to keep the whey in a pot and continue heating it.

Step 9: Fold the curds over to push out more whey and form a large, thick slab of curd. This is slid back into the whey in the pot to heat. Set the bread pan up next to the colander.

Step 10: Every few minutes turn the curds over. The outside will get soft and hot. The slab will pull into a long slab. The curds will start to melt.

stretching the curd making mozzarella

The pancake of curd will get very hot on the side touching the pan. It will feel soft and melted. This gets turned over so the other side gets just as hot. The interior won’t be as hot. This means the outside will stretch down off the inside. Folding the stretches part back up helps distribute the heat so the entire mass will stretch down. If it doesn’t, put it back in the whey to heat some more. The curd will be very hot, close to 120 degrees. Wearing gloves and rinsing your hands in cold water helps prevent scalding your hands.

Step 11: Take the cheese out of the pot and hold it over the colander. The slab should stretch down elastically. Fold the end back up and let it stretch down. Keep stretching and folding until most of the whey is out of the cheese and it has cooled so it stretches very slowly.

Step 12: Put the cheese into the bread pan, pressing it down. Pour off any whey. Let the cheese cool a little and then refrigerate.

making mozzarella results in cheese

The cheese can be molded in any shape of container. I prefer a loaf pan. To unmold the cheese, slide a butter knife around the edges and shake it out onto a plate or use the knife to slide the cheese up out of the pan. The mozzarella made from raw got milk keeps about a week. It can be frozen. Frozen cheese must be used frozen or as soon as it thaws.

Making mozzarella takes me about three hours from pouring the milk into the pot to pressing the cheese into the pan. It sounds more complicated than it is.

The best part comes after the cheese is chilled: Eating your own fresh mozzarella.

Other recipes for using goat milk are found in “Goat Games” along with pencil puzzles and goat trivia.

Building Easy Garden Trellises

A carpenter I am not. I can build well enough to get by, but fancy or even close to really good is beyond me. I still want garden trellises, so easy is essential.

Another reason for easy is being fast. I rarely have more than an hour to spend in the garden for watering, cultivation, weed control and all the other tasks a garden requires.

My garden trellises have versatility as well. They are light weight, sturdy and last for years. Moving them is possible, but not easy.

I use cattle and hog panels for trellises.

single garden trellises

The bean trellis is half of a cattle panel. Mosaic yard long beans have long vines so I stood the piece upright. The beans till made it to the top. The big problem is harvesting the beans at the top, two feet over my reach. A stool helps.

The first step is deciding where a trellis is wanted and why. My first reason for a trellis was to support pea and bean vines. I like those varieties with long vines needing support, but want them within reach for easy harvest.

One type of easy trellis is to cut a cattle panel in half. Pound in two posts. Tie the panel piece onto the posts.

The panel is stiff enough to place a foot up the posts to extend above them. The foot is maximum height from the ground or the vines sprawl and tangle before reaching the wire. It is possible to hang pieces of baling twine down from the wire to guide the vines, but this doesn’t always work well and the twine is a nuisance to get off the panel later.

hog panel garden trellises

Originally I put up this looped trellis for peas. This year late winter turned into hot summer and fried the peas. The winter squash vine grew up over the trellis. It has tendrils and keeps itself on the hog panel. two problems have surfaced. One is that the vines can’t put down adventitious roots (extra roots) because the vines don’t touch the ground. The second is keeping the developing squashes pushed away from the panel so they aren’t stuck between the wires.

The advantage to using panel pieces is being able to move the trellis easily. After cleaning it off, the panel is untied and set aside. The posts are pulled up and pounded in at a new location.

More permanent garden trellises are made with whole panels. With planning, one person can create these. It’s easier with two people.

These trellises require wire and a panel. The two wire pieces need to be as long as the trellis is to be wide plus extra for wrapping on the trellis. Get these ready and laid out where the trellis is to go.

I work alone. I stand the panel on edge with one end against a tree or building and secure one wire to the panel wire next to the bottom of that end. I don’t mind stepping over the wire about four inches over the ground. Otherwise the wire can be wrapped on the last panel wire, but will need to be replaced when it rusts through.

tomato garden trellises

This is not really a trellis, but is. I have two cattle panels pulled into hoops to form a permanent shade/green house. This year the tomatoes are providing the shade. Tomatoes are vines that normally sprawl across the ground which ruins the tomatoes. They do not twine or have tendrils and must be encouraged to lean down onto the panels. I’m using baling twine attached on one side, looped over the vines and threaded through the panels across the length.

The wire is laid out along the ground. The loose end of the panel is pulled to form a curve until the wire can be reached and secured to this end of the panel. The second wire is secured at both ends to the other side of the panel.

The trellis is maneuvered to where it is to go. The top of the arch is lifted up until the trellis settles in place.

I like these rounded garden trellises. This year tomato vines are leaning on some. These must be tied on. A winter squash vine is growing over one peas were on earlier. Peas or beans can be planted at both ends so the vines meet in the middle. Greens can be planted under them in the shade provided by the vines.

That is the final advantage of these garden trellises. So many plants can be supported on them freeing up more space in the garden.

Gravel Road Hazards

My gravel road is like other similar roads for many road hazards. The most common ones would be potholes and washboards.

Most drivers, if not all, are familiar with potholes. On a gravel road water causes the potholes either by digging them out or by turning part of the road to mud. Tires toss the mud out forming the pothole.

gravel road in summer

One of the special things about living here is the gravel road with its edges in trees and wildflowers. This is one of the pictures used in “My Ozark Home.”

No matter how the potholes are dug, traffic either goes around, straddles or bounces through them. The road grader dutifully fills the holes with loose gravel which gets wet and tossed out again.

Trees line my gravel road. Surprisingly these trees are road hazards.

Black walnuts and oaks are sturdy trees. They get big with massive branches reaching out across the road sheltering and shading it.

This year the black walnuts hang heavy with nuts at the branch tips. Each nut is small compared to the tree or even the branch. Lots of nuts means lots of weight.

Coming home the other day I found one result of this combination. A branch had bent too far from the weight and snapped off. It lay across the road partially blocking it.

branches can be road hazards

My truck would squeeze by this branch if I go onto the shoulder. Smaller branches are easily driven over which breaks them up. Such a road hazard is annoying and the cure is a fifteen minute exercise of sawing and shoving.

There are several options when a branch or tree falls onto the gravel road. The one picked depends on how much of the road is blocked and how big the branch or tree is.

A large tree requires calling someone with a chain saw to come and cut it up. Usually the road crew arrives with chain saws and large equipment to pick up or shove the pieces to the side of the road.

A small tree or snag which is a dead tree with no branches can be picked up at one end and moved out of the way.

The branch I faced gave me four options. First was calling the road crew. This seemed ridiculous for such a small branch. Besides, I have no cell phone and would have to walk or drive a quarter mile or more to a house hoping someone was home.

One was to drive around or over it. This works well for smaller branches, but not this one.

saw for cutting wood road hazards

This is a great little saw. It’s less than two feet long including handle. One side has coarse teeth. The other has the teeth different lengths as are found on a bow saw. These cut through branches quickly.

Third was to push the branch out of the way. I got out of my truck to heft the branch. It was too heavy and, being split, too awkward.

That left me with the final option, one I am prepared for. Pruners and saw are kept in my truck. Pruners were no help. The saw was the thing.

A couple of cuts and the branch was in three pieces. I shoved these off the road and went home.

road hazards pushed aside

In a day or two these branches will be covered with brown leaves. The leaves drop leaving bare branches. Unless the brush cutter chews them up, the branches will provide bird perches for years. The road crew dumps these branches over the fence sometimes.

There is one big drawback to lining the road with fallen trees or branches, one creating serious road hazards. Large amounts of water from big storms will race along these and dig deep ditches along the road.

I still prefer my gravel road with its trees and fields in spite of the road hazards.

Find out more about living on my gravel road on the sample pages from “My Ozark Home.

Building PVC Pipe Gates

A few years ago I needed new garden gates. Being tired of wood gates that fell apart in a couple of years, I built PVC pipe gates.

one of first of PVC pipe gates

This PVC pipe gate to my garden is used almost daily, often several times a day. It is so easy to open with one finger hooked in the wire. The bungee cord keeps it closed. It is like new after several years of use.

These gates have worked very well. They are light weight, sturdy and durable. I need another gate, this one for my little chick yard, and will build another of my PVC pipe gates.

This gate will be much taller, about six feet, as the wire around the yard is that tall. I gathered some wood to build a gate and found the weight more than I wanted even with 1” x 4” pine.

materials needed for PVC pipe gates

These are the pieces I will need for this PVC gate. The shorter pieces will be the sides. The longer pieces will be the cross bars. The short and long pieces are only 2″ different so I want to keep these separated to avoid mistakes.

Two lengths of 2” PVC pipes have a lot less weight. The pieces were cut into four 32” pieces and three 34” pieces. Four PVC elbows and two PVC tees along with a can of glue complete the materials.

checking the parts of PVC pipe gates

Putting all the PVC pipe parts together before opening the glue is a good idea.
Any fit problems or missing pieces can be fixed before having a mess.

The pipes need to be reasonably clean and dry. The working area needs to be flat and big enough for the completed gate frame to lie flat plus room to walk around it.

My preferred spot for building PVC pipe gates is under a big black walnut tree. I do need to move fallen nuts out of the way and pad uneven places. The shade is welcome on a warm, sunny day.

beginning to assemble PVC pipe gates

The first joint on a PVC pipe is easy to do. The glue is spread on and the pieces pushed together. Then begins the wait time until the next pieces go on.

The glue setup time is fifteen minutes. When I worked on four PVC pipe gates, I could glue one joint for one gate, go on to the next gate to glue the same joint and on down the line.

flattening joints for PVC pipe gates

It’s pleasant working out under the black walnut tree, but the ground isn’t level. The joints on the gate need to be flat so pieces of board give a flat surface to press the PVC joints flat as they are glued. Once the glue sets, any crooked joint stays that way.

This time I am working on one gate. I have a few other projects to work on to take up time and a watch to keep an eye on the time.

Once the frame is done and sets for two hours, I can complete the gate. I cut the wire to go over the gate and use old electric fencing wire to lash the wire onto the frame.

framework for PVC pipe gates is finished

The final two joints are glued and pressed flat completing the PVC pipe gate framework. This needs to set for a couple of hours so the glue hardens. Then the wire can be lashed on.

Hinges must be bolted on. This isn’t a big problem. Drill holes where needed, position the hinge and insert the bolts. Tighten the nuts on.

A gate latch is the last item. I find a bungee cord with hooks on both ends works well. For this particular gate I will use more than one to keep unwanted visitors from prying the gate open at the bottom.

wire is lashed onto PVC pipe gates

The 1″ x 2″ welded wire is lashed onto the PVC pipe gate frame. The gate is now complete and waiting for hinges to be bolted on.

PVC pipe gates take a bit of planning, but are easy to build. I love being able to open and close them with one hand. Best of all the advantages is not needing to replace the gates every two or three years.

Hazel’s Cooking Challenges

“Mistaken Promises” is written. Now I’m finishing all the fact checking. Then there is Hazel’s cooking.

Broken Promises

Back in “Broken Promises” Hazel learned to cook. Then it was a way to cope with her grief and anger. She discovered she liked to cook.

Old Promises

In “Old Promises” Hazel chooses a 4-H Cooking Project. Her cooking becomes more adventurous. The recipe sections at the back of each book get bigger. This continues in this third book in the series.

I grew up in a time when fast food was getting going. People cooked at home. Cookbooks were kept on a kitchen shelf for easy access. My shelf has about twenty different cookbooks.

pepper for Hazel's cooking

Recipes usually call for green peppers. My problem is the bitterness of these. Instead I’ve discovered colored bell peppers with an array of flavors and no bitterness. This gold bell pepper has a mildly spicy taste.

Hazel’s recipes are based on recipes in my cookbooks. This is when Hazel’s cooking and my cooking clash.

My milk comes from the goat barn. some of my milk becomes cheese. My eggs come from the hen house. My tomato sauce with its garlic, onions and bell peppers comes from my garden.

milk for Hazel's cooking

Refer to milk and Americans think of cow’s milk. I raise Nubian dairy goats and have goat milk in my refrigerator. It is unpasteurized. Goat’s milk and cow’s milk cooks much the same. The real difference is between using raw milk and pasteurized milk. Raw milk must be scalded (heated to 150 degrees and cooled) for many recipes such as breads and custards. Otherwise the milk will sour during cooking and sour the food.

Hazel gets milk, eggs, cheese, tomato sauce and other vegetables from the market.

I use lots of whole wheat flour, carob, little sugar, little salt and no black pepper in my cooking. Hazel uses white flour, sugar, salt and pepper in her cooking.

tomatoes for Hazel's cooking

Comparing store and garden tomatoes leaves the store variety in the chicken yard. chickens have no taste buds. Garden tomatoes come in hundreds of varieties suited to a cook’s purposes. These are paste or plum tomatoes with thick flesh and small seed cavities inside for making sauces.

Some of Hazel’s cooking is entered in the county fair in “Mistaken Promises.” One recipe is for a frosted chocolate cake.

I am in trouble.

I do bake cake. I do have an excellent recipe for chocolate cake. Except I cut the sugar in half and substitute carob for chocolate. I haven’t frosted a cake or made frosting in a very long time.

Meat loaf, cornbread, beef stew, zucchini bread and crepes don’t concern me very much. I do variations on the recipes, true. But my variations don’t change the recipes enough to be

eggs for Hazel's cooking

Chickens are great homestead livestock. The brown one is a salmon Favorelle. The white one is a white rock. There are so many breeds and colors. Fresh eggs are different too. People think about having brown or white eggs. The shell color is not as important (unless you eat them) as what is inside. Fresh eggs from my chickens have rich orange yolks from all the greens the chickens eat. This makes them a disaster in white cake (the cake becomes yellow cake). The whites are thick. The size varies, not all extra large or jumbo or whatever. Two small eggs are roughly a jumbo egg.

worrisome.

That frosted chocolate cake scares me.

Hazel’s cooking is an important part of her books. It’s not part of the plot, but it is her way of coping with stress. It is part of what makes her Hazel.

And preparing the recipes as they appear in Hazel’s cooking section in the books is important.

Where are those chocolate cake and frosting recipes?

Raccoon Wars Beginning

As we have no dogs, summer begins the raccoon wars.

Pictures of raccoons make them look so cute with their masked faces and ringed tails. For the gardener or homesteader, cute ends there.

Raccoons are vandals. They destroy for the fun of it. If there are five sacks of feed, all five will be ripped open. Even feed raccoons won’t eat is ripped open. Even an army of raccoons can’t eat two hundred fifty pounds of feed in a single night.

raccoon wars nightmare around apple tree

My Fuji apple tree is getting big. Many branches overhang the tractor shed roof. Others hang over piles of lumber. The garden fence is next to the tree and covered with wild grape vine. The lumber could be moved. The shed and garden fence can’t be.

Chickens are a favorite meal. Raccoons will often kill five or six, eating one.

Tomatoes are another target. All of the green tomatoes are torn off and left on the ground. Each reddening one has a bite out of it.

I don’t leave sacks of feed available. I lock up my chickens at night. A livetrap is put out near the tomatoes.

These are the opening skirmishes. The real raccoon wars are only a whisper now.

raccoon wars tree cage

Roofing tin sheets surround this Asian pear tree. The branches must be propped because of the fruit. Four foot lengths of PVC pipe surround the props. Chicken wire tops the metal. The raccoons can still get inside.

Apple and Asian pear trees are heavy with fruit. This fruit is still small, months from ripening.

The trees are defenseless.

Raccoons have hands. They climb trees and farm buildings easily. They love apples and Asian pears about two weeks before picking time.

The Asian pear trees are separated. Each is hidden inside sheet metal boxes four feet high, put up last year.

raccoon wars metal ring

A four foot high ring of sheet metal with axle grease ringing it couldn’t stop the raccoons. They jumped up, grabbed the top and pulled themselves over.

The raccoons managed to jump high enough to scramble up and raid the trees. It was difficult enough so most of the crop was still on the trees for us to pick.

My apple tree isn’t so lucky. It grows next to the tractor shed. Last year the large crop vanished before ripening.

The fruit trees are again heavy with fruit. The raccoons are aware of this. We know the raccoons know. The raccoon wars loom.

Maybe we can wrap barbed wire around the boxes. This isn’t practical.

Making the boxes higher will entail putting in a door so we can get to the trees. This isn’t very practical.

Getting a dog isn’t an option. We want the neighbors’ dogs to stay home and need no invitation living here.

raccoon wars apple prize

One of the prizes the raccoon wars are fought over is the crop of Fuji apples, not ripe until October. Last year the apples vanished during September.

At present I am considering an electric fence. This would mean clearing a pathway for the wires. The orchard area has Common Milkweed six to seven feet tall growing among the trees, a sudden drop to the pasture fence on the outside of the trees, the tractor shed and lumber complicating this option.

The raccoons are determined. We are determined. The raccoon wars will be decided by who can out maneuver whom.

Common Purslane Weedy Pest

Common purslane aka pusley aka pursley is a gardener’s nightmare – maybe. It has been used as a wild green and a medicinal plant historically. It is cultivated in the Middle East as animal fodder.

No one knows where puslane came from. Perhaps it came with the colonists. Yet its seeds are found in ancient archaeological sites in North America. Purslane doesn’t care. It lives anywhere it can internationally.

common purslane plant

This pot got overlooked in the spring. Common purslane doesn’t mind. It happily filled the pot with stems, leaves and flowers.

The plant seems to prefer gardens and flower pots around my home. That may be because it is more noticeable there.

Common purslane looks like a succulent with its thick stems. The leaves aren’t thick, yet give the impression they are. They have  broad, blunt tips.

Moss roses or Portulaca is a cultivated relative known for its beautiful flowers. Purslane flowers are similar, but much smaller and only in yellow. They bloom early in the morning, vanishing by noon.

common purslane leaf

Common purslane leaves are thicker than many other kinds of leaves, but not as thick as succulent leaves usually are. They have shiny surfaces covered with minute waxy spots.

The leaves fold up by evening in hot weather. Even the plant seems to fold up to sleep through the night.

There are so many kinds of weeds in my garden, common purslane may have grown there for years. It got pulled, tossed in the wheelbarrow and rolled away with the others.

common purslane stems

Common purslane stems are thick with a waxy look to them. They can turn mostly dull red.

Last year a plant got overlooked. It grew big and luxurious for a purslane. This means it sprawled out over the garden path with foot long stems. These were nearly half an inch thick, glossy reddish green.

I noticed it. I took the usual group of pictures except for flowers. Since I usually work in the garden in late afternoon, the flowers were long gone. That made identification difficult, but not impossible in this case.

common purslane flower

I suspect the common purslane flowers open more than this, if I spot them earlier than after milking is done. They may open at night and start closing in the morning.

This year I’m taking a few minutes to see the flowers. I haven’t nibbled on any yet. I’m thinking I will double check about the edibility of common purslane beforehand.

I may check out a stem or two with the goats. Weeds are much better nutritionally than the usual pasture grasses. Purslane may spread itself generously earning the name of weedy pest, but we may be condemning it unjustly.

Chicken Tractor Trials

Free range chickens have their problems. One is having chickens show up in the front yard, even coming onto the porch. This is an annoyance. I thought about building a chicken tractor.

A more serious problem is the threat of predators. My flock had no predators bother them for several years. Then a family of gray foxes moved onto the hill opposite the barn.

There were gray foxes on the house side of the road 25 years ago. I saw one now and then, even saw one climb a tree once. Gray foxes do climb trees. Red foxes don’t.

chicken tractor

The chicken tractor is about four feet wide by ten feet long with an open bottom. This is the second day and the hens were happier with a rooster in the tractor with them. The nest box was too exposed so an old towel was laid over to make a wall over and behind. The hens are nervous being out in the grass danger area (known to be close to the fox run). they don’t understand how they can be outside and not able to race off to wherever. This tractor is definitely not fox proof so I put chickens out only when I will be going by frequently. Besides, the shade keeps moving and the sun is hot.

Fifteen or more years ago the foxes moved away. No new ones moved in until a month or so ago.

Foxes love chicken dinner. My hens started to disappear.

The only solution is to keep the flock confined. The chickens hate it. The hot weather makes it worse.

A chicken tractor became more appealing. The flock still numbers 22. Moveable chicken pens normally hold less than a dozen.

hen in chicken tractor

This hen wants out! She paces back and forth along the wire poking at it. She did finally settle down a bit.

I looked up chicken tractors. All chicken tractors have some kind of sturdy frame covered with wire. Otherwise they come in many shapes and sizes. They are built of different materials. Which idea might work for me? Is a chicken tractor the answer?

A friend has loaned me her version. It isn’t fancy. It was their first attempt and has several things they would do differently in the future. Still, it was a chance for me to try a chicken tractor out and see if it will work for my flock.

My hens range from one year to five years old. They are a motley crew of various breeds. There are three roosters whose main activity is to argue with one another. As the tractor only holds six or seven chickens, I would have to pick some out for that day.

chickens eating in chicken tractor

It occurred to me the chickens go in and out of their house to eat at the feeder. I put a dish of feed out in the chicken tractor. They ate the first one so I put in a second one. This seemed to make the hens settle down.

I snagged seven hens and shoved them into the chicken tractor. They got upset at being caught. They were not impressed by being in a cage. Having access to fresh grass didn’t cheer most of them up.

Next time I snagged six hens and a rooster. They seemed a bit happier. Water fount and nest box made the tractor better in their opinion. They still pace the wire wanting out.

I am learning. I hope the chickens will learn too. It’s hard for them to be confined after being free range.

Frustrating Tomatoes

We seem to have planted a lot of frustrating tomatoes. We aren’t the only ones, or so I hear.

Tomatoes are great eaten plain, in sandwiches, on pizza, in salad, grilled with feta cheese, so many ways. They look great too with that flattened round, red shape.

The tomatoes in the store look beautiful. Pick one up and it feels like it would bounce on the floor and not bruise. Take a bite out of one and it could be an apple.

This may be a tomato to city people. It’s fake to me.

My tomatoes are firm, yet soft. They bruise easily, if dropped. Normally they tend to splat on the floor. Biting into one lets juice run down your chin as rich taste fills your mouth.

frustrating tomatoes

These Mortgage Lifter tomatoes get medium to large. They take time to swell to full size and more time to turn color and get ripe. They tend to get ripe about the time the gardener gets disgusted and doesn’t check one morning.

Tomatoes are a summer crop. Any hint of frost nips or kills the plants. The challenge is to put transplants in the ground as soon as possible, protecting the plants from spring frosts resulting in ripe tomatoes as early in the summer as possible.

The problem with planting tomatoes early is cold ground. The frustrating tomatoes hunker down refusing to grow until the ground warms up.

Black plastic on the ground around the plants helps overcome this. As soon as night temperatures get up into the sixties, the plastic must be taken up or the roots will get too hot. Then mulch goes down to keep the ground from getting too hot and dry.

Tomato plants sprawl out across the ground. Box turtles love this as any ripe tomatoes are at just the right height for turtle snacks. Sow bugs, slugs, mice and other critters agree.

These frustrating tomatoes don’t vine or have tendrils. The plants must be tied up or caged to keep them up off the ground. Commercial tomato cages are quickly outgrown and fall over.

frustrating tomatoes are not cherry tomatoes

Husky Cherry Tomatoes are about an inch in diameter. They grow in clusters of six or eight on dense vines that tend to stay short. The best part is how soon the tomatoes get ripe.

Finally blossoms appear on the plants Tiny green tomatoes start to swell. And they stay green. Frustrating tomatoes seem to slowly get bigger, stubbornly remaining green for weeks.

That is the appeal of cherry tomatoes. True, they are small. Maybe that is why they turn red and ripen more quickly. They are also prolific. And they can be used any way a big tomato is used.

Big tomatoes are frustrating tomatoes, but awaited impatiently. In the meantime, cherry tomatoes make great snacks.

And they taste like real tomatoes.

Enduring Ozark Summer Heat

Missouri Ozark weather is usually changeable. Lately the changes have been slow in coming. Summer heat has been sitting here for a couple of weeks.

Temperature is only part of the story in the Ozarks. The other part is the humidity.

Our bodies sweat. It evaporates. Our bodies cool down. Humidity slows or stops the evaporation so we stay hot and feel hotter than the temperature warrants. Lately humidity levels have rivaled the temperature.

cat sleeps through summer heat

My cat Cloudy sprawls out on the grass next to the sidewalk occupied by my cat Burton. both await my appearance to serve dinner. They look so comfortable. They make it tempting to join them.

Cats don’t sweat. When summer heat settles in, they find a shady spot and sprawl out. Favorite haunts are often in front of doorways. Open the door. Find splat cat lying a step outside.

Chickens move into the shade. My flock has lost its favorite haunts as a pair of gray foxes has moved into the area. The chickens now hang out around the goat barn.

summer heat makes chickens pant

Chickens try to slick down their feathers. Then they start panting. These three are in a shady corner of their yard. A family of gray foxes has moved to the area so the chickens stay on full alert through the heat.

Horseflies and deerflies influence the goats. These insects have vicious bites. The goats come in with big, raised welts oozing moisture. The flies like sun and moist areas.

The goats go up on the hills and tuck themselves into deep shade under the oaks. Unfortunately the best browse is down in lower areas.

My herd is smaller now, only seventeen goats. They pack themselves into as small an area as possible. Each goat hopes the flies visit the neighboring goat or can be rubbed off onto the next goat.

Nubian goats in summer heat

Goats pant when they get hot. The herd loafs in shady areas most of the afternoon. My herd goes up over the hills and down the ravine during the day, between layovers in deeper shade. Once the air starts cooling, the herd comes out into the pasture to graze.

Toward midsummer the horseflies move up close to the goat barn. The goats don’t appreciate this. The chickens do.

Savvy chickens stalk the goats watching for flies to land. Snack time.

Summer heat is making work difficult. It’s too hot for me to work outside, even in the shade by noon. My barn is almost cleaned out. I keep trying to take out a few loads of manure each day.

Noon means coming in to change shirts as the morning shirt is sopping wet. There is a rumor this summer heat will break for a few days by the end of the week. All of us need the break.

Livestock Decisions

My Nubian dairy goats are livestock. They are business. They are also a hobby. They are also pets. That creates problems.

Raising livestock is like any other farming or ranching business. It is supposed to make a profit.

Raising livestock as a hobby can remove the profit requirement. Pets aren’t supposed to make a profit.

spotted Nubian buck is livestock

One thing this Nubian buckling has is spots. He was born March 15 and is disbudded. His mother is High Reaches Agate. His sire is High Reaches Augustus.

Hay and grain are part of raising livestock. Goats love to eat. They are messy eaters. As food just appears in front of them, they can drop some on the floor. More will appear later.

Purchasing hay and grain is expensive. That dropped feed and hay is money ground into the mud.

polled Nubian buck is livestock

Polled goats are becoming popular again. This black Nubian buck, born March 16, is polled. His mother, High Reaches Lydia, is polled.

Goats do get sick. They get parasites such as intestinal worms. Medicines and wormers are expensive.

Livestock requires equipment. I get by with a minimum, but still have hoof trimmers, disbudding iron and other items. Luckily these can last for years with a little care.

frosted spotted Nubian doe is livestock

This frosted gray spotted Nubian doe thinks cameras are suspicious. Whe was born March 15 and is disbudded. Her mother is High Reaches Agate.

Before retiring, these expenses weren’t a big problem. Now the goats must pay their way, at least much of it.

My goats bring in money from milk and selling kids. I’m not a commercial dairy and don’t officially sell milk. Still, other people in the area are like me: intolerant of cow’s milk.

Selling kids is where much of my hay money comes from. My kids are now close to three months old now. They are for sale.

two Nubian does are livestock

High Reaches Rose has a Nubian doe with interesting color patterns. She is black with spots. Her face is half white and half black and has red highlights. she was born March 12 and is disbudded. My older bottle baby is ignoring the camera. She is black with spots. She was born March 9 and is disbudded. Her mother is High Reaches Matilda. There is a fourth doe, a month younger and a frosted black.

In past years I’ve kept a kid or two or three. This made it easier to say good-bye to the others.

Getting older changes things. Raising livestock is work. Each year the work seems harder and takes longer. The solution is to have fewer goats.

My goats are pets. I know each and every one and have since they were born. The obvious solution is to not keep any kids. The adults get old and die. The herd gets smaller.

And saying good-bye to the kids gets harder, especially the bottle babies.

Dora’s Story deals with some of these issues following Dora, an Alpine/Nubian dairy goat, through several owners.

Young Pullets Go Exploring

It’s dangerous to stand in front of my little chicken house door in the morning. The attack of the young pullets begins as soon as I open it.

Those cute balls of fluff went through the ragged feather growing stage. They became miniature chickens.

young pullets watching

After the great escape, the pullets gather to watch the monster – me – refill their food and water. Once this is done and the monster withdraws, the great escape is reversed until breakfast is eaten.

The chicks were content to sleep grouped into their protective cage. Young pullets want to sleep on a roost.

Little chicks were happy scratching around inside their house. Now the great outdoors beckons.

This is where the dangerous part comes in.

Full grown buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks and New Hampshires can fly, but not well as they are too heavy. Young pullets don’t have that problem.

young pullets

Even small pullets have perfected the watchful glare of a hen. Occasionally a most un-chick-like squawk is heard.

I open the door. Flying pullets shoot out the door into their yard.

For a week or so this yard was their bigger world. Then a roll of chicken wire with stakes made their yard bigger. Now they are off chasing each other and any bug unlucky enough to crawl or fly by.

The main objective of both the chickens and my young pullets is not finding bugs. They like grass. They spend lots of time grazing.

This is the main reason all of my chickens are let out to roam around the compound containing the workshop and barn. Their yards are devoid of grass. It has been eaten and killed off by high nitrogen chicken manure.

Perhaps someday I will have a chicken tractor, one of those moveable chicken houses and pens. Each day the tractor is moved to a new spot. The chickens would be safer.

young pullets at garden fence

A fence is a challenge. Whatever is on the other side simply must be better. These young pullets are still small enough to squeeze through the fence and a few do.

The other alternative is a new chicken house surrounded by four or five yards. The chickens would have access to one yard at a time giving the grass time to recover between onslaughts.

My chicken flock only needs ten to twelve new members. My young pullets number twenty-one. All of them are so nice.

One of the hard things about raising livestock is letting some of them go to new homes. It isn’t possible to keep them all. Half my young pullets will have to move away. I have to choose and all of them are so pretty.

Cleaning Up After High Water

Another round of rain began as I came in from milking in the evening. Clouds had already dropped two and a half inches this week. It was slow, soaking in with no cleaning up needed.

Steady drumming accented with lightning and thunder continued until long after sleep claimed everyone. Morning light brought the rush of moving water.

The rain hadn’t stayed slow and steady. It poured. Rising waters had rampaged for a time, then dropped to a smaller torrent.

creek after flood

Last night’s flood has passed leaving the creek muddy and foaming. Debris left on the pastures marks the water’s high level. Debris is trapped against trees along the creek.

Cleaning up displaced all other tasks. The road washed out where the wet weather creek roared out next to the driveway leaving a three foot deep hole. The large rocks put into the culvert hole were across and down the road.

There was a culvert across the road at that spot twenty-five years ago. It washed out and was never replaced. The hole washed out every time the wet weather creek flooded. We filled it with large rocks to slow this down. Usually they work.

cleaning up the road means moving rocks and gravel

A wet weather creek poured out onto the road tearing off the gravel and rolling out large rocks leaving a three foot deep ditch across most of the road. Yes, the neighbor drove into the ditch and scraped the underside of his truck getting out again. The first step of cleaning up was putting the large rocks back into the hole.

The small pasture fence was flattened for thirty feet. Leaves, branches and road gravel are piled onto the wire.

My goats went out to pasture to find the bridge is washed out. The I-beams are still there. The approach is half gone. Many of the planks are gone. They didn’t cross the creek.

cleaning up downed fencing is hard work

Leaves and branches caught in the fence. road gravel piled on. Fence posts gave way leaving thirty feet of fence flattened. Cleaning up starts with pulling leaves and branches loose. Then the gravel is hoed away. Finally the posts are straightened or replaced so the wire can be raised.

What happened on the other side of the creek? I don’t know yet. The creek is too high to wade across. It doesn’t matter for now. Cleaning up this side will take time.

The neighbor came by while I was milking and drove into the hole in his large pickup. I heard the frame scrape on the edge of the road.

cleaning up the creek bridge will take weeks

High water often carries the bridge planks away. We find them, bring them back and pace them back on the bridge. This time cleaning up means filling in where the bank has been carved out.

Cleaning up began. First some large rocks went into the hole in the road.

Cleaning off and standing up the pasture fence will take several days. I cleared the first foot of debris off the top of the fence leaving the gravel.

Gravel is hard to move. It is heavy. It is full of rocks. Maybe I’ll use the tractor to move at least some of it. The driveway needs it.

Storms and floods are the topic of an essay in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.” They are a section of “My Ozark Home” due out this summer.