27 June 2012

Catching Up...

 Life sure gets busy, doesn't it?

Since I last posted, there have been plenty of things going on, although not directly 'homestead' related. 

I helped a friend move his stuff to Dinky's Auction for his big antique sale.  The sale went well for just about everyone.  The seller got a good price on many or most things, some so-so prices on some, and a few went cheap.  On the average, he was pleased.  He had a lot of collector items, old cast iron Griswold skillets, quite a few Redwing and Uhl crocks and jugs, about a dozen glass butter churns...and on and on.  One thing I thought was noteworthy was the little half-pint blue mason jar that someone stole from a table before it went up for sale.  The owner simply said that they must need it worse than he did.  Below are several photos of just some of the items that were sold.

Some good old cast iron skillets and pots

More hand tools
Lots of crocks, jugs, and churns

Lots of tools

A nice kerosene stove

All of these kettles were ready to use!


I also had the opportunity to help with the neighbor's threshing.  We forked shocks of spelt up onto the wagon to the stackers.  I learned that there is a knack to doing that and you don't want to poke the tines of the fork too far up onto the wagon, rather give it a flip and let it fly off the tines and onto the stack.  That will help keep the guy who is on the wagon stacking from becoming a 'forkee'.  After we hauled in a couple of tall wagon loads of shocks, they fired up the thresher or 'separator'.  That was a 1946 Keck-Gonnerman thresher, an "Indiana Special".  It is powered by a pulley on a stationary tractor and once it gets going, it is simply a clattering, mechanical symphony of moving parts!  The kind of ingenuity required to design and build a machine like that seems to be in short supply these days.  The machine was a pleasure to watch and I was shown the various operations it performs.  Simply amazing.

As the spelt was forked into the thresher, the stuff moves through, the chaff is removed, the grain goes up and into the wagon and the straw is blown out the back.  Afterwards, the farmers back a baler up to the huge pile of straw and just feed it into the baler.  I didn't get to photograph the operation this time, as the folks I was working with preferred not to be photographed.  No problem, I left the camera in my pocket.

I didn't get to spend as much time there as I wanted, but there is more to come at another neighbor's so I'll get to help there too!

On Monday night, we went over to a friend's for supper.  Good Amish cooking!  The meal of fried chicken, dressing, noodles, slaw and fresh corn was followed with homemade rolls and strawberry jam.  It was all washed down with sweet tea.

After the meal, we all visited for a while.  The three young girls and their momma play harmonicas and treated us to several good old gospel tunes and some toe tappers as well.  Generally, the harmonica is the only instrument that the Amish are permitted to play.  These ladies really could play!  Then, they all sang some songs with the young girls picking up the harmonies just right.  The girls are 5, 8, and 9 and their mother is sure teaching them well.  It was a good evening with some good folks.

One of my daughter's friends came rolling in this evening.  She is visiting from Florida and dropped us off a big bag of huge Georgia peaches she picked up on the way through!  I couldn't resist, and cut one up and added it to a big bowl of homemade ice cream left over from the weekend.  Pretty good!

The garden is pretty well just languishing in the heat, but Patti picked an ice cream bucket of green beans this evening.  They should be coming on in earnest really soon.  We have a few tomatoes getting ripe, but everything is suffering under the high heat and low humidity.  The weather we've had the past several days reminds me of, say, Nebraska or South Dakota...pretty hot in the afternoons, cool and pleasant at night and humidity in the 25-35 percent range.  That's due to change tomorrow, though, when it may reach 103-105 degrees and the humidity is forecast to start creeping upwards.  It's interesting that last night we came within 2 degrees of a record low and tomorrow may be a record high!  I gave all the garden and fruit bushes a good watering this evening.  Hopefully it will carry it through for a day or two.  There is no rain in the forecast.

19 June 2012

It's Crazy Hot!

The temps have been in the upper 90's all week.  Very unusual for Spring!  There are burn bans all over the area.  Things are getting critical for the farmers whose corn crops are being severely affected.

I headed out on the bike yesterday evening at about 9PM (the temperature was still at about 90-plus).  I met some neighbors walking down the road with all their kids and an extra.  I ended up stopping by their place and looked over their garden and fruit patch with the dad.  The daughter came running out with a small bag of fresh cookies for me to take with me!  Not bad, go for a bike ride for some exercise and come home with a bag of fresh chocolate chip cookies!  Life is good!

I picked a half-gallon of blackberries off the bushes this afternoon after work.  I spread them on cookie sheets and put them in the freezer.  After they are frozen, I'll bag them in cobbler-sized portions!  Patti snipped the latest florets of broccoli and picked a couple of peppers....Hmmm, Pretty Patti picked a peck of peppers...never mind.

One of the neighbors has a field harvested that is stacked with shocks of spelt.  I wasn't really familiar with that grain, so had to do a bit of research.  It's kinda sorta like a coarse version of wheat.  Anyway, I'm planning to help thresh it in a week or so.  The threshing was going to be this coming Saturday, but another neighbor is going to have a big antique sale up at Dinky's on Saturday.  I will be helping them to set up for that on Friday night, beginning at about midnight.  At the sale, I hope to buy a butter churn for Patti.  The auction is going to be a dandy...lots of cast iron (Griswold), crocks and jugs (Uhl), and too much stuff to mention.  From toy tractors to a 350 lb. anvil, this will be a sale for homesteaders for sure.

Shocks of Spelt wait to be hauled in and threshed

A closeup of the tight grain head of some Spelt

In the last few days, I also processed the last of the sage that I dried last fall.  I merely hang it from a string in the shop and allow it to air dry.  I crumbled the leaves and stored them in a large seasoning jar.  Fragrant and good for soups, meats, and other dishes!  Sage is a good perennial herb to have growing in the garden.  The dusky green foliage and spikes of blooms are attractive and fragrant. 
Some dried sage, waiting to be crumbled and stored.
A large jar of home-grown sage.

15 June 2012


Rural-Revolution is a blog I found a good while back.  It has become a daily read for me.  The author is Patrice Lewis, who lives with her family in northern Idaho.  Patrice has also written a book that I have been reading called "The Simplicity Primer".  I plan to do a more thorough review of it soon, but for now, suffice it to say that it is packed with some great information on simplifying our hectic lives!  To add to that, she is a regular contributor to World Net Daily!  A very busy lady!  I recommend her blog, her book and her writings.  She seems to be a very down to earth woman blessed with an uncommon amount of common sense!

It's Dry!

Our area is experiencing drought conditions.  It is actually early in the year to be seeing things this dry, but we deal with what we get.  There have been some burn bans put in place for some of the counties around us.  The last rain we received amounted to about a half-inch.  It's all welcome, but we sure could use some more.

The garden is well mulched and that is helping to hold moisture, but I'm keeping an eye on that.  The pole beans are really vining and blooming and the tomatoes are starting to turn.  We should have some fresh beans and 'maters really soon.

Below is a shot of the first few blackberries of the season.  I hope to get enough off the young plants to make a cobbler or two, or maybe a batch of wine.  I had a handful with breakfast this morning.

The first berries...and lots more to come!

08 June 2012

Blueberry cobbler

This is a quick post to show you one of the products of our berry picking excursion a couple of days ago.  One of my favorites...blueberry cobbler!

Hot blueberry cobbler!  Life IS good!

Another busy day!

My raspberries are about done for the season.  I did learn that the CDs turning and flashing are not the cure all for birds.  In fact, in the morning, before the breezes pick up and put the discs to moving, I saw a mockingbird and a robin helping themselves to the fruit.  So, yesterday evening, I stopped by Wally-World and found one of the yellow beach balls with eyes that I hung from the overhang on the shed.  It does seem to be helping.  We'll see.

I stopped in at the Friday version of the produce auction this morning and discovered that I should have paid the $1.50 / pint for black raspberries.  Today they were selling for $3.75 to $5.00 per PINT!!  No thanks.  I am attaching some photos of just a bit of the offerings at the sale today.  The Amish do not care for having their photos taken, so out of respect for them, I am showing only the produce and not the big crowd that was there.

Lots of cauliflower, broccoli, summer squash and other veggies.

Beets and Zukes

Black raspberries are nearing the end of their season and brought a big price.  Home grown onions ('Candy' variety) and cabbage were also on the auction block.

Late strawberries, new potatoes (Pontiacs), and some early tomatoes (Mountain Spring, I think)
I left the auction and went over past a friend's place to check on getting some lumber for a small project I'm planning.  He is one of about fifty cabinet makers in the area, but I've gotten to know him over the years.  As I pulled in, he came out and right off the bat, he wanted to know if I wanted to see his tree plantings on the back acres.  He and four or five of his kids--and the dog--piled into the Jeep and we bounced back across the pasture and checked out his plantings of persimmon, oaks, maples, and other assorted varieties.  He is rightfully pleased with the stand.  The kids enjoyed the ride and soon we were back at the shop and he found me some good scraps that will be great for my project.

This wall to wall John Deere combine filled up the road.
On the way home, I noticed this beast going down the road. The big green machine took up the entire roadway, as you can see.  Turns out it was a friend from church who was turning in just ahead and would be combining the field you can see in the left of the photo.  Ironically, as I got closer to home, I passed another wheat field where an Amish neighbor was combining wheat on a much smaller scale behind a team of four Belgians.  Interesting contrast within a few miles of each other.  I stopped to pick up one of the neighbors as he was walking from that field towards his home.  He asked if I saw the combine going and that they would be threshing the wheat in a week or so, after it had dried down a bit more in the shocks.  I ended up getting invited to the threshing and I am looking forward to helping.

Later in the day, Patti and I got to work mulching the garden.  Putting down a thick straw mulch in the garden is a habit we got into many years ago.  As I recall, I picked up the idea from the old Ruth Stout book, "The No Work Garden".  I have been keeping up pretty well with the hoe, and I gave the patch a final once-over for any weeds I'd missed.  Patti then put down a layer of newspapers and I followed scattering the thick layer of straw.  After the mulching was completed, I even splurged and gave the whole garden a good soaking to help settle the straw--and to give the plants a boost.  Now, weeding will be limited to pulling the occasional stray that pops up close to the garden plant.  It's much easier than constant hoeing.  The mulch does a few things that I like:  it keeps weeds down; it helps retain moisture; and it breaks down over the season and is eventually tilled into the garden soil to add to the tilth of the soil.

First goes a layer of newspapers

Straw is put on top of the newspapers

Done!  In the left, you can see a row of tiny turnips emerging.  We were careful to leave them plenty of open space.

06 June 2012

Blueberries, etc.!

Whew, a busy day today!  I started out by going up to the produce auction up by Dinky's.  The auctions are being held on Monday, Wednesday and Friday right now.  There are dozens of Amish growers bringing in a wide variety of produce--greenbeans, tomatoes, new potatoes, zucchini, raspberries, and much more.  I was looking for some raspberries in a quantity that I could use for a batch of wine, but they were going for $1.50 a pint and more; more than I wanted to pay.  So, I Jeeped home and Patti and I headed off to Illinois to pick blueberries.  After the half hour or so drive, we arrived at the Benson Blueberries farm.  I was extremely impressed with the operation.  Friendly, laid back, and blueberries galore!  We were guided to a short row of bushes that were fairly dripping with berries.  In no time, we had picked about two and a half gallons.  The berries are sold by the pound ($2.00 per pound) there and we picked fifteen pounds of berries.  It was a good outing with picture post card weather, cool temperatures, and a great location.  And we got to eat berries while we picked!!  A win-win for us!

Acres and acres of berries like these! 
The lady who took us out to the patch in the golf cart shuttle told us that they grow Blue Ray, Blue Crop, and Jersey as three of their most important varieties.  Some of these berries were huge!  We got them home and spread them on cookie sheets and put them in the deep freeze.  Once they got good and hard, we bagged them in quart freezer bags and put them back in the freezer.  We will keep that up until they are all frozen and bagged...except for a few we kept out to eat with our yogurt.  Patti also had me print out a recipe for a blueberry cobbler.  Life is good!

This is a LARGE mixing bowl!
Later in the afternoon, we went over to the home place and did some bush-hogging.  Jordan and Erin are having some friends get together for a camp out on the ridge, so we went over to mow a camp site, stack some firewood, and generally prepare the place for them.  The field hasn't been mowed for a couple of years, so it was getting pretty wooly.  I was glad we had gotten the tractor repaired in time to do this.

 It was a busy day...but a very good day.  We are blessed.

Yesterday evening, I got fed up with the birds eating our fledgling crop of raspberries, so I worked on what I hope is a remedy.  I took a couple of old CDs, some fishing line, a couple of fishing swivels and a drill and made the device shown below.  Hung from a shepherd's crook, the slightest breeze causes the discs to move and turn and flash.  I will probably have to move it up and down the row every few days, but it seems to have worked well today.

05 June 2012

Repairs, etc.

It's been one of those spells where everything seems to need fixing.  First, darling daughter had an altercation with a mailbox in the Jeep.  Robby and I rounded up the parts and got that fixed and the new windshield is being put in today.  Yesterday, I picked up the Snapper mower from Wagler's Small Engine, where it had some gears replaced.  Finally, our Ford 2000 tractor had to have a new water pump put in.  All in all, the repairs pretty well exhausted our 'extra money'.  Oh well, we were blessed to have a bit stuck back for just these kinds of little emergencies.

Jeep Repair.

Our Ford 2000 tractor.  It has served us well for many years.

Yesterday evening, I headed over to a friend's house to drop off some shelving that I had stored in my outbuilding.  I had used all of it I needed and my friend had said he could use my leftovers in his building full of antiques.  We unloaded the shelving, then went on up to his barn where we loaded a dozen bales of straw--the remainder of his last year's straw--onto my trailer.  He will be putting in hundreds of bales of new straw soon.  I will use the bales in the next few days to mulch our garden.  I also gave a few of them to my neighbor to use on his garden.  He loaned me his trailer to make this run.

04 June 2012

It's Been a While...

...since I posted here.  Busy times.  Too much stuff going on!  There is gardening to do, picking a few berries off my young plants, mowing, and so on.  The pole beans are climbing up the sassafras poles and we have quite a few tomatoes in the green stage.  We have harvested and frozen our broccoli heads and are continuing to enjoy the smaller, secondary florets as they form.  I've picked 2 or 3 quarts of black raspberries off of our second-year plants.  I also think the birds have found them.  Although it is a bit early, I sowed a row of turnips where I removed the old lettuce.  I also made a short row of parsnips.

I did take some time this morning and begin a batch of wine.  This is a sort of experiment for me.  I have never used a winemaker's concentrate before and am hopeful at how it will turn out.  The type I selected is Muscat.  It should be a good golden-colored sweet wine...the kind that Patti prefers!

I also learned that the Muscat grape is the oldest known variety of grape in the world.  It probably originated in Greece and traveled around the continent in the following centuries.  The Muscat came to America with the early Spanish and Italian immigrants.
I'm posting a photo of the new batch, with the fermentation lock attached.  Let's see how it does!  I will move this big glass carboy to the laundry room where it is out of the way and let it do it's thing.  In a few weeks and once the fermentation stops, I'll siphon it into another similar container.  That is called 'racking' the wine and will help it to clear by allowing more solids to settle.  Racking can be done more than once if needed.  Once it is suitably clear, I'll siphon it into bottles, cork it, label it, and put it on the shelf for 'later consumption'!

A batch of must ready to start fermenting!

Below are some photos of an earlier batch of blackberry wine that I made.  There are also some shots of the bottled product.  This batch was about four gallons, so I made it in separate one gallon containers and attached air locks to each.  I ended up with quite a few bottles of good blackberry wine!

Blackberry wine at work!

Bottling using a corker purchased from Butler Winery.
Some finished and some awaiting labeling.
My wine labels were simply made using MS Word.  I added some graphics snatched from the web, added wording in a suitable font and voila! wine labels!  Our family coat of arms appears near the bottom of the label.  Before applying the labels to the bottles, I sprayed them with a coat of clear acrylic spray to set the colors and keep them from running if they get wet.

I recycle wine bottles and have some friends and family members who help me out...in return for a bottle or two of wine, of course!  I purchase corks and other supplies from a nearby winemaker supply store in Bloomington.  I guess this would be a great spot to give them a plug.  Butler Winery is a full scale winery, as well as a great place to get supplies for brewing and winemaking.  Their stuff is available by mail order as well.  I recommend them. 

Butler Winery and Vineyards
1022 N. College Ave.
Bloomington, IN 47404

 I also pick up a few supplies at an old hardware store in nearby Jasper.  L.H. Sturm's Hardware is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is still run by family members of the founder.  It is a great old-fashioned hardware store that carries lots of stuff that the chain stores have never even heard of.  

Jasper and all of Dubois County is full of folks of German heritage and, believe me, they know how to make some good wine!! 

Sturm's Hardware, Jasper, Indiana
Some of the winemaking and brewing supplies found at Sturm's Hardware.
 Sturm's can be found at www.fullnet.com/~bdm727/sturmstr.htm.  They can also be reached by email at bdm727@fullnet.com, or by phone at (812)482-6506.

Finished bottles and some extra labels from Sanders Cellars!