Saturday, December 7, 2013

Today's Critter: White-Wing Dove in the Snow

Thursday, the ice storm hit. We woke Friday morning to a winter wonderland. Our area was coated with 3" of ice, pure ice, in the form of sleet. The ice in our yard is so hard, we don't really make much in the way of footprints. You know the animals have it hard right now. So, I smiled when this bird decided to take a polar dip in our pool. Enjoy the fresh water, birdie!

It's a white-winged dove, which is not really very common for this far north in Texas. Usually, they are found further south, below San Antonio area. However, they are moving up here. This is the second one I've seen this year.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Canned BBQ Shredded Turkey

Every Thanksgiving season, I buy as many cheap turkeys as possible. In the past I have canned turkey soup. This year, I branched out and created a new recipe - BBQ shredded turkey. Yum!

Now I know BBQ can bring out strong debate on the best style. Memphis? Texas? Carolina? Ketchup? Mustard? Vinegar? And, food fights can ensue if you don't agree.

Well, even though I live in Texas, I am using a Carolina-style sauce. My daughter cannot eat tomatoes, so a ketchup-based sauce will not work in my house. You read that right. No tomatoes! No salsa. No spaghetti bolognese. No pizza!!!  There was much angst in this house when we learned we could no longer eat pizza!

Doesn't matter with BBQ because I LOVE a good mustard and vinegar BBQ sauce. Salt Lick in Austin uses a sauce very similar to the one below.

This recipe will can approximately 10-12 pint jars from a 17 lb turkey. I use pint jars because we have a small family. We can't eat a whole quart. I found that one pint is enough for about four BBQ sandwiches. YMMV.

Disclaimer 1: If you have never used a pressure canner before, please read the instructions that came with your canner. This recipe assumes you know how to use a pressure canner.

Disclaimer 2: Meats MUST be pressure canned. I will not adjust or comment on any inquiries about water-bath canning meats.

Canned BBQ Shredded Turkey

1 15 to 17 lb turkey, giblet packet and neck removed. Check for meat thermometer.
3 tsp minced garlic
6 to 10 bay leaves
2 tsp salt

Place thawed turkey in pressure cooker. Add bay leaves, garlic and salt. Fill cooker to cover turkey, being careful to not fill more than your pressure cooker manual suggests. Mine says 2/3rds full. Cook turkey at 15 psi for 90 minutes. It will be falling off the bones when done.

Meanwhile I prepared my pint canning jars by boiling them in water. I put my lids in simmering water to sterilize and kept them all hot until I was ready for them.

Save broth to can separately. This makes a great broth. (Recipe for broth not included.)

De-bone turkey then shred.  Pack turkey tightly into jars.

4 cups prepared yellow mustard
2 cups sugar (I used raw cane sugar)
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup chili powder
4 tsp. black pepper
4 tsp. white pepper
4 tbsp liquid smoke
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
(Optional 8 tbsp butter. Some choose not to can anything with dairy. I'm not getting into that debate.)
2 cups water

In large sauce pan, combine the mustard, sugar, cider vinegar, chili powder, black pepper, and white pepper. Cook on medium low/simmer for about 30 minutes.

Add water, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, and butter if using. Simmer 10 more minutes.

Ladle the sauce over the turkey in the fully packed jars. I had to run a plastic knife around the edges to get the sauce to completely fill to the bottom of the jar. Pack to one inch of head space.

Since my poultry is de-boned, I processed the pint jars in my pressure canner at 10 pounds of pressure for 75 minutes (90 minutes for quart jars).

(Note 1: The sauce absorbs into the meat. The jar will not be full to the brim, and the meat will not be swimming in sauce. However, this is safe.)

(Note 2: The seasoning mellows some when cooking. If you taste test a batch before canning, you may find that it is a bit spicy.)

I am linking this post in a blog hop. Please enjoy hopping from blog to blog! :) 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sheet Mulching Is The Winner

Bermuda grass. It's everywhere. It has an iron-clad will to live. It's a gardener's nightmare.

Bermuda grass makes a nice lawn because it can take a Texas drought. It will turn to brown and go dormant with no water and return to green lush lawn when the rains come. It also spreads easily by runners and stolons (those little roots formed from runners).

Starting point picture. Grass. All grass.
The house we bought had bermuda grass exactly where we wanted to put our garden. Ugh! We have committed to gardening organically; however, installing a garden in this area is testing our commitment! It is taking a lot of work to convert bermuda grass lawn to grass-free garden space. Bermuda grass is difficult to kill!

Last year, I started with just cardboard beneath the raised beds. Bad idea. The grass just joined the plants in one happy grow-fest!

This summer, I tested several different methods of killing the grass. I tried solarizing with clear plastic, solarizing with a tarp, and sheet mulching. What I refuse to do is till.

Results have definitely taught me how to move forward. See the results below.

Tilling: A neighbor tilled her bermuda grass lawn in spring before putting in her garden. BAD IDEA! Yes, I'm shouting. lol! What tilling does for bermuda grass is chop it into tiny bits that each then sprout into a new plug of grass. She actually created more grass in her garden not less. Her garden was so covered in grass that she gave up on her garden.

Solarizing with clear plastic: Clear plastic seemed to work at first. It definitely dried the grass to a crunchy brown. I thought I had success. However, once that plastic was removed, the exposure to air and water revived the grass. This is why so many lawns in Texas are bermuda grass. It can look dead, then a little, very little, sustenance from air and water will revive it. Perfect for drought-stricken lawns, not what you want in your garden.

Solarizing with a tarp: I used a green tarp I found in the camping section of Target. First I laid it out as one big sheet. That just acted like shade for the grass, and it kept growing. However, I noticed that in spots where I had put bricks or cinder block down to keep the tarp in place, the grass disappeared. That discovery led to my total commitment to the last test option. mulching: Plain sheet mulching is working best for us. The concept is very simple: layer a thick layer of cardboard over the grass then add mulch, compost, grass clippings, leaves, manure, etc.

Oregon State Paper on Sheet Mulching

It is also trademarked as Lasagna Gardening as explained in the book by the same name: by Patricia Lanza.

My favorite resource on sheet mulching is a movie called "Back to Eden."

Back to Eden Film

A farmer in Washington state teaches about how he learned from looking at what God does to manage creation. He discovered that God loves to cover the land, so that's what he did with wood chips. He has an incredible garden. Scientists have conducted testing on his soil quality, which has tremendous results. And, he never waters. I don't think I can get away with that here in Texas. But, if I can reduce water usage significantly, then that will be a great help.

Sheet mulching takes a LOT of input in the beginning. Because this only works during the grass growing season, I had to abandon my garden this year just like my neighbor. However, I will come out ahead I think. Instead of grass, I have acquired really nice dirt.

I have obsessively scoured Facebook trade groups, Craigslist, and even neighborhoods on recycle days seeking cardboard. In this one summer, I have used the equivalent of about six full household moves worth of boxes. That's a lot of boxes!

What I did was to layer a broken-down cardboard box on top of the grass. Do not cut it open to make it bigger. Leave it doubled up. You want that thickness. I covered this with the tarps and plastic to keep the wind from blowing the cardboard away. I left this in place all summer. What it did was smother the grass, and the contact with the cardboard caused the grass to decompose underneath.

Do not mulch before you have decomposed grass, otherwise you end up with cardboard that decomposes before the grass is dead. The grass will grow up through your mulch. I tested this unintentionally. I had put out cardboard everywhere, but I ran out of mulch after covering just a 15x15 area. That area ended up with grass growing in it, whereas the other areas with just cardboard did not. It was learning by mistakes. lol!

After the grass looks somewhat decomposed, which for me took from May until July, layer a fresh layer of cardboard on top of the rotting cardboard. Now you layer all the other stuff on top of that. Layer it very, very thick, like two to three feet thick.

Close-up of a section after killing the grass. Beautiful!
I have now winterized a great portion of the area where I killed off the grass. I did not finish the process in time to plant a fall garden in much of it. I have layered yet more cardboard and topped with two to three feet of chipped tree mulch. If you get it three feet thick, you will get a true compost pile going. Otherwise, it is fine at only two feet. In theory, it will decompose more slowly over the winter and still be ready for spring. I am testing this theory this winter.

Keep collecting cardboard. In late winter or early spring, lay the cardboard down again. You will have to scrape to the side all the compost/mulch to get that cardboard on the bottom.You still need to block the grass.You can cut holes to plant transplants, then put the mulch back in place.

Bermuda grass can grow from buried roots, so this process must be repeated for a couple of years before it is truly eradicated.

To direct sow seeds, layer the cardboard very thickly, then build a raised bed on top. Once seedlings have appeared, you can mulch around them.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Fall Garden Update - Lookin' Good!

I remain convinced that Texans should ignore traditional summer gardening for many plants and focus on off-season gardening. It is just too hot and dry in July and August for many plants.

I have a test garden I planted in late summer. Some beds got started in August, some not until early September, and a few planted in late September for a winter harvest. (My goal was to plant August 1, but life just got in the way. I know it never happens to anyone else. ;) I spent a week in August dealing with a child's summer camp gone bad. Yes, the whole week was spent on that and nothing else. sigh. But, that's done and gone.)

The late september plants are the ones that I am hopeful will be winter-long harvests: carrots, cabbage, green onion, turnips.

Note: temps at time of planting were still in the 90s. Current temps as of late October have been in the 70s and 80s, with some overnight temps dropping to the 50s. 

My test plants include: multiple varieties of squash and melons, bell peppers, cucumbers, and eggplant. Most are doing well.

The grasshoppers killed off a few of squash/melons before they really had a chance to thrive. They killed my ronde du nice, bush buttercup, table queen bush acorn, and sweet dumpling. :(

I did not replant. Of those that survived the grasshoppers, they all have young fruit. Yea!!!

This is the Patisson Golden Marbre Scallop squash.

Here you can see the massive sucrine du berry. This plant needs a row space of 20 feet! It is huge - and gorgeous! (Those are grapevines it is growing beneath.)

Look at those gorgeous leaves. They are bigger than a man's hands!

This squash is a tondo scuro di Piacenza. It will be round like the new eight ball, but this is an heirloom variety from Italy.

The galeux d'eysines is growing, but it is very small still. I am hopeful that it will produce. It was very slow to get growing.  Also slow and small is the Uconn squash.

I planted three variety of eggplants, but only one survived the grasshoppers. It is the ping tung. I am hopeful that it will produce. This plant is one I am more unsure about. It needs a lot more time than the others, I think.

Beit Alpha cucumbers are blooming and have little fruits on them.

Stars and moon watermelon has fruit and blooms as does the Ananais Amerique and another melon.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Today's Critter: Lizard Lady

Look who was hanging out on one of my squash plants today. A lady green anole. I love the markings on her back. It would make a good camouflage if she were in the straw instead of on the green plant. Enjoying the diversity of life in my backyard once again. :)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Dumb Dog - Don't Go Mousing Behind the Tractor!

Dogs are funny creatures. They are so sweet and loving, and so stupid you can't help but laugh at them.

I am pet-sitting my mother's dog while she is visiting my sister. This dog is super sweet. However, smart it is not! It never learned any real commands. It just stares at you while you look back at it hoping to see some flicker of awareness flash in its eyes. Never does.

 My dog is a tiny Yorkie. She weighs all of five pounds. She loves to hunt whatever critter dares to enter the tractor shed. Usually it is a lizard.

 Tonight, I had a good chuckle.

The Yorkie headed into the shed. Well, the visiting dog followed her unbeknownst to me. I called my dog, who came right away. I could not find my mother's dog. I searched the yard. No dog. Finally, I heard a bit of clinking in the shed, so I went to investigate.

The dog had gotten itself trapped behind the tractor. Now, this shed is very compact. There is no room for error. So, when I had to start shuffling tools around, hoses and flower pots started tumbling to the floor and onto the tractor. Spooked this dog.

 I'm fairly certain the dog will not ever go in the shed again. LOL!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Gully Washer!

Today we had what we Texans call a gully washer. LOL! Rainfall was nearly .75 inches in about 2 hours.  Most of it came in about a 45-minute period.  This had me in a panic. You see, I had sown grass seed in my game lawn area. It hasn't sprouted yet, so I worried that the seed would wash away, and it would be $75 literally flushed. God guarded those seed for me, though! They are still there. Some washed away, but many remain.

God also showed me a serious problem in my garden area: storm water runoff pools. The wind blew back a tarp that I had placed to cover the grass to kill it. Had this tarp not blown back, I would not have seen this problem.

Here the tarp is back. Water is standing, not draining.
Rivulet of water runoff coming from the above "pond."

Now I have to figure out how to manage this runoff. It seems God has me on an express track for learning all things gardening. Last summer, I followed His lead every day. I wondered sometimes what in the world He had me doing. I will do the same this summer. So, He has prioritized storm water runoff management. 

I drove past this dry river rock bed today. It was flowing with storm water runoff. I drive past this house every day. I have never noticed this bed before today. Thank you for giving me eyes, God! This is a great idea to base my plan around.

Next I asked on a local homesteading group for ideas on what to do. One person gave me the idea of a rain garden. I had never heard of a rain garden, so I googled it. I found several interesting articles, which I will link to at the end of this post.

I discovered that rain gardens are flower/garden beds that are designed using plants that will tolerate both standing water and drought. They have deep roots in order to survive these conditions. Important information! The area I will need to work with will skirt the perimeter of our septic leach field. I will have to plant the rain garden away from that since I cannot plant deep rooted plants over a leach field. 

The picture above does not seem to utilize a rain garden. It is merely a dry rock bed edged by grass. Ours will need to terminate near the game lawn. So, we will have that "look" also. 

OR! I could terminate it near the chicken coop and make it duck friendly. My daughter would love to get ducks! I need to investigate good rain garden plants that chickens like to eat. May be a good forage area for them as well. I imagine all sorts of insects will like this area.

First is an article on dry stream beds:

Second are articles on rain gardens:  (This is a great how-to booklet.)

Third is an article from Washington on the safety of collecting toxic runoff.

Fourth is the permit requirements for our city building code. Note: no permit required for retaining walls shorter than 4 ft. 

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