Sunday, December 26, 2010

That's Berry Nice!

Blackberry BushIt was about 25 degrees outside this morning, so I thought no better time to think of the warmth of the sun and our trip to a blackberry farm last Spring!


Most of us from our community one day drove in a caravan to a local pick-your-own blackberry farm in Cottonwood, TX. Neither Dave nor I had ever been berry picking of any kind before, so it was a new experience for each of us. Here are some of our community leisurely strolling down one of the rows picking blackberries as they go:

Community Folks Picking Blackberries


I was pleasantly surprised at how relaxing it was. Some of the bushes, however, didn't relinquish their berries without brandishing their thorny weapons; but I prevailed and took the valued treasure with just a little blood shed (ouch!) But it was well worth it: :)

Susan Picking Blackberries


After a couple of hours, we had filled our buckets; and the farm owner and his wife weighed our haul and charged a very reasonable fee. Apparently, they also open their farm at other harvest times (eg. pecans, black-eyed peas, other fruit trees, etc.), so we look forward to perhaps returning again:

Buckets of Picked Blackberries


Afterward, many of us stopped at the farmer's little picnic area and had a nice time of food and fellowship in the cool shade:

Blackberry Farm Picnic Area


When we returned home from our lovely outing, reality set in; and it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea how to make anything from berries; and we would probably get sick if we tried to eat them all before they went bad. Dave recommended doing something with them in the solar food dryer; and sometime just previously to that, one of our neighbors had suggested making fruit leather. Capital ideas!! So I did a little research online and gave fruit leather a try. First, I pureed some blackberries:

Pureed Blackberries


Then I poured the pureed mixture onto two sheets of waxed paper and shaped it into a thin layer on each sheet:

Blackberry Fruit Leather on Wax Paper


Then I placed the sheets out in the solar food dryer:

Blackberry Fruit Leather on Solar Food Dryer


I can't remember exactly how long it took but not long (a matter of a couple of days in the hot sun), and the consistency of the blackberries was a bit sticky but dried where I was able to peel it off of the sheet. I then broke it up into small pieces to store in glass jars. It is December now, and I ate a piece yesterday that tasted fresh just like when I first stored it!

Removing Dried Blackberry Fruit Leather from Wax Paper


Then I took the remainder of the berries we hadn't eaten or dried and followed a simple blackberry syrup recipe using very little sugar:

Simmering Blackberry Syrup


I was able to make several pints, and went ahead and pressure canned it (I forgot about the water bath option because I'm so used to pressure canning - oh, well :) ). But it turned out fine anyway:

Pint Jars of Canned Blackberry Syrup


And we were able to have it on our whole wheat pancakes soon after. Delicious, and what a healthy change from the "faux" maple syrup sold in stores these days. It was more of a topping than a syrup but still delicious:

Pancakes with Blackberry Syrup


There is one thing I would do differently in retrospect. I was just trying to go the easiest and quickest route, and I didn't take time to extract the seeds. The fruit leather and syrup taste fine but are obviously a bit "crunchy." So I would definitely recommend removing the seeds; and I plan to do it next time, Lord willing. But we are thankful for such a wonderful opportunity to capture and learn to preserve more of God's harvest bounty.

Susan

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fred and Wilma, and New Chicks

Just wanted to give a quick animal update on some of the new animals here at the homestead:


Pigs

In exchange for taking care of the Bunker's boar Wilbur for an extended period of time, we were given one of their males to be the mate of the one piglet we kept out of the last litter of piglets the Lord granted out of Wilbur and Missy, our gilt. We kept the smallest female (in hopes of having her and her offspring of more manageable size: in just dealing with, and in feeding and butchering them), who was also quite feisty -- she never had a problem getting in to suckle amongst the rest of the larger piglets.

And so, in honor of her sire Wilbur, we decided to call her Wilma. And given that, we're calling the male Fred. In this picture, Fred is on the left, and Wilma is on the right. If you'll notice from the above piglet blog post, Wilma looks just like here "daddy" too:

Duroc Boar Fred and Gilt Wilma


How romantical!

Duroc Boar Fred and Gilt Wilma Lounging Together


New Chicks

Also, we were able to find a local man who inherited an egg incubator and has been hatching out and selling bunches of chicks. We bought 20 from him and have kept them in the mini chicken tractor until they're ready to run around the chicken pen area (which is our staging area for the main chicken tractor coop). They are all still alive, with thanks to God.

And here they are:

video


As always, we are grateful to the Lord for allowing us these provisions; and we pray they are all productive resources for the homestead and community.

-- David

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Great Black-Eyed Pea Adventure

Our neighbor, Mr. Bunker, planted his large field (about 5 acres) in black-eyed peas this past Spring. It was no small amount to purchase the seed and pay to have the ground plowed and planted. He had every right to keep it all to himself for his family and to have a cash crop. Instead, he graciously opened up the field to our community to come and tend it and reap its harvest together along with his family. We greatly appreciated his offer and spent many hours over several weeks in the Summer sun weeding and then picking the beans when they grew to maturity. It was a great opportunity for our community to learn what it means to come together for a common cause and share God's bounty as a group. It was also the first major crop for the community to cultivate, so this was a new experience on multiple levels.

I learned many things through the experience. The women and children devoted several community work days towards weeding and tending the field, which turned out to be rich times of work, fellowship and getting to know each other better. Working in the field introduced me to the joys of blisters from the Blister Beetle; and I received my first wasp sting, not to mention the potent burning sting of the Stinging Nettle plant. It also forced me personally to come out of my own little homestead world to focus on a larger cause, and required additional discipline to go out into the field even when I didn't "feel" like it or when I was really busy with other things.

The Lord did a little weeding of my own heart during this process as well. The Bible says we are to mortify (kill) the flesh (Rom 8:1-13), the carnal (non-spiritual) man of sin, which means we need to examine ourselves for sins of the flesh. At times when I was tired or really hot and sweaty wanting to quit, I had to reel myself back in and remember to be thankful for this opportunity and provision, and to work for Christ's sake and as unto Him and nobody else. Just as with God's grace, this provision was being offered undeserved as a gift; but I still had to beat down the flesh and submit myself to what was required to persevere to the end (the harvest). The field was so big it felt very overwhelming at times, when the weeds were growing so fast it was impossible to keep up with them. I could usually only get through one half to one row in a one to two hour time period. During the times when it was just me in that big field, my flesh would say, "It's just too big. You're not making a bit of difference. The weeds are going to take over this field, and there won't be any beans left to harvest." It was easy to forget that other members in the community were out there at different times doing the same thing, and we were all in it together. I also found myself at times to be even a little resentful that the entire community couldn't put in more time and were jeopardizing the crop and some deserved more than others because of the different investments of time. The Lord had to remind me (strongly) that this was a REALLY good opportunity to step outside of myself and practice meekness and selflessness. I had to repent of that and remember it was not for myself but for the good of the community. I was saddened and surprised at how quickly my flesh had wanted to take over my spirit.

When it came time to harvest, there was plenty for everyone; and I learned the beans that weren't picked could be turned back into the soil to nourish it. So no part of the whole process was wasted -- another reminder that even when I don't see the big picture, God does, and is in control and all knowing of every aspect of the situation. I believe the spiritual weeding of my heart truly paralleled the physical, and I praise the Lord for His patience with me to teach me these things. It was a valuable lesson in so many areas of my life, and I'm grateful to Mr. Bunker for his personal sacrifice in order for our community to grow spiritually and physically on individual and corporate levels.

I had not eaten black-eyed peas much growing up in California; it seems like more of a southern food. But I am now sold on growing them to harvest and preserve. Did you know it is a three-for-one crop: in that the first harvest produces long, tasty green beans; the second when they are a little dry, the moist bean could be shelled and preserved; and then at the end of the harvest when the bean pods have all dried up, you can go through again and pick the dried pods to shell and keep the black-eyed peas as a dried bean until you're ready to cook them, or use them to re-plant. Wow!

Here are a couple of five-gallon buckets from the first green bean stage harvest:

Black-Eyed Pea Green Beans


I was able to pressure can over 20 quarts:

Canned Black-Eyed Pea Green Beans


And here are the dried beans we harvested. It doesn't look like much, but this represents a lot of food for the two of us:

Dried Black-Eyed Peas in Jars


We thank the Lord again for His direct spiritual and physical provisions and lessons from the experience of this first community crop. I hope I will have grown in spiritual maturity the next time, Lord willing, and pray for God's blessing on Mr. Bunker and his family for their sacrifice and love for the community.

Susan

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tough Tractorin'

One thing we've lacked in our plowing "arsenal" is something with which to deep plow. In trying to sell some of our cows, Mr. Bunker came across a fellow who wanted to trade a large chisel plow for some cattle; and Mr. Bunker forwarded the information to me, as he wasn't interested. I took a look at it, and it seemed to be a pretty nice plow, and one that would suit our needs well. I set up the deal with the owner, he came and got his cattle from us, and I went out to his place, about 190 miles away, with Mr. Bunker's flatbed trailer to get the plow.

Well, when I got there, I found out just how big and heavy it was. The owner had to use a front loader to get it on, and we had to remove the wheels for it to fit. Here are a couple of pictures of the plow:

Side View of 9 Point Chisel Plow
Corner View of 9 Point Chisel Plow


When I got back, six of us men here tried to lift it enough to slide it off the back of the flatbed trailer, but to no avail: it was very heavy. In fact, our neighbor Homer graciously came and lifted it off with the plow chained to his big John Deere tractor's front loader.

I had to put different tires on the plow, as they had been replaced with ones that were too wide; but one of the local tire shops traded me straight across for ones that would fit, except for the typical mounting fee. I also had to replace one of the hydraulic hoses; but once that was done, I was all set. I even tried a small test plowing to see if it would work, and everything worked great. I was now ready to finally tear up some of the land around here that hadn't been plowed in many years, to help with our crops and any other land cultivation we might endeavor upon!


Tearing It Up

The big day came where I was planning on plowing some of Mr. Bunker's land; and then I was going to do our inner area where our goat pens and barn are, in preparation for planting a Winter crop (wheat, oats, or something). I headed up to Mr. Bunker's and started in. The ground was quite hard, especially in this one area, even to where the rear wheels of the tractor were spinning in the ground; and I sometimes had to lift the plow out of the ground to be able to continue plowing. I thought though, "This Farmall 806 has 94 horse power, and it's not like I'm dragging a 24 foot wide disk plow behind me...I should be able to just barrel through this ground. What I need is more power!" And so I throttled up and plowed on, waiting to see how our tractor would handle its first real plowing test (I've disked fields with a small tandem disk plow, but I've not really done anything that has ever really strained the tractor).

It was doing pretty well until I got to that difficult part again. It stopped the tractor again, but I thought I'd see if it would "bull" through. Well, it did -- right through the right rear axle. I heard a loud pop, stopped for a second, tried to go forward again, and the rear wheel started to cave in on the cab area. Uh oh. I hopped off the tractor to take a look. The axle casing was cracked wide open, fluids were coming out, and the axle shaft itself had sheered like a sheer bolt.

Here you can see the wheel angled in:

Rear Wheel on Broken Axle Tilted in on Farmall 806 Tractor


I can imagine the look on my face at that moment, as I believe I was in a bit of a state of shock. I couldn't believe what had happened. I sort of just went and set on the front tire of the tractor, kind of dumbfounded. This was major mess-up, and I figured that I had just totaled our tractor.

I was pleased though that it appears the Lord has worked on my heart in relation to things that "happen" to us, in granting more of a trust in His sovereignty and perfect will, as my initial reactions were, at a minimum, better than they almost certainly would have been just a few years ago; and for that I was and am thankful. Also, Mr. Bunker came over and suggested there was a spiritual lesson in there somewhere, which is true.

I'll admit though, it weighed on my mind for the next week, during which time there were better times of keeping proper perspective, and some not so good times, of which God graciously granted that I not hold on to any bitterness for very long and granted repentance for my improper heart condition concerning the situation. I had to let go of all of the plans I had had for the tractor and plow; trust Him in the situation; and instead of just thinking about the situation and wondering what I was going to do, eventually I asked Him for help to figure that out and maybe even help to get the tractor fixed or help in going maybe another direction (as in, maybe now would be the time to look into a horse team for plowing).

In trying to understand what I was actually going to be faced with in regards to repairs, I went and talked to the local tractor repair place; and they suggested with parts and labor it was going to cost a bundle to get it fixed, and that they'd put their money in getting a new tractor instead; but they also gave me some information on tractor salvage places, in case I wanted to try to find the parts.

Shortly after, one of our neighbors, Mr. Gillis, who has done some other plowing work for us, saw or heard about the tractor. Well, come to find out, he worked in the past as a professional tractor repairman; and given his friendliness toward and willingness to help us, it wasn't long before he was out here taking everything apart to see to what extent the damages were, and to hopefully get it to a condition where, if we were able to get the parts, we could repair it.

Mr. Gillis and some of the guys were able to get the big rear wheel off using Mr. Bunker's engine hoist, and you can see Mr. Gillis starting to take things apart:

Farmall 806 Rear Tractor Wheel Held Up by Engine Hoist


This is a close up of the axle and casing attached to the tractor:

Farmall 806 Tractor Broken Axle and Casing


And here is the piece of axle that was still in the wheel:

Farmall 806 Tractor Broken Axle


Now, mind you, we're not talking a 1/2 inch hex bolt here; we're talking 3 1/2 inch thick solid steel that sheered away. I figure that probably the stresses on it over the years just finally got to it. Here's a picture of it next to my shoe so you can get a size reference:

Size Reference for Farmall 806 Tractor Broken Axle


And here is the part of the casing that went with the wheel:

Farmall 806 Tractor Broken Axle Casing


With a little help from me as best I could, Mr. Gillis got it all apart, including the other pieces, like the gears and breaks:

Farmall 806 Gears, Brakes Removed for Axle Repair


And so, there it sits, broken, but now apart and ready for replacement parts. As this situation with Mr. Gillis arose, I thought perhaps the Lord was being gracious in answering my prayer for help through the situation, maybe even to being able to fix the tractor (although I'm still keeping an open mind about perhaps going another direction). I'm in the process of trying to find parts, and perhaps, Lord willing, I'll have an update to this time of tough tractorin'.

I am thankful to God for His graces and mercies in granting some apparent growth in trust in Him, although I am woefully pathetic in that area still; but I pray for a continued increase in measure of those graces that only He can grant and provide. And I pray for anything else He might teach us from this situation.

-- David