Friday, December 30, 2011

Homemade Soap

I ran out of "gift soaps" the other day. You know -all those fancy bars of soaps that come in gift packs received from friends and relatives? For some reason, I never open them and use them so I had quite a stash -probably a years worth. I enjoyed some nice luxurious soaps I would never buy for myself. Then I ran out. So I snagged a bar of soap from hubby's shower, a bar of "Irish Spring" with moisturizers it said. I had my shower and soaped up my face, and gasp, this stuff just sucked all the moisture from my skin. My face felt like sandpaper after using it. No more of that I said. I decided it might be time to start making soap. After all I had a bottle of Red Devil Lye under the kitchen sink which I was never going to use for anything so what better way to dispose of it?

I researched on the internet and wow there are a lot of soap making sites out there, the information was overwhelming. After a whole lot of reading I found what I was looking for, a pretty basic lard based soap recipe, with ingredients I could easily find at the grocery store so I could get started straight away. I opted for a blender soap recipe as the quantity was smaller so if the soap was a failure there were be less waste and minimal financial outlay.

Basic Olive Oil/Lard Soap Recipe

Ingredient List:

Lard: 10 oz
Olive Oil: 3 oz.
Water: 5 oz.
Lye (Sodium Hydroxide): 1.8 oz.

Making the soap:

First thing I had to do was gather all the soap making implements so I could be ready to mix and pour without running around like a chicken with its head cut off looking for things while my soap needed blending.

Implements needed:

Kitchen Scale ( digital scale is great)
Pot to melt lard
Jar to measure lye, measuring cup for water
Jar to mix lye and water ( I used a container out of my recycle bin -HDPE #2 plastic or glass is recommended -I used a HDPE #2 plastic container as that's what I had)
Spoon to stir the lye water (I used disposable plastic spoon)
Mold for soap -I lined a cracker box with waxed paper
Spoon to scrape soap out of blender
Gloves and eye protection for mixing lye (I opted out of these safety items because I find with gloves I"m more apt to spill/drop things and I wear glasses and find safety glasses over the glasses cumbersome. I wanted to be able to see what I was doing)

Let the soapmaking begin:

1. First thing I did was weigh my lye, handling it like it was an explosive (it's not an explosive but can be very corrosive/toxic), keeping well clear of the jar with my face. I then measured out my water in a separate measuring cup and took both outside to mix. I poured the lye into the water and stirred. As per my recipe directions, the mixture became cloudy and heated up. I left it outside to cool. Note you don't have to go outside to do this you can mix in a well ventilated kitchen I just opted this route and I could be sure to keep the area pet free.

2. I measured out the 10 oz of lard and melted it in a pot. No need to get it boiling hot, you just want to melt the lard.

3. I poured the melted lard into the blender, measured out the olive oil and added it too.

4. Now it was time to add the lye mixture. I retrieved the lye water mixture from outside and stirred it as per directions. The mixture should be almost clear now and happily mine was. I poured it carefully into the blender being sure not to spill and immediately put the container and spoon into a sink full of soapy hot water.

5. Now it was blending time. Instructions were to blend until "trace". What is "trace" you ask? Trace is when you take a spoonful of the soap mixture and then pour it back into the blender, and the soap stays there on the surface for a few moments. I covered my blender with a towel just to be sure no lye mixture sprayed out and blended for about 2 minutes. I tried the trace test and my mixture wasn't ready so I blended for about another minute. This time I drizzled some soap back in and wow -trace happened. Pretty exciting I thought!

Soap in the blender

6. I wanted to add some scents to this soap. Since this was Christmas soap (if it was successful I hoped to give it to friends/relatives as gifts), we opted for cinnamon and mint. We added about 1/2 tsp of each essential oil and blended for a few seconds.

7. The next step was to pour the soap into the mold. I poured handling with care as the lye soap mixture is still corrosive. I left just a little soap mixture in the blender and added some cocoa (just a spoonful) to it and then blended that for just a few seconds to blend the cocoa into the soap. I then drizzled this mixture over the soap in the mold. This step can be omitted. I wanted a visually interesting soap not just a plain white bar so decided to do a cocoa drizzle.

Soap in my ever not so fancy mold prior to cocoa drizzle
Soap after cocoa drizzle, it looks yummy!

8. I covered the soap mold with cardboard and wrapped a towel around the whole thing and then put it in a safe place where it wouldn't be disturbed (I put it in an empty bird cage I have sitting unused -great to keep pets from upsetting the soap as it cures).

9. Next was clean-up. Since the soap mixture is still corrosive at this point I chose the method of filling up the blender and all utensils with soapy hot water and then letting them sit overnight. This neutralizes the lye somewhat and then you can clean up as normal.

10. After a day if your soap is firm you can take it out of the mold and cut it. If your soap is not firm after a day, just wait a day or two longer. I cut my soap with a knife being what I had but it is recommended to use a pastry scraper. Once cut into bars the soap needs to cure for at least another two weeks. I let mine cure for three weeks as I got sick and didn't want to mess with it - the longer the soap cures the better.

11. After the curing period it's time to test the soap before using/giving it away. You can use a ph tester or if you'r like me opt for the simpler methods of trying a tester soap. If you wash you hands without tingly feeling the soap is ready. You can also touch it to your tongue -if you get a bit of a zap or tingle, the soap needs more curing time.

The End Result:

The end result -not half bad if I do say so myself!

I am very pleased with the look of the soap, though I erred some in cutting the bars. I made them just a bit too large. I cut a couple of the large bars in half and that yielded bars that were just a little too small. Next time I'll measure the bars before actually cutting.

Today was the physical test of the soap, I showered with it for the first time. I was happy with the lather. The fragrance is bit odd, I think we should have opted for cinnamon or mint as I don't think the fragrances really mixed that well. It doesn't smell like either fragrance. The soap lathered well, but didn't feel too moisturizing while using it. After my shower I can say it's better than the Irish Spring but next time I"ll look to add an oil that has more moisturizing traits such as Sweet Almond Oil or perhaps I'll try the "superfatting technique" of soapmaking. My skin doesn't feel sandpaper dry, it's soft but I feel it just needs a little more moisturizer.

All in all I think this venture was a success and can say that I'll be making more soap in the near future. I enjoy knowing exactly what is going in the soap and hopefully I'll be able to come up with a nice scented moisturizing soap. I have an apple spice recipe that I will try next.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The New Additions, new additions

The ewes I bought a couple of weeks back have both lambed. First to go was Santana Sayen. On the morning of December 13th we went to feed, and there she was proud as can be with a gorgeous ewe lamb.

This lamb has gorgeous markings and nice structure

And then last week on the 22nd we were blessed with twins -a little ewe and ramling who look like polar opposites! These guys got off to a bit of a slow start -I don't think Mama had quite enough milk for two and then went off of her feed.

I was quite concerned that evening since Mama still wasn't eating and a sheep not eating is not a good thing. She had passed her afterbirth without problem so I knew that wasn't an issue. She was standing alert and looked fine, but she just didn't want to eat. I gave her a shot of Oxytocin in hopes of getting her to drop more milk and also a dose of probiotics to give her some energy.
We gave the little ramling some milk replacer since he was looking a little peaked and Mama didn't have any in her bag for him. I checked on them a couple more times that evening and could see the little lambs were trying to nurse but just not getting much out. I offered them some milk replacer again but they weren't interested. I stuck my finger into each lamb's mouth and they seemed warm enough so I left them be for the night.

I was a bit fearful to see what I would find the next morning when I went to check on them, but happily they had made it through the night and were looking brighter. Mama however was still not eating -not good.

Hubby decided she should go out with the flock to see if that would pick her up. I had my doubts as the little ones were so little, but out they all went. And sure enough what happened? Mama stuck her head in the hay and started eating. She was just missing her buddies. I'm learning something all the time with these sheep.

The Twins

Ramling, he's white with just a little brown on his legs. He's a real doll!

Ewe lamb, marked like a barbados but with a white spot on her head!

These painted dessert sheep sure are a lot of fun -you never know what you'll get for lambs. It's amazing that two twins could look so entirely different!

Friday, December 9, 2011

New Additions

The texas drought has really put a damper on the livestock industry in this state but there is a bright side - there are some great opportunities to build one's flock, herd or what have you. With skyrocketing hay prices, quality livestock that normally wouldn't be offered for sale, is being sold to feed the rest of the herd.

Yesterday I made a pleasurable drive out to Yantis TX to Brent Neighbors, Tejas Barbados Ranch in search of a couple of new additions to my painted desert flock. I was nicely surprised by the 120 mile drive -it goes through rural towns but most of the way was 70 mph so I was able to make good time and enjoy the scenery which was surprisingly picturesque. The trees are still displaying beautiful fall colors, and with the recent rain we've had the winter wheat is greening up the fields.

Brent had my list of prospects with him when I arrived along with pedigrees and papers (he really knows how to organize his records). No this sheep might be by so and so or maybe it's that one with Brent.

I was in search of just one or two ewes and one for a friend. It wasn't hard to pick out a few nice prospects -what was hard was deciding which ones to bring home. Even harder was picking out one for my friend -she had narrowed her choice down to two based on pictures. Both were nice but I opted for the Yearling ewe lamb of one of her two picks hoping she'd like her as much.

With no further ado, here are the new additions:

I fell in love with this champagne and white ewe, Tejas Ranch Aleshanee Tiponi when I saw her. She wasn't on my list I'd picked out to see but one look and I knew she was coming home with me. She has all the qualities I like in an Ewe (built like a holstein cow, soft eye and strong legs) and to boot she is heavy in lamb to a lovely ram of Brents "Kachada" .

Tejas Ranch Aleshanee Tiponi

My other pick was Tejas Ranch Santana Sayen. Her dam is a really good producer and she is tri-colored, and also a twin. She's a little smaller than I'd like but judging from the triplets nursing on her dam there is potential for some size in her offspring. She is also heavy in lamb to Red Cloud who I really like.

Tejas Ranch Santana Sayen

And last but not least is Taksi Wahinhe, the young ewe I bought for my friend. Funnily enough -I bought the wrong ewe. She had told me to pick between Totsi and Hiawatha and somewhere along the line I changed Totsi to Taksi...It's so hard to pick for someone else. I like this ewe, so home she came! Of course when I arrived home with the three sheep my daughter peared into the car and says " I oh I like that one" meaning Taksi, the only one that's not supposed to stay!

Taksi Wahinhe

Friday, November 18, 2011

50 Things Every Young Lady Should Know by Kay West

My 11 year old daughter loves books that tell you how to do things, how to do things right and what is wrong ...she has several of the "Best of Everything" Series so I gave this book to her for her thoughts. After all this is a book for young ladies, and though I wish it were so...I'm no longer a young lady.

When asked for her review, my usually chatterbox child replied "I liked it!". Hmm...not exactly the review I was looking for...I asked for some elaboration. She said it teaches you all sorts of good things like she was never sure what side to put the forks on when laying the table for dinner, now she knows" Ok this is a good start, what else did she have to say? "I should say Please and Thank-you more often". This pleases me. The reiteration by this book of the values we've been trying to instill for so long are is a good reminder to my daughter without me having to nag for once. And I do believe I'm hearing more pleases and thank-you's.

I think "50 Things Every Young Lady Should Know" is a book every young lady should have. It's the kind of book that instills in the reader good values and manners but without preaching. It explains why we should do things and why we shouldn't, for example (I love this one),
" A lady wears sunscreen every day; otherwise she'll look like an old lady long before her time".

The book is written in a light manner but gets the point across. I think it will be a "go to" book for my daughter when she's unsure about how to do something and I think I'll be bookmarking a few pages for her to read!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What's Wrong With this Picture

I filmed this clip just after I fed my sheep the other day, does this put a whole new perspective on the prey model of dog feeding? (For those who aren't familiar with the prey model of dog feeding it is a diet modeled on feeding dogs as they would eat in the wild - a diet made of all raw meat, bones and other animal parts) There were no hidden treats in this video!

I'm glad the dog is enjoying the expensive hay!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pumpkin Time

Tis that time of year again when all the ghouls and witches take to the roads for that awesome night called Halloween. My daughter opted to be Hermione from Harry Potter, thankfully something simple this year.

We've had a busy fall this year what with closing on our new property (yet it has finally happened- there will be more on that after this weekend when we can finally go see it !), and the fall decor somehow never got out. We couldn't however forego that timeless tradition of a jack o lantern. Our crop was non existent as the plants withered in the August heat so I had to purchase one and really felt bad as I purchased it from Walmart and not a local farm stand. At least the sticker on it said Texas grown so maybe in a small way I supported the Texas farmers?

We carved the pumpkin on Sunday. Katielyn wanted to make a dog face and chose a rather challenging stencil -a dachshund and then on the other side (yes we carved 2 sides of this pumpkin) she opted for a cartoon dog face! Eeks. We got to gutting the pumpkin and I had a thought -can pumpkin guts be used for anything? I usually pitch them in the compost bin. I googled and found a recipe for Pumpkin Gut Bread. Ooh this sounded interesting. So I saved the guts, seeds and the carved out pieces of ears and eyes to cook. Here's the jack o lantern (both sides), not great but not terrible either!

The dogs got the pumpkin from the carved out pieces on their dinner and we got the guts! The ducks will get the pumpkin seeds for their treats.

Here's the pumpkin gut recipe courtesy of Dinasaur Dishes at

Diana’s Famous Pumpkin Gut Bread
makes 2 loaves


2 cups of fresh pumpkin guts (the stringy part separated from the seeds)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. nutmeg
3 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup water
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup chopped pecans


Preheat oven to 350 F. Use your fingers and a pair of scissors to separate the pumpkin guts, making sure they’ll be able to mix well into the batter.
Combine flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar in large mixing bowl. Add eggs, water, oil and pumpkin. Stir until blended. Add nuts. Mix well. Pour into two 9×5″ loaf pans. Bake 1 hour. Cool slightly and take out of pans to let cool on a rack.

I made a couple of changes to the recipe as I went. First of all I didn't have quite 2 cups of guts so I opted to reduce the sugar content to 2 cups of sugar, and I also reduced the oil to about 1/2 cup. I used mixed whole wheat/white flour and left out the nuts (just because I didn't have any). The loaves turned out delicious. When I make them next year I will also reduce the nutmeg -I found it's flavor rather overpowering.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Homemade Lotion Bars

I suppose I don't need to tell anyone Texas is dry, especially in a year of record breaking drought. And hot (another redundant statement I suppose). This combination wreaks havoc on skin. My arms are beginning to look like one of those road maps that has all the smallest roads. You know the kind, lots and lots of squiggly lines. Yup that's what my arms are beginning to look like. And I want to stop it now.

I've been applying commercial lotions but they always leave my skin feeling greasy and don't really seem to do much so I went searching for something that might help. Lotion bars came up in my search and they sounded like just the thing except"Whoa Nelly...they are expensive!" Pricesvary but they average about $10.00 for a 2oz bar. That doesn't fall into my definition of frugality. Hmmmph and I so wanted to try them. So I searched, and much to my frugal little self's happiness lotion bars can be made at home for far less than the cost to purchase them and even better all the ingredients are natural!

For my first try at making homemade lotion bars I found what sounds like a very simple recipe:

Simple Lotion Bars

1 part oil (sunflower, olive, almond etc)
1 part beeswax
1 part butter (cocoa, shea, mango etc)
fragrance oil or essential oil (about 10 drops per oz of oil)
optional: vitamin E oil capsule

Melt oil, beeswax and butter together and add scent if desired. You can always remelt it add more ingredients if it is too hard or too soft. To make it harder add more beeswax; to make it softer, add more oil.

So I set out to buy the ingredients. I found cocoa butter in 1oz tubes at Walgreens for $1.39 so I bought two of those. I had olive oil at home but opted to purchase some almond oil at Target ($6.99 for 80z)-it just sounds nicer than olive oil. Then I hit a roadblock I couldn't find beeswax anywhere, and had to order it online. I found some at Amazon for only $1.99 for 5oz but $4.49 shipping brought it to $6.48 total).

So now with ingredients in hand I set out to make the lotion bars.

First I melted the butters and oil together. For lack of a double boiler I just boiled water in a pot and used a glass measuring cup as the top pot. It sat nicely on top of the pot. I realized after I started that I should have melted the butters together, and then added the oil as the oil was over the heat much longer than necessary while I waited for the beeswax to melt.

This is the beeswax melting in my "double boiler"

Here you can see the beeswax is taking longest to melt

For scent I asked my daughter what she liked. She chose peppermint and lavender -I'm not so sure with the cocoa butter that those were the best choice but we opted for them. I think next time I'll use vanilla or cinnamon with the cocoa butter. You add the oils just before you pour the wax so that they don't get cooked off.

I let the concoction cool a little and then transferred it into the molds. I used a turkey baster to measure out the lotion but will not do that again. It's impossible to clean the wax out of the baster so it ended up being tossed in the garbage. My measuring cup that I used to melt the wax in has a pouring spout and with care that's good enough.

I don't have any fancy molds so I rummaged through my cupboard and found a muffin tin. I tried lining with cupcake papers and without. It's definitely easier to get the bars out the pan with the cupcake papers and it gives the bars pretty little edges to. I also used a teabag holder that I have that is heart shaped. It's cute but it wasn't so easy to get out of this mold and I damaged the edges a little getting them out. I also poured some of the lotion back into the stick containers the cocoa butter came in.

My various improvised "molds". The one with the little pieces in it is just leftover material I later put into a lip balm container and used up first.

Here is the finished product (you can see the damaged edges on the bars that I poured without papers liners.)

I store the finished bars in the freezer as there are no preservatives in them. I think these bars are the perfect texture. They are solid but melt easily when rubbed on the screen without being messy.

The final tally is 6oz of lotion bars for a grand total of $7.12 (I didn't factor in the essential oil cost as I already had that on hand, and used so little). These were very simple to make and I think a great success. I"m using the bars after every shower and on my feet before bed. I think I can the roadmap on my arms is fading and the sandpaper on my feet has disappeared!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

There is a predator amongst us...

The other day at 7:00 am when the sun was just breaking the night sky, my dogs who had just gone out for their morning business created quite the ruckus. This was no bark at the horse type "arf arf" but a true cacophony. They were sounding the alarm. I figured probably a stray dog had found its way to our yard. I looked out of the window but couldn't see anything. I looked out the side window and could see something definitely was amiss -the horses were standing heads raised nostrils flared. I went to the next window and there I saw it. Standing right beside my chicken coop not 20 feet from my window was a large coyote. I could practically see the drool on his lips as he sized up my ducks and chickens.

This was no scrawny half-pint coyote. At first I thought it was a german shepherd but when I went outside and it sidled away I could see by the tail and its actions -definitely coyote. If a coyote could be called beautiful this one would be that, but it is varmit to me and no varmit can be called beautiful. This one was so brazen and I'm sure I could here it's "ha ha, I'll be back" as it slipped away into the morning's dusky light.

And back it was. Today in full daylight. We didn't let the chickens out of the coop until about 10:00 am. At 11:00 I heard my young cockerel makes it's first roostery sounds as it sidled past my window with the two ducks hot on its heels. I thought "odd, where's the hen?" I went outside and she was gone. No signs of a wrestling match, no pile of feathers, just a missing hen. Gone without a trace. I think I know who to blame for this. What nerve in bright sunlight to come plunder my yard! And to think it may be this same sod who stole my precious cat.

"You left your tracks in the sand and I know who you are. Oh Mr. Coyote you have such good taste, first my favorite cat, and now my favorite chicken? A rooster who has no use here wouldn't do for you would it? Nah, you want the pretty hen who is just ready to start laying. Oh Mr. Coyote your days are numbered if you come around here again!"

Meanwhile the chickens are cooped up as I'm sure in the cover of the night, Mr. Coyote will be back. I've moved their tractor to an area out in the open away from the trees and in full view of my front yard, in full sight of the dogs, and not totally out of sight of the guardian dog. How I wish I could set him loose to secure the whole farm, but I fear that though he'd do a good job, he too would disappear as how's a dog to know which fence is yours and which is that of thy neighbor? And then who would I have to watch over my sheep? Tis time to set up the electronet around the coop. I hope the remaining fowl have enough sense to stay within it's boundary of safety.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Not Just a Cat

She came to us just about 3 years ago in a bittersweet time -our beloved Aussie, Selby who was only 12 years old had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only weeks to live. We were making the best of our last weeks with her living each day as if it were her last not knowing how many tomorrows we would have.

We had decided that barn cats do better in pairs and had decided to get another kitten to keep our little orphan kitty Tootsie company out in the barn. I had seen an ad on Craigslist for some super cute looking kittens and decided to go see them. It was kind of odd when we went to see her. We knocked on the door and said we were there to see the kittens, the little girl who answered basically shoved the kitten into Katielyns arms and then we were sent on our way. No small chat was exchanged, just a rather cold "here she is" and we were seen to the door. I'm not even sure if we really had a chance to say no!

Baby "Amy"

We christened our new addition "Amy". She was supposed to be 6 weeks old, but did not look a day over 5 weeks, if that. There was no way she was going out to the barn to fend for herself, so she was ensconced in the house until she grew up and was big enough to become a barn kitty. Annie our youngest Aussie was quite taken with her, and Amy, the kitty, with Annie. Annie became her foster Mom -the little kitty even tried to suckle on Annie. She would climb up onto Annie and snuggle into her fur. And Annie was ever so gentle with her licking her clean. I was almost afraid Annie would lick her bald! We never had any trouble finding the kitty, she'd either be snuggles with Annie or Annie would be following her around, sometimes with a look on her face that said "Could somebody please control this child?"

Amy and Annie Snuggling

As Amy grew up it became apparent that she really wasn't barn cat material. She lacked the lithe action of a barn cat, and for a cat was rather clumsy. She would jump up onto my desk, and miss, and fall to the ground taking with her an avalanche of papers. She'd then get up, shake, and strut off as if saying "no-one saw that, did they?"

Amy and my daughter became bosom buddies. When I'd go into Katie's room at night to read to her, Amy would follow and jump onto the bed, purring like a finely tuned sports car. It was as if I were reading to them both.

Nobody who came into the house could ignore Amy. She'd jump up onto our dining room table and proceed to lie down on anything they had brought with them. She loved to crawl into boxes of papers my accounting clients brought with them. And my assistant, Ronda's laptop carrier-that was a truely beloved spot to hide!

Typical Amy squishing her pudgy self into a tiny space

As Amy matured she really became a pretty cat, with long mottled orange, amber and white hair and sporting the stripes of a tabby within her calico coloring. Her big eyes expressed her amusement with life, and her long eye lashes made her irresistible.

Sadly this past labor day weekend, it seems Amy slipped out of our lives. We're not sure what happened. We always brought Amy in each night. I used to jokingly call her "coyote bait as she is so happy go lucky and totally unaware that danger could lurk around the next corner. I can envision her now strutting up to a coyote and saying "Hi, I'm Amy". Sadly that vision may have come true. One evening she was here and then the next morning her presence was missed. We think she must have slipped outside unbeknownst to us.

We have posted fliers around town, at the schools and put them in mailboxes. I asked the mailman to keep a lookout for her as well as all the neighbors. I've walked our acreage and all the adjoining parcels, and nary a hair to be seen. I've looked up every tree and crawled under anything that a cat could possibly use as a hidey hole. The shelter and local vets have been alerted to her loss and an ad placed on craigslist and in the weekly newspaper. It seems that she's disappeared without a trace.

On one of the days shortly after she disappeared, my husband (not a cat lover) told me "It's just a cat" -he's lucky I didn't divorce him on the spot. More false words have never been spoken. Amy truly was not "just a cat".

I keep hoping to her scolding "mrow" in the morning, telling me off for leaving her out so long, but alas, each morning there is silence. I look out on the back porch where she'd pat at the door knob wishing she had thumbs, but there is no Amy there. I beg the phone to ring with someone saying they have her. As each day passes my hopes fade a little more but they won't die. Just today I was reading on Google about a cat that was found in NY city 5 years after it had disappeared from it's home in Broomfield, Colorado. Can you imagine that? The cat was 1600 miles from home, if only it could tell it's story, what a tale it could tell! Truly inspirational.

We've only had Amy just shy of 3 years, but how she has woven her little self into my daughter and my hearts (and Annies too). Amy wherever you are, you are very missed, I truly hope there are more snuggles in our future.

Friday, September 2, 2011

How Quickly they Grow

I was just out taking pictures of our not-so-little-anymore ram lamb as requested by his new owner. It's amazing how quickly they grow. Here he is:

And this is our ram lamb we purchased in April. I just love this guys expression -he has the sweetest face.

And this is Jasper now about 8 months old. He's pretty good with the sheep -he just has one he can't resist "playing" with. We work on that daily. Next step will be chickens...that'll be fun!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Stain Removal Tips

It seems I'm forever running to my computer to google how to remove stains from clothing so I've decided to create my own post which I will add to over time so I have one place to look-up how to remove (insert stain of choice). Many of these stains will be the kind that all good homesteaders run in to in daily life.

  • Acrylic Paint: Pour rubbing alcohol on the paint.  It will dissolve the acrylic. 

  • Berry Stains-for stains from berries of all kinds (I've tried on blackberry, strawberry and blueberry stins): Boil water and pour over stain -watch stain disappear before your eyes!
  • Blood -pour hydrogen peroxide on stain, rinse with cold water.
  • Iodine-Rubbing alcohol will remove it from your skin. For linens, rub the stained area with a slice of lemon. To remove iodine from cotton or linen, cover with a soft paste of mustard mixed with water and let stand for a few hours. (My sources don't say what kind of mustard to use-if you know please post a comment!)
  • Tomato Stains:
    1. Working from the back of the stain, flush with cold water.
    2. Pretreat with a liquid laundry detergent, tamp the stain, and let stand for several minutes.
    3. Rinse well.
    4. Sponge with white vinegar.
    5. Rinse well.
    6. Repeat Steps 2 to 5 until you have removed as much stain as possible.
    7. Pretreat with a prewash stain remover.
    8. Launder.
    9. If the stain remains, rub with a liquid laundry detergent, and then soak in warm water for up to 30 minutes.
    10. Launder with fabric-appropriate bleach, if necessary.

For all stains, once stain has been lifted, wash garment straight away as usual. Here's a link to a great site on stain removal: Stain Removal Guide

Homemade Upholstery Cleaner:

1 cup of warm water
1/4 cup of dish detergent
Whip it in your mixe

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lemon Aid

I've been wanting a Meyer Lemon tree for a while now. I saw some earlier this year at the big home improvement stores and passed them by thinking I could
  1. get better looking specimens and;
  2. get a better deal ( Iremembered the year before seeing large trees lined up at 1/2 price at Lowes)
They then sold out and much to my dismay I couldn't find any others. I sure was kicking myself.

Then I decided to get proactive and started calling the many small nurseries around here and much to my delight the closest nursery had one Meyer Lemon tree and it was 50% off because they were closing for the summer that weekend. I scooted over there and acquired my Lemon Tree - a great specimen. It's about 5 feet tall with one branch that towers about 7 feet high (I'll probably prune that branch). I was so happy to get such a nice tree and it was only $30.00!

That's where the happy story ends and despair sets in.

I got it home and then had to decide where to put it. I put it on the South side of our house figuring it would get lots of sunlight -which it did but the winds were knocking it all about and I feared all the fruit would get blown off so I moved it to the North side in a sheltered corner.

I've been blogging about my war with pests this summer. I had always thought that citrus was a bit of a natural repellent . How wrong I was. After a few days I found some leaves curled up and some kind of bug hiding within, so I drenched the tree in insecticide soap. I was vigilant in spraying it every couple of days with the soap.

Despite vigilant spraying, I found mealy bugs and aphids and grasshoppers on the tree. And to make matters worse it began dropping leaves and the remaining leaves were turning yellow. I fear I over watered it. I felt horrible -the tree was gorgeous when I got it and after it came home it was subjected to about every torture imaginable.

I decided to move my tree to the other side of the house where it would get more sunlight. I also started using a moisture meter to gauge soil moisture. I watered much less frequently which I found disturbing considering every day the temperatures are over 100. Still the tree declined. Then the grasshoppers attacked in full force. One day it was just a poor tree that had been over watered, the next it was stripped of most of its leaves and even some bark. I couldn't believe the damage.
Grasshopper damage to bark

Major intervention was in order. I decided I didn't care about organic care at this point, the grasshoppers had to go. I went to Home Depot and browsed their shelves. I was disappointed that there wasn't anything other then Sevin which even listed grasshoppers as a victim. I have Tempo in the storage shed -that will kill everything but I'm not using that in my garden. I came home empty handed and disappointed that I was still without grasshopper killer. I then stewed on it some more and opted to not succumb to non-organics. Since the Lemon tree is in a pot, I chose to bring it inside where I know I can at least keep the grasshoppers off of it.

I purchased some Alaska Fish fertilizer in hopes that some good natural fertilizer my help my struggling tree. I mixed it up as per directions and oh my. This stuff stinks. The label says it is "deodorized with wintergreen oil". Who are they trying to fool? It reaks. You know it smells disgusting when no sooner had I watered my plant with it then my dogs were fervently trying to get in the pot and dig and eat up the dirt. Great now I have to contend with them digging up the plant. I shooed the dogs off and told them they were gross.

Poor Bedraggled Tree Prior Prior to Repotting

I was still concerned about the pot size so I chose to repot the tree this week. It was in a 3 gallon container so I thought an up size to a 5 gallon would suffice, along with a well draining media. After a lot of reading I figured a gritty mix would be good for the lemon tree. Here is the "recipe" for the gritty mix I made:

Gritty Mix

3 parts pine or fir bark fines
3 parts Turface MVP (or equal)
3 parts crushed granite (turkey or chicken grit - not crushed shellfish)
1 part vermiculite
1 part coarse silica sand
1 tbsp gypsum/gardening lime gallon of soil (1/2 cup per cu ft)
if you use gypsum instead of lime, add 1/8 tsp Epsom salts/gallon of water each time you fertilize

I wasn't able to purchase any pine bark fines so pine mulch and some pine nuggets I had on hand had to suffice -I just pulled the large pieces out of the mix. I was able to buy chicken grit at the local feed store by the pound so wasn't stuck with a 25# bag to use up. And turface isn't carried in most of my local stores so I opted for "Oil-Dri" which is very similar.

Materials for Gritty Mix

I mixed up my planting media and then dumped out my lemon tree. The roots do not look healthy -they were in a tight ball and there certainly aren't many healthy looking white roots spreading out from the ball. I broke up the ball somewhat and put the tree in the 5 gallon pot -it barely had any extra room around the edges. This size pot wasn't going to work. I went to our shed and of course I didn't have anything bigger. Now what. I looked around and decided that my container blueberries which have been struggling didn't need a pot as big as they have and they were very unceremoniously dumped out and the lemon put in their pot in place. It is a perfect size. The roots have room to spread but the container is still quite movable.
Close Up of Gritty Mix

So the lemon tree is now replanted. I still have it in my "mud-room" which has a sunny east facing window. Each day I check the plant for new growth. I haven't seen any yet but it was just Thursday that I re-potted. I should sacrifice the lemons that are still clinging to the tree and allow the tree to nourish it's trunk and leaves rather than the fruit but it seems such a shame to lose them now. I will watch a little more and if I don't see new growth shortly, they will be picked off.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Texas 4-H Dog Show

Katie and I had the pleasure of going to the Texas 4-H dog show in Belton this weekend. It was a wonderful experience all around, very well organized, lots of great Kids and of course loads of dogs of every shape and size!

Katie was the only competitor from our county, Cooke. She competed in just about everything (rally,tricks, obedience, costume, conformation, showmanship, photography and agility!). I was very proud of how well she did and how well she handled the ups and downs of showing. Her low was when Diva wouldn't potty no matter how much she walked her and then pooped in the obedience ring. Her high...I'm actually not sure what her high was, there were many. I think I was proudest of her 2nd place in the tricks class as there she was competing with kids of all ages including seniors, and she trained her dog herself! Each competitor had to perform 3 tricks with their dogs. Katie and Diva did weave through legs, skateboarding and pushing a ball with her nose (the dog pushed the ball not Katie!).

My favorite class was the costume class. This had to be the best costume class I've ever seen. The kids were allowed props and it was obvious a lot of thought went into the design of the outfits and props.

Katie and Diva ready for the costume class

Unfortunately I didn'tget many photographs as I was a volunteer and was kept very busy working!

Getting Diva Ready for Mixed Breed Confirmation

Katie and Annie getting 1st Place in Novice Showmanship

Monday, July 4, 2011

Crunchy Grass

It's the fourth of July but it sure doesn't look like it outside. It looks like late August. The grass is brittle and dry and crunches under foot. The grasshoppers have chewed the leaves off of much of the garden as well as the surrounding weeds. The cicadas are singing at nine in the morning and in the evenings, their noise is deafening . The only green spots in the yard is where hose ends meet, the little area where I dump the dogs wading water every couple of days and around the pool where I didn't quite tighten a pump top properly. That's it. The rest is just plain crunchy. And brown.

Looking like August

And it's dusty. I vacuumed much of yesterday. At 9:00 pm when I was cooking supper I still had to grab a dustpan and sweep the grit up from under my feet.

The weatherman hasn't promised us any relief. One website's headline is "Crazy Hot in Texas". They got that right. Many Texas cities have broken daily high records, not just once but several times. The USDA has finally declared Texas a disaster area allowing for many farmers who've experienced wildfires and drought devastation to seek some much needed aid. And June 2011 will go down as the third (or fourth depending on whose stats you look at) hottest June in history, with the two prior years following right on their heels. That means three of the hottest Junes in Texas history have occurred in the last three years. And I thought I was just becoming intolerant! Highs were 90 plus every day of June with four of them over 100. This weeks forecast is over 100 until Friday when we'll be treated to a cold front...a high of 97!

Happily our little homestead isn't suffering nearly as much as others. We did loose a chicken the other day and I imagine the heat played a large part in her demise. She was fine one day and then was looking poor on Saturday morning, just making tiny "uck uck" sounds instead of full throttle clucks. Saturday evening, she was gone. The sheep are going to have to start eating hay, and I'm sure the horses that are in the pasture that usually carries them almost right through the summer will soon be on hay too.

And of course the garden isn't doing so well. The grasshoppers have pretty much devoured the vegetable garden (even the egyptian onion tops have been mowed down to the soil). The flowering plants that have been so valiantly growing despite the heat are beginning to droop.

Obedient Plants wilted at 8:00 am

There is a bright spot within the garden. For several years I've been trying to get a plant called "Poliomintha Longiflora" or "Mexican Oregano". I was successful this year and planted one in May. It has rewarded me with blooms since planting. It is literally covered and has been since I planted it. A plant well worth planting! I hope to take cuttings off of this beauty just in case it meets some untimely demise.

A close up of the poliomintha longiflora flowers

Pardon me for not deadheading first, here's the whole plant!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 Year of the Rabbit, I think not!

This is supposed to be the year of the rabbit. But then again this is from a Chinese Zodiac calendar, not a Texas calendar. I do believe that if we were going by the Texas Zodiac Calendar you'd find that this is the year of the Pest!

Not until I stopped and really looked around myself, did I realize just how bad the pests are this year.

The Ants: The first battle I waged was about a month ago was with ants. Every day I'd find a steady stream milling about on my desk. And if I left a glass of water or an empty juice was ANT Partayyy!

I put an end to their capers with my bottle of Orange Guard but unfortunately though that stopped the ones already on my desk, it didn't stop the search parties that came looking for their brethren. Right outside my office window was a huge prickly pear which I was in the midst of removing. I could finally get in behind it to see if I could find the source of the ants and I did find a trail. I sprayed those with my Orange Guard and my problem was no more.

Squash Bugs: I've already posted about finding these pests in my gardens (link to previous post) . Be forewarned: Do not and I repeat do not give them a chance to get the upper hand! These garden pests won their battle with me. I believe I discovered their presence once too much damage had been done. So if your little squash plants suddenly start wilting, inspect them closely for these pests.

Houseflies: Living on my farm I'm used to having flies in the house, it's a part of life and I put up with it. I keep a fly swatter handy and go on fly killing rampages from time to time and that takes care of it. I don't use any fly sprays as I have a Hahns Macaw in the house and birds are particularly sensitive to pesticides.

This year the house flies are just plain ridiculous. My swatter can't keep up. Swatting flies is now an actual chore I've assigned to my DD. We literally swat scores each day only to awake to double the reinforcement troops. I'm so tempted to vacate the house and spray...

Fleas: Each Spring my dogs usually pick up a flea or two. Annie and Selena must be allergic to them because if they have just one flea on their body you know about it. They practically tear their skin off with the scratching. I had to start the spot-on applications unusually early this year . I also have to repeat them much sooner than I normally do ( I can usually get at least a month between treatments but I've already done them at least 4 times and it's only the end of June!

Ticks: Ticks are the new pest on the block and I'd really like them to leave. Over the years I might have found maybe one tick a year on the dogs, they really haven't been a problem. Ticks are supposed to like moist ground so what gives? We're experiencing the 3rd driest summer on record and were just pronounced a disaster area by the USDA because it's so dry, so why are these pests surfacing this year? I think it's because it's the year of the pest.

If I hadn't just put Advantage on the dogs last week, I'd just buy a flea/tick spot-on product -but I really hate to double up on the poisons. It's bad enough putting it on every 3 weeks let alone twice within a week. Yesterday I picked off about 1/2 a dozen of these pests off of my dogs. They really gross me out and with the all the diseases they carry they need to leave-now.

Yesterday I searched for organic tick remedies. I found quite a few. The one I made follows. I chose it because it's the simplest and I had all the ingredients on hand and wouldn't leave the dogs stinky and greasy:

Homemade Tick Repellent:

2 cups of water
20-25 drops of peppermint essential oil.

Mix well together and spray on.

I put some on the dogs yesterday and they did smell lovely! I can't smell it on them today so I imagine it needs to be reapplied fairly often.

Another herbal remedy I will be trying for repelling ticks is Rose Geranium Oil and its sister oil Palmerosa . I didn't have any of this oil on hand to try it straight away but it does sound promising. Supposedly just a few drops on the dogs collar is supposed to repel them. Here's the recipe for making this repellent:

2 TBSP vegetable or nut oil (almond oil contains sulfur, a repellent itself)
10-25 drops of Rose Geranium Oil (or Palmerosa Oil)
Combine in a glass jar. Shake to blend. Makes 2 tablespoons. Shelf life: 6 months.
Application: Dab a few drops on skin or clothing making sure to avoid eyes.

GRASSHOPPERS: I battle these guys each year but this year all I can say is Wow. I didn't realize just how many there are out there until I actually really opened my eyes and looked. My butterfly bush is covered with them and I mean covered -scores of them on one single plant. My remedy of choice is to squish them, but these guys are smart. I've never seen such fast grasshoppers, catching them is a feat unto itself. Annie, my dog helps as much as she can as she considers them a delicacy but her stellar efforts don't even make a minuscule dent in their populations. I've starting free ranging my hens but they haven't quite grasped the principal of foraging for themselves yet. I found a recommendation for a product called "NOLO" or "Semaspore" which is organic and takes down the larvae of the grasshoppers -it isn't a miracle solution but it allegedly it will reduce your grasshopper populations overs time. I intend to try it
It's trying to get me!

Mealybugs: I'd say these guys were cute if they didn't devour my plants. I saw my first mealybugs on my brand new Meyer Lemon tree. They are little white fluff balls - I wish I'd taken a picture of them before squishing them and spraying the tree.

Aphids: I thought I'd finished this post but another pest while watering my meyer lemon. I haven't yet ID'd it but I'm sure it's part of the aphid family. It posed before I zapped it with my insect soap.
Can any of you ID this pest?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Chicken Run

Egg white and chocolate our two game chickens given to us in April seem to be what I call "welfare" chickens. I've nicknamed them "Useless" and "Useless Too". Why do I talk about them like this you wonder?

Well I got these chickens as laying hens. All seemed OK -not great the first couple of weeks. They laid about 6 eggs in two weeks -not super laying numbers by any means but I figured they needed to settle in and get used to life at our farm.

Then they stopped laying. I blamed it on their quarters, we hadn't finished their chicken tractor yet and had to use a dog x-pen and dog carrier as their temporary home for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile we had some hard rains and the chickens got wet. I wasn't about to blame them for not laying under those conditions.

Then they moved to their new chicken tractor and still they didn't lay. But I gave them the benefit of the doubt- afterall they had moved twice in less than a month. Finally we found an egg or two in the tractor and we thought all was well.

Then things heated up in Texas. It seems these chickens don't lay when the temps are above 90 degrees nor do they lay when it storms. In Texas conditions are either stormy or hot or both about 75% of the time. I won't be counting on these two chickens for my egg needs much longer.

I was going to put an ad on Craigslist offering two free game chickens (my dd would never forgive me if we ate her first chickens), but then I had an idea! I've been battling bugs and pests in my gardens as I do every summer -what better to demolish the grasshopper population then a couple of chickens?

This morning I opened the coop. Chocolate instantly took off running (her wing feathers haven't grown back in sufficiently to fly). She ducked under the horse fence and kept on running. Wild thing. I figured she was gone forever. Egg White meanwhile came out and wandered around, then ducked through the electric fence pen where the sheep are. I didn't think anything of it until an hour or so later, when I look out to see Jasper, the pyreness puppy chasing her. She beat a hasty retreat under the fence and then hung out for the afternoon. I think Jasper was only trying to play but he could have killed her in a heartbeat if he had got hold of her.

I just went to put Egg White back in the coop and thought I should at least make an effort to find Chocolate. I looked into the horse field and there she was poking about. I climbed the fence into the pasture and maneuvered past where she was and then approached her. She took off to hide under some Cedar bush. I grabbed a stick intending to beat the bushes, but then the horses came to investigate what the commotion was about. They scared her out and she took off running toward the fence and the coop on the other side. She ran along the fence line looking for a spot she could duck under and found one, only to find Jasper on the other side. He didn't do much but she took off in the other direction-right towards the coop. She ducked through the fence and jumped into the coop.

With a grin I closed the coop door and thought Day one free ranging done! I wonder how day two will go?

Safely back in the coop for the night

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Garden Bounty or not...

This year I planted: Squash, Zucchini, Cucumber, Eggplant, 3 Varieties of Tomatoes, Fingerling Potatoes, White Onions, Walking Onions and Potato Onions.

I am sad to report that despite my valiant attempts to save them, the squash, zucchini and cucumber have all succumbed to the squash bugs.

It's too hot for the tomatoes to set -and according to Neil Sperry many gardeners in North Texas are suffering the same fate with their tomatoes. At least I'm in good company.

I will be harvesting the fingerling potatoes next week -it looks like the plants are succumbing to the heat. I'm trying the bucket method with them and just used store bought potatoes as my starts. The plants have grown well but I'm not sure what's happening below!

My harvest this week consisted of about 2.5 #s of Eggplant, 4 cherry tomatoes and not quite 2 #'s of onions. The onions were a disappointment considering I planted about 50 sets. The eggplant is doing well. It loves hot weather and there is no lack of that. I'm worried the squash bugs will attack it now that they have run out of actual squash plants to eat. Something has been actively chewing it's leaves but so far it's withstanding the assault.

Eggplant Harvest-they not the most beautiful specimens but hopefully they will make good eggplant ziti

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Things are heating more ways than one...

It's only the middle of June but it's hot here in North Texas and has been hot for a while now. Yesterday the thermometer finally stopped rising at 94 degrees and with humidity of 67% felt even hotter. More of the same is expected today and tomorrow and the day after that.... Even the evenings can't be called cool anymore with lows of around 75.

I've been managing to keep my gardens watered as I'm bound bent to get some kind of vegetable crop this year after having very dismal results last year. In 2010, I planted tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, beans, peppers and eggplant and my only yield was some end of the season peppers and some kind of squash hybrid I called "pumpaloupe" (this was an accident -it self-seeded, I thought it was a pumpkin but as time went by I could tell it wasn't a pumpkin but some kind of "mutt" plant).

"The Pumpaloupe"

For 2011 I have planted tomatoes (super sioux, some kind of zebra, and mexican midget), eggplant (black moon hybrid) , onions, egyptian onions, and from seed I started green zucchini, butternut squash and cucumber. I did attempt broccoli and spinach but the seedlings perished quickly once planted outside.

To date my results again have been less than stellar. Last year some kind of bug ate most of my seedlings before they were able to get well started so this year I have been much more diligent about spraying with insectide soap. Yes still the seedlings haven't really taken a hold. They start growing, start to look promising then shrivel up.

Today I had had enough. I choose these crops because they are supposed to LIKE the heat. I've watered. I've sprayed. I've fertilized yet still they won't grow? I decided to do a closer inspection and By George I think I've found the culprit.

Here are some photos of what I found on my pathetic zucchini plant today:

An adult squash bug

A baby squash bug

Squash Bug Eggs

Hiding in the tomato leaves...

Who's been eating me?

After a morning of research, I have concluded that it is squash bugs that are bringing my squash family of plants down and perhaps even getting my tomato plants. These innocuous pests suck sap from the plants, causing leaves to wilt and collapse, exactly the fate of my plants! I found an organic recipe (orginally from Organic Gardening) that is supposedly effective against squash bugs:

Organic Bug Soap

Two cups water
One cup rubbing alcohol
One tablespoon neem oil (or veg oil)
One tablespoon liquid soap (like Dr Bronners, not dish detergent)
25-30 drops of mint oil or cinnamon oil (or both).

Shake well and spray on bugs with a hand sprayer (not a hose). This will kill all bugs and caterpillars upon contact, even Japanese beetles and grasshoppers.

The battle is heating up, this round goes to the gardener!

These have been spared, it looks like I'll get to enjoy some eggplant

Something has even been nibbling the tops of my walking onions. I sprayed them today but will be keeping a vigilant eye on them this week. Bugs beware...the war is on!

This is almost the entire 2011 Onion Harvest (I have a couple bulbs left growing). Not very impressive. An entire bunch of slips resulted in this? But better than the zero onions that grew last year!