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Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Three nights ago I had seen our two cats hanging around and didn’t worry too much about bringing them in because I still needed to be working in my office (also known as their bedroom) and they aren’t terribly helpful when I’m typing.  I walked past the back porch door, where my big male cat was seemingly relaxing.  He caught a glimpse of me out of the corner of his eye and jumped up, running over to put his paws on the door.  That’s not like him, so I opened the door quickly.  As he dashed in, I heard what he was fleeing.  From the woods, just beyond the cleared area of the property came a howl, then another, then another, then a cascade of answering howls and yips.  Coyotes.

My breath caught.  Where was Tucker’s sister?  She had been here a little while ago–had she strayed too close to where the coyotes were hiding?  Had they caught her, and I was hearing their frenzy over their excitement at a meal?  They do that: signal when they’ve caught something.

I grabbed the flashlight and tore around the exterior of the house, looking all around for her and calling, with the coyotes yipping every time I called and whistled.  I said a quick prayer that my girl was okay and paused under the big oak next to our back porch.  As I stood there, trying to figure out what I should do next, I felt bark bits falling on me and then heard scrambling claws.  My girl was up the tree, waiting until I was directly below it to scoop her up before she would come down.  Was it one of the fawns that the pack captured and would devour?  I hoped not, but they certainly were onto something.

As you probably know, I like most of the wildlife around here, but I can do without the ‘coons and coyotes.  I’m not the kind of person who wants every coyote dead, but I sure as heck don’t like it when they’re on my doorstep.  My girl is usually too much of a homebody to get caught out by the coyotes unless they get really close, but on several occasions my big boy has gotten caught behind enemy lines.  He’ll come home in the wee hours of the morning, a hunted look in his eyes, bark and twigs all over his belly, as if he spent a lot of time in trees.  Typically too on those nights he’ll come from what I think of as the “wrong” direction, as if he had to circumvent what we call around here “the mean dogs” and the “evil yippers.”

I’ve listened each of the past nights since the pack was so close and heard nothing, not even an answering cry to my attempt at a howl.  This morning, though, a gray canine that looked too big to be a fox but too small to be a full-grown coyote stood at the back of the cleared area of the property.  If it’s a fox, no big deal; my cats chase those.  If it’s a coyote pup, it’s a a big problem, because the pack can’t be far away.

I often read about how people should never let their pets outside, how they are happier and healthier inside.  I also read about how neutering a male cat will stop him from wandering.  Tucker is “fixed,” but he still has an amazing sense of adventure.  A couple of years ago we put a pet camera on Tucker’s collar.  He’s big enough that he can wear the device, which was basically designed for a good-sized dog.  Seeing the pictures he took–every 15 minutes for more than 8 hours–was fascinating.  We’re surrounded by about 400 acres of undeveloped space, and I’m betting that Tucker knows a good portion of that acreage.  On the average day wearing the pet cam, Tucker ranged about two miles, climbing hills with an increase of 800 feet in elevation, crossing creeks, and visiting at least one cat about a mile from here, who peered into the camera as it flashed below Tucker’s neck.  We can’t protect him when he roams, but I can imagine how unhappy he would be without his range.  And he turns himself in every night–except for those when he gets trapped behind enemy lines.  All I can do those nights is pray that he’s found himself a safe spot and that he’ll hang tight until the pack loses interest. I don’t sleep well until both of my babies are inside.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.

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Our seemingly endless summer really is coming to an end.  Our oak leaves dropped a couple of weeks ago from the heat, lending a fallish scent, but we knew that they were not presaging fall, just yielding to our hot, dry weather.  Better evidence of the coming fall is the parade of animals through our yard, trying to fatten up for winter.  Days are still in the 90s here, but the past few mornings we’ve dipped below 70 degrees F.  This morning it was 55 degrees F when I got up.  It was bliss.  We’ve been sleeping with the windows open and feeling the need to snuggle under a blanket in the wee hours before dawn instead of sweltering without even a cotton sheet like we have been for most of the summer.

Along with these early signs of fall, we’ve seen “our” wildlife return from their summer retreats.  While one doe and fawn have visited regularly since July, this evening we had almost the whole herd of deer back to see what had fallen under the apple tree.  Last night, I found a big, fat raccoon on the porch.  I scared it off, as I see nothing good that can come from having coons around.  Tonight I surprised an armadillo, and bark rained down on me as another critter–I’m guessing possum or coon–escaped up an oak tree.

All of this relatively cooler weather is inspiring me for fall planting.  I hope to get in some seeds for lettuce and related greens.  I started craving turnips today, so I’ll put in some of those too.  And I’ll definitely start some cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, preparing to cover them before they produce, in case of early frost.

Have you seen signs of fall?

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Readers from the winter and earlier know that a herd of deer lives in the woods around our homestead and visit us regularly.  (If you haven’t met last year’s fawns yet, you really may enjoy clicking on the link above.) During the summer, they munch on our grapevine and whatever greens we let grow outside our deer fence as well as the green grass that grows over the septic outflow.  They really like our two old apple trees, which drop apples all summer long.  And they visit the creek.

A few days after we got back from our big Grand Canyon adventure, I looked outside and spotted a familiar doe–she has beige almond-shaped markings around her eyes and was the mother of the single fawn last year.  She has a new fawn!  This doe is not the one that lets me get close to her babies, but she did let me take a few pictures from a distance.  I hope she’ll let me get closer as the fawn grows, so you can see more of our dear deer.Yes, our yard and trees really need water!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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Hot:  the three letters should speak for themselves. Our thermometer was registering 103 degrees F in the shade by noon.  It showed 108 degrees F (again, in the shade) before the day was over.  I think it could be off a few degrees, but even if it is, temperatures have been running ten degrees F  or more over normal for days, with little relief in site.  We’ve had one measurable rain since mid June.  It’s miserable.  We’re losing trees.  We’re losing plants that are supposed to be able to take the heat.

I remember back in the 1970s when scientists said we were heading into a mini ice age.  Then came the acceleration of global warming, to nullify the effects of other cyclical climate change.  Does anyone else remember the summer of 1988?  I was in Boston, where we had week after week in the high 90s with no air conditioning for relief.  We ran from sprinkler to sprinkler, sought out fountains, and even, um, “borrowed” a crew van and skinny dipped in Walden Pond, all to try to cool down.  That year was one of more than a dozen record breakers since then, with each one signaling scientists to look more closely at climate data.  And despite a few bad apples among global warming scientists who complained about critics and tried to figure out over now-public email how to discredit them, the science that indicates global warming is real is now overwhelming.  It’s warming, and some of the blame can be found in our lifestyles.

Have you noticed higher temperatures, earlier springs, later falls, or other possible signs of climate change at your homes?  How are these changes impacting your family? your garden?  your animals?  your budget?  Do you see signs that seem to discredit global warming?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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Regular readers know that I suffered catastrophic garden losses thanks to a house/cat/garden sitter who did a great job with two out of three.  I’m pleased to report, though, that courtesy of the pre-soaking (and sometimes pre-sprouting) technique, I’ve got butter peas, summer squash of several varieties, cucumbers (Armenian and a pickling cucumber), and okra all peeping out of the earth, facing the scorching temperatures bravely.  A bunch of different basils successfully sprouted too, as did some volunteer radishes.  I hope that winter squash will emerge soon to join all of the other garden babies.  I’m watering all of my seedlings daily, in hopes that our record-high temperatures will break soon.  It was too late for re-planting the dozens of peppers I lost, but everything else is pretty well on track.

My tomatoes were better prepared for abuse than everything else, having not only been planted extra-deep but also having thick mulch and soaker hoses.  They are doing really well, especially my Principe Borghese sun-drying tomatoes.  I have an Excalibur dehydrator on its way to the homestead now to process these little ruby gems into chewy, almost smoky intensely tomato-y dried treats for winter and spring.  I hope our apples continue to grow, as it looks like we’ll have plenty of those for drying as well as for savory jelly and apple butter.

And we’ve still got some peppers, some eggplants, leeks, carrots, cabbages . . . and grand plans for fall plantings of more cool-season vegetables.

What’s growing in your garden?  What are you planning for fall in the garden?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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I got a much later start on my garden this year, thanks to surgery that kept me from picking up a shovel for several weeks.  I’m shovel-ready now, and, my stars! is it hot out there!  Still, with a break every hour or so (I’m on one now) I know that I’ll get the garden set in no time.  I also am removing the weeds that choked the garden in my absence, one section at a time with black tarp.  That too is sweat inducing as the heat radiates off the tarp, but it hurts the weeds more than me.

In a twisted way, I love the heat of a Southern summer.  I love getting in a car that’s been closed up, to feel the heat hit me like I’m climbing into an oven.  I guess it’s our version of a sauna, only we sweat everything out in the summer, not the winter.  I also know that the sweat of my brow will get me what I want:  homegrown, organic vegetables that are so fresh they go from garden to table in minutes.  And I take a shot of pickle juice when I get overheated, miraculously perking me up.

Right now while I am digging for summer, we’re savoring the harvest from our winter gardening.  We’ve been feasting on English peas, snow peas, cabbage, carrots, beets, radishes, broccoli, turnips, lettuce, mustard, and lots of over-wintered herbs.  It’s wonderful to sit down to a meal where all the veggies in the cole slaw came from a few feet from the kitchen window.  Unfortunately, all this digging means less time for writing here . . . .

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We’ve had more unseasonably cool weather.  Today the temperatures struggled to get out of the 50s F, when ordinarily we’d be at least 80 degrees F for the daytime high.  These cool temperatures make me rethink both kitchen and garden.  Tonight for dinner, for instance, I served up a variation on Thanksgiving, with my treasured frozen turkey stock enriching both dressing and gravy, chicken leg quarters roasted with rosemary and apple cider (see below), green beans with onions and crumb topping, and cranberries cooked with apple cider and maple sugar.  Ordinarily at this time of year, I wouldn’t be heating up the house with this much cooking, but the cool temperatures made it the frugal thing to do.  I worked on cleaning out the freezer at the same time.  And oh my stars, the whole house smells like rosemary and roasted poultry now!

In the garden temperatures like these make me wonder if I could plant another crop of lettuce.  I know it’s risky, so I content myself that if I cut off the heads of some leaf lettuce and they grow back, we’ll have more than enough lettuce until hot temps make that crop untenable.  I checked NOAA.  Are we in a La Nina pattern now?  I can’t tell.  La Nina could change all of my garden plans, bringing extended spring to Arkansas summer.

Weather is why agriculture has always been a gamble and always will be a gamble.  If you want to feed yourself (or a nation), you must always be prepared for the unexpected.

Roasted Rosemary Chicken Quarters

  • 2-3 chicken quarters, skin on
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 3-4 large sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 sweet onion, cut into slivers
  • 1/2-1 cup apple cider (or 1/2 cup cider vinegar and 1/2 cup cider if you want to make gravy–see option below involving potato flour and whole-grain pastry flour)

Preheat oven to 325-350 degrees F.  Salt and pepper the skin side of the chicken quarters.  Heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a cast iron pan (with lid!) that’s big enough to hold your leg quarters, tightly.  Brown the skin side of each quarter over medium-high heat, salting and peppering the non-skin side as you brown the other side.  When the quarters are browned, turn off the heat, put the quarters non-skin side down on top of the rosemary sprigs.  Spread the onions on top.  Pour on the apple juice (and cider, if you want), and put on the lid.  Bake for about an hour.  The recipe is so simple, but the flavor and moisture in the chicken could not be much simpler.

Gravy Option

If you want to make gravy with what’s in the pan, toss 1 tablespoon potato flour with about 1 tablespoon whole-wheat pastry flour with the onion slivers before you put them on the chicken.  Toss on the flour mixture with the onions.  When you pour on the cider, be sure to pour it over the onions, so that you moisten the flour.  By the time you get done cooking, you’ll have gravy.  Seriously, the gravy really is going to make itself.

By the way, this chicken works really well in a Dutch oven for camping!  I won a Dutch-oven cookoff last fall with a similar recipe.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  All rights reserved.

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