The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Pig Tales, Volume 3

Even though Frank and I are still a little cautious around the pigs, they have become a welcome addition to our homestead. I am very pleased with the demeanor of our American Guinea Hogs. They have some little quirks that we are slowly trying to shape more to our liking, though. Like taking the end of our shoes in their mouth when we enter the pasture. I still haven't figured out if it is a greeting or a taste test. Either way, I really don't like it. I keep picturing Lance, full grown at around 200 pounds wanting to 'taste test' my shoe. With my foot in it. I really don't relish that idea at all.
 
Lance

Then there is Liberty. She like to run right behind me when I am walking to the feed pan, and bump my back foot as I pick it up to take the next step. I also picture her full grown around 180 pounds. She could easily trip me and make me fall. On the ground is somewhere I do not want to be in a pig pen.
Liberty

Then this evening when Frank went in the pasture to feed the pigs, one of the barrows bit the back of this leg. That didn't go over too well, and he received a correction with a shoe. This is one behavior that will not be tolerated. We need to be able to go into the pasture without the risk or fear of being bit. We don't want to raise pigs with unacceptable behavior due to our ignorance of normal pig behavior since we haven't raised them before. There is still a lot to learn.

When I went to the pig pasture to take pictures for this article, the pigs were down at the pond. I was hoping they would be. The first one surprised me by coming up over the pond bank. One by one they all came over to see me expecting to be fed, even though I have never fed them in this location. It's just that most of the time when they see me it is feeding time. It took them a while to figure out that there was no food forthcoming.

 









What the pigs showed me were the trails they have created through the tall grass and weeds around the pond. Some are right at the edge of the water and some are farther out into the vegetation.

I was pleasantly surprised when one of the trails took me right past these beautiful flowers. Does anyone know what this is? All I know is that it is a three foot tall weed that I truly enjoyed. It is as close to blue as any flower I've seen.

After I made it around the pond to the far side the pigs lost interest in following me. That's when they showed me where their wallow is located. I don't think I would have ever figured it out if they hadn't shown me.




At first, the pigs would wallow on the west side of the pond closest to the barn, but there wasn't any shade. Now they have found shade on the south side of the pond in the form of these tall, grassy weeds. Pretty smart if you ask me. The water is shallow there, and the grass provides the shade they need. 


The pigs are now 4 1/2 months old, and growing nicely. Most pigs would be much bigger than these by now, but since our pigs will only reach about 200 pounds, they are doing well. According to everything we've read and the folks we've talked to, Liberty should be coming into heat in about a month and a half. I hope they all get along during that time since we are not planning on separating them until she is ready to farrow.


Our biggest fear in getting the pigs was that they would get out. That hasn't happened and they don't seem inclined to even try as far as we know. They are comfortable with their territory and seem to get around quite well. I don't think they will ever run out of things to eat. This pasture could hold many more pigs, but we don't plan on having more than one breeding pair, with two to four barrows on the hoof awaiting the dinner table. There will be piglets around from time to time, but we will sell the extras when they are eight weeks old and ready to wean.

Liberty

Lance

Having piglets will be the next big step for us. If that goes well, I guess we will officially call ourselves pig farmers. And goat farmers. And chicken farmers. And vegetable farmers. I guess that makes us homesteaders. It's who we are. There's no place like home.

Until next time - Fern

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Show & Tell the Ham Way

Hi Everybody, Frank here.

As some of you are probably aware, I've been teaching a ham radio and survival communications class to some of the folks from my local, small town community. This has really been a fun time. It's caused me to dig a little deeper about radio information than I normally do, and it's given me the opportunity, when I didn't have a clue what the answer was, to refine my lying skills. Just kidding, of course. Kinda.


This is a group of adults, with one 16 year old young adult, two ladies and about 15 men. It's also a very diverse group with various occupations and perspectives about life. But one thing that most of us agree with in this group is that something is coming that is not necessarily going to be good. And that is interesting, because most of the people in this class I did not know before it started.


But back to the story. Last Tuesday evening I got to do show and tell. If you've forgotten what show and tell is, it's that major event when little kids bring something from home to school and talk about it. You know, show and tell. Well, I brought my little Jeep Liberty loaded down with assorted radio toys. My Jeep already has three antennas permanently mounted on it. One of them is the AM/FM radio antenna which gets very little use. Another one is a four foot CB antenna and the other one is a 40" VHF/UHF antenna. The last two are mounted on the rear of the vehicle where the hatch opens, on opposite sides.


I disconnected my CB and my VHF/UHF radios in the car, then rerouted the coax to the back of the vehicle, and used these two antennas during show and tell. But, I need power for these radios, so I took about a 10' piece of 14/2 speaker wire, put a power pole connector on each end, connected one end inside the vehicle to the power source where the original two radios were connected. I routed that power extension out the open hatch in the back. Now we have power at the rear of the vehicle, a CB antenna and a VHF/UHF antenna.


I borrowed a little individual student desk from the church hall where we've been holding our classes, and set up an HF radio and a VHF/UHF radio on this little desk. But I didn't want to use my CB antenna because it is rather limited. As part of the show and tell demonstration, I removed the 48" CB antenna and replaced it with the world famous 102" stainless steel whip antenna. This is the antenna that all others are judged by. The 102 is the one that the really cool cowboys have on their pick up trucks with their CB radios, and now, I was really cool, too. Why the 102? It's by far the best mobile CB antenna made, not the most expensive, but the best performing. So why doesn't everybody use it, you ask? Pray tell, not everyone can handle being cool. Or, maybe realistically, it's because it's 102" long, and it just doesn't fit in everybody's garage door. But the primary reason I used it is because CB is actually the 11 meter HF band, which is right between the 10 and 12 meter bands. With a good tuner, you can tune down to the 20 and 40 meter bands.


Well, we listened for a while on some of the HF bands, and we also listened to some shortwave frequencies. The radio we used to do this with is an ICOM IC-718 accompanied with a LDG IT-100 tuner. I purchased this radio used a couple of days earlier, cleaned it up, reprogrammed it, made some modifications and now it's ready to go. It's a no frills radio with solid performance. The LDG tuner is an excellent compliment to the radio.

Is the 102 the perfect antenna? It is for the CB bands, and it met the needs that evening for show and tell. But you ask, what about the
other radio? Well, the other radio was a VHF/UHF, commonly called a dual band radio. It was connected to the same power supply that ran from the front to the back of the vehicle. It was connected to my mobile antenna that I use everyday, which is a Comet CA 2x4 SR. It's not your everyday ham radio antenna, but it works great on the ham frequencies, and it also works great on the search and rescue frequencies which is what the SR stands for. The radio I was using is the same type I use everyday in my vehicle, but I didn't want to disconnect it, so I used my back up storage radio, which is also and Anytone AT-5888UV. It is not a ham radio, it is a commercial radio that works fine on the ham frequencies and the search and rescue frequencies. We did make contacts with a couple of outside stations and it was fun.

On hand that evening I also brought a VHF/UHF magnet mount antenna. This is the antenna that Fern and I first used on our vehicles. It's a good solid mobile antenna that is also made by Comet, model M-24. Due to time restraints, I did not hook up this antenna, but I did bring a hand held Wouxun dual band VHF/UHF and showed the group how you can connect this radio to the external antenna with an adapter, using what is called a 
battery eliminator that plugs into a cigar plug or power port. With a good microphone attached, and a little Velcro, you now have a solid performing, mobile, 5 watt, VHF/UHF, commercial radio that works on the ham bands, and also the search and rescue frequencies. This is the set up that Fern and I used when we started getting serious about longer distance communication. This set up worked quite well and it would still work quite well. For under $100 one can have an outside the vehicle antenna, which is a must for reliable distance communications, a radio, power supply, and Wa-la! you have communications. There are thousands of ham radio operators that use this type of set up for VHF/UHF. If you get the inclination, you can disconnect the radio from the outside antenna, remove the battery eliminator, insert the original battery, attach the original antenna, and you can now take your hand held radio for a walk. Life is good.


The overall demonstration that night went well. Sitting in a classroom and talking about something is one thing, but seeing it right there in front of you is the best teacher. I'm happy to say that show and tell went well. If some of the language in this article seems a little foreign to you, may I recommend you scoot over to the right hand side of this blog, and up toward the top you will find Frank's Radio Communications. Inside Frank's Radio Communications you will find many articles about radio communications. Some are about ham radio, but there are also articles about CB, GMRS, scanners, shortwave and other radio articles in general.

Ladies and gentlemen, teaching this class has been lots of fun. It's been very eye opening. If you want to learn how to communicate, you can do it too. Here in the near future you might want to have a different way to communicate besides what you depend on today. There is thunder just over the horizon. I would like to be able to quote Ronald Regan, but I can't, so I will paraphrase him. When the man from the government shows up at your door and says he is here to help, turn around and run. Ladies and gentlemen, that man is at the door. Don't get on the bus.

We'll talk more later, Frank

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Busy Time

Hi Everyone! We haven't forgotten you or the need for a new article, it's just that life is really busy right now. I have attended an all day training for a new computer program for the school district I contract with, and now I am preparing to train district personnel to use this new program. This is taking quite a bit of my time.

Frank is preparing for his radio class where he will be demonstrating the use of his ICOM 718, which is an HF rig, the VHF/UHF mobile unit in the car, as well as how to hook up an HT, handy talky, with an adapter to an external antenna. It's a little complicated to explain, but this demonstration will give his students some ideas about radio set up and operation. Maybe I can get a few pictures with no faces. Next week will be the last class and an opportunity for the students to take their licensing tests to become ham radio operators.



Anyway, life is good and busy, which isn't a bad thing. It keeps the mind young and encourages the body to keep up. Hope all is well in your neck of the woods. Be vigilant. The time for preparing will soon be past and you need to be ready.

Until next time - Fern

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Homestead News, Volume 7

There is not a lot going on here right now, just a little bit of this and a little bit of that. We have told you about many of our latest activities, so we thought we would give you a run down of our general, everyday homestead life. I waited until evening chores with the sun going down to take the pictures for this article. Just as we were wrapping up and I was going to take the last pictures of the pigs, the camera batteries died.

And speaking of pigs, our American Guinea Hogs are doing very well. They are pretty friendly, and now come running anytime they here one of us holler, "Come on pigs!" They know that means we are carrying a bucket with something good to eat. The contents of the bucket tend to vary
widely depending on what we're harvesting from the garden, whether we have whey from making cheese, or just getting rid of some older staples that have sat on the shelf for too long. I'm starting to eye the barrows and think of the future meat and lard they will provide. We really look forward to butchering one of them so we can see how they taste. Lance, the boar, and Liberty, the gilt, like to greet me in the morning with mud on their noses. They have become very adept at putting a nice big nose print smear on my jeans, especially if I have just put on a clean pair. I like to think they are just bumping me with their nose in greeting and not wiping their faces. What is it about pigs and shoes? Why does Lance think he needs to taste or try to bite my shoe when I go in there?

One Stripe. See it right there on her side?
We have been putting two of our does, One Stripe and Cricket, in the 'boys' pasture during the day for about a week. Cricket has fully recovered from the scours she had earlier in the month which prevented us from trying this a few weeks ago. Our temperatures have hovered just under or over 100* for a couple of weeks now, and we think that has, and will, prevent them from breeding. We had hopes for them to breed in July for December babies and a winter milk supply, but I just don't think that will happen. Next year I will breed two does in May for October babies. That will require the does to breed not long after they kid, but then we should be on a more even cycle of once a year again. We will see. It is a real challenge to keep ourselves in milk year round, but continues to be an important goal.

 





We are still picking tomatoes, green beans and cowpeas from the garden. The last of the squash plants have succumbed to the squash bugs, and I have already replanted a few hills. The pepper plants are finally growing well and starting to produce. I will pick a few jalapenos next week to make salsa. Tomatoes are filling up my crispers in the frig awaiting enough company to can salsa for the pantry shelves. We have been out for a while and have missed it. We eat a lot more salsa than canned tomatoes, so it will take first place in the canning process.

 











The cucumbers are gradually growing and starting to bloom quite a bit. There aren't many plants so I don't know how many pickles we can make. I'd like to ferment them, so it may be in individual jars. I'm just not sure how well they will keep on the pantry shelves. I'm still hesitant to leave them there instead of refrigerated. We only have one refrigerator, and no other cold storage for jars of fermented food, so I just don't know what to do. I've read that fermented veges will be fine on the shelf after they complete the fermenting process, but I don't trust that practice yet. Any advice you may have for me would be appreciated.

 









In our efforts to clear the weeds and grass from parts of the garden for fall crops, Frank used the disc on the tractor (like we showed you in a previous post). Well, today we went out to work on it again and Frank got a great idea. Instead of raking and removing the dead grass, he scraped it all together with the bucket on the tractor. It made quick work in the hot sun, instead of using a rake and wagon. That was one of those time and body saving ideas that really paid off. Now after one more session with the disc, the ground will be ready to plant. 


Work on the greenhouse and other slated projects will resume before long when our one man crew returns from vacation. Frank's list of things he wants to complete grows a few more items from time to time.

I continue to do contract work for the school district we both retired from, and with school starting before long, I will be more involved in that process than I have been for the past few months. I will be attending training on a new computer program that the state of Oklahoma is adopting, then spend a day at the school training the teachers how to use it as well.

Frank's Ham Radio & Survival Communications class is going very well. They have two more weeks of class before some of the members will be testing for their ham radio licenses. The local county emergency management office has arranged for Volunteer Examiners to come to the class location to administer the tests instead of the students having to go 60 miles to another testing session being offered by an area radio club. This is the first time the local Volunteer Examiners have administered a test in this area. The ARRL requires them to administer four test sessions before they will be recognized as a certified testing group. It's great that Frank's request for a local test session has lead this group to start up their own program.

Once the radio class is over, the real work will begin. There are several class members that want to set up towers or antenna poles to begin the process of creating a communication network in our area. This is the whole purpose of this class and we are excited to see the interest that is being expressed. Many of these folks know that there are hard times coming and want to be able to look out for each other when they arrive, and for that, we are truly grateful. So even though we expect the deterioration of our country and world to continue, it's comforting to know there are those that are willing to create a workable communication network in this area.
 
 





This morning we turned 16 of our eight week old hens out with the adult flock of birds. This gives the 17 or so young roosters more room in their pen to grow a few more weeks before they take up space in the freezer. We look forward to having fresh chicken again. We rationed out the last few from last year and are now out of chicken meat. 

 





The young batch of chicks are now a month old and will soon need both 'baby' pens to prevent overcrowding. We will be looking at the hens in this group of birds also to see which ones we want to keep. We plan to keep about 20 young hens to replace the current laying flock. We will also choose two young roosters. In about three or four months, the older bird will find their way into jars once the young hens start laying. Then the cycle will start once again.

Scruffy drinking fresh squeezed milk
 

The heat keeps us inside during the hot afternoons this time of year. Our busiest times outside have waned until the weather starts to cool in September. We will continue to work on our projects in the mornings, or when the heat allows. There is still so much to do, and we feel the time gets shorter everyday. 

Until next time - Fern

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Fine Art of Making Cottage Cheese

I started writing this post in June of 2013 and have yet to make a good, tasty batch of cottage cheese. Here is what I wrote back then.

"I have yet to be successful making cottage cheese. It is either more like ultra thick yogurt, tiny little curd crumbs or rubbery. Sound appetizing? Not, really. But.....I still want to be able to make it, so succeed or fail, I am going to try again and let you see how it goes. Who knows, maybe there is someone out there reading that knows how to do this and can help me out. That would be a real blessing.




This recipe calls for one gallon of whole milk, buttermilk and rennet. It is really a pretty simple process." 





I still have yet to make a good cottage cheese. I didn't even try for a year or so, since it never turned out edible. Well, last week I decided it was time to try again. I used the same book, same recipe and got the same results.....again. The curd was too done, rubbery and squeaked in my teeth. There was no flavor to speak of and the consistency was yucky.

After that attempt I got out my other cheese making books and compared the recipes. The main difference was not letting the curd sit at 110* for 30 minutes after it was heated up. I hoped that eliminating that 30 minute time frame would allow the curds to stay in a softer state, similar to store bought cottage cheese. It's hard to describe, but if you picture the consistency of store bought cottage cheese curds, they are soft, pliable and kind of juicy inside. I know, poor description, but I can't think of a better way to compare theirs and mine. 

I made another batch of cottage cheese today. It's better, but still rather rubbery, lacking the soft, pliable texture I am looking for. Here is what I did.

1 gallon of skimmed goat milk heated to 86*
Add 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
Add 1/4 cup water to which 1/4 tsp. of rennet was added
Stir for 30 seconds
Let sit and ripen for 1 hour at 86*
Cut the curd into 1/2" cubes
Slowly heat curd to 110*

Okay. This is where the cheese books differed. Two of them indicated that the next step is too drain the curd instead of letting it sit and 'cook' at 110*, so that's what I did today.
 
When I poured the curd and whey into a cheese cloth lined colander, the consistency of the curd was very nice and reminded me somewhat of store bought cottage cheese. I was happy. But as soon as I poured it into the colander to drain, it's like the curds released all of their interior moisture, matted up and became chewy and squeaky again. Rats!

The next step is supposed to be to let the whey drain, then dip the cheese cloth with the curds into cold water to cool them, and let them drain again. Which I did, but the curds had already changed. It's this change or step that I am trying to figure out. How do I prevent the curds from releasing their moisture/liquid/whey? Cool them quicker? I'm not sure. I'll have to experiment some more.

The good news is that it tastes better this time. I crumbled up the curd, since it was trying to mat together. It's just the nature of the curd to want to mat together. I added 1/2 tsp. of salt and about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of cream I had skimmed from the milk before I started.

Frank and I did a taste test before I put it into the fridge to chill. We'll see how it tastes later on, then again tomorrow. My first attempt the other day ended up as pig food, so it wasn't a complete loss. This one may end up the same way. I may even share some with the chickens, too.

If you have any recommendations, I sure would like to hear them. I know there are other ways to make cottage cheese, like leaving it out on the cabinet for a few days and letting it curdle. I'm not brave enough to try that one yet. I guess I still want to have a little more control over the process. Not that I don't have sauerkraut and kefir sitting out on the cabinet all the time, it's just different than two or three day old curdled milk.


I'll keep you updated on my cottage cheese making progress, and hopefully it won't be two years before I try again. I'd like to be able to master this technique. It's kind of like learning to make bread. Frank and I have eaten a bunch of heavy, heavy flat whole wheat bread. We call it brick bread. Almost edible, but not very good. That was part of my learning to make a consistently, good loaf of bread. Then I started making sourdough bread. Yes, we have had a few rather heavy batches, and one that was too sour to eat. Now is the time to master making good, edible cottage cheese, so please help me out if you can.

Until next time - Fern