The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What is this?

I am surprised how many things grow around here in December. I really am. I guess in the back of my mind, I've seen these plants before, I just haven't been paying attention like I am now. That's true of a lot of things, isn't it? 

Since we have been trying to grow more and more of our animal feed in an attempt to eliminate buying grains and become more self-reliant, I have begun to pay attention to what is already growing here, and what grows well here that we can cultivate. We have written several articles about the garden produce grown for the animals including corn, sunflower seeds, cow peas, turnips, carrots, beets, comfrey and sunchokes. Now I am finding wild, weedy things that the chickens really enjoy, and the most interesting part of the current discovery is that these weeds are growing in December. You can already tell that I am wondering if they will continue to grow throughout the winter. 

The problem is, I don't know what these plants are. I have looked in my wild edible foraging books to no avail, so I don't think they are meant for human consumption. If you know what any of these plants are, we sure would like to know. I have put my foot in these pictures for a size comparison. None of these plants are very big, which doesn't surprise me because it's winter. I have numbered the plants for ease of identification. So, tell me, what do you think?

1.  There are not a lot of these plants around. The interesting thing about them is the red veins on the leaves. Since there aren't very many, I haven't been picking them to see if the chickens like them...yet.

2.  This plant is fairly small, but coming up all over the place. I don't know how big they will eventually get. As they get bigger, the middle stands up more off the ground. When they are small, they are flat to the ground. The chickens love these. In no time at all, these plants are gone, leaves, stems, roots and all.

3.  I didn't get my foot in this picture. This weed is fairly large compared to the others. The leaves are about five to six inches long, and this is the only one I remember seeing. I picked many of them and the chickens liked it as well.

4.  Another large leaved plant. Oops, I know what this one is. It's a turnip in the garden and the chickens love them, leaves, root and all. I picked some of these greens for dinner last night.

5.  I ran across something in my wild foraging book that made me wonder if this is a wild carrot. There are a few here and there. Any ideas?

6.  This small plant with the scalloped leaves is another one the chickens like. There are quite a few of them around.

7.  This one with the rounded leaves they don't particularly care for, but they will eat it. This plant gets much larger than the others and there are lots of them. It has some similar characteristics to my lemon balm, but that's not it.

8.  I have just started to notice these plants, and have only seen a couple. The leaves are rounded and darker than the other plants so far.

9. We have lots of healthy looking dandelions, especially along the porch on the west side of the house,where they get more warmth when the sun is out. We gathered seeds from these last year and started a dandelion patch in the herb bed, so we can harvest and dry our own roots for tea.

These are what we hope will come of these weeds. Aren't they beautiful? We are still getting pullet eggs from our young hens, with a gradual increase in their production rate. Not fast enough for us, but we're getting there.

So, in December, when it is cold, and not a lot grows, I become the shadow farmer in the long slanting rays of winter, wrapped in my barn coat. That is, when we have rare moments of sunshine.

These plants have some similarities to other plants, both wild and domestic. Number one looks like a beet, but it's not. Then number two looks like clover, but it's not. And number eight almost reminds me of the violets that come up in the early spring, but I don't think so. Please share with us what you know, we're ready to learn something new and useful. Pick a number and give it your best shot, while I keep picking leaves for the chickens.

Until next year - Fern

Monday, December 29, 2014

Radio - Adventure with a New Antenna

Hello, Frank here.

Hi Everybody, hope all is well. Once upon a time, before the realization that ham radio was achievable, there were pursuits to communicate 30+ miles by radio. Okay, let me switch to real time here. When Fern and I moved to Oklahoma, we worked about 25 miles from our home. I put a CB radio in each vehicle, and one in the house. Well, I like CB radio, but being the nature of what it is, and living in hill country, CB just would not do the job.

Then I discovered another citizens band radio called MURS, which is around 151 MHz, and by the way CB is around 27 MHz. But, back to MURS. We picked up a few handheld commercial radios, which are programmable, and I put the MURS frequencies in the handhelds. Got a couple of mag mount ham radio antennas, which are built to function between 144 - 148 MHz. I thought, well 148, that's pretty close to 151, and this little set up worked pretty good. We also use these same handhelds to communicate around the farm here.

But, getting back to the theme of tonight's post, I decided to go big time. Now, remember, at this time I did not have a ham radio license, and the stuff I'm doing here really had nothing to do with ham radio. So, I devised a little system. I engineered a way to raise and lower an antenna pole, which I'm still using today, by the way. I still think that it was one of my more creative moments. But, on top of this raising and lowering marvel, I put a 16 foot Comet antenna. Except this antenna was not made for ham radio, it was made for 151 MHz, the commercial frequencies, and it worked great for the MURS frequencies. So now Fern and I can communicate from home to work, depending on whether or not the car was in a low spot or a high spot, it worked quite well. But, as fate would have it, our little newspaper had a little, bitty, teeny article about a ham radio class starting. And the rest is history, especially when I found out that you don't have to learn Morse code at any level of ham radio any longer.

 So I tried this radio, I tried the Alinco mobile VHF/UHF, and it worked more than adequate. Good radio. But it's a ham radio. What I wanted was a commercial radio, which is 100% legal on the ham frequencies. Now that I am spending more and more time on the ham frequencies, I needed a different antenna. Well, once I discovered the ham world, I put a couple of different antennas on the vehicles, and they work great. Then I decided I would take that same antenna, which is a CA 2x4 SR, CA means Comet. I connected it to a TRAM 1460 ground plane kit. 

Fern and I took the time to put it up on the pole today, and it doesn't quite work as well as it does on the vehicles. I have two friends that
have this same type of antenna system, each one mounted in a base configuration. With two of my meters, their SWR checks okay, not
great, but okay. Well, here a few days ago I bought a new SWR power meter and mounted it permanently connected to my HF and VHF/UHF radios. It shows my SWR on the VHF to be unacceptable, not horrible, unacceptable, but still usable. And I can't figure out what the problem is. I have three different SWR meters, these things kind of grow on you after a while, then you forget you have one and buy another one. Here's the problem. My two portable SWR meters read high, but acceptable. My higher dollar SWR meter reads unacceptable, but still doable. Not the results that I wanted. So is my brand new higher dollar meter just a cute piece of junk? I wish I could tell you.

For you ham folks, my antenna analyzer shows high but acceptable SWR and the antenna tunes perfect at 161 MHz, you know, up by the railroad frequencies. But it shows about a 2 or a 3 from 144 - 156 MHz. I guess I need to reconsider my new high dollar meter, don't I? But it's up and it's in the air, and it's the first time I've done anything really strenuous since my back surgery. And at this time, I'm still walking. 

We started about 2:00 in the afternoon, I guess, and finished at about 6:00pm. Fern took a bunch of pictures. And you might ask yourself, why did it take so long? Well, I had to cut the coax, solder the connectors, doctor the burn from the soldering iron, it never fails me that I will touch that hot tip.



I had to get out my fingernail polish that I use in place of lock tight. 

I put Stuff on the new connections. Stuff, let's see, it helps keep out moisture, that's the main reason I use it on the connectors. And I used a new type stretchy tape to help seal the outside connectors.

Attaching ground plane

Putting Stuff on the antenna connection

But what took so long was getting the old antenna off of the pole. And it's cold, my fingers didn't want to work at 45 degrees with a cold northwest wind. I know that's not cold to some of you fellas, but I'm sensitive. I had to move my cell phone booster antenna, and I also removed an 80 meter dipole that I had constructed. I really wish that they would not use metric on these antennas, but that's another story.

We put the connectors on the ends of the coax in a bucket to keep moisture out.

Stainless steel scrubber blocking coax entry port into the house.

Attaching the new antenna to the pole.

Dusk is fast approaching as we prepare to lift the pole back up.

Wire has been run back into the house and hole blocked with a scrubber.

Finishing up by flashlight

The kitchen was a mess, but the new antenna is up.

Reconnecting all of the antennas

Fern took some pictures along the way. I hope you enjoy them, because here one of these days, if this experiment works okay, I'm going to put up a couple of new towers and try to improve my communication system. The new antenna works fine. I called a buddy down the road to see if we could still contact each other on simplex. You see, he lives closer to the highway than I do, and when the buses come to relocate us they will stop at his house first, and I want to know when the buses are coming. You should, too. Because the buses are going to come someday. Don't get on the bus.

We'll talk more later. 73, Frank

P.S. Tuesday, December 30th is book bomb day for James, Wesley Rawles new book, which is a guide to the selection, use, and care of tools. Here is the link for your reading pleasure. We are looking forward to his latest publication.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Watching Our Pregnant Does Grow

This is the time of year that I start keeping a close eye on our does. One Stripe and Copper are due February 10th, which won't come too soon for me. I have been lamenting our lack of fresh goat milk for a while now, and I miss the daily milking routine. Some folks would find milking twice a day to be a grinding drudgery. There are days the weather doesn't increase my enjoyment of milking my goats, but they are few and far between for me. My friends have already had to start listening to me tell them again and again how much I love baby goats and having fresh milk. I'm grateful they are patient with me and tolerate my repetitive excitement. So, here is an update on how my wonderful does are doing.

One Stripe tends to get almost as wide as she is long toward the end of her gestation. She is on her way to the waddling stage and her udder is just starting to fill out. Since she lost her babies last year, I am more concerned about her than I have been other years. One Stripe is our old lady goat, she will be seven in May. Except for her mishap last year, she has been a great mom, very attentive, with strong, healthy babies and lots of milk. I have been watching her closely to see if she is showing any signs of aborting early again. So far, so good.


Copper will be having her second set of kids this year and is filling out quite nicely. She is already bigger than she was last year, or it seems like it to me. Her udder is also starting to slowly fill. She had twins last year and was also a very attentive, with lots of milk just like her mother, One Stripe.

The body condition, udder and alert, attentive behavior are some of the things I watch for in my pregnant does. I keep an eye on their skin condition, too. One Stripe tends to get a little dandruffy, dry skin toward the end of her pregnancies. Copper doesn't. I check the base of their tails to see if their hips have begun to spread, which so far, they haven't.

 Next week I will start bringing One Stripe and Copper in the barn in the morning and giving them a little extra grain. All of the does get some grain in the evening, but not much. Kids put on most of their size and weight the last month of gestation, so this extra feed in the cold of winter will help keep these does in good, healthy condition. I also make sure to keep minerals out all the time during gestation. The goats are still out grazing everyday and getting plenty of exercise. There are certain grasses and weeds that grow almost all winter here so they have some fresh things to eat each day. If it is cold and wet with rain or snow, we keep hay in the manger. Otherwise, the fresh graze of the pasture is much more nutritional and meets their needs for roughage. 

We have three young does that will be first fresheners, or having their first kids this spring. These does are not due until the first week in April. They are all looking very good, starting to thicken in the middle, while they continue to grow to full size goats. These three does were bred when they were 8 months old. 
Penny, December 21st

Cricket, December 21st

Lady Bug, December 21st

There are varying opinions on when to breed young does. Some folks will not breed them until they are a year old. Some go by weight, the common recommendation is 80 to 90 pounds or 8 to 9 months old. Some folks insist that it will stunt the growth of the doe if they are bred before they are a year or more old. Others insist the does will not produce as much milk if they are allowed to wait until they are older to have their first kids. So, if you are interested in, or are getting started with goats, you will have to decide how you are going to handle your breeding and birthing conditions. There are also other goat owners that run the herd together year round, allowing them to breed and birth as they will. We control our breeding times by keeping the buck separated from the does. As I discussed in the last goat article, we tried to breed One Stripe in July, but the buck was not mature enough. So, our breeding schedules don't always work out the way we prefer. We have also had does breed at times we didn't think it would ever happen. Like one month after birthing when they were raising triplets. That was one of those learning experiences we wished hadn't happened, strictly for the health of the doe. I think that is way too hard on their bodies. Some folks let their goats breed anytime, and want them to produce as many kids as possible. To me, that's just breeding them to death, literally. It uses up the strength of their bodies long before it otherwise would.

Lady Bug & Cricket at 11 days old
Penny as a newborn

Since I have already warned you about my repetitious nature when it comes to baby goats, you won't be surprised when I say, "Did I tell you how much I love baby goats?" I will continue to keep you up to date about the progress my does are making. If you have any questions I can help you with, please ask in the comments. On some past posts, I had some great questions that helped me to learn more, as well as gave me more ideas of things to share here. So, let me know if you have questions. After all, since I love baby goats and the whole birthing process, I'd love to get a conversation going.

Until next time - Fern