Tomato Fail – Curly Top Virus!

The garden was hit hard this year by Curly Top Virus. This was my first experience with curly top virus so I did a fair amount of research on the virus.

The virus affects mainly tomatoes, peppers and sugar beets. I had extensive damage to my tomato crop. Minimal damage to pepper plants and I had no damage to sugar beets. I planted beets that were sweet but I am not sure they are technically “sugar beets”.

I had high hopes for my tomato crop this year. I planted 120 heirloom plants from seeds. I planted 12 different varieties with approximately 10 different plants each.

 I had big dreams of fresh tomatoes all summer and canning tons of stewed tomatoes that would last me all winter. Mother Nature had something else in mind. Instead of tomatoes all winter we will be having tons of pickles…… and spaghetti squash.

I guess I can’t complain too much. We won’t go hungry I guess! Anyway back to the problem at hand. I didn’t get the tomato crop I wanted either in the spring or the fall thanks to a little virus called Curly Top.

The virus is transmitted by the sugar beet leafhopper (Curculifer tennelus). It is a tiny little grasshopper that kind of resembles a fly. I have seen several in the garden. It is an invasive species in Texas.

http://www.tsusinvasives.org/home/database/neoaliturus-tenellus

Unfortunately, insecticides are not effective. (I mean- not that I would use any insecticides! SQUIRREL! Let’s be realistic. We all try not to use insecticides! We start by using the least toxic method of killing insect like picking them off and killing them manually. Then, we move to organic insecticides like diatomaceous earth or any other commercially available organic insecticide, fungicide, any kind of -cide we can find.

Then as our plants keep dying we bring out the ……. ((whisper)) seven dust! Yup, you heard me! I’ll dust the shit out of those little insects if they push me too far! I HATE GRASSHOPPERS OF ALL KINDS BY THE WAY!~

Now, back to the problem. Since insecticides don’t work what are my other options?

https://plantdiseasehandbook.tamu.edu/problems-treatments/problems-affecting-multiple-crops/curly-top-virus/

Fine mesh….. NOPE ….. blew right off in this hurricane strength wind of Central Texas once all the cedar has been cleared off the land. See, I think that is the original problem. We have been clearing cedar to improve our grasslands which has left big open grassy / weed fields surrounding my garden which grasshoppers (leafhoppers too apparently) love!

There are resistant tomato varieties per TAMU which include: Roza, Rowpac, Columbia and Saladmaster. The problem they haven’t really been celebrated for the taste! But, I would definitely try them at least for making stew tomatoes at this point!

I reached out to Dr. Harold Kaufman listed in the article link above. He is now retired but did suggest the same varieties above but clarified the Saladmaster needed to be the cherry type. He didn’t think anyone was still doing research on curly top. He did say some people did suggests partial shade. See leafhoppers have to feed in full sun so partial shade might keep them from feeding on the plants in the shade. The problem is tomatoes need full sun. However, I don’t think people realize Central Texas has EXTRA FULL sun most of the summer. I might try a shade block of 50% this next year and see if that helps.

Insects are cyclic so I was hoping maybe the fall would be better for the tomatoes…. NOPE! They were still there…..

It starts with a slight curling of the leaves and small bumps on the main stem. The leaves become leathery and tough. There is also a gummy type feeling to the foliage. The fruit that is there will ripen but it is slow and when it does ripen the skin is tough.

Turns out the leafhopper has three morphs including: a summer morph (3-4 months), winter morph (overwintering females) and migratory morph (capable of flying hundreds of miles). So they were still lingering around in the fall.

I did get a few little measly tomatoes to put up this year despite my new arch nemesis!

I froze them initially, then we cooked them down and made some stew tomatoes. We only produced about 4 pint jars this year. I did also get this beautiful black beauty tomato. There was only one and it looked and tasted amazing!

I also got a few more tomatoes here and there but not nearly the crop I was hoping for.

Look at the leaves on the bottom left corner of the above picture. They are starting to curl. Grrr…. Nothing was more frustrating than seeing that this year! The tomato below is called a mushroom basket. I can’t tell if it was just a fused blossom or if it was infected with something? Either way, I had to pick it before the frost!

 I did get a fair amount of green tomatoes for pickling before our very early frost hit!

I still thought I had another couple of weeks! Again, Mother Nature had other plans! What she doesn’t know is this will go great with Texas BBQ!

The disappointment of a bad tomato crop is always filled with hopes for next year! Curly Top -1 / Chasity -0…….

I would love to hear your thoughts for combatting Curly Top for next year!

WTF!

WTF! What the Fertilizer! Anyone else suffering from Fertilizer Frustration? It boggles the mind with how many options there are in fertilization! There are so many options and recommendations for vegetable garden fertilization. There are so many myths and home remedies and “my grandpa did it this way” stories. With that being said, there is no one size fits all for every garden but it does help to have a good working knowledge of the  nutrients in fertilizers and what their purpose is in relation to plant growth and production.

If you have even just started to scratch the surface dirt of fertilizer research, you probably already know what those three little numbers on the bag or bottle represent. Respectively, they represent Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (sometimes called Potash). Theybare always listed in the same order. Hence, 10-10-10 would be equal parts of each and 10-20-10 would be double the phosphorus as nitrogen and potash.  Ok? Now what? If you were like me you have many questions regarding this: how much do vegetables need of each nutrient,  what does each of those nutrients do for the plant, how often do I use each type, when do I start fertilizing, and do I really need to fertilize? I don’t remember the “old timers” out there with their miracle grow specifically designed for tomatoes, peppers, roses, etc. After a little research I have some answers for these questions (ok! a lot of research)!

First remember, gardening mastery does not occur in one season. It is often trial and error. I’ve had many garden failures. Success depends on many factors some you can control and some you cannot. Factors include your soil type, weather trends, seed germination rates, animal and insect control, weed control, soil care or amendments, etc. . Soil testing is the most definitive way to amend soil for optimal soil health for the best plant growth. GET YOUR SOIL TESTED! Initially, it is probably best to have your soil tested every year until optimal health is reach consistently for two consecutive years and then  you could probably switch to every other year.

If you are like me, you keep putting off getting your soil test but need some guidance on how to feed your plants. Before we talk about when, where, and how much fertilizer , lets discuss the why! Why? because we want strong healthy and productive plants.  We all have to eat including the plants. Knowing what each nutrient does for the plant helps us determine what concentration/ratios that we want to use.  For the purpose of this post we will discuss the functions of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium; however, there are many other important trace minerals and elements such as iron, zinc, sulfur (sometimes the 4th number on they bag or bottle) magnesium, etc. that plants use.

Now let’s get the down and dirty on these three key nutrients. Nitrogen is truly needed in some degree for ALL parts of the plant — the roots, leaves, stems, flowers and fruits. However, it is primarily responsible for the green part of the plant and is needed to form protein. It does this by enabling the plant to make chlorophyll. Nitrogen deficiency usually shows up as stunted growth or pale greenish yellowing leaves. Fertilizers with too much nitrogen combined with soils deficient in the other two main nutrients (phosphorus and potash) result in big green plants without flowers hence decreasing fruit production. Fertilizers with exact amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium such as 10-10-10 or 13-13-13 should be used on plants that are all green such as grass and corn but not on flowering plants such as tomatoes and squash. Ideal ratios for flowering plants should be 3-1-2 which include 6-2-4 and 9-3-6. Be cautious, way too much nitrogen can also kill your plants. You can always add more but you can’t take it away after you add too much. Fish emulsion and blood meal are good sources or organic nitrogen, 5-1-1 and 12-0-0, respectively.

Now you ask: well how do I get good flowering and fruit production? Its the phosphorus! Phosphorus is responsible for cell division to help root formation, flowering and produce fruit. Good sources of organic phosphorus are bone meal 1-11-0 and the very slow acting rock phosphate or colloidal rock phosphate. I really like Jobe’s organics for good flowering with a concentration of 2-7-4 which is not the recommended 3-1-2 ratio but I fertilize with higher nitrogen concentration initially for increased green growth and increased nitrogen needs during periods of rapid growth.

In my area (rocky Central Texas) I do not use bone meal because I suspect I already have high phosphorus because of the high prevalence of limestone in the soil. Moreover, I do not want to make my soil any more alkaloid than it is already. Bone meal will make your soil alkaline and blood meal makes it more acid. I need the acid.

If I still lived in East Texas I would use more bone meal since there is more pine and acid in the soil. Please check out my previous post titled “Love the Soil You Are In” for further information on soil types.

Finally, Potassium (Potash) keeps your plant healthy by protecting from disease and facilitating micro-nutrient absorption. Potassium is also important in root development and helps with photosynthesis. Luckily, potassium and other micro-nutrients are likely already present in your soil. So it doesn’t need to be replenish at the same rate as nitrogen and phosphorus per se. A slight excess in potassium is not harmful to your plants. So, if you are concerned you may have low potassium (really you shouldn’t be if you haven’t had your soil tested [stating that] —it is unlikely), wood ash and glauconite rock are good organic sources of potassium if needed. Again, soil testing is the best way to know exactly what your soil needs and eliminates the need for speculation.

First question, when do I start fertilizing my soil? Ideally, you should be putting out organic matter in late winter given its slow release into the soil. Examples or organic matter for your garden should include things like manure or compost. This is especially important for areas where you will be putting your heavy feeders such as tomatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cantalope, etc. Remember, the heavier the harvest should equal the heavier the feeding the following year or growing cycle. If you are starting seeds indoors, you will need to start with a mild fertilizer once you have true leaves. The cotyledons (first leaves) have enough nutrients to support them until true leaves develop.

I like to try and stick with organic fertilizers (disclaimer I am not afraid to throw a chemical fertilizer on my plants {not seedlings} if they need a quick boost because they are looking tired and hungry).  Initially, I like to start my seedlings with fish emulsions diluted to half strength. I like this because it is mild, organic and I can dilute down easily. It is 5 times higher in nitrogen than phosphorus or potassium. I am trying to encourage green growth initially not necessarily flowering and disease resistance because they are young and protected in a nutrient rich potting soil at this time. I want them to be green and strong.

Then before I transplant or start seedlings in ground I pre-treat my my soil with blood meal to add nitrogen again until my plants are bigger and ready to start flowering. In the off season we also dump our horse manure in the garden. This year we also added some turkey manure and mushroom compost we bought. In addition to a small composting corner we use for kitchen scraps. This is a little tomato seedling that came up after we spread the compost!

Once they get bigger and more green, (approximately 4 weeks later) I use Jobe’s organics for things that will be flowering such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash. This is because it has a higher concentration of phosphorus. Things like corn, cabbage, and asparagus I would use equal parts of NPK+ to promote green growth. If the plant has really been struggling with growth I will also use my trusty old miracle grow I mix up in my watering can. I do this because it is quickly used by the plant. The new asparagus loved it!

For me it is easier to think about what the plant needs during its life cycle and what my goals are (green growth, flowering, disease resistance, nutrient absorption) in relationship to fertilizers versus memorizing multiple different numbers and concentrations. If I want green growth I need nitrogen, if I want flowers, I need phosphorus, and if I am worried about my plant absorbing nutrients and disease fighting ability I will throw a little potassium at it. Remember to read labels and follow recommendations for application procedures and types i.e. side dress, band/row application, broadcast, starter solution, etc. and most importantly the recommended about. You don’t want to over do fertilizer!

If this year’s soil doesn’t agree with your plants make the changes you need and look forward to the next season.

~Chas

Raise Them Right!

The garden beds that is!

We spent February preparing our gardens for spring. The weather has finally been so nice to get outside and get your hands dirty!

We have added some new raised beds thanks to some old salvaged tires and broken feed trough my husband found and placed in the garden. Raised beds allow me to amend soil quickly for growing and contain crops that may spread like mint or asparagus. I also think they are cute! In total, we added four raised tractor tire beds and one old feed trough (that sprung a leak!) bed!

Both setups had to be slightly modified before use. For the tires, Bryon cut the top rim of the tire off so we could fill up with dirt/ soil and work it. Otherwise the lip of the tire would cover a good portion of opening and would limit growing capacity. In addition, I have short arms and I don’t want to reach that far! He had to use a 4″ grinder to make a hole in the top of the tire rim and then a sawzall to cut the rim off. The top we removed I will use later to go around the base of sapling for the soon-to-be peach & plum orchards. For the old trough, he used the 4″ grinder to simply cut out the bottom. We did counter sink the trough purely for aesthetic purposes!

Now to the down and dirty- filling all these up with soil! First, we placed cardboard in the bottom for worm food and some weed control. Next we need soil. You can’t just add dirt because it will get too hard and hold too much water. You can’t add straight potting mix because it’s too light and will drain too fast. I prefer miracle gro raised bed soil. I got burned two years ago with an off brand alternative so I haven’t really ventured out much with other options. I’ve been sticking to what I know works. Originally, I wanted to completely fill each one with bagged soil but that wasn’t feasible. I didn’t realize how much dirt was required for each tire until I did the math.

For all you math/ algebra students that ask “when am I going to use this in real life?”

The volume of a cylinder is pi (3.14) x radius (squared) x height.

One tire measured 4 ft diameter (2 ft radius) x 2 ft height so…..

3.14 x 4ft x 2ft = 25.1 cubic feet

As seen above each bag covers 1.5 cubic feet for $8.98. (25.1 / 1.5 = 16.7 bags for one tire x $8.98 per bag = $149.96)

Now I have 4 tires and one trough so we are talking about $800 dollars of dirt ! WOW! Nope!

Luckily, Bryon found us a cheaper option!

For $140 dollars he got a dump bed trailer load of half top soil and half turkey manure and mushroom compost mix! BAM! With some to spare!

So we layered the raised beds with a layer of topsoil then turkey manure/ mushroom compost then the last layer was of my raised bed garden mix. I used two bags of the miracle gro to each tire and the trough. Now filling them up was a little “tire-ing” but we got them all filled! Now for the fun stuff! Planting!!

We planted a few cool weather crops!

Side note: we never use up the plastic knives in the set so I repurpose them in the garden!

Lastly, we used old hay to mulch the top!

Now we just wait for stuff to grow! Can’t wait to eat and share all our goodies !!

Overcoming life’s little HERDdles

Farnash Creek Ranch added a new mare to the herd last week! Maisie is a 10.5 year old sorrel quarter horse with experience cutting and working on a large cattle ranches.

We think she will be a great addition to the ranch and will be an enormous help with ranch work such as roping calves, pushing cows, sorting and of course trail riding the ranch to check fences of course. We are so excited to have her here! The other horses aren’t so excited, although, she seems eager to be friends with them! The first day out in the pasture together they tried to run off and leaving her!

She wasn’t far behind …..

“Hey guys wait for me”

They eventually gave her a good sniff down but still they did not trust her! She still had to prove herself. I wasn’t sure she would be aggressive enough with the other horses because she was so docile under the saddle. She works so smooth off subtle cues like seat placement and leg pressure. I am a terrible rider and if she can follow my cues she must be good! I have never picked a horses hooves so easily. I gently touched her leg and she graciously lifted her hoof and held it there. I didn’t really even have to hold the hoof. I still get nervous picking hooves and she made it feel so natural.

After the second day out in the pasture with them she came in with a few bite marks and was much more cautious of the other horses.

She was especially cautious of Cisco. He is the biggest horse we have and he has also been the low man of the totem pole since his arrival over a year ago! I guess he was determined to get off the bottom of the hierarchy!

Bryon wishes he would run that fast on cows! He isn’t all he acts like on this video! He is a sweet shy lover except when someone new is around! Sometimes it is the shy ones that are the most fierce! He still gets an concessional bite by Sugar tho!

Rodie the undisputed ring leader also tried to get his intimidation in on her! The first day he ran her off from the hay ring. By day two, she wasn’t having anymore of him taking her food. We sat on the fence and watched Rodie go quietly into her stall after he had eaten all his food and tried to take her food. Within three seconds she had run him out of her stall. He tucked his tail and headed off the the hay ring! Now I think they are friends! Or friendly at least!

“I sorrelly apologize for taking your food”

This morning during feeding Cisco was also still trying to get a little intimidation in on her. He put his giant golden head in her stall and just showed her his teeth. She snapped back at him and let out the loudest “NEIGH” I’ve ever heard! She is standing up for herself! It won’t be long and she will find her place in the herd!

Horses are herd animals for safety reasons. There is strength in herds. Being part of a herd provides them safety and security in the wild. There are more sets of eyes and ears to look out for danger. There are more horses to protect the young horses from predators and dangers in the wild. This herd mentality is instinctive for them for this reason.

Humans are also part of herds. Many different herds. We have work herds, family herds, friend herds, online herds, etc. Unfortunately, we often have trouble integrating into our herds as well. There are many reasons why integrating into herds are difficult. Generally though it is simply that it is something new and no one knows what to expect or who to trust. There will often be bite marks and scars that will be left behind but ultimately there is strength in herds. We must get past all the hurt and move forward because there is support in herds. Just like Maisie we have to stand up for ourselves and be herd – (he he he) Herds are the support systems we rely on to protect us from the wild world of dangers. Love your herd and find peace and strength in whatever herds you can be apart of in this life. Embrace all the members of your herd and celebrate their strengths and encourage them in times of weakness.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” -Ernest Hemingway For Whom The Bell Toll per John Donne

For heaven’s sake don’t be like chickens they try to kill the new one to the flock! DON’T BE A CHICKEN!

Don’t sweat the small stuff-ing, Get Half-Baked!

Preparing for the holiday season can get overwhelming! We have been preparing for the Thanksgiving Holiday for the past couple of weeks and I wanted to share a few preparations we have made to hopefully make the holidays a little less busy and less stressful!

I like to start by getting my kitchen organized!

I love the spice drawer because it helps me and my guests easily find whatever they need. I also use this time to take an inventory of what I have and what I need.

I also suggest recruiting some help to get everything cleaned and organized for your guests!

Not sure how much work I got out of her but she is fun to have at the ranch !

I try to buy everything I can that is not perishable well in advance because, #1 I don’t want to fight the crowds and #2 they run out of stuff so quickly! If you are early and prepared you can turn all this…

into these easy-to-make meals and partially prepared Thanksgiving dishes for your guests!!

Dressing (NOT STUFFING!) is my main dish and preparing ahead clears up a lot of room and time in the kitchen! Preparing ahead also enhances the flavor, to me!

Thanksgiving is only one day of the 4-6 days my family comes to visit for this holiday so I like to have other things prepared in advance for them! I have found making beef enchiladas ahead of time is perfect for family visits. I made several pans of enchiladas for my family. I also write the instructions for the dish on the top of the disposable pans or foil so everyone knows how to put it together just in case I get tied up with something else!

Planning ahead frees up my time to enjoy the company of my family and friends during the holidays, which is my favorite part! Here are a few suggestions for plan-ahead meals to freeze and also a “don’t make-ahead list!”

MAKE-AHEAD IDEAS to freeze:

1. Beef Enchiladas (recipe to follow)

2. Chicken Enchiladas

3. Lasagna

4. Dressing (NOT STUFFING)

5. Scalloped Potatoes

6. Breads: cornbread, biscuits, and rolls

7. Breakfast Casseroles

8. Breakfast Quesadillas (recipe to follow)

9. Soups and Stews (leave out rice or dumplings – those are best made fresh)

10. Fruit Pies

DON’T MAKE-AHEAD to freeze:

1. Custard or cream based pies

2. Chicken and Dumplings

3. Gravies of any kind

4. Salads of any kind (obviously)

RECIPES:

BEEF ENCHILADAS (Easy)

ENCHILADA PART

1.5 lbs ground beef

10 corn tortillas

1 medium onion

1 teaspoon chili powder

2 cloves minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

Salt and pepper to taste

ENCHILADA SAUCE

2 heaping tablespoons crisco

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 and 3/4 cup chicken broth

3/4 cup water

1 small jar diced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease rectangular foil pan 13 x 9.

Brown ground beef with onion, chili powder, garlic, onion powder and salt and pepper. Add seasoning at the end of browning for best flavor retention.

While browning meat, heat tortillas in foil in the oven so the are easily usable and don’t break. Approx. 10 min.

Fill tortilla with meat mixture and cheese. Approx. one heaping tablespoon of meat and one heaping tablespoon of cheese. Roll and place in pan seam side down. Cover pan tightly with plastic wrap and then foil. Place in freezer until ready to use.

FOR ENCHILADA SAUCE:

Heat oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add flour and whisk constantly until slightly brown. It will be consistency of a thin paste and bubbly. Then add chicken broth, water and chipotle pepper in adobo sauce. Bring to a boil. Then simmer for 10 min. Allow to cool then place in freezer safe container.

When ready to use, set out enchilada sauce in fridge for 24 hours prior to meal (or make fresh the day of.) Remove frozen enchiladas from freezer remove foil and plastic wrap, cover with sauce and sprinkle with cheese. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes covered; then uncover and bake 15 min.

Serve with corn or side salad.

BREAKFAST QUESADILLA

Flour tortillas

Eggs

Mix-ins

Butter

Breakfast meat

Cheese

These are super easy and very individualized. Scramble eggs. Shred cheese. Cook meat of choice.

Heat butter in skillet add flour tortilla, sprinkle with cheese, top with egg, choice of mix-in (mushrooms, pico, spinach, etc.), add meat, add cheese and then top with second tortilla. Flip until tortilla slightly browns and cheese melts. Allow to cool slightly. Then flash freeze (place on cookie sheet lined with waxed paper.) When frozen, add to zip lock bag for later use.

When ready to eat, heat in oven or toaster oven for best results! Or, simply place in microwave for 45-60 seconds.

 

Oh DEER!

Hunting season is upon us and we have been preparing FCR for hunters! We are looking forward to having our family here for this coming hunting season. I am also out of deer meat in the freezer and I have been craving fresh deep fried back-strap with mashed potatoes and gravy! YUM! (Not on my diet!)

We have been filling deer feeders with corn and antler max since the summer and we are looking for a good harvest this year.

 

We have also been adding some new stands this year. We have three new stands this year and two old ones from previous years. One we have had on our original place and an old one on the new property that we will slowly turn into Chasity’s She Shed for hunting! Because that stand has the best view and they biggest deer on the game camera! LOL. Popi and Baby Seydi have been checking the cameras pretty intently!

game camera photo

This is the new “Big Pond” stand when it was still under construction! It is just up this year! It’s going to be a cozy little hunting spot for someone!

Big pond stand

This is the beginnings of the “Creek Stand” that is now also completed! It is just past the “Willie Nelson Pond.” You know the one you have to get back on the road to get to! Right now we are calling it “1982 Willie Nelson” because the pond is over flowing after all this rain! This summer it was “1990 Willie Nelson” cause it was all dried up and broke!

creek stand

I can’t STAND it when he does dangerous stuff… or worse, makes me do it!

The mesquite stand below was the least dangerous to construct and it turned out great! Can’t wait to see it in use!

mesquite stand

All the hard work seems to be paying off, though. We caught this nice buck on the game camera!

bigbuck2

Hunting and fishing have always been a part of our lives. I remember learning to fish on Lake Murvaul in East Texas at my grandpa’s lake house. My job was to climb the catalpa “catawba” worm tree and throw the larvae down to my grandpa so we could use it as bait. The catawba worm (certomia catalpae) is actually a yellow and black looking caterpillar that turns into a brown looking moth called a hawk moth and the fish love it! Here is a little info on the catawba worm if you like:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceratomia_catalpae Although, I am not sure what they are talking about pulling the head off and turning them inside out. We just put them on the hook and BAM!

My husband and I both hopefully have instilled a love of hunting and fishing in our children. I was speaking with one of my step daughters this summer and I asked her if she actually liked hunting. She said “I liked spending time with my dad, he would always make me coffee when we would go.” I then asked my own daughter if she liked hunting with her dad she said “yes, we would eat snack cakes in the deer stand.” LOL. Ok, our kids love their coffee and snacks!

I remember the excitement in the kids’ faces when they would get something! There were so many great memories with the kids.

rabbit

Hunter with his first rabbit. He was so excited! I think he killed it with a bb gun? All I remember was I had to pretend I knew how to cook rabbit because you have to eat it, right?! This was before we had internet at home and you just had to “hop” to it or call someone who knew!

Abby's first deer

Abby’s first deer was a little button buck when she was 10 years old. She had been hunting for a few years before she ever killed one. She was so excited! Now she had to help clean the deer.

Now, she had some “skin” in the game!

Tori fished all day with worms to catch this giant!

tori fishing

We do all these things to be able to get the big buck or big fish but really it isn’t about the size of the deer or fish or whatever, it is about the memories made with family and friends. It is about spending time together with your mom or dad or grandpa or uncle or aunt or whoever. I am so grateful for all the memories we have made! I look forward to making many more memories for years to come. With the recent loss of my grandfather, I hope that one day ALL our children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews will all look back at their time with us and remember the memories we have made both at the ranch and away from the ranch! I want them to remember what they learned from us and what they enjoyed with us.

Prickly – Pearly Making It!

The late summer and good rains have brought a plenitude of Prickly Pear Tunas here at FCR!

PP bush

I have been trying to find as many uses as possible for this beautiful sweet fruit here on the ranch. You have to be quick though before the other animals get to them. I think the deer have been hitting it pretty hard.

eaten PP

I have had several faux pas with this little stickers! I picked them carefully with tongs the first time but still got a few stickers. My second time around I used gloves and tongs and this seemed to work a lot better. Be prepared, though, you will still get a few little stickers or glochids in your skin. They are easily removed however and are only a temporary “thorn in your side.”

 

The color of the fruit ranges from a soft pink to a deep purple color. There seems to be many different varieties here on the ranch. The color doesn’t seem to much affect the flavor. I have made my husband taste about 1000 or more and the sweetness is about the same in the soft pink ones (even better at times) and the deep purple. The thing that does seem to affect sweetness is the tenderness of the fruit, which is hard to tell with tongs but if your tongs break the skin of the fruit then it is usually really sweet. I am pretty good at squeezing them with my fingers now and not getting prickled to death. The sweetest ones are about the tenderness of a ripe plum when you squish it between your fingers.

PP angle

PP bucket

The first batch I made, I burned all the thorns off over an open flame burner. This was very cumbersome doing them one at a time. Prickly Pear is found all over Texas and into Mexico. I was talking with a friend who grew up in Mexico and she kinda laughed at me when I told her I was burning the glochids off each fruit. She said you only have to rub them on the ground and they will come right off. Voila, it worked! The only problem was when I rolled them on the ground with my boot gently, as my husband pointed out, I had cow manure all over my boots. He ate it anyway, BTW!  I found the second batch worked best if I just gently rubbed each fruit with a thick old towel. Still time consuming, but worked better than an open flame for me. Note: put the towel away so your husband doesn’t use it to wipe his hands off later! Uh oh, sorry!

The first batch I made with the skin on just cutting the ends off. They are full of tiny stone like seeds and the meat or mesocarp part of the fruit is relatively small so I thought peeling them would be futile.

PP inside

However, after my first batch of jelly I found out that it was really slimy. Doesn’t really matter that much with jelly because it just makes it come out a little more syrupy than usual. It was still usable for toast and such. It also had an amazing flavor and beautiful golden color when finished.

PP jelly

The second batch I was planning to juice and save for making jelly, syrup or margaritas at a later date. I did not want to have slimy juice, so I decided I would take the seeds out because I thought the slimy consistency was coming from the gel around the seeds inside, similar to tomatoes. While I was doing a little internet research on a way to easily remove seeds, I found a blog post from 2011 by The Pink Cowgirl: http://thepinkcowgirl.blogspot.com/2011/06/prickly-pear-juice.html. In the article she explained the sliminess was coming from the skins, not the seeds. Damn it! I have to peel all these tunas! I got a little overzealous and picked two five-gallon buckets and now I had to peel them all!! It turns out the handy-dandy potato peeler did the job pretty easily.

The next batch of juice was perfect with no slime at all. The juice was relatively easy to make:

  1. Pick fruit
  2. Rub off glochids
  3. Wash
  4. Cut off ends & peel with potato peeler
  5. Quarter fruit
  6. Place in non-reactive pot with small amount of water
  7. Bring to boil
  8. High simmer for about 5 minutes
  9. Mash with potato masher
  10. Strain through cheese cloth after cooled

SIDE BAR: My ex-mother-in-law used to give me vague cooking instructions like this when I was young and newly married. “Chasity- Gravy is just some flour, water and grease.” No measurements or time frames at all given. That is exactly what it tasted like too……. FLOUR……. WATER…….. GREASE! However, this juice is really easy and can be tweaked to meet your needs.

Then you will get this beautiful red juice to use for jelly, drinking juice, cocktails, syrup or any other type of fruit flavoring you need. It has a taste that is similar to a strawberry/watermelon/honeydew melon mix.

PP juice

I like to make treats for the holidays that are homemade so the jelly is a good gift because I think people rarely get homemade items anymore. I hope my family, friends and co-workers enjoy it! If not, I hope they lie and say they did!

I used my juice that day to make an excellent prickly pear margarita. I figured I was owed it after all that hard work. It was delicious and super easy! I just placed the following ingredients into a shaker with ice and poured over a salt-rimmed glass:

  1. 2 oz. gold tequila (ok, 3 oz!)
  2. 0.5 oz. prickly pear juice
  3. 0.5 oz. simple syrup
  4. 1 oz. fresh lime juice
  5. Garnish with lime wedge

PP margarita

Despite all the work involved I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about the prickly pears on the ranch. Prickly Pear, I love you too!

PP heart

Pony Up!

Get on back on your horse! That is a lot easier said than done. Anyone that has ever fallen off a horse or been buck off (like me! just kidding I probably fell) knows how difficult that is to do.

I don’t have a specific horse per se but I have one I usually ride “Sugar” because she is old and slow like me! Don’t get me wrong she has some spirit in her and can do the work but she like to be leisure. She is a good horse but she has her moments and quirks like any horse or person I guess. For example, do not tie her to anything because she will break loose. If you just drape the reins over a pole without tying she will not move. I can relate to that {don’t tell me I can’t go somewhere but I am usually content to just stay where I am}.

Well, about a month or so ago I got “bucked off” for the first time. We were going up a embankment and she was trying to run to catch up with another horse and I was pulling her back and she hopped and took off and I lost my balance and fell. I lived– barely! I got back on her right then and rode home without any problems but since then I have been hesitant to ride her. I have been riding another horse because now I trust him more — well in the round pen I trust him. I like riding her and miss it but just could not pull the trigger to ride her out on the ranch.

But, yesterday Farnash Creek Ranch expanded by nearly 1000 additional acres and I was dying to ride the new extension of property. Land just looks different from the back of a horse- ya know! So, I debated all night about which horse I would ride. Rodie who rides like a dream but is quick and touching to an inexperienced rider, Cody who rides good but is young and unpredictable, Cisco who is young, big and fast (just kidding I was never considering him) or try my luck on Sugar again. Before bed I decided it would be Rodie but this morning I woke up and decided I needed to try my luck again with Sugar!

I woke up later than expected so the heat had already set in at 8:30 am. We saddled the horses and a few morning snacks and water.DSCN7145

My husband was encouraging and had more faith in me than I did. He rode her briefly in the round pen to warm her up. Then we were off to explore the new place. We are able to enter the property from the back of the existing ranch property so the horses were comfortable and calm out to the back gate. She was walking slow and leisurely trying to get off the trail but following commands well. Then we hit the new property and she was like a new horse. Her ears were pointed forward looking for everything and anything. She had more pep in her step not quite a trot but a fast walking. She was energized and happy. I was still a little nervous but was enjoying her enthusiasm. My husband calmly talked me through her mannerisms and helped calm us both.  We both enjoyed the new property, thoroughly! She had good tall grass and big ponds to drink from and I had beautiful views and cool breezes. It was amazing!

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However, on the way back to the barn she was trying to get a little barn sour. She tried to take off on me a couple of times.  My heart was beating fast and I was tense. I was trying so hard to be relaxed! I keep trying to tell myself all the things to do. Be calm, pull to your hip not your head, don’t squeeze with your legs, don’t lean forward, etc. But nothing was working. My husband was in the front and I was trying to not let him see me look like an idiot. LOL.

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Finally, I just stopped and turned her around and made her stand still. I tried to show her who was boss. I’m not sure she bought it but she did walk slowly back to the barn and I felt better about riding her!

When we got back to the barn I did tie her to the trailer which she broke loose from! Ugh. Then she just stood there not tied while I washed her off! Women! I felt more confident about the ride and look forward to moving past the fall. I believe in life we have to face things head on even when we don’t want to and the same is true about getting back on your horse. Don’t miss out on something amazing because of the fear of falling.

-Chas

Hot Damn! I can!

Well the garden is in full swing! We are collecting the fruits of our labor! We have more stuff than we can eat! So, it is time to start canning it up!

I really feel like canning is a lost art and skill! I feel a little nervous every time I do it because I am hoping no one dies from eating this if I don’t follow the step exactly! I am about three years into this and everyone is still living so that is a good sign! This week I worked on canning peppers! My husband likes it hot! Hotter than hot actually.

Last years peppers:

Me: Bryon are they too hot?

Bryon: NO!

(( I look over and he is sweating with hiccups ))

Me: Bryon? Really?

Bryon: What? they aren’t too hot. I just need to remember to use less of them next time!

My son-in-law also likes it hot too! So, I made a batch for him as well! I also threw in some banana peppers for my oldest daughter.

My advice on canning……. 1. Do it! Its a great skill to have! The food taste great fresh and it is so beautiful going into the cans! 2.Research it, we don’t want people getting sick! 3. Be careful and don’t always trust those pinterest recipes for this type of stuff.

 

-Chas

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