I've moved!

I've moved!

Thanks for stopping by, but it appears you are using a (very) old address for my blog. I've moved to a Wordpress site and you'll need to update your bookmarks for Bees on the Knob

I've moved!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Back from South Dakota

We're back from our trip to South Dakota, where fall is definitely close and it rained nearly every day. Several nights were down in the 40's and we had both the propane and electric heaters running in the camper (good thing, too, as we ran one tank dry in the middle of the night and it would have been quite chilly by morning if that was the only heat source). Our sweaters were out nearly every day, as were rain jackets; neither have seen much use here in TN lately -- rumors are it rained while we were gone, but you can't tell it from the ground in the woods or the garden.

Big trees take a lot of water and the garden sits in full sun. Both seem to be parched, with the heavy clay soil having the basic consistency of baked adobe bricks. The corn here has long since dried up (but hasn't been cut down, as we'll use some of it for fall decoration) and the cucumbers are looking pretty heat blasted. The okra wouldn't look that bad, but a neighbor left a fence open while we were gone and the rabbits have eaten most of the leaves off the plants (they don't like the pods). There are still a few tomatoes (small, from water stress), but the peppers look absolutely great. The plants are not as big as in years past, but the peppers themselves are nearly as numerous and are full size. Most have even been ignored by the 4 legged intruder, so there will be plenty more peppers going into the freezer (sweet) and dryer (hot). Although we seldom use all the hot peppers, the sweet ones disappear each winter, finding their way into various dishes and stews. All the hot peppers left next summer, when new ones are being prepared, will either be ground into a mixed spice blend or marked to use as a hot pepper spray against garden critters the next year, so they seldom go to waste.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Packing Silage

Chopping Corn

The trucks and tractors are running 24 a day, stopping only for downpours of rain, here in South Dakota. We have our camper parked a parking lot in the center of Veblen, one of the many tiny towns in South Dakota with little industry other than farming. We have water and electric hookups, which is equivalent to the local parks (but not so scenic a view as when we've stayed at Roy Lake), at a total cost of $0.00 per night, due to the kindness of my mother-in-law's landlord.

The town has finally fixed their campground (four sites) and mowed the grass, for the first time in the many years we've been making these annual visits, but also raised their price from free to $20.00 a night. That may sound reasonable in some parts of the country, but the very nice park at Roy Lake (and several others throughout South Dakota) only charges $12 per night and includes bathhouses. We paid $21 a night for the only commercial campground we stayed in on the trip up - it had the same full hookups as the town has installed, plus cable TV and free shower facilities. The next town over gives visitors three free nights at their campground, then charges $10 a night; similar rates and free spots are found throughout the mid-west and we often spent under $10 a night for full hookups in city run campgrounds across upper Michigan on our last trip. I didn't check, but suspect the commercial campground in Sisseton doesn't charge much more than Veblen charges for their four mown spots near an unused ballfield.

So, what makes them think that they can get away with such high prices, especially in a town that is many miles off a seldom used interstate, a town that isn't on any road going to or from another major location? A town that has no real grocery store (sure, the co-op gas station has some stock, but not a lot more than many large convenience stores in the eastern states) and is more than 20 miles from even a very small version of a chain grocer (and 80+ from a city of sufficient size to have an actual department store, bookstore or mall).

Two things: first, there is now a commercial dairy operation at each end of the city limits (carefully placed in the county, just in case the city thinks they might get any tax money - apparently, unlike our local city, they haven't heard of strip annexation to extend fingers out roadways and then gobbling up any local industries while ignoring farmers that would use costly services) and, second, the influx of crews that are chopping corn. Dairy cows eat a lot of corn, but not picked field corn, where the ears are separated from the stalks after they have dried, or sweet corn, still on the cob. Instead, cows eat corn as silage - the entire stalk of corn, ears, tassels and all, is chopped up into a green mass and then piled for use later in the year. We arrived just as the chopping season was starting and they were expecting 20 crews to do the chopping. In addition to the actual chopper (photos to come later), there are many trucks used, as the chopper mows down a field without pausing and the trucks jockey into place to grab all the silage that comes out of it's chute, then make the dusty trip over to where they are weighed, dump and then several tractors are used to pile everything up and pack it down so that it will last for a long feeding season. Those chopping crews were the ones they were anticipating filling their campground (we only saw one there for the two weeks we were in town), but most probably ended up staying in motels in other towns nearby (none of those here, either).

So, there we were, with trucks driving thru town from early morning to night, tractors running the entire time as well (at least they shut down around 10pm - one year they went 24 hours a day), kicking up a green dust that covered everything and required washing your windshield every day, even if hadn't been anywhere. The only thing worse - now that there are feedlots and their holding ponds at each end of town, any still day or if the wind comes from either direction means the stench is so bad you can't stand to be outside. At least a northern or southern wind removes the smell, but one of those won't be a fix soon, as there are plans to put in a third dairy. Much of the surrounding areas is reservation land - and the native Americans are now mostly blocking these large feedlot operations. But Minneapolis uses a lot of milk and they have found at least one area in South Dakota that wasn't as aware of the downsides of modern dairies and fell for the promise of increased jobs revitalizing the town. Instead, few locals will work in the dairies (instead, large numbers of mostly illegal hispanics work in them) and much of the money is sent to families in other countries. The local bar has been remodeled (but is now owned by the dairy - as is much of the rental housing) and seems busy at night, but sitting on your porch and enjoying the evening is something that can only be done when the wind is blowing from the right direction. Somehow, it doesn't seem that life in this town has been improved in the several years that these dairies have been in operation.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pears: Two Down, Two to Go!

Final Result

Four trays of hot peppers and one of sweet corn. These can sit on a shelf at room temperature for months, but the corn won't last that long around here. The peppers will probably mostly end up ground and put into spice mixes, but a few will be used whole in stir fries.

Late Tomatoes

Unlike the peppers, the tomatoes have not been so happy. They are on the same soaker hose section and have the same mulch, but just never go enough moisture to keep up production or fruit size. Maybe with the rain last weekend and what is predicted to come our way as Gustav heads north, there will be some late fall fruit to make up for the very poor summer results. The only fruit close to a normal size are the paste tomatoes - others are roughly 1/4 normal size and the heirlooms simply refused to set more than one or two fruit each. It's been enough to keep up in fresh tomatoes for eating and cooking this summer, but no new ones went to the freezer or were canned this year. Luckily, last year was a bountiful one and there are still whole tomatoes frozen and many cans of sauce and "stock" left to tide us over during the winter.

We gave up buying tomatoes at the store several years ago (when even "garden/vine ripened" tomatoes there meant hothouse, mealy, under ripe and tasteless. Instead, in winter we eat was we put away the previous year and look forward to that first fruit of summer. The same decision on asparagus was made about the same time - ours comes in the size of man's thumb, reaching 18" for harvesting and bears for about 6 weeks; it would probably be longer, but by then we are tired of asparagus and just let it leaf out and gain strength for the next year. No more imported, pencil thin asparagus that is so-so in flavor and often tough and stringy even 6 inches from the tip. Instead, we have great big fat spears grilled, steamed, broiled and stir fried nearly every day until we can't stand it any more. None of it goes into the freezer or is canned (ugh!); any tougher trimmings are instead dried and saved until winter, when they are powdered, reconstituted in chicken stock and cooked into cream of asparagus soup. Nothing else is needed, other than a bit of salt, pepper and perhaps a dash of sour cream.

Dehydrated Peppers

One of those trays of peppers, nearly dry and ready to store. These hot peppers form the basis of several spice mixes we use and have much more flavor that those "red pepper flakes" most have in their kitchen, left over from the wedding gift spice rack.

Sweet Corn

Three weeks of hot dry weather took a toll on the late sweet corn. Watering meant there were a few ears to harvest, but the quality wasn't that high for eating fresh. Instead, this is going to the dehydrator and will become cornmeal. Not my first choice to use as meal (usually, fully matured ears that naturally dry on the stalk are used), but they will work as cornmeal. This variety was one of our favorites in early picking - it comes in yellow with a blush of red on the kernels, then matured to a full read ear, which was still perfectly sweet.

Hot Peppers

One garden crop that hasn't minded the heat, dry weather has been the peppers. Hot, sweet or anywhere in between, all have done well, supplemented with once a week watering via soaker hose and heavily mulched. No sigh of disease or insects, they plants hang so heavily with fruit that many seem to be creeping along the ground like vines, with branches in danger of breaking from the weight. This is just one of four trays going into the dehydrator this afternoon, while close to 5 gallons of sweet peppers are destined for the freezer.

There are four 2-gallon buckets overflowing with asian and european pears awaiting processing as well. This year, they'll go the freezer in a light syrup, rather than be canned (although canned asian pears are one of my favorites, we simply don't have the time to do them that way this year).