Sunday, April 25, 2010

So Glad to Be Home

I spent the weekend with my daughter and son-in-law in San Antonio and had a wonderful visit with them.  But I'm so glad to be home.  The two and a half hour drive from their place to ours is just long enough to make you feel a little road weary when you finally reach your destination.  Add a 45 minute grocery stop in the middle and you can definitely start feeling a little drained.  But as soon as I turned into my own driveway, I was smiling.  Seeing my own yard at the end of the driveway and knowing that Yeoldfurt would be there waiting for me just refreshing, like an unexpected cool breeze on a hot day.

The dog and the hens met me at the gate and 'talked to me' all the way up the sidewalk to the back door.  Either they were chiding me for staying away for so long or trying to fill me in on the events of their weekend without me.  I found Yeoldfurt in his office, taking a break from all the chores and projects he imposed on himself in my absence.  He does that every time.  He knows I like him to pace himself and not do too much at once or too much in the heat of summer.  But as soon as he knows I'm going to be gone for a day or two, I can almost see the wheels turning ...he's dreaming up projects that he can tackle while I'm gone.  I can't complain too much since I do the same thing to him.  Just seems different when I do it.  Ha! 

Other than stocking up a few sale items at the grocery store, I didn't do any prepping this weekend.  I didn't even make bread.  But we'll make up for next weekend when our 13 year old niece is comes to visit.  Yeoldfurt and I will take her to the range to practice with her 22 Cricket (just her size) and then she and I will have a bread bake-athon and see how well the new dehydrator works for raising several loaves at once. 

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

It's HERE!

We did it. We bought a dehydrator. We shopped, we compared, we deliberated and finally decided on the Model 3926T from Excalibur.

Why Excalibur? Because they are an American company and have a stellar reputation. This particular model has 9 large trays which translates to 15 square feet of drying area. The 7-inch fan has an on/off switch and is place vertically on the back wall of the unit. Having the fan in this position rather than on top facilitates even distribution of air flow to all the trays. This model also includes a 26 hour timer ...very convenient! All this and a 10-year warranty, I think we got a great deal.

A surprise bonus that I did not think about until I read the manual is that I will be able to raise bread in the dehydrator. Sure I know a dehydrator is warm and all you need is a warm place to raise bread. But the design of the Excalibur allows me to raise up to four loaves at a time. You just remove the trays and place a pan of hot water at the bottom. Then arrange your loaf pans on a tray, and slide it into place just above the pan of water. Cover the loaves with a cloth to keep them from drying out and close the door. Set the thermostat on 115 degrees and go on about your business. The hot water keeps the air moist and the dehydrator maintains a constant ideal temperature. In summertime, this is not a big issue but in wintertime we keep the house at 65 degrees so I have had to use the oven to raise bread. Using the Excalibur for this purpose will be much more efficient.

One of the options we considered before we bought the Excalibur was a look-alike model currently advertised through Cabella's. The unit LOOKS like the Excalibur and supposedly ships from Excalibur, but the reviews were mixed. When I was looking at it last week, there were four reviews ...two that said basically it was 'a good product for the price' and that they would recommend it and two that complained of a a pungent odor of plastic when they used it.  One person said his whole house smelled like he just opened a dozen brand new shower curtains and he would definitely NOT recommend it. The difference in price between the unit Cabella's was selling the real deal from Excalibur was $100. I'm not sure if the Cabella's model would have cost shipping, I don't remember. But shipping was free through Excalibur and, in light of the mixed reviews, we decided to spend the extra hundred and buy from Excalibur.   We are not disappointed.

For the first drying session, I set the unit up in the kitchen, preheated it to 135 degrees and let it run while I peeled, cored and pared three pounds of apples. By the time the apples were ready, the dehydrator had been warm and running for 45 minutes.  I am happy to say that that there was absolutely no odor of warm plastic as mentioned in the reviews on the unit from Cabella's.  I definitely think we made a good decision.

Three pounds of apples loosely spread in a single layer took up only four trays.  Since I was not using all the trays, I set them at approximately even intervals from top to bottom just to keep the airflow as equal as possible on all trays.

The book says 7-15 hours at 135 degrees for dried apples. The more humid the environment, the longer the drying time. We're in Texas, folks, so relatively high humidity is a given. We also had a rain storm last night so the humidity might be higher than normal. But I set the timer for 9 hours and we'll see what we get.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Horses: Cribbing & Windsucking vs Wood Chewing

Though the terms 'cribbing' and 'windsucking' meant two different things 40 years ago, they seem to be commonly accepted as interchangeable these days.  What I have always called a cribber is a wood chewer in today's horse world.  Wood chewing is a very destructive habit.  A horse learns to chew wood for one of three reasons ...actual hunger where there is not enough roughage in his diet, or a mineral deficiency where even a horse that appears to be well-fed craves wood or, finally, out of sheer boredom.   Horses that are stalled for long periods of time are very prone to developing bad habits such as wood chewing.

The following video is an example of the damage a wood chewing horse can cause:

Windsucking, or cribbing as it is also called these days, is when a horse hooks his teeth onto a solid object like fence rail or post and gulps air.  Horses generally learn to windsuck from watching other horses do it.  He gets an endorphine rush from the act so it quickly becomes a habit.

The following video is an example of a horse windsucking.

Both cribbers and windsuckers are extremely destructive to wooden structures in their environment and to themselves. A horse's teeth naturally wear down through it's lifetime. The act of wood chewing or wind sucking causes excessive wear to a horse's teeth. Lack of good tooth surface affects a horse's ability to eat and maintain a healthy weight which ultimately affects their longevity and quality of life.

In my experience, once a cribber (windsucker), always a cribber.  There are special collars that make it uncomfortable or impossible for a horse to achieve his endorphine high from windsucking, but I have never known anyone who claims to have cured the habit with the collar.  The horse may not crib with the collar on, but they cannot wear it 24/7 so the habit is never broken.

Because horses are almost always in a herd situation and other horses will learn the habit from a cribber, many boarding stables will not accept a horse that is a known cribber.  Many individual owners will not buy or keep a horse that cribs.   Yeoldfurt and I adhere to that philosophy.  Since our horses have turnout nearly 24/7, are well-fed and are not stalled except for feeding time, they are never likely to develop cribbing or windsucking on their own and we would never bring a horse home that would teach them such a destructive habit.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

What's in Your Garden?

Four weeks ago today, we planted our first seeds in this year's vegetable garden.  And because patience has never been my long suit, I added a few bedding plants the following week.  When I happened upon six packs of heirloom tomato plants for just $1.98 and singles of cilantro, yellow bell peppers and hot chili peppers for just 98 cents each, I couldn't resist.  

The cilantro and pepper plants went inuckets and are doing great.  I would have bought several of the cilantro.  We love it for salsa.  But they only had one left and it was a sad straggly little thing.  But after just three weeks of TLC, it's growing nicely. 

These are yellow bell peppers.  We use them on salads, in casseroles, in scrambled eggs and ...Furt's favorite ... stuffed peppers. 


And, finally, we have Big Jim Medium Hot Peppers.  We like jalapenos but they don't always like us.  This variety is supposed to be as flavorful as a good jalapeno but with a milder bite.  

Potatoes are a new adventure for us this year.  I grew them successfully for a couple of years when I lived in Colorado but that was a long time ago and a whole different climate.  We bought a 1-pound sack of Kennebec seed potatoes from the local co-op and have not been disappointed.  Great for baking, or can be chopped or sliced and then dehydrated for making soups, stews and casseroles.   We had enough to plant two 8-foot rows in the garden plus another four plants in two tire gardens.  As you can see, they are thriving.

Peas are our other new adventure this year.  We planted two rows in a 4x8-foot section with Alaska green peas.  They were the first seeds to sprout and are growing great.  Please ignore the little weed sprouts.  I have been waiting for everything to sprout and get well-established before I go back and weed the rows.  I will be using layered sheets of newspaper to mulch around the vegetables now that they're up and growing.  I used this method before and it works great.  After it's gotten wet and dried several times, the newspaper layers take on a thickness and texture similar to paper egg cartons.  Weeds cannot penetrate but water is absorbed and keeps the ground beneath it moist.  The newsprint ink is vegetable-based so it is garden friendly. 

And here we have Kentucky Wonder green beans.  We planted two roWhat we don't eat fresh will be canned in pint jars.  Since it's just the two of us, the pint jars are enough for one meal for both of us.   The peas and beans will be ready to harvest in mid- to late-June, and we will plant a second and a possibly a third time before first frost this fall.  

Also growing but not pictured here are two varieties of pickle cucumbers, a 4x4-foot section of onions and garlic and ten tomato plants.  Five of the tomato plants are heirloom variety and we will try harvesting the seeds for next year.  Two of the other five are cherry tomatoes and the remaining three are Celebrity hybrid tomatoes.  In addition to canning the excess, I plan to try drying all the varieties to see which perform best in a dehydrator.  We plan on a buying a dehydrator in the next week or two so we should be well set-up for a big tomato crop. 

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