The Long, Hard, Winter

It’s been a rough winter for us on the homestead. As Ed told you, we lost all our bees. By the way, thank all of you who offered him so much encouragement. We really appreciate it. He has decided that if we can make it through some financial difficulties, he will try again.

So, yes, we’ve had some financial difficulties, which we aren’t through yet (prayers always appreciated), and we’ve had some health issues as well. The health issues have mostly been mine, and I’m still trying to work through all that. The doctors can’t quite figure out what’s wrong, although they have some guesses (prayers appreciated there too).

Weather-wise, it has been a cold, wet winter. I have no idea how much snow and rain we’ve had altogether, but the well is overflowing. Remember that drought last summer? Yeah, we’re over that.

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As you can see, the water is actually out of the well and climbing the cinder block.

In addition to the wet, the bitter cold presented its own challenges. There were several days where the temperature was below zero, and that was without the wind. From what I understand, the local kids have missed at least fifteen days of school due to bad weather.

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Part of the elm tree on the garage and chicken tractor. Thankfully, the rest of the tree is still standing

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Our car stuck sideways in our driveway

When we finally had some pretty days, Sunny Rooster couldn’t wait to free range himself. Unfortunately, he got out one time too many, and all we found was feathers. Chicken Girl is inconsolable. We put all the chickens back in the big coop. One of Moony’s hens decided she liked laying eggs back in her old coop, so she was getting out too. Praying she’ll get over that. Don’t think Chicken Girl could take losing another one so soon.

The coop renovations never got finished last fall. With all the water, some of the posts started to shift, so it looks like we may have to scrap that idea and start over. Whatever we do, it needs to be soon so we can keep any independent chickens from leaving the coop.

A neighbor, who has veterinary experience, gave our chickens some medicine for the mites. They will probably need to be treated again though. She said the coop will need to be scrubbed out because they live in the wood. One more reason for a new coop.

This picture is from a few weeks ago. Chicken Girl noticed that one of Moony’s claws was curling back into his skin, so she decided to clip it. I don’t know what Bookworm was doing. Supervising?

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Chicken Girl, Moony and Bookworm

On a lighter note, Libby is doing very well and has gained all her weight back. She still has no bowel control, but it’s solid so we can quickly clean it up. She’s obviously feeling better, except for some arthritis, and often plays with the other dogs. Both Gracie and Rex enjoy playing with her, but I think Meeko is a little jealous of “his” Libby.

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Libby and Gracie

For some reason, Meeko and Rex, who were both neutered as puppies, have decided they need to mark the house. We don’t know if it’s a dominance thing or an anxiety thing. Regardless of the reason, we need to do a deep scrubbing to make sure they aren’t just coming back the odor, which they can smell a hundred times better than we can. Great. One more thing.

Recently, I had two pleasant surprises that fell right in line with my wanting to “learn it all.” The homestead blogging network that I follow but don’t belong to had a giveaway of the introductory course from The Herbal Academy of New England. I entered but didn’t think any more about it. (I enter things all the time). I was shocked when they emailed me that I had won. So, yes now, I am working through that course, and yes, I’ll be sharing some of that info with you.

The four herb pots that I put in the basement greenhouse for winter are doing very well. The smell of rosemary and lavender is wonderful inside that little enclosure. I should have done it already, but soon, I will get some seeds started. Not sure how much we really want to do this year, but I do have a few herbs that I definitely want to start, so I’ll share that as soon as I do it.

The other surprise was discovering that there is someone here in Braymer who weaves and spins. After I told her of my interest, she invited me to a group of people who are big into fiber arts, so yes, I am learning there too. Got my first left-handed knitting lesson last week, and got to play with a spinning wheel. I need a LOT of practice. So expect to hear more about that too.

Ed has a new series of posts that he is working on that he’ll start sharing with you next week. In the meanwhile, I’m working on my own set of “make your own” posts.

Connie

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Bye Bye Bees

So where have I been? Frustrated, angry at myself, and feeling like a rank failure. Oh, did I mention feeling sorry for myself? Yeah. There is that. The last I spoke to you folks about my bees, I had three healthy hives that were going like gangbusters. I had harvested enough honey to pay for the purchase of one nuc I made last year, and everything was going well.

About ten days passed as I did other things, and then I revisited the hives. Two were just gone. I mean empty. I opened the hives and found signs of wax moths, and I thought that was the problem. However, I am wondering about that now and I will speak about it later.

First, I checked the third hive, which was a good three to four hundred meters from those two. It appeared to be fine, showing no signs of problems at that point. I even pulled the lid while not wearing my bee gear to look. They seemed happy and healthy. more about that later.

When I opened the two empty hives I had my second surprise. There were not very many dead bees on the bottom board. No more than a dozen which is about what I might find if I had disassembled a healthy hive. So where did they go? I think “go” might be the operative word here. These bees were not killed; they seem to have just left.

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Why I think they just left. Ten days ago at most these were FULL of honey.

This was in late September. I kept a close eye on my final hive, and changed the top board for winter. Then the worst winter I have seen since we moved to Braymer hit us. Early in October we had a freeze that set down on us for over a week. When I checked on the final hive, the bees were dead. Not gone like the first two: dead. There was good honey and no real sign of hive beetles or wax moths. Just dead.

It was the freeze, I was not the only bee keeper in the area to lose hives to this freeze. It just happened it was my last hive. And, for me at that time, the last straw. I was heart sick, guilty, angry at myself, nature in general and, yes to some extent, God. Aside here; it is OK to get angry at God. If you read th psalms David was angry at God more than once. Just as long as you do as David did and try to end your rant with “Thy Will Be Done”. Even if you have to say it through clinched teeth. Oh, did I mention feeling sorry for myself? Yeah, that too.

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The other hive with Wax Moths I immediately disassembled and put all the parts in a freezer for over a week. This one was waiting for freezer space and I made certain nothing was getting out until I took care of it.

Things I said to my loving wife, Connie, at the time included but were not limited to, “I liked living with a farmer but never particularly liked farming.” “There is a difference between wanting to raise bees and being able to.” Cut off about five yards of that kind of material and you got the idea. Frankly, somebody probably should have given me some fruit and cheese to go with that whine.

So that is where I entered the winter. I froze all my equipment for a week, some with nature’s help. Then I went inside and tried to figure out what I was going to do about the bees. I cannot afford to buy more bees at this time. That is still where I am at today. Am I going to try to get back in the bee keeping business? If so how? I have a lead on the possibility of some wild bees and there appears to be two hives who absconded right here on the place I might could trap.

So what is God trying to tell me about the bees? Is the message, “Ed, bee keeping is not your thing.” Or is it, “Suck it up buttercup and drive on because you have not failed until you quit.”

Seriously, right now I still do not know the answer, but spring is finally beginning to break. There will be another day unless all the snowfall and the present rain doesn’t drown us all.

So I will go outside, clean up some equipment, save what I can and decide. Do I sell it, or try again? We will talk in a week or so.

 

Christmas on the Homestead

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
You could hear me grumble, mumble and grouse.

The socks on the mantle were no longer there,
The cats had taken them, only heaven knows where

The children were screaming and wrecking their beds
Playing games with VR sets strapped to their heads

While Connie was yelling and raising a flap
So Meeko would stop trying to get on her lap

The whole scene was crazy: mad as a hatter
if something else happened well what could it matter

Four dogs barked and ran for the door
Then Meeko stopped and peed on the floor

I opened the door in the new fallen snow
to see Sunny the Rooster free ranging below

When suddenly I jumped straight up in fear
As Meeko ran howling with a cat on each ear.

And grumpy old Libby, still lively and quick
was chewing on cookies meant for St Nick.

You call them pets but they were worse than a flame
stampedes of destruction their favorite game.

Out Libby, Out Meeko, out Gracie and Rex
You cats better cool it or you will be next!

To the top of the dog house, over looking the wall
Get back here Gracie, before you fall!1224181520c (1)

All our papers and pens had learned how to fly
When Bookworm was clearing a place for to lie.1224181713 (1)

And Christmas cards strewn all over the floor
Where Captain had left them as she went out the door

Out in the chicken coop, as the snow flew
Chicken Girl chastised a chicken or two

No one is laying, not Noya or Ren
Not one single egg from one single hen.

Connie was wanting to put up the tree
But feared that Meeko would drown it in pee

And Rex would fight Gracie for each Christmas treat
and Libby would chew shoes off everyone’s feet

So we jarred up some honey to spread Christmas cheer
Giving thanks bees hibernate this time of year

Bam Bam came home from his day on the job
letting back in the wild canine mob.IMG_0934

Meeko destroyed a third of the house,
but still couldn’t catch that pesky gray mouse.

And Libby, so old, came in the door last
but an expert at mayhem, she’s catching up fast.

Harley and Adora, the crab and the cat
stay to themselves as they eat and get fat

Of course you spilled flour when making bread
but how did you get it on all the dog’s heads?

Through all this mess, we smile and recall
It’s Jesus’ birthday, and He saved us all.

It’s not about presents or recalcitrant pets
It doesn’t matter what anyone gets.

The GIFT that was given that first Christmas Day
Didn’t come from an elf or ride on a sleigh

It came directly from God’s righteous hand,
The gift of salvation from heaven to man.

And our final message with out all the jokes
Merry Christmas to all from the homestead old folks

Ed and Connie

A Slow Week on the Homestead

Sometimes with homesteading, as with any other kind of lifestyle, you have a slow week; a week where there isn’t much happening. For us, this has been one of those weeks.

The weather has given us a break, the dogs have settled down into the new routine (as have we), and I’m trying to decide just how much I want to do for Christmas.

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Gracie thinks she’s Snoopy.

My friend Mary Lue, gave me some of her sour dough starter. From what I understand, it’s been around for a long time. Anyway, I’ve been playing with it some, and today I have bread rising. I also experimented with a sour dough donut recipe. Since I don’t have a donut cutter, I just used a pizza cutter and cut the dough into squares. They were good. You can find the recipe here.

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Starting the 8 hour slow rise.

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These were good! Even Chicken Girl liked them!

Since it was such a nice day, I decided to go outside for awhile, and like almost every other time I go out, Sunny Rooster greeted me. He is our self proclaimed free range rooster. He goes in and out of his pen whenever he feels like it. The hens could too, but they don’t.

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You’ll notice that Sunny is outside the pen and the girls are inside.

Once we get the coop completely finished, we’ll be able to put both groups in it, but right now. Moony and his girls are still in the little coop, which is fully winterized at this point.

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The big coop: A continuing work in progress.

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The winterized little coop, that has definitely seen better days. 

I told Chicken Girl to come out with me, and we would let Moony’s bunch out for a bit.  They probably stayed out a total of fifteen minutes, and then they decided to go back in.  Moony has all his feathers back after his last molting. Isn’t he gorgeous?

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Moony and the girls enjoying some free range time.

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Moony Rooster

Unfortunately, we are still fighting a mite infestation.  Every time we think we’re done with them, they come back, so I am looking at some different treatment options.

Like I said, it’s been a quiet week on the homestead. I’m sure that can’t last long!

Connie

Pistol Pack People (The Sidearm)

My previous looks at firearms might have left you with the impression I am not very respectful of the great American icon, the pistol. If so, let me clarify, you are right. The only saving virtue of a sidearm is that you can strap it to your side and pull it out only when you need it. That is unlike a shotgun or a rifle, which is in your way and on your mind, until you can safe it and secure it somewhere.

 

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Flintlock Pistol All of them were handmade this one was just too pretty.

With the advent of the flintlock, the sidearm became more practical. The original Flintlock pistols were single shot just like the rifles. The only multi-shots being multi-barreled. They were crude, heavy and simply for repelling boarders, meaning stopping targets at close range in a hurry, and as a back up when you emptied your one shot rifle or musket.

Pistols stayed this way for a couple centuries. Oh there were experimental designs of the Pepper Box multi-barrel type and some experiments with the revolver design but nothing really practical until a young sailor carved out a working single action revolver model from wood. That sailor’s name was Samuel Colt. Yeah, that Sam Colt.

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Patterson Colt, The earliest successful adoption of Colt’s patten

So the first practical multi-shot pistol was the revolver as designed and adapted by Mr. Colt. It was a single action. Single action means every time you want to bring another round into battery to fire it, you must pull back on the hammer, which revolves the cylinder, cocks the hammer and re-sets the trigger. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer drops and ignites the primer, which fires the propellant and sends the bullet out the barrel.

The next advance in the pistol was the double action revolver. A double action revolver means that the trigger serves the function of cocking the firearm, bringing another round into battery, and releasing the hammer to fall and ignite the cartridge.

The next and, I would say final, true advance in handguns was the automatic (now called a semi-automatic by some) pistol. Experimental models were released in the 1890s but the automatic pistol came into general production with such models as the Mauser 04, Luger P08 and the Colt Model 1911 The numbers on both refer to their date of acceptance into military service as does the Browning M1935 the first really successful double action automatic pistol.

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The M1911 Pistol Probably the greatest improvement in sidearm design since the revolving cylinder.

Automatics come in single action first shot, which means that you have to cock the hammer either by use of the slide or manually before firing the first shot then the firearm fires every time you pull the trigger. They also come in a double action first shot design which means as long as around is in the chamber all you have to do is pull the trigger.

The history lesson is over. Let’s start with the question of how do your really see yourself using this firearm?

Remember, at its very best and with you at your very best, a shot out to 50 meters (about 55 yards) is very hard and requires a lot of concentration and skill. So the pistol at its is  still best used for repelling boarders.

When I was in the business, the average police shooting was done at twelve feet, lasted less than two seconds with two and one half shots were fired total. (That includes both parties.) The TV long time, multi-shot, run and gun is a myth and like all myths it is mostly based on one or two truly legendary incidences.

IF, God forbid, you get in a pistol fight with an assailant the odds say you are going to be close enough to smell his body odor. That is if you were not already too distracted and scared to notice, because in less time than it takes to say this, it will be over and someone, maybe both someones, is going to be dead or injured. That is the reality of a pistol fight. So if you intend to have one you need a pistol that can win that kind of fight.

Back to questions you need to answer, “How much of your life are you wanting to commit to learning about, practicing with and maintaining a handgun?”

All firearms require fine motor skills but the handgun requires the most. The rifle is more forgiving of lack of practice and the shotgun is most forgiving by the nature of its round. Fine motor skills require the most practice. If you do not believe me ask the people I play guitar with.

All firearms require maintenance. Even weapons that have not been fired and are cased and covered need to be checked, wiped down and maintained on a regular basis. I would recommend once a month. The more complicated the firearm the more maintenance it is going to need. The amount of time you want to and are willing to invest in practice, care and up keep of your weapons is going to help dictate what type of weapons you need to keep.

Now I am going to name names, not to advertise for someone or to limit choices but to give you my “best of a type” that is available.

SINGLE ACTION REVOLVER: Largely there is only one name still making a modern single action revolver; that is Ruger. They make everything from a .22 caliber to a .44 magnum in all sizes and barrel lengths. The most intriguing entry they have is the Ruger Blackhawk .357 magnum convertible. This piece comes with a 9MM cylinder that will allow you to fire 9MM Parabellum bullet through it. Since the .357 can fire all types of .38 caliber cartridges this give you a very wide range of ammunition.

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Ruger Blackhawks in a variety of sizes and two calibers (357 and 44 Magnum)

Its positives are it is tough, easy to maintain, fairly easy to use and extremely accurate, if you need to play out around that 50 meter mark.

Its negatives are that you have to learn to manipulate hammer and trigger, and the fact it cost about seven hundred bucks last time I checked.

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This is the Colt Python, it was retired by Colt in 2005 and is no longer in production. I just like to look at it and it is a primary example of the Double Action Revolver

 

DOUBLE ACTION REVOLVER: More choices here and in a wider price range. I actually had to check to see if Smith and Wesson was still in the revolver business. The answer is yes and they make a good one. Pricey, but good. Ruger also has a line of double action revolvers, again, high priced but excellently made. Taruis has also moved up in the revolver field, making clones of Smith and Wesson products and some of their own these days.

Caliber options in revolvers center around .38 caliber and .357 magnum. At the risk of one too many confusing caliber histories, the round named .38 Caliber in American revolvers is actually a .357 caliber. It seemed fair to round up. The 9MM Parabellum round? Oh that is exactly 38 caliber. Confused yet.

The take away from this little trivia lesson is that a .357 magnum can eat .38 Special rounds but the .38 special cannot eat the .357 magnum rounds. Knowing that, which one do you think I am going to recommend? Buy the .357 even if you intend to fire .38 special; it is more sturdy and gives you more options.

SINGLE ACTION AUTOMATICS: There is one design of the single action automatic still on the market. That is the venerable M1911A1 design. Buying a Colt made pistol requires a bit more cash than most would want to pay. Especially when Tarius, Springfield and Auto Ordnance all sell a version.

Positive: Strong design excellent safeties (three safeties on the pistol) good accuracy.

Negatives: Must cock the hammer on first shot and it’s heavy.

DOUBLE ACTION AUTOMATICS: Almost all of the newer designed autos are double action first shot. Chamber your round, lock the safety and carry. Deploy your pistol, take it off safe, pull the trigger. Simplistically, that is how they work.

Positives: Unless you train like a maniac, the DA Pistol is going to give you a quicker 1st shot.

Negatives: More moving parts means more parts to break and (I don’t care what others say) I think they are not as safe as the 1911 with a grip safety, half cock safety and full safety.

Then there is the Glock. Closer to the Double Action Auto, the Glock is its not quite this nor that. It is almost as easy to use as a revolver and gives you the higher capacity of an Auto-pistol.

Before I go on, a moment to talk about the lowly .22 caliber. Yes, it is under powered and too small to be your go-to combat pistol, but I still recommend that  if you intend to own firearms, you have a solid .22 caliber revolver to complement your rifle in that caliber. Why? If for no other reason if you do find yourself doing serious business with .22 caliber cartridges you want a lot available.

To summarize, I have said all that to say this:

If I were buying, I would probably look first for a solid .357 magnum revolver, and if you want a name, a Ruger GP 100 or a S&W Model 66

My sentiment would send me looking for a good Springfield or Auto Ordnance 1911, but this is not about sentiment is it.

My next practical choice would be a Glock, and I would likely go for the Model 17 9MM.

Other than the stroll down sentiment lane  for the great old 1911, my choices are practical for a person who wants something that hits, has some stopping power and something that is probably going to go bang every time you pull the trigger, even if you do not have the time, talent or inclination to baby it.

Since we have talked about combat situations and hunting,  I want to talk to you about over penetration. Over penetration is the simple fact that most bullets will penetrate THROUGH a soft skinned body, like a deer or a person.

Another great TV myth is the bullet that ONLY hits what you are aiming at, then stops dead in its tracks because its work is done. A .38 Special will fire a bullet completely through a 60 foot long Mobile Home unless it hits the fridge. That is what I mean by over penetration, and if the kinda sickly .38 or 9MM can do that, think what a .357 or .44 magnum can do.

For you hunters, that .300 Winchester Magnum or 30-30 will not just stop in your Mule Deer so you really want to know what is out there behind Bambi’s Dad for at least a mile, or until there is something big and thick in its way.

If you have one at all, having a good firearm is best. Having a good understanding of firearms is absolutely required. Owning a firearm is an exercise in freedom and, like all such exercises, it carries a load of responsibility.

When you pull the trigger it is YOUR bullet. What it hits is your responsibility.

God’s blessings,

Ed

Author’s note: Admission, a lot of my tone of derision for the sidearm is that of a spurned lover. I grew up on Cowboy movies and could spin and border shift my Fanner 50 when I was seven. To grow up and find out that my favorite firearm was the least effective in SAVE MY LIFE!! situations was kinda hard on a true believer.  But the sidearm does serve a legitimate purpose as a firearm you can have with you and concentrate on other things at a need.

Winter Came Early

The last few years, we haven’t had much of a winter. Last year, we had a week or two of some frigid temperatures, but we never had any snow to speak of.  By the middle of summer, as I wrote about here, we were in a serious drought.

Since we haven’t had a “good” winter in a few years, we felt like this was going to be the year, and some of the winter forecasts agreed. As I wrote in my last post, we have already had some cold temperatures. Well, this last week, winter came early.  Friday evening, we were under a “Winter Weather Advisory”. By Saturday morning, that changed to a “Winter Weather Warning”, and by Saturday afternoon, we were under a “Blizzard Warning”.   It started with rain about nine Sunday morning. By 11, it was turning to sleet, and our church dismissed early.  It was all snow by noon, and done by about 9 in the evening. We probably had somewhere around eight inches or so, but it was hard to tell because the wind caused so much drifting, we had some places that were bare, and others that were eighteen inches deep.

Ed got this amazing picture on Monday. He shared it on his personal Facebook page, but I wanted to share it here too. The sun was behind him, and he literally could not see what was in the camera viewfinder. He just aimed in a general direction and took the picture.

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Ed captured his own shadow

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This one is a little to the left of the other one. Look at the weight of the snow on the juniper tree in the center of the shot.

Now, for an update on Libby. The vet informed me yesterday, that it could take a couple of months for her to get control of her bowels again. Wonderful. So while it is no longer runny, it is still coming out whenever and wherever it wants to. We were giving her two showers daily, but now, we’re down to one every few days. As long as she doesn’t lay in it, she’s good.

Last week, when it was warm, she really enjoyed being outside, so I decided (since it was nice and warm), to get a new pen built sooner rather than later. Yes, sometimes I do get the bit in my teeth, much to the consternation of the rest of my family. That being said, we now have a small pen built off the front of the house, with plans to double the size of it this spring. All the dogs can go out, and stay out for as long as they want without us having to worry about them. We used all the experience we had from all our past pen building failures to make this one right the first time.  The area is also small enough that I can go out and clean it daily, keeping track of who is doing what. Yeah, I can tell, for the most part, whose is whose. You all were wondering about that, weren’t you. If you have dogs, you know just what I mean.

Most of the time, they go out, do their business, and come back in. Libby would rather be out, so to provide some temporary shelter, I put her old dog crate out there and fixed a tarp over it. Ed started taking the old dog house apart, with plans to use at least some of it for the new one. Then came the Blizzard Warning, and the whole thing became a rush job. Ed was working, so Bam Bam got the job. Chicken Girl and I helped as best we could. When it was done, it was large enough to hold all four dogs, and give them all room to move around. Then we put a whole bale of straw inside.

Saturday night, Libby would not come back in. Meeko was torn at first, but decided to stay out with her. Since the weather wasn’t bad yet, I let them stay out there. I knew I would be able to hear them if they needed back in. I didn’t hear a peep out of either one of them until I called them back in Sunday morning.

Yesterday, they all went out for awhile, and I took this picture.

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New pen and new dog house.

I was concerned about all four dogs being in the house, as well as in a small pen, together, and there have been some tense moments, but I think everyone is starting to relax…even the cats. One of them left a mouse in front of my bedroom chair last night. Thanks guys!

On the chicken front, there are still some mite issues. Chicken Girl brought one of the hens in the other day to dust her. All the other chickens are fine, so we are kind of concerned about her over all health, because we know a weaker chicken is more susceptible to secondary infestations.   Meeko was very interested, but he kept his distance. Ed clobbering him with the last one he killed may have finally got the message across.

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Meeko trying hard to be good.

Next week, Ed is planning to continue his firearm series, with a post about hand guns.

Connie

The Rifle and the Carbine (Barks here and bites way over yonder)

The story comes down to us about a 19th Century Coroner’s Jury who declared a certain death a suicide. Thinking perhaps an explanation was in order, the Jury noted that the victim had attacked, with a pistol from fifty yards away, a man who was carrying a rifle.

The shotgun is the Utility Infielder of firearms, the Carbine is shortstop and the rifle plays all the way out to DEEP center field. The pistol should spend most its time riding the bench. A war story from my own past. I was a young soldier going through training with firearms and today we would learn about the venerable and legendary M1911 Colts .45 Caliber Automatic Pistol. Otherwise known as the .45 Automatic.

A Sergeant First Class Drill Sergeant sporting a Combat Infantryman’s Badge with a Star held up a forty-five and said the following, “If you find yourself in combat and this is all you have to fight with you are not having a good day.”

So what is a rifle and a carbine? Lets approach the carbine first since the rifle was an adaption of the original model. A carbine is a long barreled (normally more than eighteen inch) firearm. Many years ago such a firearm was referred to as a musket.

A carbine normally, but not necessarily, fires a lighter load than the rifle. However what really sets the two firearms apart is that the carbine’s barrel is not grooved, so the projectile (bullet) has a tendency to tumble after it leaves the barrel, making it less accurate at distances.

The M1 Carbine is an excellent example of this firearm at its best. Its advantages were that it is shorter and lighter than the rifle by the same designation. It’s disadvantage was that the carbine’s true effective range was under one-hundred fifty meters while the rifle’s effective range was easily five hundred and that limit really only depended on the skill of the shooter.

The carbine’s uses would be for those times when you need something with a bit more range and possibly a higher magazine capacity than a pistol, but you do not want to be lugging a full sized rifle about with you. Years ago, while living in Texas and spending time exploring old Ghost Towns and what not, an M1 Carbine resided behind the seat of my truck.

When the firearm was being refined in the 17th and 18th century, they were largely single shot muskets with a barrel as smooth as a water pipe. The best example of this musket was probably the Brown Bess used by the British Army for many years. While it was the best of the breed, it was horribly inaccurate.

In the fifteenth century in Germany, the process of creating a spin on the bullet by grooving the bore, the inside of the barrel, so that it would create a spin along the axis of the bullet making it much more accurate.

So why, if the rifled musket or rifle was that much more accurate, was the musket still in use for a couple centuries? Because the musket was easier to maintain and clean and quicker to load. Anyway, the average soldier was lucky to be able to hit the ground with his hat.

If the overall history of the rifle is something you would like to know more about check here.

What we want to discuss here is whether we need a rifle or a carbine, and if so what calibers? We do remember what calibers are right? Essentially 100th of a inch. Let’s start with Carbines. Carbines have largely lost favor with most folks, though the military does issue an M4 Carbine that came along after my time.

The advantages are lightness and compact size; the disadvantage is range. If you want a firearm to stuff behind a seat in your truck or keep in a survival Go Bag, a carbine would do nicely.

If you are going to do your hunting in the brush country of East Texas or my own Smokey Mountain Laurel thickets, a carbine is a great thing to have. If you intend to hunt in western Kansas, you are better off with a rifle.

A big part of the equation on rifles and carbines is types of actions and caliber of rounds. Let’s talk about those for a minute.

Actions:

Automatic, As long as you hold the trigger down it will keep on spitting bullets until it is empty. Of course these are not normally available to the general public, but let me tell you that even speaking as a former Infantryman, you really ain’t missing that much. On automatic an M16 will empty a 30 round magazine in less time than it takes to say, “My rifle is empty and I am standing here helpless.” If you really need quick fire that much I recommend the Semi-Auto.

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AK 47

Semi-automatic, Every time you pull the trigger it fires a bullet. Take your strong hand hold it up and open and close your index finger as fast as you can. Now you should realize the sustained rate of fire on a semi-automatic firearm is really depending on your skill with the weapon because your finger can close really quick.

Advantages: Quick fire.

Disadvantages: Complex action, need for more cleaning and maintenance and, at certain calibers, recoil and control of the firearm.

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Ruger 10 22 Rifle One of the best 22 calibers on the market.

Lever Action: Ever watched a western movie? If not and you intend to now to see how a lever action works, I recommend the classic Winchester ’73 starring Gary Cooper. A lever action firearm has a lever beneath the stock and the fore-stock which opens the breach, ejects a shell and pulls another up and into battery for firing.

Advantages: Fairly quick if you practice. Mostly compact like the Winchester Model 94 30/30 that is sold all over the place. A good all around firing system.

Disadvantages: The action will become finicky and jam on you if not well maintained.

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Winchester Model 94

SIDE NOTE: For those who read my shotgun article, I neglected to mention that lever-action shotguns were made by Winchester and others years ago. The pump action was the better choice.

Bolt Action: If you are not familiar with bolt actions have you ever seen a door or a fence with a toggle type bolt that must be rotated and then pulled back? That is essentially how a bolt action works. I talked about them in my post on Shotguns.

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Springfield Model 03 30.06 Rifle

Single Shot: This is what it says. Just like the single shot shotgun it breaks from the top and you hand load a round every time you fire. Some really good hunters enjoy these weapons because you pretty much have one chance to do the job.

Double Barrel: They do make double barrel rifles but they are rare. Mostly they were made for big game hunters years ago and can cost in the umpteen thousands of dollars. Unless you intend to hunt Elephants or F350 pick up trucks, it’s not really a weapon you need.

That largely covers how rifles work. Now lets talk about what they eat. Rifles come in a dizzying number of calibers from the Barrett .50 caliber, which fires a round designed to destroy lightly armored vehicles, to a relatively new entry in a .17 caliber for varmint hunting. Given enough time, I can find you an article on every one that swears you cannot live without it.

I once asked a noted survivalist, soldier, gunsmith and gun dealer this question. “If you could only have one rifle which caliber would you choose?”

He answered without hesitation. “A good Twenty-two caliber rifle.” I was shocked because I expected some high velocity small caliber wonder, or perhaps a medium sized super powered weapon,  or maybe some big old piece like the 440 Winchester. Nope, that same old .22 I had shot as a boy was his must have rifle.

A well made 22 caliber is tough, it is light and easy to carry, it has range and is as accurate as the person behind the rifle can make it. It also has a very small light bullet which means you can carry a few hundred for the same weight as a small box of .308 Winchester rounds, and in the field weight can be a big problem. Finally the .22 caliber round is perfectly capable of one shot kills on any soft skinned target in the United States, except the very large ones like bears, buffaloes and such.

So yes, I now agree with my friend from Texas. If you need a rifle, the first one you need is a .22 So what after that? I don’t know.  Again, what do you intend to do? Let me tell you what I believe you should NOT do.

Do not be seduced into buying the latest “man toy” just because its sexy. The price on M16/M15 clones is ridiculous. What are we looking at, upwards of $1500.00? I can buy a Mini 14 in the same caliber with what I believe to be better accuracy, and the same rate of fire for about half that, buy a 30/30 Marlin, and still have enough left over for that new 12 string guitar my wife says I don’t need.

Look to your needs, not your fantasies.

Next time I will talk about the handgun.

Ed

Vanishing Bees, Constipated Dogs, and Mite Infested Chickens: Reality on the Homestead

I’m pretty sure that after four years of reading our blog (If you’ve managed to hang with us that long), you know that this is not one of those that paint a wonderful, rosy picture of homesteading. We would be lying if we did that, and the Lord frowns on lying (among other things).

So you share in our successes, and more often you share in our failures. We hope you can learn from our mistakes and not make the same ones. If nothing else, it might give you a good laugh.

To us, however, this particular post isn’t funny, but it is an example of how quickly things go can wrong, and how bad they can get if you don’t get ahead of them just as quickly.

First, a couple weeks ago, Ed went out to set fresh hive beetle traps and check on all the bees. I was working at my computer, and Ed came in and said that two of the hives are gone. At first, I thought he meant they were dead, and my mind raced to figure out how that could have happened so quickly without us noticing something. Then, I realized he meant they were gone, like swarmed, only we really aren’t sure if that is what happened either.  The two hives in question were the ones  sitting closest together: the original hive that we split last summer, and the nuc that we bought last spring. The split hive, sitting out in the pasture, is still intact. I imagine that Ed will want to write about all that, but it may take him a few weeks to process it. It’s hit him pretty hard.

Then, Monday morning, Chicken Girl came back in from letting the chickens out, carrying a hen with her. She said the feathers around her vent were completely gone, and as she turned the hen around to show me, she gasped and said, “She has mites!” (Oh wonderful.) I told her to take the hen out to the garage and I would bring out the diatomaceous earth.

We have had unseasonably cold weather this week. We’ve had temperatures dip down into the single digits and we’ve even had some snow. That is more like late December and January weather for us, not early to mid November. Monday morning, it was cold and snowing. That’s why I told her to go to the garage. It’s not heated, but it would be out of the wind. So we dusted that hen with the DE, and then we examined the other three in that coop. One more had some, but the others didn’t. We treated them anyway. This morning, Chicken Girl told me she thought the mites were gone, but she’s going to keep a better eye on it. The chickens in the little coop were fine, but Chicken Girl is worried about moving them to the big coop once we get it finished.

Now, for the true highlight of the month. As you know, we have our big dogs, Meeko and Libby, outside in a large enclosure. You know this because we have written several posts about the seeming impossibility of keeping them in it. Two years ago, we reduced it in size by half, which actually put them farther away from the house. We go out to feed, water, and spend time with them twice a day, and were taking them out for a walk with us about once a week. However, once Bam Bam moved back in with the little dogs, the walks became problematic, and we hadn’t done it in awhile.

Libby has always been rather aloof. She isn’t crazy about being handled unless it’s her idea, and it’s hardly ever her idea. Add that to the fact that Meeko is a big attention hog. Getting past him to get to her is a challenge. OK, it’s nearly impossible without someone else distracting him.

Libby is also one of those dogs that gets a thick, heavy undercoat in the winter, and then spends all of spring and summer getting rid of it. By fall, when it’s time for her to coat back up, she looks semi emaciated, but it’s just that she’s lost all that hair.

Well, A few weeks ago, I noticed that Libby’s winter coat didn’t seem to be coming in. She looked even more thin than usual. She was eating the little bit of canned food we give them every morning (in case we have to sneak some medicine), but it didn’t look like she was eating a lot of dry food. We were trying to watch that anyway because she has worn her teeth down pretty far, and we wanted to make sure she could still eat the dry food. That being said, she was still taking dog biscuits from us and seemed to be chewing those just fine.

I wanted to get my hands on her, so I told Ed to get hold of Meeko. I was shocked. She felt like skin and bones. Later that day, I brought both dogs in the house and started watching what she was doing. I thought she might not be getting enough to eat and gave her a whole can of food, putting her in Ed’s office so that she could eat with out having to fight off the other dogs. She didn’t touch it. That was Thursday afternoon (Nov 1). By Friday, I realized that not only was she not eating, she wasn’t pooping. Thinking I might have to have her put to sleep, I called our regular vet. They were swamped and couldn’t get her in until the following week. I didn’t think she could wait, so I found another vet, and got her in that afternoon.

The diagnosis? She was constipated. No, she was Constipated. Her colon was completely full and it was backed up into her small intestine. She had lost 15 lbs! I don’t need to tell you how we felt, do I? The vet did tell us that her blood work looked great. Other than the obvious problem, she is in good shape.

So the vet gave us laxatives and instructions for the weekend, and told us to call her back on Monday. Since part of the laxative regimen required miralax in her drinking water, we couldn’t let the other dogs get access to it. So we confined Libby to our bedroom. Meeko did not like that at all.

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Meeko moping outside our bedroom door.

Monday nothing had changed, so we took her back. That was Monday, November 5th. She got to stay with the vet for a week, and we brought her home Monday November 12th. (The same Monday Chicken Girl discovered the mites). We did go visit her on Friday the 9th. They had a cone on her to keep her from pulling the IV port out. They took it off for our visit and told us to watch her because she’s quick (like we don’t know that!).

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Visiting Day: She was not happy.

When she came home, she was mostly cleaned out (I won’t give you all the details…yes, thank me), but they want her to stay on all the laxatives until Thursday. Then they will tell us how to start backing them off. The good news is that she obviously feels better, she’s eating and she is no longer constipated. However, thanks to the laxatives, she has no control over her bowels. Oh, and her weight had dropped to 50 lbs for a total loss of 22 lbs!

We cannot put her back outside because one, she has neither fat, nor winter undercoat, and it is cold, and two, we have to watch her to see how things are moving. We can see it alright. We can smell it too. We’ve already given her four showers to help keep her clean (yeah, she loves that), and are in a constant state of washing towels and blankets.

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After her bath this morning, she was shivering, so I put a blanket over her. She seemed to like it.

Oh, did I forget to mention the bill? $2365.00! That blew what little budget we had, and we had to remind ourselves that the Lord is our provider. We do the best we can and leave the rest to Him.

Don’t be too surprised if, in the next few months, we write a post about building in new dog pen right off the house, probably utilizing the front door. Also, I imagine Ed will want to tell you about what it was like living with Meeko in the house for a week, without Libby.

However, I think for next week, he might be continuing his series on firearms. He probably needs to get his mind of his missing bees, and cleaning up after a dog with free flowing bowels.

Connie

 

The Right To Keep and Arm Bears (I always love to say that!)

I have some reluctance in approaching this subject because there is a lot of controversy around it, and some folks will take offense just at talking about the subject. However, I am a retired Infantry Soldier I was also a Law Enforcement Officer for a number of years, and I was raised with firearms so I know a bit about them.

I want to take a moment to talk about firearms for the Homesteader. I will not address whether or not you should HAVE a firearm on your homestead. What I could give you is my opinion and we both have one of those. Think about it, do whatever research you need to, and then decide for yourself.

One thing that amazes me is the fact that so many people seem to believe knowledge of a subject is intrinsically evil. Why? When did ignorance become virtue? So you do not like firearms and think they are bad. You find one leaned against a tree. Is it safe? What kind is it? Is it even real? Where is the safety? How do you unload it and make it safe? Even if you have no intention of ever owning a firearm, let me suggest to you that learning about them could be a very good thing.

For the sake of this post, we are going to assume you are looking at purchasing the necessary firearms for your home. We will also assume that what you know about firearms could be written on the back of a matchbook with a big crayon.

First question: what do you see yourself doing with a firearm? Is it for hunting, defense from predators, defense from people, all of the above, or just because you want one?

Some, not me, tend to approach the subject along these lines. For hunting and protection from predators, you need:

A fairly large caliber rifle for deer; a varmint rifle with a small caliber with a lot of power behind it; a twenty-two caliber because who does not need a twenty-two; and a shotgun.

For home protection, you need to break the bank buying various pistols, revolvers, short rifles, fake machine pistols, defense modified shotguns, and specially manufactured high speed low drag, multi-colored do-hickies to hang off your thing-a-ma-bobs.

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If you cannot see it the caption reads “I think I won.” Thank you Mr. Gaham Willson

So here’s me. You want to fill all the needs we spoke of above. You do not want to devote your life and your fortune to the care and feeding of an assortment of what are essentially high-tech rock throwers. As the kids say, “I feel ya man.” (Do they still say that?)

Shotgun.

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The Hallmark Greeting of Firearm, when you care enough to send the very best.

That’s my answer. The venerable, multi-function scatter gun. If you want a firearm that, using assorted ammunition readily available in any sporting goods store and most Wal Marts, and that can efficiently and effectively take anything from a Quail to an Elephant, you want a shotgun.

Let me clarify that. Before I try to take a charging elephant with my 12 bore loaded with slugs, Mr. E is going to have to win the race. The fact is that with some skill, some nerve, and God on your side, a 12 Gauge slug will take an elephant at close range.

If your needs are simple home defense, defense against predators and hunting, there is no better choice than a shotgun. Loaded with the right sized shot it can do the job at short to moderate range.

Therein is the scatter gun’s shortcoming. It is a close in firearm that loses it’s effectiveness and accuracy quickly. So if you need to work much passed fifty meters, you might want to reach for something else.

But what kind of shotgun?

Shotguns come in some basic models:

Single shot or double barrel: This is your basic tube or tubes with a firing pin on one end and a hole in the other. They are loaded by breaking down the barrel(s) and inserting shells. The safety in most cases is located on the top of the stock, just at the back of the barrels.

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single shot

 

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Double Barrel The Old “Two Shoot Gun”

Positives: They are absolutely simple with few moving parts. This simplicity means they are easy to learn to operate. Single shot guns are really cheap, doubles are not so much.

Negatives: You only have one or two shots depending on whether it is a single or a double. I have seen people who are superbly practiced, reload a single or double in the blink of an eye, but not many and not often.

Bolt: I do not believe anyone still makes these, but some are still out there if you are buying used. The fact they still are is some testament to their toughness. Normally, they are three shot pieces fed from an internal or separate magazine.

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Bolt Action

Positives: Unless they are collector’s item age and quality, they are dirt cheap. Most were made for and sold by Sears, Montgomery Wards or even J C Penny’s back in the day. As stated above, they are tough and simple.

Negatives: First, these are old guns and in the best of shape they are still subjected to aging. Something I am made aware of myself whenever I try to get out of bed in the morning. Also, bolt guns are normally slower actions than some of the others.

Pump: A pump shotgun operates by pulling the fore stock (just under the barrel) back to open the breach expel the spent round, and forward to put a new round out of the magazine and into the chamber, cocking the weapon and bringing it back into battery. Most of them are actually five shot piece, but have been plugged to three so as to comply with state hunting laws.

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Pump Shotgun

Positives: They are a sturdy piece of simple design that can be fired as quickly as you can learn to operate the pump. Depending on the manufacturer, you are going to pay somewhere between two and five hundred dollars new. In today’s modern gun market that is dirt cheap.

Negatives: Seriously, hard to say. Properly cared for, and barring serious accident, one of these weapons will outlast you. They are simple, they are tough, they bark right here, bite HARD over yonder. Can’t asked much more of a firearm.

Okay, lets play a little word game. When you are talking about rifles and carbines, automatic means you pull the trigger and hold it down and the piece will fire itself empty. When you are talking about Shotguns and Pistols, automatic means that it automatically chambers the next round, re-cocks the hammer and returns to battery so you have to pull the trigger every time you fire it.

Why? Originally all weapons which automatically cocked were called automatics, then Mr. Thompson, Mr. Browning and a few others introduced rifles and carbines that automatically fired. Those became known as Automatic Rifles while Shotguns and Pistols stayed as they were.

Automatic: Automatic shotguns will fire a shell every time you pull the trigger until it is empty. Normally they will hold 5 shells but are plugged to three.

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Automatic, Browning to be exact

Positives: They are really quick and, in the right hands, accurate. A well made one is fairly sturdy and will last, if maintained well.

Negatives: That “right hands” part above. Most time the man is not up to the weapon. An old adage, “When you try to do it too fast you only get to be half-fast.” (Say that real quick) Also I find them to be harder to keep functioning under rough conditions. Finally they are higher than a Bernie Rally in Denver.

You might get a sense that I am biased towards the pump gun. That would be true. Maybe it’s because the Trench Shotguns we trained on in the Army were pump, and the Shotguns we used in Law Enforcement were pump, but yes. I do prefer the pump shotgun and that is what I own.

But that also leads to a second and final bit of advice that can be applied to everything. When its REALLY important you are probably best served to stay with what “brung you to the dance”. Learn new things when the farm ain’t on the line.

Next time I write to you I will continue this talk on firearms. As I said, if all you want is a simple and cheap way to fit all those needs, a shotgun is your baby. But some of us might have other needs like more range or simple carry.

Next time I think we should discuss rifles and carbines. Oh, I have a short set of definitions for some of the words you found in this article. If you have other questions on words and meanings I will be happy to try to help.

SHORT SIMPLE GLOSSARY:

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Caliber or Calibre: Approximately 1/100th of an inch making a .50 caliber bullet about a half inch in diameter. This is somewhat deceiving because of tradition and the naming of bullet sizes from years ago. For instance a .38 caliber pistol actually shots a bullet which is .357 inches. The tradition dates back to the black powder cap and ball pistols.

Gauge: The exact definition of wire gauge is a little hard to put down in a few words. You are welcome to look it up but suffice it to say that a 12 gauge barrel is about .729 inches in diameter and the slug for that barrel would be slightly smaller.  As the gauge number increase the size decreases. A 16 gauge is smaller than a 12 and a 20 smaller than a 16 and so on.

Rifle: A shoulder fired, long barreled firearm which has groves around the inside of the barrel which force the bullet to spin as it leaves the barrel which increases accuracy and range.

Shotgun: A shoulder fired long barreled firearm designed to fire multiple projectiles from a shell at the same time.

Shotgun shell: Now metal and plastic but at one time metal and paper, a shot gun shell is designed to hold the primer and the powder charge and a number of small BB or ball bearing type balls which are fired from the barrel.

Shotgun Slug: A shell with a one piece slug inside the size of the barrel designed for shooting soft skin, larger game like dear and black bear.

So with all that said, see you next time and God Bless,

Ed

 

Preserving the Harvest

The reason for having a garden is not only to have fresh fruit and vegetables in the summer, but also to preserve them for the winter months. That can be done by canning, drying or freezing. This year, we didn’t have much of a garden so we didn’t have anything to put up, except for a few herbs that I am drying.  That is about the limit of my drying experience: herbs. My preferred method of preserving is canning although I’m still a novice and have a lot of learning to do. I save freezing for shorter term preservation.

As you know, we planted fruit trees last spring, and while they are all doing well, it will be at least three or four years before they produce any fruit. However, I am getting some preserving the harvest practice in this year because I was given several pounds of pears and granny smith apples.

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Pears are funny things. They do not ripen on the tree. They fall off and then ripen. You have to catch them quick because the window between green and rotten is very small. So what did I do with thirty pounds of pears in varying stages of ripeness? I made an enormous batch of pear butter. Let me just say in advance, that it wasn’t a good idea.

I used the pear butter recipe in the Ball Canning book. It called for pounds of pears per recipe and gives the approximate yields in pints (this is also where I rediscovered that my water bath canner is only large enough for pint jars) One recipe makes about four pints. First it says to peel and core the fruit. So Chicken Girl and I did that. We had to take a couple breaks to wash our hands and the knives because, if you didn’t know, peeling pears is a sticky mess.

Anyway, we filled my largest stock pot with pears. Then I was supposed to add some water and cook it until the pears were soft…um some of the pears were already soft…Then I needed to use a food mill or a food processor to make pulp, being careful not to liquefy it. A food mill is on my wish list, (and would have been a much better choice) but you use what you have right?

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Yeah, it’s full. Not a good idea.

Then I was supposed to measure out two quarts of pulp per batch. I had six quarts so that is three batches…but I started with thirty pounds of pears which was five batches? Fine, three batches it is.

So I added the sugar and spices and put it all back in the stock pot. I was supposed to cook it down until thick, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. What it did not say (anywhere in the book..I looked) was that this cooking has to be done on LOW and takes a long time (like hours). I had my fire too high and even stirring constantly, I could feel it sticking. What do do. I turned it off and went to look online for more information…Yeah low and hours…oh look there…crock pot! Yes! I have crock pots

So I pulled out both my crock pots and filled them. The bottom of my stock pot had thick black gunk stuck to the bottom that we are still trying to get out. My take from that is that I tried to cook too much at once over too hot a fire, in a pot with too thin a bottom.

Anyway, I left it all in the crock pot overnight. And canned it the next day. I ended up with twelve pints. I’m not impressed with it. Bam Bam said he thought it was ok, but then Bam Bam really likes pears.

As for the apples, learning from the pear butter experience, I went a little different route. First I made an apple pie (I don’t do home made pie crusts very well, but I wanted to give Chicken Girl the experience..she doesn’t do them well either). The pie tasted good, but it wasn’t very pretty. Then I came across a recipe for fresh apple cake. That was so good it was gone in about a day. Unfortunately, I didn’t get pictures of either.

Of course, I had to try apple sauce and apple butter, but only one batch at a time. If I could do that, then I would do more. I found recipes for both that used the crock pot. I’ll try the old fashioned way again, when I have better cooking pots.

I did apple butter first. I found the recipe here. So we peeled and cored the apples. I’ve had this little device for years, and I can’t tell you how much I love it. It pretty much does everything for you. Even if you need to chop them up more finely, it’s easy to do with them already peeled, cored and sliced.

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Love this apple corer/peeler/slicer!

Making the apple butter was an all day thing, because it needed to be in the crock pot for a total of ten hours. The first hour on high, the last hour with an open lid, and the eight hours between closed and on low. You can imagine how good it smelled. Anyway, it was supposed to make three pints. Well, it didn’t quite. It was more like two and and three quarters, so I canned two pints and left the third one open in the fridge. Ed and I had some with left over biscuits this morning for breakfast. Yeah, this is a keeper recipe.

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after the first hour

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All done!

Next came the apple sauce. Again, I found an online recipe. So, this morning, Chicken Girl ran five pounds of apples through the peeler. It took a little longer because the apples are beginning to spoil, so we had to go through a few bad ones. Sometimes, you can’t tell they’re bad until you cut into them, or until the corer gets stuck and you realize the core is no longer solid. Yuck. Anyway, back in the crock pot. This time on high for three hours. Again, the house filled with the smell of apples and cinnamon.

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Ready to cook

At the end of three hours, I opened the crock pot and took a look. Then I used a potato masher to mash the cooked apples and poured it into a glass bowl. Isn’t it pretty?

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Apple Sauce

It’s good too. It’s a little tart, which is ok with me. Ed liked it better than the apple butter and I did too. Like Bam Bam, he thought the pear butter was “ok”. I don’t. It tastes scorched to me. Looking at the jars side by side, you can see how much darker the pear butter is than the apple butter (the pear butter jars have labels).

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See how much darker the pear butter is?

Oh, and as for Chicken Girl? She won’t taste any of it. She only likes fresh apples. Once they’re cooked, she won’t touch them.

My thought for now is to see how many of the remaining apples I can save and turn them all into apple sauce.

What is your experience with preserving the harvest?

Connie