Fruit Tree Pruning

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It’s February now, and in some parts of the country probably still an acceptable time to prune fruit trees. Here in the Pacific Northwest however it is a little late for pruning. I did all our fruit trees in the first week of January. You want to try to time heavy pruning with tree’s dormancy. This way it will not effect their health or growth near as much. I was looking out side at my pruned trees, now covered in lovely buds which will this year be new growth, and it made me think a little. I had a father who was very good about explaining fruit tree pruning, and every year I was helping him outside in the bitter cold, getting first hand experience when i was growing up. I realized,however, probably not everybody grew up on a farm like i did, and probably did not have all those wonderful years of experience. How can other people learn if people like us never tell them? So, I thought I would write a blog for every one that has ever wondered how to prune fruit trees. 

    This will be like a tree pruning 101. There are so many factors, goals, desires, tricks, and different ways of doing things for pruning that really it mostly depends on a balance of what you know and what you are wanting out of your tree.

    The basic first step in tree pruning is shape. How do you want your tree shaped? Most trees you will want a kind of umbrella shape, for easily obtainable sunlight for the fruit, and also for easier harvesting. If you are starting with a fairly young tree, then you can decide how tall it will be by cutting out the top at the desired height, where new growth will grow a for next year. Determine the height you desire, and the general shape, and general size (circumference), and keep that vision in your head while you prune.

 Next, grab your cutting tools. (shears, loppers, a pruning saw maybe) and start thinning out unwanted growth. If a branch is totally undesirable then cut it off as close to the trees trunk as you can. If most of the branch is ok, or you want to start a new growth into a branch, then you prune the branch into how you want it to grow. Keep the part you want, and cut off the extra. Now here is where it gets kind of tricky. anything unwanted gets totally cut off and removed, but if the branch lets say has potential, but no small fruit bearing areas or “spurs”, then save desired new growth from last year, cut if off about 1/2 to 3/4 inch past a bud. Picking the right bud is the trick. The key is, which ever direction a bud is pointing, that is the direction the new growth will grow this year. For example: a bud on the left of a branch pointing out, will grow to the left and out, a bud pointing up will grow up, a bud pointing down will grow downward, and so on. So just remember when you are shaping a tree, those buds that you leave for the new growth MUST be pointed in the direction that your vision of the tree requires.

    And as i said before, for best results and sun collection I shape my fruit trees like an umbrella. Other trees that are for shade, lumber, etc. are generally shaped in more of a triangle, where a fruit tree is more of an upside down triangle. Remember you are not wanting to grow a 50′ tall apple tree, the fruit would be 30′ above your head and serve you no good.

 

 

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Summer Vegitables

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So you are all probably thinking “Uh huh, he said he would update once a week, yeah right.” LOL. Well, I try, but am only getting time about every other week. Last weekend we had our Annual Helmig Farms BBQ competiton so we were a bit busy.  Every year we host a large event (about 60 people this year here at our farm, where locals get together and compete in BBQ’ing in four catagories :Chicken, brisket, ribs, and pork.  Medals and trophies are awarded,  food and drink provided for every one, and a great time had by all. Alot of visitors seemed to gravitate towards the vegitable garden and asking different questions. As for our summer garden update, we took our last picking of green beans and wax beans on Tuesday night. I still need to pull up the plants as they are all done just have not had the time.  We were able to can 27 pints of green beans out of the deal, so that will be nice this winter. When canning, the wife did her batches just plain beans and some homemade bacon that I butchered and cured last fall. The batches i did i added the same homemade bacon, but also through in some homegrown chopped up white onion.  The peas are also all done, we ended up with 4 gallons of peas frozen.  They take up alot of room in the garden but are sure yummy, and for pea lovers they are a wonderful treat in the wintertime in casseroles, on salads, etc.  The pea plants are already all ripped up. Later this weekend my Dutch Flat Head cabbage is ready, so i will need to shred it and ferment it for sour Krout. Recipes are on the internet as for recipes, it takes about a week or maybe a little more depending on volume, temp, etc. Also i notice my onions have fallen over.  Stalks have not turned yellow yet, but will today or tomorrow I am assuming. So i will need to pull them as well, bunch them, and hang them. Hang onions in a cold dry place for maximum keep time. Depending on the species you can keep for example yellow onions almost into next planting season. My white onions for example, or red onions, or walla walla’s will not keep near that long due to their sugar content. You can still hang them, but they will spoil fairly quick. Debating trying some shredding and freezing methods this year for longer keep time on the white onions.  Tomatoes are doing wonderful, growing like weeds, and fruiting, but are not yet ripe. Zucchinnis have had one massive picking already. We canned 18 jars of Zuch-relish, and I gave about a dozen Zuch’s away to my mother as she likes making Zuchinni sweet pickles. She wanted to trade me a few jars in trade for the produce, but I don’t much care for sweet pickles, so politely refused. There are about another 50 lbs of Zuchinni that are still growing but not yet ready for harvest. My garlic never did all that great, as they were from 2 year old cloves, but i will take the ones I can and hang for drying to use for re-planting stock next year. Carrots are also all ready for harvest, and are very large. I added some sand into the carrot area before I tilled it this year, and they grew a world better! Much larger in diameter and length. Will probably get 10 pints or so out of the carrots.  Peppers are also doing well, jalepenos and bells, and have been being used through out the summer for cooking. I didn’t plant a whole bunch of peppers this year as i still have loads of them in the freezer from years before.  On a side note “Sammy” our Yorkshire pig is fattening up nice also, and loving the canning season! Sammy gets all the scraps from canning, and plants i yank up, etc on top of her feed ration. So she is a happy camper, and will be more than ready to butcher in fall. Butcher time is strictly dependent upon pigs weight, and cool weather. I wait till the weather is cold so i can hang the pig and age it for a few days, but not totally cold enough to freeze, as frozen animals are a PAIN to cut up and process. usually October is prime butchering season. 

Catching Rain

I am sitting in my comfortable recliner, some annoying cartoon on tv that my 3 year old is watching, the fire next to me roasty and toasty, and on the window panes the rain beats hard. The past week or so it has been half way decent weather out, but here in early spring with fresh new fruit trees in the ground, seeds planted in the garden, we need a rain. Which brings me to my topic of the day. Catching, and using rain to our benefit, not work against us, and here in western Oregon we get TONS of rain! Lets start off by first mentioning that in spring, rain is needed to help growing trees and shrubs establish root systems, and provide water for the growing plant to begin structural growth, bud development, and over all cell structure. With out the rain, plants would just wither away and die. Same for seeds planted in gardens or flowerbeds. The rain is needed to keep these seeds moist and germinate so they can sprout and grow up through the earth. One way of harnessing rain that some may not think of, is i store rain water. I have rain collection units around teh farm here, from 5-gallon buckets at the bottom of gutter down spouts, to rubber maid tubs catching rain off the wood shed roof. Why would I collect rain water you ask? Well, if I was in the city the use of rain water for plants would be super beneficial due to city water containing so much cholorine and flouride and such and would provide the plants with a more pure and nitrogen enriched source of water. However, we do have a well here on the farm, so the purity of the water is not an issue. Mostly i use the collected water for animals. The rabbits and the chickens both live off the collected rain water (except in the summer, then it is well water). Its also handy sometimes having some easily accesible water for washing off farm or garden tools, rinsing off eggs, washing off dirty hands what ever. Rain is our friend, not our enemy, and has a million uses. As the years progress I intend on expanding my rain catching system to something a little more substantial, but in the mean time what i have will have to work. Happy rain catching every one.

Cuttin’ Kindlin’

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It was a bit chilly this morning so i made my way out to the wood shed for an arm load of wood and a handfull of kindling to get rid of the morning chill in the house. I saw my Kindling box was empty. An often occurance that I am sure many of you know. So i packed the wood into the house, then set off back outside for some morning twilight kindling chopping. Usually I will chop enough to fill my box, and stop there. The box is approx 2ft long x 1.5ft wide x 1.5ft tall. It holds enough kindling for a couple of weeks any ways. So If illed the boxy, grabbed and handful, and went back into the house and got a fire going. With the fire soon roaring and wood stacked into the stove and heat for the morning secured, I thought about my often occuring lack of kindling, and how much I really don’t care for chopping sticks in the freezing cold right before daylight. So I figured I should go out and chope a little more to play catch up. I filled the box to the brim, and still had some left over. I had an idea, and just kept on chopping. Once i had a small mountain of kindling all chopped and a couple of hours gone, I went to work tying bundles. Basically a bundle holds a few handfulls of kindling sticks (probably 2-3 days worth in each). Tied the bundles with extra pieces of string, crap rope, and bailing twine, just what ever cordage i had laying around the wood shed area. In all I chopped 15 bundles, on top of filling my box. My thought, is I stacked all the bundles into the wood pile, and will save them for next year’s use. The box I will use for this years. Next time my box gets empty, I will fill it and chope 15 more bundles. Doing the same process of storage. I figure that way it wont take but a few more cuttings, and i will have enough kindling for the whole winter next near.

Every year once fire building is all said and done, and we are into long hot summer days. I go to the wood shed, and throw every single stick of wood into the lawn. I then add and stack all the wood I cut during the winter to season into the back of the wood shed, stacking my way out. Once all of the wood I cut in the fall winter and spring are all stacked in there, then i restack all the dry wood I threw in the lawn from before. This gives me a good, and evenly dry/drying Cache of firewood. It is a bit of work, but like food or water storage, you gotta rotate. Any ways, this summer when i will be restacking all my wood, I will add these kindling bundles into the wood pile here and there every couple square feet. i am thinking this way, for next winter, when i go out to the shed to get wood for the day, i can grab an arm load of wood, grab a bundle, and all my fire needs will be met in one single trip, instead of one trip for wood, and another trip out in the eraly morning snow and/or rain to cut more kindling that I ran out of. So any ways, gonna give this idea a try, thought I would post and update the folks here on wordpress that fallow “Prepper Farming.”

Trapping – “Skunked again”

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I have had a bad time with coyotes digging large holes underneath my fence and coming into my fields. I really would not care, other than i have livestock with babies in that field which would be a perfect coyote snack. So I set a series of traps in the dig outs, covered the traps, and baited them. I check the traps every day to humanly remove any coyotes or other animals that may get caught so they aren’t there stuck for days on end. Any ways, today’s trap check brought bad news. I walked through the field, through the timber, around the back of the pond to the first set of the trap line. First trap, a big female skunk! UUUUUGGGGG! Damn i hate catching skunks in my traps! i hate it for one obvious reason, they spray all over the whole set, and even dead you still get skunk all over you getting the carcass out of the trap. I also hate killing them becuase they dig and eat wasp and hornet nests and bees and are actually a good farm critter to have around. Last skunk I got I had to burn all my clothes (was dark when I checked the set so i was right on top of him by the time i saw him, he saw me, i saw him, I raised my gun, he raised his tail, and we both fired! Both hitting each other). So Any ways, daylight this check, and I saw him from a ways off. I raised my pistol, told my boy to cover his ears, and put a bullet in his brain from about 15 yards. (brain shooting a skunk at 15 yards is not an easy task for a novice! like shooting a quarter at 15 paces!). Any ways, he fell limp and i decided to leave him in the trap for now. He is dead and the trap is set so it is not like another animal can come along and get trapped also. So we walked down the fence line 100 yards or so, second trap was untouched but bait was missing. “Hmmmmm, that sucks” I thought. So off we were to the third set of the line. Something grey, too small for a coyote, too big for a squirrel. It was a Possum! Far from a coyote. So for a grand total of critters cought in my coyote killing efforts totals : 2 skunks, 1 possum, 1 bobcat, and 1 owl (don’t ask how in the hell an owlgot in there! but he did). So i decided to call it quits for the trap line. All i am catching are the critters I don’t mind having around. So I humanly shot the Possum, and removed him from the trap, throwing him over my back to take home and skin out. We walked back up to my second empty set again so that I could trip the trap, as to not catch anything else. I will wait till the wife gets home tonight, and have her watch the boy while i remove the skunk from the one trap, and reposess all my traps. I don’t mind having him there, but I have to hop the fence to undo the chains off of trees and what not, which would leave him alone in the field with cows, bulls, not so nice billy goats, etc. Better to just let mama watch him while daddy does his thing. Any ways, so i am standing in front of the middle trap set, and shove a stick into the covered area…. nothing! i shove it harder and poke vigorously at other areas in the set thinking maybe i missed the trigger. Nothing! i dug the stick underneath the trap and lifted it up out of the cover and saw the problem. No wonder my bait was getting stolen and not catching anything. When i covered the trap with grass, pine needles, and sprinkling of dirt… dirt had gotten wedged in the hinges, locking the trap in the open position. Finally i got the thing to snap shut, breaking the stick as anticipated. Now all the traps are sprung rendering them nuetral again. And tonight, with pistol on my side and flashlight in hand, I will go and remove all the traps, and roll large rocks in front of the coyote dig outs, in hopes that maybe the scent of me near the fence and their entrances blocked maybe they will travel on down and go into the neighbors farm instead of mine. Here is hoping!

Starting and Making Sour Dough

On our farm we grow more than just plants and animals. We also “raise” sourdough. You have to remember that sour dough is a living organism, unlike just flour alone. It needs fed, watered, cared for and nurtured. I have a small crock jar (one of those Porcelaine or similar jars with the lid on a hinge, a rubber gasket, and has the little metal clevice snap lock to close it) that I keep my sour dough alive in. This seems to work wonderfully. First lets go into a little basic sour dough care, and then I will go tino my own personal recipe. When you first start a batch of sour dough, mix all your ingredients and let sit over night in the crock jar. What I do, is “half it” and feed it every day for the first week- week and a half. After that I check it and feed it at least every week or twice a week, but in all reality it is actually more than that since I am always using it, and having to rebuild the supply. So in all reality I would say I am physically checking it, feeding it, and using it about every other day. Try not to let it go more than a week with out checking and feeding it or it will totally sour on you.

Now when I feed my sour dough I do what I call “half it”, and by this I mean I take out about half of the dough at one time. If I dont need that much, then the extra goes into a “chicken bowl” that I use to feed the chickens table scraps. So Any ways, I open up my Crock jar, and I spoon out half of the dough contents, leaving the other half in the crock. I then feed the dough in the crock. My feedings consist of flour, water, and some times a little sugar. I alternate small amounts of sugar on an (every other time) kind of schedule. Stir the contents till like batter, seal jar, and store until next use.

As sour dough works it will produce a strong smelling, dark colored “Hooch”, smells like rotten bread and alcohol. Which….. is excactly what it is. When ever you see hooch collecting, just tip the jar over the sink and pour the Hooch out. Then repeat steps of : Half, Feed, mix.

Now here is my recipe. I am sure there are better tasting, professional, and excact recipes on the internet. I make mine from memory of being a youngster and sitting on the kitchen counter watching mom on the old farm. I add a few different things than mom did, and kinda make it my own, but the basics are the same. What i do is find a good crock jar (I bought a set of 3 at Bi-Mart a few years back for like $10). Then I soak a “finger and thumb pinch” worth of yeast (any kind of bread yeast I have on hand) soaking it in hot/warm water, NOT COLD! the warm water activates the yeast and brings it alive out of dormancy. Cold water will not bring it alive, and you are apt to get some rotten stuff in your jar. Let water/yeast mix sit on counter for 5-10 minutes to activate. During this time I add flour to my crock jar. Here is where I make it my own by not sticking to just basic enriched white flour. I dont use measuring cups for this, so I will tell you in a very general guess, not excact remember, but to make kind of a different flavor of sour dough I use different flours. You can use just white flour or just wheat flour, what ever you like. But i use about 1/2 cup wheat flour, 1/4 cup white flour, and a 1/4 cup corn meal. I then add the water, and a “pinch” or two or white granulated sugar (this gives the yeast food and helps it start “working”) I also add a few small shakes out of my table salt shaker, however i dont think that part is neccesary. As for how much water to flour, no matter how big of batch you want to make, I use sight and feel as a guide, not a measuring device. I try to keep it just a bit thicker than pancake batter. So it is still just a bit runny, but not watery. Then just close the lid, and let it “work”.

As I said, check it, half it, feed it, every day for the first week at least, then once or twice a week thereafter. Be careful not to mix too much at once! Becuase when it starts working it can expand double its size, or more! So keep that in mind. I have my own bread recipe, which maybe I will share at another time, but there are tons and tons of recipes here on the internet once your sour dough is ready to use. It makes some of the best food there is! Soooooo many different things you can do with it. Enjoy folks, don’t be scared to experiment a little. Just kinda remember the basics, and tinker with it. It’s not an “excact science” kind of thing. Enjoy your new pet folks, a living and breathing soured dough.