Farmers in Hawaii

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USS Arizona memorial. An absolute must see.

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Hammock on the beach. Paradise.

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Kahua Beef Ranch on the big island.

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A vanilla plant. Very delicate and expensive.

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Yes. Almost $5 for a gallon of milk.

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Horseback riding in Hawaii. Now checked off my bucket list.

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On our way to the luau.

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Hula dancers.

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Itty bitty lizard.

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Whale watching boat.

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Counting Our Blessings

This is not the post I inteded to publish today.  But circumstances changed yesterday in a split second, and the post that was going to go up today will have to wait for another day.

I have bad news and good news.

The bad news is that my beloved Expedtion is no longer with us.

The good news is that everybody involved in her death is ok.

It seems my family just can’t stay out of the media this week: Afternoon crash blocks traffic in Black Hawk County

Many will remember this letter she wrote to me last year: A Letter from My Expediton  I had plans on expanding her involvement in this blog, and giving her a monthly column.  And now it’s too late. 😦

So, the details:

Justin, the kids, and I were in Cedar Falls yesterday on family business.  I was driving and turned left into oncoming traffic, hitting another car.  It was a very busy intersection, and it all happened so fast.  The airbags deployed, and I think that scared the kids more than anything.  Justin lost his glasses but was able to get out of his door, and helped the kids out.  My leg hurt, but I was able to get out of Justin’s door and help him get the kids to safety.  Praise the Lord for good samaritans.  A lady had pulled over and offered her warm car for the kids to sit in.

I have no idea how much time passed before the ambulance and cops arrived, but it wasn’t long at all.  When I got the chance to look at our car, it was pretty scary.  The whole front end was smushed up.  the other car was across the intersection, and other samaritans were helping them.  They looked ok, but the intersection was far too dangerous for us to cross and find out.

The ambulance pulled up to them first.  A paramedic came over and we told them we were ok.  He said the other people were ok, and the amblance crew didn’t stick around long.  This is the important part.  Nobody was hurt.  Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.

Long story short, the cops handled things, called a tow company, and everything was cleaned up and taken care of in less than an hour.  We were all pretty rattled by the whole thing, and my stomach churns whenever I think of how much worse it could have been.

So, farewell old Expediton, you served me well.  Thanks for protecting me and my family.

Parties and Presents

A New Year, A New Start

I’ve fallen off the face of the planet.  I know.

I’m back now.

My reasons for disappearing are deeply personal.  I’m still working on things.  Maybe someday I’ll share.  But not now.

But I’m back now.  And I’m vowing to stay here.

I’v been planning my comeback for a couple weeks now.  And what better time to start than the new year?  I’m not a big resolution maker.  But this year, I’m gonna try it.  I resolve to post three times a week here.  I’m re-committing to this blog.  With the help of Jan at Farmnwife, I’m going to participate in her 31 Days to a Better Ag Blog  group.  I hope it brings some good changes and helps me in my resolution. 🙂

And to give me another little kick in the pants, we were surprised over the weekend with news that we were on TV.  This past summer, we hosted a camera crew and reporter from PBS. We weren’t sure when the segment was going to air.  It turned out pretty darn good.  Here’s the link to watch it: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/video/video-playing-the-field-ethanol-in-iowa/12742/

2012…Bring it on!

 

 

8th Graders, Conservation, and Agriculture

Mrs. Hogan and a few of her students, headed out to test water quality on her farm.

They have more in common than you may think.  🙂  Really.

This past week I had the opportunity to participate in Mrs. Hogan’s 8th grade Conservation Field Day.  It was such an awesome, educational day.  I had a great time hanging out with 70-some 8th graders at Mrs. Hogan’s farm and listening to several different presentations about soil and water conservation.  There were representatives from the NRCS, a crop input company, the conservation station, and a naturalist from the DNR.

Al tossed foods, like yogurt, bananas, and granola bars out to the kids to demonstrate how fertilizer is like food for the soil.

It was a a crisp fall day, a gorgeous day for a field trip.  The bus full of kids rolled in and our first presentation was from Al, a salesman from crop input company.  He told us all about fertilizer and what it means to cropland and why we use it.  He had an interesting analogy to compare N (nitrogen) P (potassium) and K (phosphorous), the three main essential nutrients for the soil  to essential nutrients we need for our bodies.  N is protein, P is carbohydrate, and K is fat.  He had a ton of interesting facts about the nutrients present in our soils and how we must maintain and preserve them.

Surprisingly, no one got pushed into the stream. I was impressed by the good behavior of these kids on this beautiful day.

After Al’s presentation, the kids broke into 3 groups to rotate through 3 sessions.  I was assigned to help supervise a group; our first session included a hay ride down to the small stream that ran through the back of John and Margaret’s farm.  On the ride, Mrs. Hogan distributed various water testing kits and equipment amongst the kids.  When we arrived, they set to work testing the water for various nutrients and other factors.  I was impressed with how well they got down to business and assessed the stream.

The Conservation Station was an awesome educational experience!

This display at the Conservation Station was incredibly interesting, demonstrating the effects of soil runoff and how management of the soil affects it.

Our next stop was the Conservation Station.  This traveling exhibit was abosultely fascinating.  First, the kids got a chance to “own” and develop a piece of land in a watershed.  Then they discussed how their use of the land would affect water quality and what they could do to preserve it.  Then, we moved to a display of different soil preservation techniques and how they are affected by rainfall runoff.  The Conservation Station is sponsored by several different organizations across the state.  I highly encourage you to click on the link and check out it’s schedule of appearances, if you are able, you will get a lot out of seeing this display in person.   The presenters did an awesome job of providing factual information to the students about soil conservation and erosion.

Finally, the group got to learn about soil sampling techniques, and what sort of things farmers test their soil for.  Crop Production Services, a local agronomy company, was on hand with their soil sampling equipment, and the kids got a chance to take a soil sample and discuss the importance of caring for the soil.  (I missed out on this particular session, as it was part of my duties for the day to get lunch ready.)

A naturalist from the Swiss Valley Nature center brought a bunch of furs from native Iowa critters.

We had a nice lunch of ham sandwiches, chips, ice cream, milk, and cookies.  And afterwards, we listened to a naturalist with the Swiss Valley Nature Center.  She told us all about the way Iowa looked before it was settled, and what sort of animals lived here (and still do today.)  She brought a wealth of knowledge and a bunch of furs to show the kids.  I can’t wait to take my kids to the nature center some day!

The day wrapped up with each kid getting a t-shirt from the Conservation Station.  It was such a fun and educational day, I was honored to be a part of it!!  Margaret did an awesome job of putting together a balanced group of experts to educate her students about soil and water stewardship.  I’m certain her students gained knowledge they will appreciate for the rest of their lives.

If you want to see more pictures from my day, click here to view my Facebook album.  

Smells Like Money?

MANURE-- Nutrient rich, and downright pungent at times.

If you have ever taken a drive through rural America, chances are that you have heard the expression, “smells like money!”  This phrase is often used when an less than pleasant odor is present in the air.  Namely, manure.  Smells from livestock farms are plentiful and mostly unpleasant, I’ll admit.

Some would like to attribute this issue to the concentration of livestock facilities, modern confinement systems, and larger size of today’s farms.  I must disagree with this.  Livestock has always stunk.  Especially if they live outside, and after a rainstorm.  In the past, when there were more farms, there were more opportunities to get a whiff of “the smell of money.”  Without getting too technical, I will share a childhood memory of the hogs my dad used to raise and the distinct odor they left in everything in the house.  These hogs were raised outside, and if it had rained recently and the wind was in the right direction, you most certainly didn’t want to open the windows.  This was a year-round issue.

On the other hand, today I live less than 1 mile from our confinement hog buildings, which contain far more pigs than my father had.  There are only a couple days per year, when we are applying the manure to our crop land, that I smell them.  I attribute this to the fact that the manure is stored under a roof with ventilation systems to keep the odor to a minimum.

Now that crops are coming out of the fields, it's time to rejuvenate them with a little cattle manure.

Which brings me to another point, how the manure is applied differently today as compared to days past.  For the liquid hog manure, we will inject it into the ground, which keeps the smell down.  It also maximizes the nutrients from the manure that are available to the plants.  We factor in the nutrient content of the all the manure (hog/cattle, liquid/dry) we apply, which ensures we don’t over-apply it and put too much in any particular area.  Again, keeping the “eau de livestock” to a minimum.

Of course, management of a livestock facility is important in many ways.  Other practices that address odor management on a farm include, scraping and hauling the manure from outdoor lots in a timely manner, maintaining fresh bedding, containing run-off, proper storage of feedstuffs, proper handling of dead animals and compost, and proper storage and containment of manure.  It is important that we do all of these things on our farm to ensure it is a pleasant and safe place for us to raise a family, as well as give the livestock the utmost in care, which in turn provides food processors a quality commodity which will ultimately nourish other families.  

Before scraping and cleaning the manure from the yard.

And after cleaning the yard with the skid loader.

I’ve listed the specific things we do on our farms to keep the smells under control, but there are other cutting edge things happening out there.  Research is being done on feed additives and feed ration formulations that are aimed at reducing odors.   I’ve also heard of products that can be applied to the manure after it has been contained.  So far, nothing has become an industry standard, but perhaps, someday.

While I cannot argue that the smell of money is a pleasant one, I will say that I have gotten used to it.  We have 150 steers that live , quite literally, in our back yard.  And my windows are open anytime the weather allows.  I do this because the smell of freshly cut hay,  the sweet aroma of corn silage, and a cool clear breeze blowing through the house outweighs the possibility of an occasional whiff of cow poo.  Which, quite honestly, I really don’t mind that either.  Which is something only a true country boy or girl can relate to.  Think, the smell of the livestock barns at the fair, or the sale barn.  It takes you back, and is a reminder of the hard work that has brought you to the point in your life where you can appreciate it.

My little manure haulin' helper.

Easy Freezy Casseroles

Beef enchiladas.... ready to go in the oven... or to be covered and frozen for another time.

This week is what I like to designate as “calm before the storm” week. Very soon, we will begin our last hay crop harvest of the year, then roll into corn and bean harvest, followed by cornstalk baling for bedding.  When that is all said and done, it will be Christmastime.  My days of leisure have been numbered, as I have committed to helping on the farm as much as possible during all the harvesting madness.  So I’ve been spending the week preping for it.  Casseroles and other meals in the freezer, bookwork caught up to date and filed away, deep house cleaning, and the like have been on the to-do list.

A few have requested that I share some freezer friendly recipes here.  Ask and ye shall receive. First, some recipes from my friend, fellow farmwife, and sort-of neighbor Jennifer.  I haven’t tried any of these recipes, but they sure make me hungry reading them!  My next grocery list will be based off of these recipes, for sure.

Easy Baked Ziti
Pam Gates of Duluth found this versatile and kid-friendly recipe several years ago and has since modified it to suit her taste. While the ziti bakes, she makes a salad and heats a loaf of Italian bread. “I have also added cheddar cheese and mushrooms, ” she says. “Sometimes I divide it into two 8-inch square baking dishes, then bake one and freeze one.”
Hands on time: Total time: 30 minutes Serves: 8
Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
3 cups ziti, or your favorite pasta, under-cooked and drained (about 6 cups cooked)
1 (26-ounce) jar spaghetti sauce
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large skillet, brown meat and drain. Stir in ziti, spaghetti sauce, mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Spoon into 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Top with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Cover and bake 20 minutes.
Nutrition:
Per serving: 556 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 26 grams protein, 45 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 30 grams fat, 81 milligrams cholesterol, 792 milligrams sodium.

Country Casserole
2 cups small shell pasta, cooked and drained
3 cups frozen mixed vegetables, cooked and drained
2 cups shredded cheddar, divided
One can French fried onions, divided
2 cups shredded cooked chicken (can use canned chicken)
1 can cream of chicken soup
¼ cup milk
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine everything in a large bowl, reserving half of the cheese and half of the onions for topping later. Spoon into 9×13 casserole dish. Bake for twenty five minutes. Top with remaining onions and cheese, bake until cheese is melted, about five minutes more.
Freezing options: Instead of freezing this in your casserole dish, simply spoon it into a gallon ziploc bag. Lay the bag flat so that it will thaw out quicker and place it in your freezer. On the day you want it, take it out the night before and refrigerate or place in fridge that morning.
If you forget to do all of this, no sweat! Just microwave the bag until it thaws just a bit, pour into your casserole, and bake!
To bake a casserole that is still frozen, simply place in the oven while the oven preheats. This allows the casserole to thaw quickly and then bake to perfection!

SPAGHETTI CASSEROLE
From Simple & Delicious
INGREDIENTS
1 package (16 ounces) angel hair pasta
1-1/2 pounds ground beef
1 jar (26 ounces) spaghetti sauce
2 cans (8 ounces each) tomato sauce
1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese (used mozzarella cheese)
DIRECTIONS
— Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Stir in spaghetti sauce and tomato sauce. Remove from the heat.
— Drain pasta. Combine soup and sour cream. In two 8-in. square baking dishes, layer half of the meat sauce, pasta, soup mixture and cheese. Repeat layers.
— Cover and freeze one casserole for up to 3 months. Cover and bake the remaining casserole at 350° for 55-65 minutes or until cheese is melted.
TO USE FROZEN CASSEROLE: Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake as directed. Yield: 2 casseroles (6 servings each).

Crescent Chicken Bundles Recipe 
• 8 Servings
• Prep: 15 min. Bake: 20 min.
Ingredients
• 2 packages (3 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
• 4 tablespoons butter, melted, divided
• 2 tablespoons minced chives
• 2 tablespoons whole milk
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon pepper
• 4 cups cubed cooked chicken
• 2 tubes (8 ounces each) refrigerated crescent rolls
• 1 cup crushed seasoned stuffing
Directions
• In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, 2 tablespoons butter, chives, milk, salt and pepper until blended. Stir in chicken.
• Unroll crescent roll dough and separate into eight rectangles; press perforations together. Spoon about 1/2 cup chicken mixture in the center of each rectangle. Bring edges up to the center and pinch to seal. Brush with remaining butter. Sprinkle with crushed croutons, lightly pressing down.
• Transfer to two ungreased baking sheets. Cover one baking sheet and freeze until firm; transfer squares to a covered freezer container. May be frozen for up to 2 months. Bake remaining squares at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
• To use frozen squares: Thaw in the refrigerator and bake as directed. Yield: 8 servings.
Nutrition Facts: 1 serving (1 each) equals 363 calories, 21 g fat (9 g saturated fat), 90 mg cholesterol, 622 mg sodium, 17 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 24 g protein.

Breakfast Burritos Recipe 
• 10 Servings
• Prep: 20 min. + freezing
Ingredients
• 12 bacon strips, diced
• 12 eggs, lightly beaten
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 10 flour tortillas (8 inches)
• 1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
• 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
Directions
• In a large skillet, cook bacon until crisp; remove to paper towels. Drain, reserving 1-2 tablespoons drippings. Add eggs, salt and pepper to drippings; cook and stir over medium heat until the eggs are completely set.
• Spoon about 1/4 cup of egg mixture down the center of each tortilla; sprinkle with cheese, onions and reserved bacon. Fold bottom and sides of each tortilla over filling. Wrap each in waxed paper and aluminum foil.. Freeze for up to 1 month.
• To use frozen burritos: Remove foil. Place waxed paper-wrapped burritos on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave at 60% power for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes or until heated through. Let stand for 20 seconds. Yield: 10 burritos.
Nutrition Facts: 1 serving (1 each) equals 449 calories, 30 g fat (12 g saturated fat), 291 mg cholesterol, 626 mg sodium, 27 g carbohydrate, trace fiber, 18 g protein.
Mostaccioli Casserole Recipe 
• 12 Servings
• Prep: 25 min. Bake: 25 min.
Ingredients
• 1 package (16 ounces) mostaccioli
• 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
• 1-1/4 cups chopped green pepper
• 1 cup chopped onion
• 1 jar (26 ounces) spaghetti sauce
• 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cheddar cheese soup, undiluted
• 1-1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
• 3/4 teaspoon pepper
• 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
Directions
• Cook mostaccioli according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the beef, green pepper and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in the spaghetti sauce, soup, Italian seasoning and pepper.
• Drain mostaccioli. Add mostaccioli and 1-1/2 cups cheese to beef mixture. Transfer to two greased 11-in. x 7-in. baking dishes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover and freeze one casserole for up to 3 months. Cover and bake the remaining casserole at 350° for 20 minutes. Uncover; bake 5-10 minutes longer or until bubbly and cheese is melted.
• To use frozen casserole: Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Cover and bake at 350° for 50-60 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted. Yield: 2 casseroles (6 servings each).
Nutrition Facts: 1 cup equals 351 calories, 12 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 42 mg cholesterol, 633 mg sodium, 39 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 22 g protein.. Diabetic Exchanges: 2-1/2 starch, 2 lean meat, 1 fat.
Spaghetti Ham Bake Recipe 
• 12 Servings
• Prep: 25 min. Bake: 30 min.
Ingredients
• 2 packages (7 ounces each) thin spaghetti, broken into 2-inch pieces
• 4 cups cubed fully cooked ham
• 2 cans (10-3/4 ounces each) condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted
• 2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream
• 1/2 pound sliced fresh mushrooms
• 1/2 cup chopped onion
• 1/2 cup sliced ripe olives, optional
• 1-1/2 teaspoons ground mustard
• 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
• 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
TOPPING:
• 2 cups soft bread crumbs
• 1/4 cup butter, melted
• 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
Directions
• Cook spaghetti according to package directions; drain and place in a large bowl. Stir in the ham, soup, sour cream, mushrooms, onion, olives if desired, mustard, seasoned salt and Worcestershire sauce.
• Transfer to two greased 11-in. x 7-in. baking dishes. In a small bowl, toss bread crumbs and butter; add cheese. Sprinkle over casseroles.
• Cover and freeze one casserole for up to 2 months. Bake the remaining casserole, uncovered, at 325° for 30 minutes or until heated through.
• To use frozen casserole: Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Bake, uncovered, at 325° for 50-55 minutes or until heated through. Yield: 2 casseroles (6 servings each).

One for the oven, one for the freezer. A whole bunch of time saved!!

Thanks so much for sharing these Jennifer!  I cannot wait to try the breakfast burritos, spaghetti ham, and chicken crescents especially!  And, here are some links from my archives:

Upside Down Pizza

Oatmeal Pancakes

Super Yummy Meatballs

Cowboy Casserole

Beef Enchiladas

If anyone has any great suggestions or recipes for the freezer, I’m all ears!!

Hazel says, "Summer is over. Bring on harvest!"

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