Ranch Rules

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New daddy from the rent-a-bull man.

While I’m not much on living by the rules, many of which seem to me to be aimed at getting people to do only what someone else thinks they should/shouldn’t do, there are some ranch rules I do follow. They have less to do with controlling another person and more to do with plain old common sense. They will also – when followed consistently – prevent problems and outright disasters. Here are a few of mine:

The Bull Rule
A bull is dangerous. Period, end of story. This is one of those ranch rules that can also be applied to stallions, rams, boars and roosters. We select our animals based on what we call a good mind. I don’t care how pretty, productive or otherwise desirable an animal is, if he’s mean or aggressive he either goes to the butcher or down the road. But get the testosterone flowing, and even the most gentle, sensible male animal is likely to ram you, walk over you or try to stomp you into the ground. When we’re working in or around the herd or flock, we always keep an eye on the boys.

Father and son; both mild-mannered but still stallions.


The Heat Rule
The females of the animal world are not ruled by testosterone, but when they come into heat, all bets are off. Some mares become absolutely nuts when they’re in heat, which is why a lot of the old-time cowboys preferred geldings. Cows in heat will hump each other, equipment left in the field and you. With the beefers, that’s no big deal in most cases. A milk cow in heat, however, can become a crazy juggernaut. We practice the “shares” system of milking. I milk the cow once a day but she also nurses her calf. In the case of a truly crazy-in-heat milk cow, I just leave the calf in with her to do the milking. In a day or so, when she’s back to her sweet self, I take my share. Luckily, with milk cows we’re usually only dealing with two or three heats a year (cows don’t have heats when they’re bred).

This system makes it easier to close the gate.


The Gate Rule
Gates have a purpose – keeping animals in or out. We also have a gate that keeps people out, but it’s usually only closed when everybody’s gone somewhere. The animal gates, however, make sure the animals are where they are supposed to be and that they have access to food and water. Animal gates also ensure the cows don’t go out to play on the highway or come to visit Mom when she’s working in the garden. The most basic of all ranch rules is LEAVE THE GATE THE WAY YOU FOUND IT. For all you know, Papa is down at the other end of the pasture moving the cows up to that open gate. You close it, he’ll have cows going through the fence or back to where they started. Or he’s opened it because he’s shut down the irrigation system and the cows have to get out on the dam to get a drink.

There are a few other rules, which should be self-evident and need no explanation, like always check the gas tank on the four-wheeler before you go to the far end of the ranch and don’t irrigate with a hole in your rubber boots. Those rules are so basic even city slickers should be able to figure them out…

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Using Older Seeds

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Chard going to seed (see the developing seedhead just about in the center of the picture?


This is the time of the year when thoughts turn to seed saving – at least, that’s the case around here. Veggies are getting ripe, lettuce is bolting under the pressure of the heat and the beans are plumping up their pods. I’ve written a number of blogs about the why of seed-saving and a bit about the how. One thing I haven’t really talked about, however, is seed storage and the use of older seeds.
What are older seeds? Depends on your definition. If you look up the issue of seed saving, you’ll see most sources tell you that seeds are almost never good past five years. In the case of onions, the standard is supposed to be one year. And that’s assuming they’ve been properly stored. Tell that to the onions currently sprouting in my garden from seeds that were at least three years old. Or the summer squash from seeds saved in 2011. These seeds didn’t have any special storage conditions, either. They were in the plastic totes I keep in the bottom of the bedroom closet, which has neither heating nor cooling vents. That means summer temperatures as high as 90°F and winter temps around 60°F.

Mammoth Melting snow peas going to seed.


Seeds have much better potential longevity than people give them credit for. Nita Wilton recently noted in her Throwback at Trapper Creek blog that she had Red Russian Kale seeds sprouting in a recently cleared lawn area. Kale had not been planted there for at least 15 years. Anasazi beans come from seeds reliably dated to be at least 1,500 years old. They were stored in a clay jar sealed with pitch found in the southwestern American desert. And scientists have been able to germinate wheat seeds stored in the Egyptian pyramids. In the latter two cases, a big factor in seed longevity was probably the dry environment.
The basic keys to seed storage are temperature, light and humidity. Makes sense, when you consider that those three factors are what encourage seeds to sprout. Of the three, humidity rules. Once moisture penetrates the seed coat, even if temperatures aren’t ideal, that seed is going to try and sprout. I store my seeds in paper envelopes, sorted into categories in old cardboard shoe boxes, and in plastic totes with locking lids. I scatter desiccant packets throughout the boxes and the closet in which they are stored is not exposed to moisture. Although the light is turned on inside the closet at least once a day, my seeds are well-protected. The ideal temperature is supposed to be between 40 to 50°F. Obviously, I don’t achieve that ideal…

Rattlesnake pole beans. Probably developed by ancient Hopi Indian tribes – good survival genetics.


Now that you’ve read this, I suspect you’re going to use those older seeds. If you’ve been growing your own for a while, you usually have a pretty good idea of how many you need to plant. Since you do save your own seeds, you aren’t constrained by the cost. I usually have at least three times as many seeds as I need for this year’s crops, plus enough left over for next year. Plant thickly – if I’m supposed to seed every four inches, I seed every one-and-a-half or two inches. With onions, I pretty much carpet the row; the seeds are usually touching each other. You can do germination testing ahead of time, if you want to be precise, and I often do test just to see what I can expect. But with my plant-them-close method, even if germination is 30%, I should have enough plants to make a crop. Older seeds may take a week or more longer to germinate, so be patient. I note which ones germinated first and looked healthiest at germination. I try to make sure I include seed from those plants when I save for next year.
So, Grasshopper, go forth and sow older seeds. They don’t really have expiration dates.

Seedheads for next year’s calendulas.

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The Ants Go Marching

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Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/ant-insect-macro-animal-ant-hill-1350089/
Summer is ant season. The pesky little beggars come sneaking in every crevice they can find. We are currently dealing with regular house ants and the little black ants, aptly named Monomorium minimum. In addition to being a nuisance, both bite (or sting). “Expert” sites will tell you the minimum ants have a stringer, but it’s too small to be effective. Not true; it’s like having a small needle jabbed into your skin. So I’m currently on the warpath against ants. Years of experience have taught me some useful strategies.
First, ants are attracted to different food sources. House ants generally go for the sugar or other sweet foods. However, they also like commercial dry cat food, in my experience. The minimum ants like grease, oil, meats, fruits and corn meal, but they’ll also eat sugar. Obviously, one way to keep them from invading is to make sure you always have food put safely away and to clean up spills, crumbs and such immediately. But the other thing they’re looking for is water, and that’s a little tougher. The worst place for minimum ants in my house is the kitchen, where they hit the sink. Third, most ants travel on scent trails, which is why you see them marching in line. To get rid of them, you have to attack on all fronts.
Some people tell you to always feed your animals outside. Not at my house. That just attracts meat bees – which hurt a lot worse than ants – raccoons, feral cats and bears. Oddly, the ants in the house don’t pay much attention to the pets’ food dish, but the ones outside make a beeline for the open bag of cat food in the wash house. So I focus on spraying scent trails and put out bait. The two most successful sprays I’ve found for scent trails are plain white vinegar (full strength) and peppermint spray. For the peppermint spray, add about two teaspoons peppermint oil to a mixture of two cups vodka or gin and one cup water. Shake well before using and periodically as you spray. The peppermint spray will even kill the ants if you douse them thoroughly. Peppermint tends to linger longer than vinegar. I can spray twice a day instead of three or four times a day. A mix of borax and powdered sugar – one part borax to three of sugar – makes a good bait. They eat some of it, but they also carry the borax back to the nest, which eventually kills other ants. It also kills the queen, which is the one you really want to get rid of. You don’t need much. A teaspoon or so in a pill bottle lid or similar small container placed at strategic points along their trails is sufficient. Don’t place these where your pets or kids can get into them, however. Those plastic strawberry baskets with something like a saucer on top allow the ants in but keep cats from taste-testing the bait.
Be patient – expect that it will take a week or two of consistent effort before these tactics are successful.

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