Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Flat Aggie Learns About Conservation

Dear Friends,
I cannot wait for you to hear all about my visit to a Northern California Hunting and Fishing Business! I know that you are probably wondering what hunting and fishing have to do with agriculture, but believe it or not, they are very much interconnected! I had a great time with the family that operates this business, especially the two kids; Cade who is in 1st grade too and his little sister Quinn who is in Kindergarten! Cade and Quinn loved showing me around their home, introducing me to all their animals! I even got to spend a couple days with their Dad, Casey and Mom, Regina, visiting all the ranches that they take care of.

Casey and Regina take care of several different pieces of land. They are called land managers. Both Casey and Regina went to college and studied Agriculture. They learned about farming and ranching, but decided to do something a little different with what they learned. They taught me a new word. That word was “Conserve”. Regina says the word conserve means to protect and keep safe, to preserve and not destroy.  Casey and Regina work hard every day to conserve wildlife habitat and fish populations on the properties that they take care of. Many of the properties that they manage are farmed for crops or grazed by livestock and these properties are also used for hunting and fishing. This picture shows a piece of property that used to be a rice farm. Because the soil here was not very good, it didn’t grow rice very good. So Casey and Regina changed it into a Wetland Habitat.

It is now a place where ducks, geese, and all sorts of birds and other animals can come to nest, feed and rest. They have made islands, planted with tules which will help hide the ducks from predators. They also moved dirt to create this waterway called a swale to help fill the entire field with water from one end to the other!

Just this past spring, they planted these baby willow trees, called cuttings, all around the property. When the trees grow big they will make a natural wall to block out the commotion made from the farming that is happening on the fields surrounding this wetland.

Even though this wetland is brand new and lots of work still needs to be done to make it a natural habitat, all kinds of birds were already enjoying it! I saw lots of black ducks called coots out there, a sand piper bird, and even a nesting mallard duck.

Casey and Regina take care of a much larger and older wetland too. This wetland also has a section called an upland habitat. This property was also at one time a rice farm. Many farmers are paid money by the government to take their land out of farming production and make them into wetlands. These deals are called Conservation Easements!

Casey and Regina help those farmers to keep their end of the deal by taking care of the property and making sure that certain native grasses are planted, trees are planted, water is flowing and that weeds and other non helpful plants don’t take over the property. That way there is plenty of good food for the waterfowl and upland game birds that live there. Casey has built a ton of wood duck nesting boxes that he has put all over this wetland.  You can see them in the picture below.
These nesting boxes are used by momma wood ducks to lay on their eggs until they hatch.  Because so many trees have been removed from fields all over the Sacramento Valley, wood ducks lost their nesting places and they weren’t having as many babies. Farmers now put up these boxes and now wood ducks are starting to do well again.
Casey checks his boxes to make sure there are no wasps; he also puts wood chips in the bottom so the ducks are comfy. This duck was lying on her eggs when we got to her box. Many of the boxes had almost a dozen eggs each! That’s a lot of baby ducks if they all hatch!
There are so many rice fields around here! There are lots of other crops too, but rice fields are everywhere you look! Casey told me that rice fields are great places to hunt for ducks and geese. In the fall, after the rice grain is harvested from the field, the stem of the plants called rice straw is left behind. There isn’t much use for rice straw, so farmers used to just burn the straw out of the fields by lighting it on fire. Now rice field burning is limited to a small amount every year, because of the pollution from the smoke. So farmers have to mow the straw really short and then disc it into the fields. Then they flood the fields with water which helps break down the straw and make it soft and mushy to put back into the soil so they can plant rice again in the spring. The flooded rice fields in the winter attract migrating ducks and geese as they fly south for the winter. The birds stop at these fields to eat bugs, grass and the rice grain that was left behind. That’s why these fields are great hunting areas. Casey puts tanks into the field called duck blinds for his hunters to use. That way there is a nice dry place for the hunter to camouflage himself. He brought me along to watch one of these blinds being put into the field, while the ground was still dry and the before the rice was planted. A big backhoe digs a giant hole, and then lowers the blind into the ground. The dirt is then packed tight around the blind so it won’t pop out when the water floods the field around it. I thought this was pretty neat!!! 

Casey says his dog Gauge lays right next to blind while he is hunting. When a shot is fired and a bird comes down, Gauge runs out into the water and retrieves it and brings it back to Casey so he never has to leave the blind the whole time he is hunting.

Casey and Regina also manage a ranch in the hills. This ranch is grazed for cattle, but it is primarily managed for the wildlife that lives on it. They spend a lot of time piling brush into big high piles for quail to live in. They also have planted wheat on the ranch for animals such as wild pigs and deer to eat. Doves and wild turkeys also like to eat the grain from wheat.
There are a lot of ponds that Regina and Casey have dug out and rain water fills them up during the winter. These ponds hold water all year long for the animals to drink from.
They have also put sun powered wells in a few spots on the ranch. Solar powered pumps have been set up in a few spots on the ranch too. These pumps are run by the energy from the sun and pump water from natural wells and springs into livestock water troughs. That way the cows drink from the troughs and not from the ponds.
Many times wild animals will not drink from ponds that have been muddied up by cows. It was really hot the day we went to the ranch and I wanted to jump in a take a swim!

We saw a Momma deer near a pond and Casey also showed me mud and rub marks on a tree trunk made by a big wild pig! They lie in the water and roll in the mud then get it off of their body by rubbing on a tree! We also checked all the trail cameras while we were up there and I got to see pictures of lots of animals coming and going to and from the pond!

When we got home, Cade and Quinn were so excited to show me a brand new liter of hunting dog puppies while I was there! Their dog Gauge is now a Dad and the Mom Splash was super nice and let me see her new babies!  They are only one week old. They are Registered Black Labrador Retrievers!

I had a great time learning so much about a tiny part of the ag industry that most people don’t think about! Although I didn’t actually get to go out on a hunt, I still thought it was neat to learn about all this behind the scenes stuff.

See you guys back at school real soon!
Flat Aggie

Thanks Casey, Regina, Cade, and Quinn for the awesome adventure!  My class loved seeing Flat Aggie's adventure.  They were really excited to hear about the Mallard Duck since we spent the week learning about Mallards. Find CICC Outdoor Adventures on Facebook or visit their blog!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Letter to me at 17 ...

Tomorrow is my birthday ... I am going to be 27 - I know ... really old!  I have been thinking about what I would tell myself 10 years ago if I could, so I have decided to write a letter to myself at 17 ...

Dear 16 going on 17 year old self,
You are beautiful STOP telling yourself otherwise!  You are not fat either!  You need to stop bring yourself down - go look in the mirror ... seriously, do it!  You are beautiful and not even close to being fat.  Go back to the mirror and tell yourself that you are beautiful ... now do it again, but this time mean it!  When someone gives you a compliment don't defect it - take it and thank them.  They mean it or they wouldn't have said it.

Start running - run when you are happy, run when you are sad, run when you want to hit someone, and run when you are stressed.  Just run and maybe you will love it in 10 years.  Run to the store and buy a good sports bra - the girls will thank you later!  And while you are there buy some good shoes too!

At Christmas, your grandma and grandpa will come down to visit.  Grandma has cancer and she is losing her hair.  You will catch her looking in the mirror at the scarf on her head and touching where her perfect head of hair used to be.  She will give this look of sadness that you aren't supposed to see - tell her that she is beautiful!  Tell her that she has always been beautiful and she always will be.

When ma asks if you want to go up to see your grandma on really short notice say yes!  What she can't say is that grandma isn't going to make it much longer and that she is going up to say goodbye.  I know you have a Spanish test, but trust me you will never use Spanish and your family is more important than a test anyway.  It will be hard, but you are a strong girl.  Let yourself cry - salt water may not heal all wounds but it sure does help!

There is a boy that keeps asking you out on a date - just go, he's a good guy!  You'll have fun and soon you'll see him as more than a friend.  I know it is going to be your Senior Year and you don't want a boyfriend, but just go for it.  And when that boy takes you shopping and asks if you like a necklace DON'T tell him that it is hideous then go on and on about how you could use it for a weapon and all of that - he already bought it and has it wrapped up for you.  You will feel really stupid when you open it.  Tell him it is nice but you don't like gold or something like that.

You are having problems with a certain teacher in your life and they are only going to get worse this year.  Be the bigger person and tell her that how she is treating you is not ok - stand up for yourself.  Treat her with respect even if she doesn't treat you the same.  At the end of Senior Year you will make a bold move in regards that that teacher - you will have a whole army of supporters (including your amazing mom) so go for it!  

People always say that time flies - they are right!  Before you know it you will be 27 yet still feel like you are 17.  Enjoy being young - do something stupid so you can laugh about it later.  You don't always have to be the responsible one. And take lots of pictures - it is fun to look back.  

A few random things: Always wear sunscreen, put on night cream every night, spend money on good shoes - your feet are important, save at least 20% of your income, start a retirement account NOW, tell your family, friends, and boyfriend how amazing they are - do that often, and never compare yourself to others - be the best YOU that you can be!

Don't let anyone tell you that you are too young to do something!  Sharks are born swimming!  And for that matter - don't let anyone tell you that you are too ____ to ____ (that teacher who told you that your boobs are too big for public speaking when you were a Freshman - she was wrong).

Make time for your friends!  One of your friends will drive all the way down the Arizona (oh, by the way you will live in Arizona for a few months) just to support you and your boyfriend after his car crash.  She is an amazing friend and you will never find a way to tell her how much her friendship means to you, but try anyway - be there for her no matter what. Another group of friends will skip class to come to your grandpa's funeral just to give you a hug and tell you that they are there for you.  You have been blessed with amazing friends - make time for them and tell them how much they mean to you.  Be there for them and pick them up when they are down.   

The next 10 years are going to be hard - some days you will feel like you have lost everything and you won't want to do it anymore.  Some days you will cry yourself to sleep and some days you will not be able to get out of bed.  People you love will battle with cancer and lose.  There will be car accidents that change your life forever.  People you love will say horrible things to you that can never be taken back.  You have amazing friends, amazing family, and an amazing man that will be there to pick you up when you need it.  Don't be afraid to ask them for help.  Don't be afraid to tell them how you feel.  

The next 10 years are going to be amazing also.  You will graduate from high school, you will graduate from college, you will get your teaching credential, you will earn your masters degree, the most amazing little man will come into your life and you will not be able to imagine how you lived without him, you will have a beautiful home, and most importantly you will have an amazing group friends and family to share it with!  Laugh every chance you get and remember to enjoy the good times!

You at 26 going on 27

What would you tell yourself 10 years ago?

Friday, June 22, 2012

How we Care for our Pigs in the Heat

 Our pigs (I should start calling them hogs now since they are now so big!) are our number one priority.  It gets hot here in the Sacramento Valley so before the first day over 100 degrees came, we made sure our pigs were ready and can find some relief from the sweltering heat.  As I have written about before, pigs can't sweat so they need mud and shade (or a climate controlled barn) to keep cool. 

 Shade - We make sure they is enough shade so all of the pigs can get out of the sun at the same time.

 Mister system - we have a mister system set up to run on a timer during the hottest part of the day. 

 The pigs are able to take refuge from the heat under the misters.  You can see from their hole that they like to hang out right where it is shady and cool from the misters. 

 Water and mud - Since we cannot spray them down all day we set up a sprinkler to run (again on a timer) in the early afternoon. The pigs love to play with the water

 and they also love to hang out in the mud. 

 Even after the sprinkler is off, they are left with mud holes and another place to beat the heat. 

Another thing that is always available to our pigs is water.  That should go without saying, but I just wanted to make sure to add that.  There are two nipples that supply as much fresh water as the pigs can drink.  

Most pigs are not raised like our pigs (see what Flat Aggie learned about a commercial operation here), but all producers have one thing in common - we care about the well being of our pigs. 

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think!  Do you have any suggestions for us?  How do YOU keep cool in the heat of the summer?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Container Gardening

 We live in the suburbs and have a decent sized backyard.  When we first bought our house I was really excited about having a small garden in a long flower bed - we pulled out all of the roses and amended the soil with both soil and manure. Then we planted, watered, and waited.  Watered, and waited and then it happened ... our plants shrunk (I am not kidding, I didn't think it was possible but it is) and then slowly died.  While we have a few trees in our backyard (a Dr. Suess apple tree and a few freshly planted trees in the side yard) our backyard gets lots of shade. Our house it not shaded but most of our yard is.  I thought the planter got enough sun, but obviously it didn't.  

Here we are 2 years later (or is it 3? Time passes so quickly when you're old) and we FINALLY planted a few plants where the sun does shine!  Our patio.  We bought 2 containers on clearance at Home Depot for $20 each (I still thought it was expensive, but it will pay off).  Michael's coworker gave us some tomato plants, so we used the two planters we bought and a planter we had.  The three plants had grown together and we just ripped them apart and they all lived! 

 Here they are just after we planted them.  

When you plant tomatoes bury 2/3 of the plant - break of the leaves and roots will grow where the leaves were.  This makes the plant stronger. 

 Here they are about 2 weeks later. 

 The other plant which is on the other side of the patio.

And here they are today - almost 4 weeks after being planted.

After we went fishing again last weekend, I put the worm poop (castings) that was left after we used the worms to fish with on the back tomato plant and it shot right up (could be the hot weather too, but I think the worm poop helped).  I will be saving it from now on! 

A few tips for container gardens:
- buy a good container - if it has a hole in the bottom the water will not stay in the planter and you will have to water it more often.  The containers we bought have a water storing 'system' in the bottom - and it works!
- start with good soil - make sure to buy potting soil NOT garden soil.  Potting soil is designed to go in pots (hence the name) and will hold onto water better and won't compact like garden soil will.  We payed a little more for a bag of Miracle Gro potting soil and is has been worth it!
- place your containers in a good spot (most fruit and vegetables need 8 hours or more of sunlight).
- water the plants regularly

The plant in the red planter hasn't grown nearly as much as the other 2 plants.  I haven't pulled it out yet since I want to see how it does, but we didn't put new soil in the planter - we just added some to the top, and I probably didn't have good soil to start with.  There is also a hole in the bottom so the soil dries out faster.  I should give it some fertilizer and see if that helps.  

Do you have a garden this year?  Have any container garden tips for us?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fresh Trout for the Grill

Last weekend, we Michael caught a few fish, so after we got home, I prepped them for the freezer.

I wanted to be able to pull them from the freezer and not have no prep them for the grill.  So, here is what I did.   
Gut them (the boys did that at the lake) and clean them.
Add butter, and seasonings (I used different combinations for each fish - garlic powder, garlic salt, and pepper for this fish). 
wrap it up in aluminum foil and label. 
Repeat for all of the fish and seal in a 2 gallon zip lock bag.  

When you are ready to cook them, take them out in the morning (or the night before) and grill them for dinner. 
Served with some green beans with garlic powder and you have a delicious meal!

The trout was AMAZING!!

Check out more Hunks of Meat here!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Yogurt Parfait

Happy National Dairy Month!  I love yogurt and could eat it every day.  I prefer Greek yogurt for its thicker heartier taste but flavored Greek yogurt is expensive when you buy the individual containers.  So, I decided to make some parfaits to keep in the freezer for a quick snack.  

All you need is yogurt (I chose Greek nonfat plain yogurt), berries (I chose frozen since they were not in season yet), chopped almonds, and honey.  Oh, and some containers. 

The containers are 1.2 cup and seem to be a good size.  It is a hearty snack at that size and some days I am not hungry enough to finish it so I am looking for a little smaller containers. 

Here is how to make them:
 Scoop in some yogurt.

 Top with berries. 


 Top with almonds.

 Then honey. 

 Smoosh the lid on.

 And place in the freezer.  This will make 4 containers this size (but of course I only have 2). 
I like to take these to work as an afternoon snack - just pull it out of the freezer in the morning and it will be ready to eat in the afternoon.  If you want this for a morning snack, then pull it from the freezer the night before and it will be thawed and ready to enjoy by late morning. 

I love these because I could make a bunch (if I had more containers) and not have to worry about having healthy snacks for work or the weekend.  They would be in the freezer ready to go!

 I was worried about the almonds getting soggy but they provided the perfect crunch even after being frozen and thawed!

YUM!  What is your favorite snack?