Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why I love Pinterest Today

I ran across a dessert recipe on Pinterest earlier this week.  It called for any old brownie mix, and a 15 oz can of pumpkin.  Mix til smooth and bake at 350 degrees/til set.  How's that for an easy way to use pumpkin?  We had it for dessert tonight.  You are actually supposed to let it cool and then frost it... but we really wanted to try it, so we did, as soon as it came out of the oven.  It was yummy.  I saved the other half, to let it cool, and I will frost it tonight or tomorrow morning.  So now I have another pumpkin recipe for all those pumpkins in my yard... yea!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Life is easier with a pickup truck

Instead of finishing up the ten bags of apples, or picking the rest, we cleared the "road" down to the the cornfields, so we can use the new pickup to haul the firewood back to the house (which is a darn sight more pleasant and convenient than trying to hand carry it a quarter mile uphill to the house.  It might not be quite as much fun as using the tractor to drag the garden cart, according to the kid who got to drive the tractor last year.)

So, tomorrow the plan is now early homeschool, then music lessons while I go to the grocery store, then apples.  I have to finish that job because the Ag School Fruit Sale is Friday, and that's when I purchase everything they have that I didn't manage to grow myself, for better prices than I can get anywhere else.

The Pirate finally lived up to her half of the deal she made with me, and cleaned out the chicken coop and filled it with new bedding.   The silly duck is still laying GIANT double-yolked eggs, which are great for replacing two extra large chicken eggs in my dessert recipes.

I have pointed out that English Mastiffs are HUGE.  As in, the HUGEST dogs around, and therefore EAT A LOT.  The Man's response was that we should just raise more rabbits.   Later I will point out that mastiffs run $1000+ each.  Plus another $1000 expenses every year.  I am not on board with the "Let's get another dog" thing, can you tell?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Dinner on, and from, the "Farm"

Dinner this evening is particularly tasty...
and I'm admittedly overly pleased with myself because the vast majority of it did not come from the grocery store.  We are having Chicken&Corn Chowder.  The yellow onion, garlic, chicken stock, russet taters, chicken breasts, and corn all came from our garden and our coop.  I did grow thyme this year, and it did well, but I admit I used the dried thyme I bought from the grocery store just to use it up.  We grew leeks last year, but not this year, so I had to buy two of those.  Other than that, the salt and the black pepper came from the store.   Then for dessert, I've got apple crumble, made from the apples off the trees that were here when we moved in (that are making up for last year's lack of production by outpacing my ability to process them this year).  The only thing in the Crumble that grew here is the apples.  The sugar, vanilla, oats, orange juice, and butter all came from elsewhere.  So... I'll be working on that.  I think I can come up with a dessert that uses my honey instead of sugar.  Oranges won't grow here.  Nor vanilla.  But I could grow oats and keep a goat...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Garden weirdness

I am not used to getting rhubarb in the fall.  My rhubarb has re-sprouted in the hoop house (it always dies back to the ground when it gets hot), and I have two plants still in a mess of bamboo and fencing near the barn that have stalks ready to eat.  Also, some of my asparagus (which I let go to seed months ago) has sent up new stalks.

I have been fighting the evil moles, voles, mice, rabbits, etc., that sneak into the hoop house behind my back all season.  They keep eating the leaves off the sweet potatoes.  I keep slapping milk jugs over the sweet potatoes, which keeps them off for awhile.  It's been such a problem I don't know if I'll get any sweet potatoes at all.  The plants are still green, so I'm going to keep letting them do their thing.  A couple vines did get into the cukes.  I think the cukes might have been prickly enough to keep the larger animals out.  Maybe.

We have some hideous plant disease from Canada that is taking out all the cukes.  Also the neighbor's zukes, and my pumpkin vines.  It won't matter much about the pumpkins - most of them are orange already, but I'm bummed about not having anymore zucchini bread.  I will have to plant ONE next year.  I know better than to plant a pack of that!  We've been told to burn all the dead vines, and to rotate the crops and not plant anything that had it this year in the same spot.  I just want to keep it out of my hoop house at this point.  May be hard to do when it is airborne.

No figs yet.

I have grapes.  The wild Concord kind.  With large seeds.  Growing all over the barn.  They have to come down.  (So does the barn, eventually, probably).  If I can do that before the birds get them all, I will have to make grape jelly.  I'd much rather have seedless grapes so I can make grape JAM, because a) it's easier to make; and b) I like jam better than jelly, mostly because of a).

I am short of jam for the year, too.   Must find a source for fall raspberries.  Or I will be buying strange fruit in the grocery store and testing odd recipes on my family again.  (Kiwi jam, anyone?)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Harvest! Part Two

The Princess and I spent the afternoon digging taters because it is supposed to rain for the next several days.  Now there is a laundry basket full in the living room.  I think that is a smashing success for that experiment.  We planted all the taters in the new hugelkultur beds.  Even the Yukon Golds from the grocery store that I planted after they sprouted in my pantry (to replace the ones the raccoon ate) produced well.  So hooey on all the internet naysayers who said they wouldn't grow at all.  We have room for one more hugelkultur bed in that area of the yard (next to the little chicken coop).  So there is some ditch-digging and rotten log dragging in my future.  And I have to find room for at least one more this year.  Next year, I will plant strawberries on the ones that held taters and onions this year... which means I'll need a few more beds after that for taters, so I can keep rotating the crops, since the strawberries will be there 3-5 years.  I need to fence that, too, because the chickens had a little too much fun playing in the straw that I put on the potatoes.  If I cannot find the space for more H-beds, (I'm tired of typing that word), then we'll experiment with taters in straw bales, and taters in burlap bags (seeing as how I have so many of the darn things in the barn, and they do not work well at all for keeping down the weeds).  NOTE TO SELF_ cardboard works better keeping down the weeds and it doesn't get tangled in the mower.

Oh yeah, I harvested the rest of the onions - should have done it sooner - I lost four of them to rot.  There is enough for relish and salsa, but not enough for anything else.  Obviously, I must plant more onions next year.  And since Dan can't eat the red ones, I need to find a good yellow storage onion for that. 


Due to the possibility of frost (which ultimately didn't happen), I harvested the remaining corn from my little stand (that would be what remained after the depredations of the rabbits, deer, birds, etc) yesterday.  Last night, the Princess shucked about a 100 ears, of which 90 were usable.  I blanched them, threw them in a cooler full of ice water, scraped the corn from the cobs, and froze ten bags of corn (about 3 packed cups per bag).  Then I tossed the shucks in the composter, and put the cobs out for the chickens to clean up.  Considering that I had to plant that corn twice, weed it repeatedly, (only had to water it three times though) and put up my "make-do" fencing - which only worked 'til the corn was actually ripe - I may have burned more calories than I would ingest by eating the corn.  In defense of the expenditure of time, energy and aggravation, it was mighty good sweet corn, and I definitely liked the red, even though the cobs were smaller than the yellow.  The red corn stayed red when microwaved for eating on the cob, but it turned a weird shade of purple/blue when blanched in boiling water on the stove - although the part of the kernel that attaches to the cob stayed red, and made the corn look like it was bleeding when it was scraped.  I thought it was freaky. 

Next year I would plant the corn closer together (no skipping rows).  I would NOT plant Big Doris pumpkins or beans or anything else in the same patch.  (This year I planted those in the skipped rows - the bunnies at the beans, and the pumpkins went haywire and tried to take over the world.  What I am going to do with all those gigantic pumpkins, I do not know.  Next year, we will have little pie pumpkins, in their own little patch away from the corn.  And the beans will have to be in the hoophouse, or be MUCH better fenced.  If I get any beans at all, it will be the ones I planted late in the hoophouse that are just now blooming.

I finally do have some tomatoes.  We've eaten the four that actually ripened.  All the rest are still green.  I think I will have to go to the Farmers' market this week and buy some in order to have any for salsa.  Also, I think I will not be able to can any chutneys this year due to my lack of maters.  Annoying, especially since i have the apples for the tomato-apple chutney, and the curried apple chutney...

In fact, I have ten grocery bags of apples from our trees sitting in my kitchen, waiting to be turned into apple fritters (breakfast tomorrow) and applesauce (tomorrow's canning) and dehydrated apples (the next couple days).  And the pears are just beginning to ripen.  I hope they wait til I'm done with the apples.  The apple trees aren't even half picked yet, either.  This may be the year of the apple...

I have two more batches of sweet relish to can with the remaining cukes tomorrow, too.  I am sick of the cukes.  If I can enough this year to last for two years, then I will only plant enough cukes to make fridge pickles and one cuke salad a week next year.

The peppers are only just now beginning to ripen.  There should be enough for salsa if I can get the maters. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

More thoughts on homeschooling

I haven't written about this in awhile.  We are still doing it though!  Which means I am still reading and thinking about it...

This article confirms what I heard from experienced homeschooling moms when I first started homeschooling myself.   "The kids will learn X when they are ready to learn X,"  and "The kids will learn Y when they need that knowledge/skill."

This bugged the living daylights out of me for a long time.  It was too laidback, too laissez-faire, too unschooling hippie-ish, too... right.  Over the last six years (figuring out that I have been doing this for six years about gave me a heart attack), I have learned that my children are NOTHING alike, that they learn what they like far better than what they hate, that they learn what they have a need for  ("I want to write a letter back to Grammu!"  "I guess you'll have to learn some handwriting then!"  "I want to write pretty like you do!"  "That's called cursive, and you can learn it..."  "I want to make dinner!"  "Here is how to read a recipe..." - Okay, I admit I'm the last person in the world who should be teaching anyone to follow a recipe, since I am constitutionally incapable of following one, but now the Princess' "handwriting practice" consists of copying one recipe each day from my cookbooks into hers - a recipe that she personally likes, with whatever changes I've made to it.  Eventually, she can practice typing the same way - just print it out add it to her book.  Maybe she can learn to do web searches by looking up recipes, too.  Her practice is now USEFUL to her, and she will have an end product worth keeping.

This is the difference between learning to use the library by being handed a worksheet and having to find everything on it whether one has any interest in any of those things or not, and simply being told to pick a topic one finds interesting, and locate one item related to that topic in every section of the library.  I daresay one will remember the second activity much better, and come home with a lot more books, audiobooks, DVDs, videogames, CDs, etc., than one would otherwise... thus learning how useful and fun a library can be, rather than finding it one more place where one is required to do busywork.

I think that rather than wasting children's time and energy with busywork, they should be put to tasks that will result in an end product they WANT.  They need some life experience to see the necessity for certain facts that are often memorized by rote, and too often forgotten before the child learns to apply them.  I've seen this with my youngest - math facts to her are just a bunch of numbers - I've put some thought into fixing this, and decided that we will be playing a lot of dice and card games this summer, because she needs to see how much more fun the game is when it goes quickly, and when she can win it...

Now I must go count the ducks and chickens and put them away for the night.  It is way easier to count the chickens by type than all together.  Then I can just add up the numbers at the end...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Cherries, Sand Cherries, Mulberries, Strawberries...

WHY must they all ripen at the same time?  This is NOT convenient in my kitchen!  I have 14# of strawberries to hull tonight (I picked them this morning), and a gallon of mulberries to stem.  I discovered one of the cherry trees by the paddock had set fruit and ripened and the birds hadn't eaten them all - though I was sharing them with Glory and Mrs. Cardinal while I picked, balancing precariously atop the step stool and pulling down the branches with handy garden implements.  I got a pint of sweet little cherries, so dark they are nearly black.  This will be my dessert tonight.  Or my breakfast tomorrow.  And since I figured one big red berry wouldn't kill me if I was wrong about what it was - I pulled one off the sand cherryish-looking shrub and popped it into my mouth and... it was sweeter than the mulberries (not quite as sweet as the real cherries), and still had that cherry taste.  So, I'm going to pick those tomorrow and eat them, too.  I don't think there will be enough to make jam or anything.  In fact, even if there IS enough, I'm not doing it.  I have three batches of spiced strawberry jam to make, and two mulberry recipes I want to try, and that's enough for this week.  If I do more than that, I'll never finish fencing the gardens to keep those voracious Vorpal Rabbits out. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Munchings and Crunchings

I am feeling mildly guilty about the $153 I spent at Trader Joe's on my way home from the airport yesterday.  Admittedly that included two cases of Two Buck Chuck, which will last me for months.  And there was really only $5 of unplanned purchases in that, but I'm nothing if not neurotic about spending.  SO, since I am only cooking for me for awhile, I'm going to eat off the land as much as possible.  (And munch my way through the fridge and pantry for everything else - no trips to the grocery store for anything, if only because I have to get the car to the shop to have the brakes fixed, again).  That meant breakfast was eggs from the chickens (plus gluten free toast from Trader Joe's, and bacon leftover from last week which I have to eat or it will go to waste - at least that's my excuse).  Lunch is peas with mint (both from the garden) and cashews (most decidedly NOT from my garden, but OH how I wish they grew here!)  I haven't figured out what's for dinner yet... I have garlic and radishes and lettuce and a bunch of other salad greens and leeks and bunching onions, and more mulberries than I can measure.  And 16 eggs.  Mustn't forget those eggs...

Fencing out the evil beasties

I noticed a couple days ago that my corn was getting SHORTER instead of taller.  And I noticed that every time I stepped out the door, or drove back into my driveway, that I spooked numerous nasty wabbits.  Okay, they are cute LOOKING rabbits.  But they are RABBITS and not BUNNIES.  Even at the age of three my youngest knew the difference (bunnies are pets, rabbits are dinner).  Anyway, I had to do something to keep them and the chickens and ducks out, and I didn't have time to sit in the yard all day and night with my trusty .22 (and don't want to shoot the chickens and ducks anyway), so I rummaged through the barn for some fencing.  The previous owner had left little bits of several kinds, and being chea - ah, I mean FRUGAL, I thought I'd use it instead of shelling out for new.  So, my little corn plot has two different types of chain link (different heights and gauges both), some four foot high coated green rectangular wire stuff, some uncoated wire fencing in the same rectangular pattern but taller, and when the deer become an annoyance I'm going to slap a higher round of chicken wire above all that.  And I'm holding the whole thing together with wire ties and old fence metal fence poles El Jefe removed from random locations around the farm.  That used up everything except a chain link gate and another piece of chain link, and three rounds of chicken wire.  Unfortunately, I have two more similar sized plots to fence.  The beastly bunnies don't seem to be bothering the taters or maters or onions yet, but either they or the chickens are chomping on this year's pickle crop.  Darned if I am going to go without relish or pickles, so I am about to see if the chicken wire will improve matters at all.  I wouldn't worry about it if it were 5' chicken wire, but it's the short 3' kind and my Rocks can easily fly that, even if the Red Rangers won't.  I really think it's the rabbits, though, so I'm going to see if this works...

Monday, June 3, 2013

Duck... it's what's for dinner!

For supper tonight we had Braised Duck with Pineapple from The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook by Gloria Bley Miller.  It is supposed to serve six to eight people, but the four of us left nothing but the bones.  I am retracting my "No more messy ducks!" statement, because that meal was just that good.  I want more ducks.  I think twenty-four ducks.  So I could eat like that at least twice a month.  Actually, there are 73 duck recipes in that cookbook, and that doesn't include the variations on the individual recipes.  Maybe 52 ducks, so I can try a new recipe every week... and still I won't get through them all in a year...  much less the recipes I have in other cookbooks on my shelf that call for Duck... The only hassle is going to be figuring out how to process the darn ducks myself, because $7/bird is kind of expensive.  And buying another freezer to store all those ducks.  I could give up venison for duck.  Then I wouldn't need another freezer.   I could give up shrimp.  That would save space, too.   I could, dare I say it, even give up LOBSTER.  Which I'm only saying to express how much I like duck, not because there is ever any lobster in my freezer... hmmmmmm...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gimpy Duck

After I got the ducks (they were 9 days old), we noticed one was a bit gimpy.  Well, Gimpy got progressively gimpier, and my best poultry book has gone entirely AWOL, so I had to look up online what could possibly be causing him to walk on his heels with his useless webbed feet up in the air.  The two options I came up with online are either infections in the joints (which would be more believable to me if it were not a bilateral problem), or a niacin deficiency, which ducks are apparently prone to suffer.  So the duck is getting niacin supplements.  And I'm giving it to the rest of them in smaller amounts, just in case (there are two more ducks out there that are clumsier than the rest in their walking - they step on their own feet because they are so pigeon toed).  They are only going to be with us for about two more weeks, and then they will be in the freezer, so I am not sure that is enough time to see if the niacin improves the condition or not.  I just feel bad for the gimpy duck.  This isn't going to prevent me from roasting and eating him.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Poultry Oops

So, um, did I post about the ducks?  And then the chicks arriving?  And then my hen Golden Claw deciding that NOW would be the perfect time to set on 8 eggs?  (She had 11, but I stole the three white ones because I don't want anymore TopHats or Andalusians).  Well, then she got off the nest for a drink about a week into this process, and two of her buddies decided to lay more eggs in her nest.  I had stupidly NOT dated the ones she already had, so she is sitting on 10, but only 8 of them are going to hatch, at most.  Still, that is 15 ducks, 8 laying hens, 19 Red Ranger meat birds,  and 9 Wyandotte chicks all currently clucking, plus whatever Goldie hatches on or about May 10.

In the future, I will NEVER get ducks so early in the year that I have to keep them in the laundry room, because they are messy, smelly and loud.  Instead, I will get them after May 1, and slaughter them in July... Except any I keep for eggs, because I ate a duck egg for the first time last week (not one of ours) and it was good.  One duck egg and two slices of bacon is a good size breakfast.  I have to admit I was surprised at the size of the egg, and the yolk in particular. 

At least only the Wyandottes and the crippled duckling (at night) are still in the laundry room.  It just sounds like more because the Pirate has taken up crowing to express herself when she isn't singing the "I want a horse" song...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

My own Duck Dynasty

Um, not really.  I just moved the ducklings out of the laundry room into the little coop (formerly known as Chicken Ghetto).  I set them up with two heat lamps because they are 25 days old (ish) and it's going to be pretty chilly tonight.  When I checked them at 8PM, they were bedded down, but not huddled under the lamps (which are on one side of the coop, leaving them room to get away it that is too hot for them).  They weren't panting, either, so that must be a good temp for them.

The chicks in the laundry are so quiet in comparison, I keep peeking in on them to make sure they are all right.  Well, maybe I'm doing it because they are cute.  Well, mostly cute.  I had one crawl up my jacket sleeve trying to escape treatment for pasted butt.  (Exactly.  Warm, wet cloth on back end til clean.)  All the others are nice and clean and peeping quietly.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Which comes first, chicken or egg?

Around here, the chicks come first, then the chickens, then the eggs.  Thirty two-day-old chicks arrived safely this morning, and are now peeping away in the laundry room with the ducklings.  There are 20 Red Rangers (straight run) for meat, five Blue-laced Red Wyandottes (straight run), four Silver-laced Wyandottes (because the hatchery sent an extra roo), and one unknown exotic chick (also straight run) that looks like a Speckled Sussex (because that is what I want it to be, according to the Princess).  Actually it is a very brown chick, lightening into gold on its belly, and I couldn't find too many truly brown chicks on the website besides the Sussex, and possibly the Aruacana, since they can look like anything, from the pics online.  I'd be fine with an Aruacana, too, since I think the colored eggs are fun.  Anyway, I'm off to shove three of my Partridge Rock hens in the car to go to some friends, which will reduce my layers to eight, until the new chicks grow up.  Then I'll have to eat a couple roosters so everything will fit in the coop for next winter.  If that isn't counting my chicks too soon after hatching...

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The chicks are coming! The chicks are coming!

As I was riding in the car on the way to church this morning, I got the expected phone call from the central Postal facility for the county where we live.  As soon as I heard who was calling I said, "Just send them on to the township office tomorrow morning, please."  The postal worker laughed, and told me he would.  So I'm off to prep the chick brooder this evening.

The bees have been fed.  I spent a few minutes with my nose up to the hive entrance afterward, just watching them come in, with so much of that pale yellow pollen, it looked like giant flakes against their bodies, not just balls at their knees.  And sometimes they were covered in so much of it that they didn't match the bees leaving the hive at all, colorwise.

Also, I've cleaned out the dirty ducks bins, again, and I have one empty left for the chicks arriving tomorrow morning.  Unfortunately, we used the other two to hold dirt while double digging the hugelkultur bed, and getting the logs into it, along with all the bedding from the little coop where the ducks will go later this week (I hope).  The dirty ducks sure are LOUD.  And one of them has learned how to quack.  The rest are still peeping and cheeping.

Easter Sunday

Today, because it is Easter and we always do this on Easter, we took a long walk in the park.  The Pirate took a notebook, which she later wished was her "Nature Journal," but we convinced her she could tear the pages out and paste them into the Nature Journal when she got home.  I am just so pleased she thought of journaling our walk all on her own.  She periodically stopped to draw pictures, and to ask for a spelling for something (I forget what).  For the little kid who hated anything to do with the physical act of writing for so long, I am just thrilled she has changed her mind and decided she likes it.  Even if she still spells nearly everything funetiklee.  She counted and recorded the number of beech trees, drew her hand over a large leaf for a size comparison, drew the creek and wrote about how she liked its sparkling in the sunlight, and she went on for a page about the carpet of leaves on the path.  The Princess used her iPod to photograph whatever struck her fancy... the dog, us, the two Sandhill Cranes we saw, and she made a movie of the path itself for awhile.  She thought it would be funny to speed it up so it would look like she was running down the path.  I took pics of the girls, El Jefe, the dog by default (they insisted), and the weird maze left by insects (some kind of borer?) on the surface of a fallen log after the bark has fallen away.  It was a Happy Easter.  Even if I did forget to color the eggs.  Again.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Chicken Myths...

I learned something new about chickens today.  Since we ate the last roos, we are down to 11 laying hens.  The TopHats seem to be adjusting to living in BigChickenCity, instead of Chicken Ghetto.  They still won't take anything direct from my hand, but they always were flighty.  However, I noticed today that the (black) Blue Andalusian hen had grown some serious SPURS.  Sharp, wicked looking spurs.  I thought, uh?  what?  Is this a transgender chicken?  Turns out that Andalusian hens are known for the occasional spur, particularly in a roo-less flock, and particularly if they are a dominant bird.  Well, they are suddenly roo-less, but I would not have pegged her for a dominant position in the pecking order, because she didn't usually hang out on the top roost.  She DID, however, hang out with Lucky the (late) Rooster, usually next to him in fact.  So perhaps I should get a clue.  Anyway, she still eats out of my hand, though she is usually the fifth or sixth bird to do so, rather than the first or second.

A Lovely Day to Be a Bee

Despite the fact that the internet claimed the temp was only 50 degrees F, the honeybees were making hay while the sun was shining, bringing in loads of a pale yellow pollen that I do not recognize.  What blooms here in March besides dead nettle and crocuses?  (and yes, the bees were on the crocuses, but that pollen is not pale yellow, nor are my 7-8 blooms nearly enough for the hundreds of busy bees returning to the hive with their baskets full).  It is supposed to be even warmer tomorrow, and I am contemplating a quick peek in the hive at the hottest part of the day, so I can lay some feed on the top bars.  On the other hand, I don't want to mess with something that seems to be working.  I know better than to trust this bit of Spring we are having, though, since it always snows in April at least once (and generally when I'm trying to install new beehives).  It would break my little heart if they starved at this point, since they are working so hard to survive...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sugar Solution

I went down to Dadant to get the two new unassembled beehives for the swarms arriving next month and found the answer to a question that has been bothering me for some time.  I can a lot.  Particularly jams and chutneys and pickles... all foods which need sugar.  What would I do if sugar were unavailable?  I have a few recipes where honey can substitute for sugar (just cook it a slightly lower temp, since it burns easier)... so the obvious answer would be to substitute honey for the sugar in the canning recipes, but it is not a 1:1 relationship, and I am risk-averse when it comes to meddling with canning recipes (that whole botulism thing scares me), so I wasn't going to just make  it up on the fly.  While I was standing in line (!?! on a weekday!?! at Dadant!?!), I flipped through their catalog and found the books section, and found the solution to my problem...Putting it up with Honey by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler... a natural foods canning cookbook with 207 recipes for preserving foods without using sugar or harmful preservatives.  It's a good size book for only $14.95, full of recipes for jams, jellies,  butters, preserves, conserves, marmalades, canned fruits, hot sauces, juices, sauces, chutney, pickles, vinegars, pickled fruits, relishes, and even a chapter on drying fruits.  This just thrills my little heart, and I'll be posting about it again as I try out the recipes, once berry season starts.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Never go to TSC alone in the spring...

Because you might come home with 15 ducklings.  Between my love for roast duck, and my love for a good deal, that is what I did.  TSC was expecting another delivery of chicks, and had rather too many unsold ducks, so they said I could have all 15 in the bin for $5.  They were 9 days old Pekins.  With a feed conversion ratio of 1# gain for 2.5# feed, and a slaughter date 6-10 weeks from now, at 7# (the range depends on whether they are confined with food constantly available, or free-ranged), I could hardly say "No!" to that.  Of course the darn things are so cute the kids want to keep a couple.  If I allow that, they can have the little coop after the Red Rangers are in the freezer.  I think between the ducks and the meat chickens and two more hives of bees and the expanded garden, we'll wait to add the pigs 'til next year.  I've got enough on my plate (pun intended!).

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The magic number...54

You thought I was going to say 42, didn't you?  Well, the meaning of life is actually 54 where honeybees are concerned.  54 degrees F, that is.  That's the temp it has to be for them to come flying out of the hive.  We hit that today, and the Pirate accused one of the honeybees of stalking her around the house.  A few others came by while we were butchering Drunken Chicken, the mean rooster who was too hard on the hens.  He is parted out and in the fridge, waiting to become Chicken Dumplings tomorrow, and the rest of him is in the pot right now, well on its way to becoming chicken stock.  Which smells fantastic, I must add.  We're going to eat at least two of the other three roosters, too, because I've got two new rooster chicks coming in April, and want their bloodlines in my flock, rather than what I've got now... I need chickens with smaller combs, so I don't have to deal with their getting frostbite.  I hope we've seen the last of weather cold enough to cause that this year.  I'm impatient for spring.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Me-n-the-Hens in the Hoophouse

Yesterday, I did more planting  in the hoop house.  Four square feet each of sweet and storage onions, and a four foot row of bush peas.  I also got everything watered that I had seeded earlier in the week... that would be cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, lettuce, spinach, vit, New Zealand spinach, orach, purslane (garden and golden), miner's lettuce, carrots, minutina, rattail radish, white icicle radish and zlata radish.  I specify seeded, because I still have started cabbage and cauliflower in the kitchen to plant.  The plants in the kitchen did not do well, because I set them on the heat pad, and they got too warm and grew leggy.  It wasn't the light, because I had them two inches below the plant light which was on 14+ hours most days.

I'm not sure I should have seeded all that in the hoop house quite this early, but it was mighty warm in there, (I was sweating in a short sleeved shirt and jeans), so I thought I'd give it a go.  I'll be seeding all those plants outside in April and May, too, to see where they grow best.

On my way to the hoop house, I grabbed Golden Claw (the Buff Rock hen) and three of her companions-in-corn-and-crime followed along.  She wasn't happy about being picked up, but was thrilled to take a dust bath (actually many dust baths) in the hoop house, with breaks for weed and bug tasting, while I worked.  Eventually El Jefe showed up for a breather from hauling wood on the sled to the house.  Then the kids stopped by to watch the fun.  The Pirate thought she would pay for the hens day at the spa by weeding, which I found highly amusing.  I admit I encouraged that.  The Princess actually did more weeding than anyone, while chuffing at the hens who kept kicking up dust in her direction.  I did take pics of the hens, which I'll try to post here tomorrow.  And I'll have to get some of the freshly planted beds.

Oh, last but not least, the garlic is up!  I didn't get it in the ground 'til REALLY late, because I quite forgot I had it (yes, my memory is that bad), but it seems to be doing fine now - 3 inches tall and quite green.  It was all Polish softneck.  I'll replant that outside this fall, but I still have to decide where.  And where to put the Music hardneck, then, too.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

God is the Gardener

Genesis 2:8 The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.

I am reading through Genesis again, and noticed for the first time, that God is a gardener, too.  Better to say, God is THE Gardener.  He planted the Tree of Life in His garden.  I plant the food that sustains my life in mine.  I find all kinds of life there, and death.  That, too, came first to Eden.  He planted the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil there, and that knowledge came to Man by man's own doing.  I learn the right and wrong of my garden by doing, as well.  If I do it right, I will have good fruit.  If I do it wrong, I will have bad fruit, or no fruit at all.  The fact that I have to  sweat so much doing it?  See Genesis 3:17b

          "Cursed is the ground for your sake;
           In toil you shall eat of it
          All the days of your life."

I am grateful that God cursed the ground, and not man directly.  And I am grateful for my garden, and all I am gaining from it, in knowledge, wisdom, peace, and sustenance.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday Munchings

Not really.  Just gardening notes for future munching.  Twenty-four each of Broccoli (Waltham 29), Cabbages (Derby Day), and Cauliflower (Amazing) are finally in the Jiffy flats on my desk.  I will also direct seed these in the hoop house (twelve each) in March and outdoors in April.  If I get really motivated (and have enough seeds and containers), I will try Winter Seeding them outside on the deck, too.  It would be fun to see which way they do best.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Spa Day... for the Hens!

I went up to check on the condition of the hoop house yesterday afternoon, and was followed by four of the hens, who think I am the Great Giver of Food, for some reason.  Usually, they give up halfway there and go their own way, but this time, they followed me right in, and I swear their eyes got huge and they they ran down the aisle and jumped for joy in the dirt, rolling and scratching, and flinging dirt on each other and clucking like crazy.  Their favorite spots were right under my chair, the table, and between my feet and the last fig tree.  One of the four thought this was low class behavior and preferred the "improved" dirt in my actual garden.  I covered the areas where I have garlic planted, and put the cloches over the spinach and cabbage, and let them peck and eat everything else in sight. 
I went out and picked up Lucky and brought him in, figuring he'd appreciate time away from Drunken Chicken.  He was so excited he couldn't stop crowing, which eventually brought in Drunken Chicken... and all of a sudden the relaxed, happy atmosphere was gone.  He walked down one side and Lucky and three of the four of the six hens inside at that point all took off down the other side away from him.  So the truth is out.  Even the hens don't like the big bully.  He's headed for the stewpot.  When the Princess hollered to let me know it was time to take her to TaeKwonDo, I had to chase them all out.  The boys objected, but went eventually.  If the weather is not too nasty, I'll work in there this weekend, and take a hen to help me.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Messy...

The good is I finally ordered this year's meat chickens (and some Wyandottes, which I can explain, really!).  The bad is I waited so long that I cannot get delivery until April 1, which is rather late for the Wyandottes to be ready for the County Fair (4-H project for the kiddos).  I admit I'm glad that I can keep the birds in the laundry room for the first month and then kick them out into the cold, cruel world - that would be the heated Chicken Ghetto (the mini-coop), and then free range them as soon as it is warm enough.  I wasn't looking forward to coming up with some way to keep them warm outside as one month old birds in April, when it inevitably snows one last time here... usually the weekend I'm hiving bees... which I'm going to order as soon as I'm done with this post.

The other bad is that we lost a Blue Andalusian hen today for no discernible reason.  Just dead in the coop this morning.  Still warm when the Princess went to let the chickens out, but dead.

The messy is that I've gotten the Jiffy greenhouses set up, the extra dirt for the larger containers and GARDENING SEASON HAS STARTED!  Right next to my computer...  Which may not be world's most intelligent location, but it's what I've got, so I'm going for it.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Of Asparagus and Artichokes

It's snowing, but I am here with a cup of tea and a pile of gardening catalogs and websites dreaming of spring.  I have placed my seed orders, and received about half of them.   (Territorial Seed Company is quick to deliver).  Now I must set about determining where they all will go... YES, I KNOW that was a backwards way of doing it.  All I can say is that I know what I want to harvest this year, so I ordered it.   Also, if I order it, then I MUST make room for it, because I certainly can't let it go to waste.  That's motivation, I hope.

I will start the asparagus seeds as soon as they arrive.  I figure since we planted crowns last year, and then discovered a dozen asparagus plants in the old garden, we will be eating those this year.  There is still space for 12 more plants in the new bed (old water trough) where I put crowns last year.  One cannot have too much asparagus.  I might put some in the hoop house, too, just to see if they come up any earlier than those outside, thus extending my harvest time at the front end.  The seeds are for Purple Passion.  All my other 'sparagus is green, and I'm nothing if not a diehard fan of green&purple together.  Just look at the quilts I've made...

I'm also going to try growing artichokes.  Starting now in the living room.  Yes, I know that doesn't thrill El Jefe.   Yes, I know I am in Zone 5.  But that is what the hoop house is for.  I have this fabulous recipe that calls for snap peas, leeks, and canned chokes that EVERYONE in the family loves, especially El Jefe...  anyway, the chokes are Imperial Star, which are supposed to produce well as annuals up to Zone 5, and perennialize in Zone 7 - supposedly the hoop house gives me two extra zones, which would be zone 7, and even if it doesn't, I should still get chokes this year.  I have leeks overwintering (by accident, I admit, but still, there they are!), and we got more snap peas than we could eat last year,  so I will experiment planting them both in other locations this year, because having trellises in the hoop house was rather a pain, and if the leeks don't do well from seed (last year I had slips) I can replace them in the recipe with the wild bunching onions that grow all around the trough where the asparagus are.  (I did it once last year and no one noticed).  Please don't tell.