Thursday, March 13, 2014

  Next week the chicks should be ready at the hatchery! It's a "straight run", meaning they are not sexed. Knowing my luck I'll pick out mostly roos... again, so we're getting 26, That's the plan anyways. In the mix this time, we will be adding 10 Ameraucanas, 10 Buff Orpingtons and 6 Golden Lace Wyandottes.

  Waiting for Spring has triggered a cooking/baking mania in me. (That always seems to happen right after cleaning out and organizing a space.) The abundance of eggs has me making a lot of baked goods and pastas at the moment.  

  I'm keeping on top of the butternut squash from last summer, a little over 20 are left.  If you are looking for ideas on how to use squash in different ways, and right now this is our favorite pumpkin bread (the kids love it plain or with cream cheese frosting.) In the pumpkin bread recipe, I've been swapping out my homemade unsweetened cinnamon applesauce for the oil. It works really well and helps cut down the calories.  

  We go through food phases pretty hard. Not too much of a problem when it is something coming out of the garden.. but the pantry is another deal. 

  I'm trying to get some things done now, so that I have more time later. I've been making stock and reducing it down so it is pretty rich. I then am able to can it in smaller jars, or freeze in smaller containers. Quick breads, loaves of garlic bread, pastas, cookie (dough), potstickers, calzones, pastys, hamburger buns, rolls.. these are some of the things I make ahead and freeze.

  This town doesn't have fast food joints, or a grocery store. It has made me really have to stay on track with planning meals, keeping track, and cooking. I love it and hate it at the same time. The concept of going out to eat is lovely.. the reality is I don't know everything they are putting in my food, and to stay off meds, that's a problem. 

  I've started flats of seeds. We haven't fully set in place exactly what we are planting and where, but that's ok. I'm starting a bunch of pretty much everything anyways! I'm hoping that by this weekend enough has thawed out for me to see if the seed crop of leek survived, and if there was any ground heaving issues in the garlic and perennial onion patch. 

  Possibly.. a few twigs from some favorite apple trees may just disappear and find their way into my fridge..


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

waiting for spring

  Yesterday and today we actually got into the low 40's! After so many sub-zero days, it's like a heat wave. Just warm enough to make me stir crazy and not warm enough to get going. A big sloppy mess outside, but the monster snowdrifts are going to need a lot more to melt away.

 The Barred Rock and Rhode Island Red hens started laying back in January. My blue egg layers just started last week. So far so good and I've been able to keep up with using them.

 I made lemon curd and a pound cake the other day. That was the first time my husband had lemon curd, and he's hooked. I mean he's really hooked. He had a taste and then had dessert before dinner.. and then had dessert again. It took only 3 days and he's basically polished it off almost entirely by himself. I'm getting ready to make a double batch so we can take some in to the neighbor (and the nurses) at the hospital, and he can take some in to work. Curd freezes really well, so I will be making several different flavors they can have it later. (I'm diabetic, so while I love making all these things... I can't actually have any of it!)

 Next month we will be getting 26 more chicks. Keep your fingers crossed I don't pick out 80% roos again. We are going for 10 Ameraucanas, 10 Buff Orpingtons, and 6 Golden Lace Wyandottes... or that's the plan. I've been known to set limits and then completely blow them off.

 The 2 bunnies are now fryer size. Like I thought, my husband and daughter caved. They are claiming they are holding out just to make sure neither is a doe. 

 My husband built me a potting bench out of reclaimed wood and some scrap countertop. I've already put it to use starting peppers, asparagus, apple pips.. and if I can find my seeds- leek is another that needs an early start.

 Very soon it will be time to start the cold season transplants. It will go so much faster and easier with this new bench!

 This year we are scaling back to just our backyard garden. The nextdoor neighbor is in the hospital and he's in rough shape. We'll be helping the Church group with getting their gardens going, but I don't want to extend too far until I know the neighbor is ok. I may be cooking and cleaning for him if he does get out. He's been falling a lot. If he can't keep his balance, he's going to need a lot of help or assisted living arrangements. I'm selfish.. I'd like to keep this neighbor.

 This year we need to tackle the ancient rhubarb bed. Last year I separated out one of the groups of rhubarb. The one clump divided out into 18 plants+, all of which took. These are the backups. The old bed is incredibly overcrowded, the soil is compacted, bad drainage and the result is severely reduced production, thin stems, fungus, and crown rot. The whole area will be reworked. The other neighbor would like some, so just as soon as he picks where he wants it.. we'll dig up and put in a rhubarb bed for him. Juuuust waiting for him to show us where... still.

 By doing it in sections like this, I can still have some plants I can harvest while the others recover from being transplanted. 

 I'm so ready for spring to come..    

Sunday, December 29, 2013

 Busy year!

 2013 we added rabbits to the mix. Above is our doe. She was a little tweaky (like her Mom) when we first got her. Actually the 3 we got looked like this when we first got them..

 The hutches are outside in a sheltered location, but my husband still made them all bunny huts. They had been seperated for a little while by that point. The broken bunny (black & white) is mellow but attention crazy. (He is the first to run up when the door is opened and ready to get out. They're spoiled rotten.) My husband wasn't thinking and put him in the doe's cage for a quick moment so he could get the box in without worring about squishing or the buck escaping. Less than 30 seconds and Quick Draw was done.
 He thought they were too young yet, but still marked that calendar just in case. Sure enough- sub zero weather set in when she was due. He felt around in the box and found.... nothing. Breathed a sigh of relief and then confessed. 
 Then there was the ice storm almost 2 weeks later. The hutch was covered so they were dry and tons of straw in their cage. All 3 snuggled into their bunny huts at night. When morning came..  he found 3 tiny dead bunnies in front of her nestbox. We moved the doe and her box inside asap. It seems she had them buried so far under the straw they were really hard to find. 1 passed shortly after bring them in. Now there are just 2. They grow so fast that these little goobers doubled in size in a week. They are really chubby bunnies that are eating hay and bouncing around all night long.

 Ears fully deployed.. this goober is wider than it is long.
  I think you can guess "who's it's Daddy..."
  The chubby brown (agouti?) bunny has Dad's personality. Loving to be petted until it falls asleep.

 The doe has calmed down too and now also demands to be petted. Put your hand in her cage and she runs up, then shoves her head into your hand. While she lost most of her litter, she still did amazing considering the weather. Many around here lost all of their litters.  In the meantime we have a full house. These 2 may go to a local breeder who got us our original 3 and join his breeding stock. (Or we may just end up building a ton more hutches.)
 Before the bunny surprise.. Roy got injured. Doing the head count we realized one was missing. We searched for an hour before my husband found him... limp. He bundled him up and home we raced. Honestly didn't think he would make it through the night, he was a bloody mess. He did. It was hard to judge what was wrong at first.. he was moving so oddly- or rather not moving. He wouldn't eat pellets.. he wouldn't drink water.
 The week before we had helped out a local farmer with harvesting their vineyard. We did it just for fun. After picking the wine grapes, they offered up as many Concord grapes as anyone wanted. We loaded up several 5 gallon buckets and barely made a dent.
 It seems Roy... goes absolutely insane for Concord grapes. As his injury went right down to the bone on his leg, and within hours of getting him home we realized it was infected.. We dosed his grapes with antibiotics. Easiest way ever to medicate that bird. Just getting him to eat anything was a challenge- so I pulled out all of his favorites that he just couldn't resist (melons, grapes, tomatoes, applesauce).. anything juicy just to make sure he was hydrated and got some nutrients.
 3 months he was in our HOUSE. The first few weeks he couldn't move- so I would carry him to the yard and herd cricket at him.
  40 years old- I'm on my hands and knees crawling across the lawn herding crickets at a disabled rooster. When you are living in rural nowhere- that right there is how you know you are having a mid-life crisis. The neighbors don't say much- just look at you sad and send over a casserole.
 He slowly... slowly...became more and more mobile. Then at some point he was mobile enough to start stalking me in the house.
 Ear plugs are the greatest thing ever if you have a housebound rooster stalker. He learned to crow to demand treats. We under-estimated how many Concords he would eat- or rather how long it would take him to heal and had to buy him grapes. (Please excuse the dirty floor! Even though I had to wash all the floors every day- he took to squishing grapes and making a huge sticky mess in just seconds.)

 When he started hopping on to my nightstand so he could crow as close as possible to my face at 5am.. it was time to get this gimp back to the coop. You can see a little part of his injury in the picture above.
 He's used to foraging so I put a few things out for him to discover. His radish seed stash.. cranberries nearby. He hopped into my seed bin and had a field day- I about had an aneurysm with that catastrophe. Next year will be interesting as most of the tomato seeds are now jumbled as all are the Brassicas (kale, broccoli, mustard, cabbage, kohlrabi, turnip, etc.) They all look the fricken same. 
 I made big salads and a roast one night. My husband had a rough day and was exhausted. He fell asleep sitting on the couch with the salad in his lap. He woke up to Roy on the couch next to him.. completely wound up and happy making a racket. He was eating my husband's salad- in particular he was sooo excited over the shredded cheese on it. It's really hard to be irritated when something funny is happening at the same time. 
 Sanity eluding our sleep deprived selves- it got to the point where Roy would sit on the couch next to my husband watching tv and eating dinner. Yeah.. Roy got his own bowl of people food.
 He's back in the coop. Back to running around with the girls. He crows a lot less now, and is very content. He still has a bit of a limp, but can run, scratch, jump pretty well. Well enough that the girls think he is hot stuff.
 Hope everyone is doing well. Wishing you all a Happy New Year!!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Strawberries, garlics, and walking onions

 Couldn't ask for better weather!

 We're about to take off to put in a strawberry patch in at one of the other gardens we work. The area has already been prepped. Lots of compost turned in to fluff up the soil and add nutrients, stones that have surfaced have been removed.. all set and ready to go!

 We're relocating some everbearing strawberries. Dug up so that we could retain as much of the root system as possible.. even keeping the runners attached. Keeping a rootball on it makes it easier for me to transplant. Strawberries do best when planted at the proper depth. They also just love a surge in nutrients that well made compost provides, which results in larger more robust plants producing larger more robust berries.

 Also going in is garlic and some perennial onion sets. I was hoping to get several heads of some locally grown hardneck strains, but I didn't get there in time and it was sold out. So softnecks and the few hardnecks I have from the farmer's market are going in. No doubt I'll wish we planted more! (Isn't that always the case every year?)

 The bed that is getting garlic is also heavily amended with compost but will get a little extra by way of bone meal. Cold temperatures triggers garlic to break dormancy. The first thing it does is start laying down the root structure. In areas with really wet, really cold winters.. heaving is an issue. Waterlogged soil that freezes hard can break the roots and basically eject the garlic. Putting in a lot of well aged compost helps provide drainage but some areas may need to go a step further and mulch. We're not mulching. We're about as rebellious as Captain Kangaroo. Oh yeah. Gardening on the wild side.

 What I am also excited about (and it's making me wish spring was already here!!) is that I get to do some guerilla grafting. The apples we gleaned this fall we kept track of to figure out what we liked about them, early/mid/late production, size, storage qualities, uses. The owners of several exceptional apple trees have said I can collect some scions (cuttings) this coming spring so I can do some grafting. I'll be spreading it out quite a bit (with luck).. by grafting them on to some wild apple and crabapple trees.

 Well, time is flying by and days are so short. Good luck to you all!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Murphy's law and the tasty cableboy

 Not long after the last post.. Murphy's law activated.

 The sewer line is old terra cotta pipe that tree roots have been invading. A problem we have been having to deal with repeatedly. Add to that water weeping in after a decent rain. YAY!  So the house settled just enough that the sewer line was utterly kaput in several locations.

 Hundreds of pounds of produce in my house..... and no plumbing!!!!!!

 Our neighbors came to the rescue and for the next 2 weeks they opened their homes to us.

 Luck is that during this time our one elderly neighbor threw out his back and my husband found him not long after he was incapacitated. My husband carried our neighbor down the stairs and all the way to the car... then off to the doctor. I cooked for him and as well other neighbors would check in to make sure he was ok. A week of rest, several more trips to the doctor, and some industrial strength pain meds he was good to go.

 The concrete guys who came to redo the line were wonderful. I sent them off with tomatoes, eggs, melons, peppers, squash, apples, and an assortment of my jars. It was better to give away what I could than let it spoil. They accidently hit the water main and flooded the yard.. which created a massive mudslide that covered the neighbor's driveway as he is downhill from us. Then nailed the cable line which was barely 2 inches underground when they refilled the 8 foot deep trench. They kept the work site clean, even cleaning up the sidewalk and our neighbor's driveway. They also neatly piled the old copper pipes and solid lead pipe in the basement. This was particularly lovely of them. Often if you don't specify you want that metal.. it has a way of magically disappearing from a site. 

 The cable life  line snapped and I rather enjoyed it. I ended up meeting yet another neighbor (Julie) while I was raking leaves. She's also into gardening (flowers).. but is working 3 jobs so she can't get to it like she wants. Even better.. she is as well a seed thief.. with connections! She needed a hand moving, so I helped her. She's just outside of town at a place that she can garden as much as she wants. The hitch.. cattle. There is no fence keeping the bovine away from the house. The house is in a pasture. Come this spring.. we'll be helping her put in some fencing. Until then, we get to hear tales about the cow that was on the patio.. and calling in late to work as 3 young bulls were between her and getting to her car. Clanging pots & pans no longer scary enough to convince them to move.

 The cable line was finally replaced... yesterday. They've dinked around in my house trying everything, except fixing the obvious cable wires sticking out from the middle of the lawn like a pulled thread. (The cute cable guy is in his early 20's.. and many years ago when I was single.. I'd be inviting a few girl friends over and breaking the cable darn near daily. Although back in those days.. it was a fireman in his boxers.. but that is another tale.) The dog loves Cableboy. As he busily swaps equipment and types on his laptop.. our dog stares adoringly and randomly licks. The first time.. the guy was wedged behind the entertainment center as he was stretching to get at the cords. The dog licked his arm..the flailing was just 1 indicator that he was caught off guard. I don't know what it is about this kid.. but my dog finds him tasty.

 Things are finally in working order.

 Some of the construction guys are friends with Buddy across the street. They were wondering if I have a farmstand and hoping to get more jarred goods. Next year... hopefully.

 Next year is going to be insanely busy. Right now is still super busy. I'm actually looking forward to when things slow down... Just not yet. Not until I finish planting more garlic, moving these strawberry plants and dividing the hostas.     

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Apples & Organization

 New shelves of the first section are up and getting filled.

 I have 2 binders that I am using to try and keep my recipes organized. The lids are labeled with batch numbers, content, and date. I'm doing this because I have a lot of different variations and I'm trying to hone it down to the ones we like best.

 The binders will let me rearrange the recipes later so that I can have them divided up by the primary ingredient. One I will keep in the kitchen, and the other will stay by the jars. The one downstairs has additional pages so I can keep track of how much I have made, so I know how much I have used.

 Having an idea of what we consume will help me gauge my garden plantings. I'll know what types we like best and how much I need to plant. It will also help me with some things like jam combinations. I know that next year I need to have at least 4 pounds of raspberries and black raspberries frozen to make my daughter's favorite jam combo later. 

 All of these butternut squash, came off of 2 hills that combined had a total of 5 plants. We'll be eating it at least once a week for a year. By "we" I mean my family and my birds. The lowest level is a bench that spans the wall which is roughly 18 feet and it's almost completely full.

 I finally cried "Uncle" and said we have enough apples. We're using king size pillow cases for them. Each holds over 50 pounds of apples. Just as I tackle 1 bag, my husband would wander home with more. That void in the shelf of quarts will be filled just as soon as the latest jars of applesauce have cooled. I will finally be under 400 pounds of apples today. We've been snacking on apples constantly.. the birds get some every day.. even the dog gets a cored apple. (One of the apples is everyone's favorite.. it's yellow with a red blush at the stem end. Crisp wonderful texture and tastes like a really sweet pear! An old lost tree that no one knows what kind it is. I HAVE to get scions!!)

 This is my apple crumb cake..

  To those that let us glean apples from their trees, I made them one of these, fresh warm rolls, a pint of applebutter, and also some quarts of applesauce as a thank you. They've all offered up an open invite so we can pick next year too. The assortment is nice because I have different kinds that can be used different ways.

 None of these trees are sprayed, pruned, or bothered with in any way. The spring flowers are nice, but the apples are seen more of as a nuisance that have to pick up each fall before they mow the lawn. It makes me smile when they say "Oh wow! You made this from my apples?" 

 I did... now appreciate that damn tree ya lucky bastard!  
 We have more apple trees planted, but they need a few years yet to produce. The old orchard at the big farm seems to be nailed by a blight. It's hard to tell as it has been swallowed up by the encroaching forest and now is almost impossible to get to on foot. All the more reason to plant more.. and more varieties!

 Maybe I should gather a few more just in case..  


Friday, September 28, 2012

When frost leaves you in a pickle..

  If frost is forecasted and you're stuck having to put the garden to bed earlier than expected, it's time to buckle down an maximize your harvest.

 If I have a few days warning, I start pulling tomatoes that have a decent blush on them to finish ripening on the counter. When tomatoes have a blush of color, it is called the breaker stage. Many of the "vine ripe" tomatoes at the store are actually harvested at this stage. Picking these gives the plants a chance to reroute their energy towards the younger fruit and the breaker tomatoes will still taste fine.

 I pick all of the really immature winter squash. When they are very small they can be used like a summer squash. They are very delicate at this stage, so a fast wash and into the fridge. I use these up in the next few days. Care must be taken that they don't get dinged up as they are so fragile, and damage will make them spoil more quickly. 

 I also pick all of the squash flowers over the next few days. I have 2 containers that I keep in the fridge. One that is a filling for stuffed squash blossoms and another that is the batter that I dip them into. This way I can quickly wash the blossoms, stuff and fry them. Then off to the freezer they go on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Once frozen, I transfer them into a freezer container. They'll keep for 6 months.

 Very immature melons are also picked. These fuzzy darlings I pickle. I've pickled quite a few of them this year already as the deer liked to play in the melon patch and obliterated many vines. When they are really young you don't need to peel them or do anything like that as the skins are tender. I make refrigerator pickles with them. The immature melons are very bland and not sweet, so they pick up the flavor of the pickling liquid very well. 

 If left to their own devices, my husband and daughter would eat pickles constantly. This year, they did. The entire middle shelf in my fridge is just pickles and I am constantly reloading the jars. Assorted veggies can be tossed into this like carrots cut into sticks, onions, radishes, peppers (needs at least 2 small slits so the liquid penetrates them), sugar snap peas (ends cut off.. also so liquid goes through), purslane stems, tiny green beans, kohlrabi.. pretty much anything.

 More than a few zucchini were the size of my arm this year. These huge ones I process rather fast as the longer they sit, the tougher the seeds inside become. If the seeds are tender, I make zucchini parmesan and freeze them. Thick round are sliced, put into seasoned flour, then dipped into egg, and coated in seasoned breadcrumbs. A quick fry in a little olive oil to make them golden, on to a rack to cool, then on to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper in a single row and into the freezer. Once frozen, they get put into freezer containers. I do the same with eggplant. It's a fast dinner later. Just pull out how many you need, lay them in a dish, top with tomato sauce, parmesan, and mozzarella, then bake.

 Itty bitty green tomatoes are yet another thing I will pick. There's no hope for them to get of size, but they do have their uses! I've swapped these out in recipes that call for green tomatillos. I just made a green tomato relish (which is like a rather tasty sour salsa), the recipe I got from Farmgirl FareI left it chunky. (The flash is making it look rather pale too. This works out well for us as in my sauce making frenzy, I didn't jar up enough salsa. The recipe is super mild for our taste, so the next batches I will be using more jalapenos.)

 We have yet to try them, but I also put up 28 quarts of 4 different pickled green tomatoes. The recipes for them are from Garden Betty.

 For now fridge pickles remain the favorite. They are this simple to make.. (per quart)

  1.  load up a clean jar with spices and an assortment of veggies to your liking (skip leafy greens. Cut slits in any small whole veggies -like peppers, beans, snap peas,etc. Cut the veggies so they are easy to handle, but also so the pickling liquid can permeate it well.)
  2. in a saucepot heat up to boiling 1 cup water, 1 cup vinegar, 1 tablespoon pickling salt
  3. pour pickling liquid over veggies and close up the jar. Once cooled, store in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. (VERY helpful to write the date on them!)

  The favorite here is garlic dill. I just pop in 6 whole black pepper corns, 4 cloves of peeled halved garlic and dill seeds or fronds. My husband likes them a little spicy, so I add 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes to his. To go the sweet route.. you can add sugar to the saucepot.

 Ideally you want to use whole spices, or slightly crushed ones. If you use powdered ones it looks like sediment (see pickled 1/2 tomatoes above. I ran out of garlic heads!)

 DV doesn't much care for pickles, so his 1/2 gallon jar lasts him several months. We got as far as 4 weeks before they found the jar I hid in the back. 

 If you like it more sour.. use more vinegar. Roughly each quart jar you are looking to add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of spices. What kind is up to what you like. I suggest experimenting with different ones in jelly jars. Just make sure you tape the recipe to each jar (otherwise.. you'll have my mess!) 

 Best of luck to you all. I'm headed back to the kitchen!