Saturday, January 31, 2015

Seeds Arrive!

 Yay, some of the seeds arrived today.  I get excited about seed packets. In this order, I have onions (remember "onion independence" )cabbage,  a storage vegetable, collard greens, o e of the best summer greens,  parsley, a great cold weather crop, mache, a very cold hardy green, russian sunflowers-tjese a re grown for their seedheads as chicken feed,  and some old fashioned pole beans....
also, I ordered several packets of a microgreen mix.  What are microgreens you ask?  Microgreens are basically any sprouting seed that are allowed to grow a few inches tall, and usually harvested when they are a week or two old.  Why microgreens?We have probably all read that sprouts are healthy. You can buy sprouts in most produce sections these days.  Oddly, let those sprouts grow just a little bit more, and there is an explosion of nutrient content... from 4-40 times what the mature plant contains.  Thats some powerful nutrition.  You can add these tiny  greens to salad, or, they can BE  your salad.  Growing microgreens is as easy as sprouting the seeds, and then spreadong them in a tray until you are ready to harvest. If you are an impatient gardener, then you might want to try growong these.

Heres a tray of some mixed Microgreens.  They are just about ready to pick.
It was really, really cold today.   So it seemed like a good time to work inside.   i started painting the stairway.  Improvement?

Weather:2 degrees this morning, but soooo windy. Windchill had to have been well below zero. It was miserable.
Wildlife... everybody looked cold today. I didnt SEE, but HEARD a fisher out in the woods.
training.. planks and pushups.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Way We Were

Mr. Newton,  with the dairy cow. Barn and silo shown.

You dont often get a view into the past for a property you buy.
We are very fortunate that our neighbors are part of the family that owned this farm for many years.  I  was psyched when theu showed us a f ew old photos of the place.   Most everything is pretty much the same, with the exception of the grand old barn that used to grace the  back part of the farmyard. Oh how I wish it were still here.  It actually is still in existance, having been taken apart, the pieces numbered, and rebuilt down in Massachusetts somewhere.  I would love to go see it. Foundation issues here forced its removal. Sigh.... 
the photo above, with Mr. Newton and one of the cows, and the barn cat, is my favorite.  I might have to paint that one.

Here are two more, comparing yesteryear, and today.  These are just photos of the photo, so resolution isnt great.

Then:  standing in the driveway looking out towards the back.
And now, same view.  

Then, standing about where the bird feeder is now, looking towards the back.  Notice rhododendron bush blooming jn foreground..
How beautiful it looks!
Now, same view. Bush has grown, some trees have grown in,

Seeing these old pictures really made me love this place even more. We cant afford to build a grand barn like that, but we will at least return the fields to grazing livestock, and the garden back to productivity. And the land will be loved, and the farm cherished.

Weather:snowy, but quiet and peaceful. In the 20s
Wildlife:Just Emmet amd Will as usual
Training: core work!

Lamentations 5:21
Restore us to yourself,  Lord, that we may return. Renew our days as of old.
While this verse is really a prayer of the Israelites in the Old Testament, I think it speaks of a common human desire... to return to good days, and old times. That is what we hope for this old farm.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

When its sunny, it is usually very cold....

Today was a brilliant sunshiney ... and cold.... day. It was minus 9 this morning, but did warm up to slightly above freezing, which made for a beautiful day.

So, just a few goings on.
A second hen has begun laying, so we are up to two eggs a day. As sometimes happens with young hens, we are getting double yolked eggs rather frequently.  That will sort itself out eventually.  When a hen is ready to begin laying, her comb will change from pale pink to deep red.  All the young pullets now have red combs, so I suspect we will soon be getting half a dozen eggs a day.  They happily ventured out in the sunshine today, staying on the straw i scattered over the snow.

Turkeys: I have dubbed the two young Toms that now regularly visit our feeder as Emmet and Will.  Emmet is a little handsomer I think.  I  felt so bad for them in the storm, that I mixed a banquet of feeds and scattered it under the feeder. I mixed sunflower seeds, sprouted peas, whole wheat berries, dog food, and some leftover cornbread.. oh, and some freeze dried mealworms. They relished everything, except the peas. Those were mostly left in the snow. 

Wild Ducks:
I saw the wild mallard hen again, and this time she was not alone. A second hen was swimming in the river too. I guess they are ok.  

Apple Cider Vinegar:
It smells strongly of vinegar when I walk by the shelf where they are kept.  I wont disturb the jars for another week at least, amd then we will check to see how they are doing.

Barn and Garage Plans:
We are still tossing around ideas, but I am getting really excited at the prospect.... 

There are lots of little tasks every day. I am painting some furniture, choosing paint colors for one room, keeping up with sprouting greens for the chickens, firewood and kindling, making yogurt every few days, dehydrating and vacuum canning various vegetables.
Today, mushrooms were on sale, so I bought a bunch, and will dehydrate them tomorrow and  put them in jars.  Dried mushrooms will substitute for fresh in almost any recipe, and are so easy to dehydrate, and great to have handy at a moment's notice.

Tomorrow it is supposed to snow all day again, so I plan to work inside on some projects.

Weather:cold, sunny, brilliant day.
Wildlife: The ducks... glad to see there are at least two of them.
Training: five mile easy road run.
I am up to 45 pushups.

Galatians 6:5
For each one should carry his own load....

Steve works full time at his job. we laugh that he works to support my farming habit. I am here, and it is my job to oversee the household.  We make a good team. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Onion Independence

Recently, it came to me that pretty much every recipe I have begins with an onion.  I can almost not think of any meal that doesnt have onion in it.
What does that mean for the garden, and our goal to grow as much of our own food as possible?

Well, for starters, it means I should be planting a heck of alot of onions!  If I used one onion every day, then  that is 365 onions. But, since it is entirely possible and even probable that
A. Not every onion I plant will mature
B. I may need more than one onion a day.
I better plant extra!  I would say 25% extra.  That means I should be planting about 455 onion plants.
And, if I start from seeds, then I have to add even a few more, since not every seed will germinate.....


So, as I plan out the garden for this spring, I will be dedicating a large area for onions.   I dont know why it took me so long to think about it like this.  But anyway, the goal for this year's garden is ONION INDEPENDENCE -to grow enough onions for storage that I will not have to buy any from the store.  Its a big goal.

But just think of the savings for our grocery bill if I grow enough of that one thing that we use every day.

It probably wise to concentrate on just one goal, but I am also going to increase the amount of greens I plant, because thats another thing we eat every day.... more spinach, lettuce, kale, chard, turnip amd collard greens, .... these will all find a bigger place in the garden.  These things dont store, like onions do, but many of them are so hardy they can be grown even in winter in a cold frame....

Weather:  cold!  I think it only got up to about 17 today.
Wildlife:  i hd  nice video of the turkeys, but it wouldnt download
Training. Pushups, ugh...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


These are the two young toms that hang out at our house every day now.  They seem to be fine here, searching for all the dropped sunflower seeds under the feeder. Earlier, though, they looked completely miserable and huddled against the wind.  It reminded me that the wild critters do suffer. They just don't complain.

So, the state pretty much closed down today for the big storm.  It was nasty out there. We stayed inside most of the day, watching the snow and keeping warm by the fire. It's really nice actually, to have a day like that every once in awhile.  We did not lose power, which was even nicer.  I finished a scarf I have been knitting, and Steve did some reading.  
There was a bit of a lull in the storm, so we decided to go for a run.  We dressed appropriately, and were really quite comfortable despite the  bitter cold.  It was quiet and actually nice out there.

Our selfie out on the road while running. 12 degrees, windchill minus 9.
But we were comfy.  And yes, we have matching sunglasses.

As we got almost home, we waved to our neighbor, out plowing his driveway.

Here is Jack. He thinks we are nuts. Sorry about the photo. There was snow on the camera lens.

After a quick lunch, we decided it was time to start clearing the snow, even though there will be a bit more coming until the wee hours of the morning.  I don't know how much we got. There was so much blowing and drifting, that it was hard to really tell.  Some places were almost blown bare, and some had over three feet. I am going to guess though, that we got somewhere around 18-20 inches.

Steve ran the snowblower, and I got the shovel and worked on the chicken pens, duck pens, and around the  front and back doors. The drifts were so high in the back I couldn't open the door till I shoveled it out. We finished after a couple hours of steady work.
I guess this gives an idea of the snow depth. I couldn't get out this door either until it was cleared out a bit.

On a day like this, especially with all the blowing snow, I kept the hens locked in their coop. They don't like it much, but it was much warmer for them that way, and they were safe from the wind. Chickens can deal with a good bit of cold temperatures, but they will die if they are not sheltered from rain or snow and wind.  I shoveled out their run, so there is at least an area they can get outside.  They don't like the snow, so I put down straw on top of what snow was left, and they will walk on that.

Weather today.... It was single digits this morning, I don't know what the high temp was, but not above 20 I think. Windy, gusty, snowy blowy and cold!
Wildlife. The turkeys were interesting to watch.  At one point, they seemed really cold and huddled against the wind. Then, as in the video, they seemed ok. The smaller birds were amazingly out and about as well.
Training  Two hour easy run.

Isaih 25:4
You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from  the storm

Monday, January 26, 2015

Storm Comin'!

Proof that turkeys do get cold feet. Notice how they are standing on one foot, warming the other up against their body. 
We are forecast to have a major snowstorm starting later tonight.  With possibly over 2 feet of snow, and 60 mph wind gusts, it is going to get rather nasty out there.

The wild things know.  There was quite a bit of bird activity at the feeder today, as if they are trying to eat up and be ready..

Compared to the last big storm that hit the day we signed papers on the house, this one will be bigger and will likely also involve widespread power outtages. In fact,  the electric company actually called and left that message. I didnt know they would do that!  But, even so, we are not worried.  We have been concentrating on our preparedness plans, and we are ready.  In fact, it felt pretty good to not need to rush to the store and get anything. ( ok, I did stop by the store on my way back from an errand to get a package of tortillas, because we were out, but I woild have done that, storm or no storm, and if needed I can make tortillas)
We have extra gas for the generator, plenty of wood and kindling, and matches for the woodstove.  We have propane for the cookstove.  We have flashlights, and extra batteries, with rechargeables and a charger that can run on the generator, or the car battery inverter)  and the oil lamps with plenty of oil.
And a pantry stocked with the necessities. I think I will make a big pot of potato soup in just awhile.

So, the self sufficiency model of homesteading is practical, and gives a great sense of security and calm, even with a storm raging outside.  And if the storm turns out to be a bust (doubtful) then, no matter. We just continue our routine.

Here is a great method of preserving pantry items that I've started using quite a bit. It is called dry canning.  It is ONLY for DRY goods- things like pasta, rice, flour, cereal, coffee, tea, dried fruits or veggies -things like that.    Most of my pantry space is in the cellar.... which can be humid, and which also has a few resident mice.  So i must protect foods from both the moisture, and the mice.  Glass jars are mice proof, but could still allow some moisture.  Enter, the vacuum seal jar attachment for a food saver machine, and a simple manual vacuum pump.

Here are some jars with a few things I want to seal up. A friend gave me some coffee (yay) and some peanuts.  The last jar is some dried coconut that came jn a plastic bag... definitely not mouse proof! And there is a the jar attachment, and the vacuum pump.

Just pop the jar attachment on the jar with only the lid, not the ring.  The vacuum pump has a gauge. I aim for the 20 on the gague, as that is what the foodsaver machine will produce, if you are lucky enough to have one of those.

That's all there is to it!  The manual (ie. hand cranked) pump is a little bit of work. You will get some stronger forearms.  But what I really like about this method is that, since I am not heating the jars, the lids can be re -used.  And it does keep out mice and moisture!  This puts a seal on the jar same as if you had used the canner.   
Tips: I often use  some of those silica dessicant packets, especially for dried friit or veggies as extra moisture control.
An oxygen absorber will also produce a vacuum seal on the jar wjth no work on your part. But they are a single use, so I tend not to use them. 

Weather.  Was zero this morning. Now in the teens. Hasnt started snowing yet, but the sky is heavy.... we can almost smell snow in the air!
Wildlife:just the usual suspects.
training: Planks, baby!

JOB 36:33
His thunder announces the coming storm. Even the cattle make known its approach.

( see, the critters DO know when a storm  is coming!)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Thinking About Barns

So, in preparation for building a barn, hopefully later this year, I have been scanning the web for ideas.  Though it would be wonderful to have a grand old barn, our budget is for a smaller, simpler structure that is functional.

 Maybe not quite this small.....
And definitely not this big.
This is about right.
Due to the location, I think we will need to go with a breezeway style like this, rather than a center aisle.  But we are still in the early planning stages.  I need at least two stalls, a tack room, and hay storage.  it is exciting and fun to think about.

Weather:32 and sparkling sunshine today. Wonderful.  The temps have dropped and we are expecting near zero by morning. I locked the hens up early so the coop might build up a little body heat.
wildlife: nothing today!
training:oh how I wish I had my camera today as we went on a wonderful snowy winter hike to the top of a local mountaim.
perfect day!
PSALMS 74:17
It was You who set all the boundaries of the earth. You made both summer and winter.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fun Stuff

Daily turkey cam......

So today was bottling day for the latest batch of hard cider.
The first task was to sort through all the bottles and set aside any that werent up to par.  
The bottle on the left was rejected because the rubber stopper was cracked.

Even after washing, this bottle has gunk in the bottom, so it was set aside too.

Then all the bottles are soaked in a sanitizing solution. This is one instance in which controlling the microbes that are allowed in the bottles is a good thing.  So we are pretty careful with sanitizing everything...

The bottles drain in the dishwasher after sanitizing

when the bottles are ready, i will transfer  the cider from the fermenting bucket to a bottling bucket that has a spigot. This will make it easier to get the cider into bottles. 
Meanwhile, i am also boiling some water to mix up some sugar. This small amount of sugar is just enough to start up fermentation so that the cider is carbonated, or fizzy.

 After siphoning the cider to the bottling bucket, and adding the sugar, I attached a tube to the spigot with a bottling tip. This was a two handed operation, so I dont have a photo.

But here is the finished product!  The cider will be bottle pastuerized in a few days once the carbonation is just right.  
Then, it can age awhile and only get better with time!

Maybe this isnt exactly a homesteading necessity.  But it is lots of fun!

Weather: snow all day, maybe 5-6 inches.  More coming.
wildlife:of course, the turkeys do cute things the minute I put the camera down, like chasing off a pesky squirrel, or eating directly from the feeder...

Friday, January 23, 2015

Waiting for the Key

This is what happens when a hard freeze follows rain which fell on 6 inches of snow.
It is so treacherous, I have to wear crampons to get to the chicken coop.
You may wonder what that title refers to, (or, in better grammar, you may wonder to what that title refers..... no dangling participles!)

I fill in on occasion for a friend at a local community center.
I worked today and then came home, only to discover that an event was taking place at the center tonight, and I would be needed to go back and unlock the building for them. This was all rather last minute,  and when I rushed back over there, folks were standing in the dark parking lot, anxious, wondering, worried. Locked out, waiting for the key.

I got to thinking this is very much like life.

Much of the time we are milling around in the dark, full of uncertainty.  There is something good just through the door, but we dont have the key.  We think if only we could get in, everything will be fine and good.

The "big bliss" beyond the door is just out of our reach. We are waiting for the key.

I think, "we have to get the homestead completely functional... then everything will be good."  That's the "big bliss"in my mind.
Maybe for you it is, "when the kids start school, and I have more time"or maybe "when I get that promotion" or new car, or bigger house, or get married, or run a personal  best in a marathon, or whatever. We tend to think that the good stuff is "out there" somewhere, and if we only could get there, we would be happy.  But we huddle in our everyday humdrum, waiting for a miraculous intervention to transport us to happiness.

We forget that life is what happens while we are milling around in the parking lot, hoping for something better.  The big bliss is embracing just being there.  The key is being present in the here and now, taking each moment for what it is... living it, facing its challenges, hardships, joys, and miracles.

I have to tell you, the event tonight was a poetry reading, and I was feeling all poetic and was sorely tempted to compose a verse about all this. But then, lucky for you, I didnt.

So, today, I am glad to be in this drafty, rickety old farmhouse with the man I dearly love, and two useless, but loveable mutts.  Peeling wallpaper, I embrace you. Falling down shed, you will last another year or two if you have to. Garden full of weeds- you are a work in progress.   There, I feel better already...

Weather: chilly, but sunny. I think it was in the teens this morning.
Wildlife:i looked for the duck again today, but didnt see her.  I watched the birds at the feeder, noticing how each behaves. The chickadees grab a seed, fly off with it, and hold it between their toes and crack it with their beaks. The jays hop around on the snow and swallow the seeds whole. The finches sit on the feeder and grind the seeds into pieces, which are then eaten by the mole....
Training: resting a sore knee today. Supposed to run a race in the morning....

Hebrews 13:5
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you".

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Apple Cider Vinegar update

straining out the pulp

 I know you have all been anxiously waiting to see how the vinegar is coming along.  ­čśŐ
Today I decided to move it to the second stage.  I scooped out most of the apple chunks.
Then, it was matter of straining out the rest so the cider is relatively clear and free of gunk. (Thats a technical cider making term).  I used a big nylon mesh bag for this. I think Steve got this for his beer brewing.  I just poured the cider mash into a big bowl lined with the bag.

hanging the bag for draining

I hung the bag up from a cabinet knob, to let it drain while I did a few other things.

Two half gallons and a glass.

There was about two half gallon jars full, plus a little tjat i just poured in a glass.  I tasted it. Surprisingly, it is quite good, a lightly carbonated, slightly fermented apple cider.  The alconol content is low, but thats okay. It can continue to ferment a bit.

Now, the next step is to let the vinegar making bacteria take over. These acetobacter bacteria will take the alcohol from the yeast fermentation, and change the liquid into vinegar. If you have ever left a bottle of wine open for too long, and then  tasted it, you might remember noticing the acid taste.  Its the acetobacter at work. 

Permit me to digress just a bit.  Bacteria, yeasts, molds, etc. Are all around us. Our society seems to have this germophobia, and we think we need to constantly disinfect everything. ( Dont get me started on the use of antibacterial soaps and disinfectants. ) Anyway, many of these organisms are helpful. We would not have bread, wine, beer, any alcohol, cheese, sour cream, etc. Without them.  And while i am not saying to stop cleaning your kitchen, I am saying that we can embrace a balance ..... like everything else in nature, balance is key. Rather than trying to control everything in nature, we would do better to try to work WITH the natural order.  We would all be better off if more of this kind of harmony was present.  This way of thinking is how I want to organize our homestead..

If you bake bread alot, your kitchen will develop its own colony of bread making yeasts.  You wont see them, but they are there.  Ever hear somebody complain that bread made in the breadmaker, or even by hand, in their own kitchen, just didnt taste as good as mom's, even though it was the exact same recipe?  Thats because mom's kitchen had its own unique combination of these local yeasts that would get into the bread dough and impart that special something that made mom's bread so good.  

I could have allowed the cider to sit open, and the local yeasts here would have found their way into the jar and fermented it. I didnt have to add yeast. I did, simply because it speeds things up. But, it would have happened in its own eventually. 

Where the yeast work in a tightly closed environment, (anaerobic)  these acetobactor need oxygen.  So rather than putting a lid on the jars, i will cover them with cheesecloth to let air in. In doing this, i am allowing the local bacteria to do their work, while the cheesecloth will filter out dust, or bugs, etc.

There they are. I secured the cheesecloth with a rubber band.
And then, since these vinegar bacteria do not like sunlight, Istick the jars on the cellar shelves where its dark.

Now we wait.   Eventually, a thin film will form on the surface of the liquid, eventually forming a sort of gelatinous glob.  Thats tje vinegar "mother"-the colony of acetobactor that are doing their magic.  Cant wait.  Nature is amazing.

Weather:warmer today, 17 this morning, up to 42.. mostly sunny.
wildlife:I saw the solitary duck again today. 
Training :  8.6 mile road run

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Planting Heirloom Varieties

These are a few of the seeds I saved from last year. I didnt get very many because we moved in the middle of garden season.

My goal is to work towards seed self sufficiency, being able to plant all my own seed from year to year without being dependent on buying them.

In order to do that, I must plant heirloom and open pollinated varieties.  Open pollinated means that the plants can freely pollinate each other and will produce seed that is like the original, or parent plant.   They  are not a specific cross. Many of the var├Četies today are hybrids, bred to have special characteristics, increased yield, resistance to disease, etc.   They are great plants, but if I keep the seed from one of these, there is no guarantee that the next generation will resemble the parent plant.  So, While i am slowly increasing my store of saved seeds, I am only planting these open pollinated varieties. Heirloom plants are open pollinated and will breed true.
All these lettuces are heirloom, except the bottom right package. It was a freebie from the seed company. I planted some last year and was not impressed.

Some seeds are easier to save than others.  And some, like carrots, are biennials, producing seed every other year. There is a bit of a learning curve, so I am doing what I can now to figure this all out, while I can still fall back on purchasing seeds if necessary. I dont know yet exactly what percentage of any crop needs to be reserved just for seed propagation.

Weather : cold, and clear. About 8 this morning.
Wildlife: While driving by the river, I saw a lone mallard duck hen swimming. She should not be here! I am worried about her.
Training: today is upper body strength training. I still have trouble with my shoulders after an auto accident a few years ago. It irks me, but I have to go really slow with building up reps.

Thought for the day:
Ecclesiastes 11:6
Sow your seed in the morning, and in the evening let not your hands be idle. For you do not know which will be succeed, this or that, or whether both will do equally well."
I think this means not only that we must work hard, but also to have layers of back up.. in this case, plant several varieties, planning for the possibility of crop failure of one or more...a wise practice in any endeavor....

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Growing Storage Crops, or, How to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck in a Garden

Some of the winter squash seeds

Storage Crops.... what do i mean by that?
These are the vegetables that your great grandmother kept down in the root cellar, and they stayed good all the way through till spring.  They store, or keep, on their own without having to otherwise preserve them.

Interestingly, many of these vegetables have sort of fallen out of favor, as folks can buy the flashier summer crops of tomatoes, peppers,  and others year round due to the ability to transport them great distances from the warmer climes where they are grown.  How many of you have turnips, parsnips, winter squash or a bushel of potatoes or carrots stowed away in a dark cool corner?  I thought not.

To develop resiliancy in the homestead, I will focus on planting as many of these storage crops as possible.  They provide wonderful eating in the dark dreary days of winter when the garden sleeps under a blanket of snow.  They also provide calories, and thus energy, along with a vast array of nutrients and vitamins that our winter diet would otherwise lack.

I love being able to walk down to my cellar and grab some winter squash, a few carrots, potatoes, and onions, and make a nice big pan of roasted vegetables on a cold winter day. Yum!

Some of the main storage crops I will plant are:
winter squash

Did you notice something about most of these vegetables?  They are all, with the exception of cabbage and winter squash, root vegetables.  These plants produce tubers or storage roots as a means of storing nutrients and minerals for their own growth ... we can take advantage of that convenient package of goodness and keep them under conditions that mimic nature, for a long lasting supply of food ... that means cool, somewhat damp, and dark.(with the exception of onions and garlic, which do better in dark, but dry, conditions)

I dont know yet how much garden space will be devoted to these long keepers, but you can bet they will be a big part of it!

Weather:sunny and cold again! I forgot to look at the thermometer this morning, but the high today was barely  32, and we are supposed to get down close to zero tonight.
Wildlife: all the usuals. Lots of deer sign, but havent seen one lately.
Training: 45 min. Easy jog/walk

Thought for the Day
Proverbs 21:20
The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Some Garden Prep-

I love this old pine. A brief patch of sunlight breaks through in a mostly cloudy, dreary day.

According to my planting chart, i have about 6 weeks until I plant the first seeds here indoors, or in  the cold frame.
So, this seemed like a good time to sort through my seed box, and see what I have, and what I might need to order. I dont need much of an excuse to look through seed catalogues and gardening websites....

Looks like I need a bigger box!   The seeds are roughly alphabetized.

 I have a separate bag for flower seeds.

After organizing the box a little, I have a good idea of what seeds I have, but will definitely check my planting list to see if there is anything that needs to be ordered. Some things like lettuce, spinach, chard, amd carrots that get planted multiple times during the year, I will need to have plenty of seed on hand.

Meanwhile, I put together the little shelves where I will put the inside starts.  Its right by a radiator, which helps to creat a small microclimate that is a bit warmer than our drafty old farmhouse

The seedlings will eventually start taking over every sunny window.

But what I could not find were the grow lights that I use for some of the early starts. I looked everywhere. Not in the garage, where all the garden tools and row covers are kept.  Not in the basement where the seeds stay nice and cool. Hmmmm.... where could they be?  I begin going through every drawer, closet, success.....
where are those grow lights?
After pulling every box out of the attic closet, I come to the last unopened box. (Figures)
There they are! With the music, of all things!  You never know when you move across the country, where things end up in the packing process!

So, tonight after supper I will be double checking my planting list against the seed box contents. I already know I need more lettuce, and more chard.

Vinegar update.  Things are bubbly and foamy in there, can you see it? In another few days, i'll test it.  First, we just need this brew to ferment into alcohol....

Weather: January thaw for sure... 33 this morning!  All that rain turned our back yard into a skating rink. I have to wear crampons to get to the chicken coop. Or maybe I should just wear skates!
Wildlife:  turkeys really hung out at the feeder all day, scratching around till they got down to grass under the snow.
Training:core work. Planks, and pushups... yay.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Garden Planting Chart

 This is last year's planting chart.  Coffee stained because it was always sitting on the table by the sofa... constantly referenced and mulled over.(and spilled upon evidently)

It is not fancy, or professional, or even digital, in a nice spreadsheet.  Just a hand drawn chart that served its purpose, telling me when to start certain seedlings, and where -whether indoors, outdoors in a cold frame, or directly seeded into the garden.  

The line down the center of the paper represents the average last day of frost, usually around May 31 here.  Some plants that are very cold tolerant can be planted, even outdoors, well before that last frost date.  So a gardener has to become familiar with the growth requirements of every seed he or she wishes to plant.
And given the short growing season here in the northeast, the gardener will want to start some seeds indoors or in a protected environment to get a bit of a headstart, so when weather conditions do allow planting outside, you will be a bit ahed of the game.
So here is how I made this simple chart. Beginning at that centerline marked "0", I counted back two weeks at a time, until I reached 12 weeks before our frost free date, say March 1 here.  Same thing going forward-2 weeks at a time until I reached the first fall  frost date, September 15.  
Then I made a list of what I was going to plant, from broccoli to zucchini...
Then it gets a little more complicated.  Not everything can be planted directly in the garden, at least not if you want them to have time to produce in this short season.  So, some things will be started indoors, in the warmest environment. Some can be started in  the cold frames, if they are a little more hardy.  So i made a a key for my chart.
"I" means "indoors"-these seeds are started indoors
"C" means "cold frame" -these are started in the cold frame
"D" means "direct "-directly planted in the garden
"T"is "transplant"-this is the date when those seeds started indoors or in the cold frame can tansplanted into the garden, though I have one more category for hoop house, "H", as some really warmth loving plants, like tomatoes and peppers, will do better if given the protection of  the row cover until its really hot outside.

Then, after studying the requirements of each type of seed, i simply plugged in the code, I,C,D, or T on the appropriate date.
So, for example, on the very first row of the chart, carrots and spinach seeds get planted in the cold frame on March 1, while celery, onions, and peppers, get seeded inside, on my little shelves by the window.
some crops get planted more than once, so you can have a succession of harvests all year. Taking carrots again as an example, they can begin to be planted directly in the garden beginning May 1, and then every three weeks until July 15.
Celery is started indoors, then transplanted to the garden May 1.

You could make your own version of this chart. You need to determine the first and last frost dates for your region, which is easy to do by looking up "growing zones" on any search engine. Indeed, if you are planning a garden, you will need to know this information, whether you write it all down or not.  If you are simply buying the starter plants from the nursery, then for sure some of the early seedling starts are done for you. You will still need to know when it is safe to plant those tomato plants outside. A few books I have found particularly helpful are Elliot Coleman's Four Season Harvest, and Nicki Jabbour's  Year Round Vegetable Gardener.  

Elliot is a master at growing food year round in unheated greenhouses, so if you dont want to, or cant, heat a greenhouse, some of the methods he employs might work well for you.

Nicki relies more heavily on grow lights indoors, but has some really helpful information about each individual species, and its growing requirements. 

Looking outside right now, it seems like it will be a long, long time before garden season, but, as you can see from that chart, it will be here before you know it.
Now is the time to drool over seed catalogues, nursery websites, order those seeds, and dream of lush productive beds overflowing with goodness...

Weather today. Wow, from minus 4 yesterday to 29 this morning, to a high of 42, with freezing rain, then rain.... 
Wildlife... turkeys, moles, the feeder birds.. all the regulars..
training. Well, it just didnt happen today. What can I say?

Thought for the day. 
Ecclesiastes 3:1
For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.(and you thought that was just a song by the Byrds). 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Real Thing

the hay barn

the sheep

sheep and draft horses in the back

Today i had the great privilege to visit a friend's farm.  This is the real deal. They keep a herd of sheep, and a herd of beef cattle. Additionally, they keep draft horses, produce maple syrup,  and hay the surrounding fields.   I am tempted to feel impatient, to get all these components in place right away, on our own place. It wont happen. It will be years. But at the same time, this was encouraging and exciting to see.  And reminded me i am not so concerned with cosmetics.... but i am focused on getting functional elements built...
then, we had the great fun of going on a sleigh ride.  Very cold, but beautiful. 
These were our  power. 

This was a total delight.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The List

The dogs enjoying a romp in the snow.

Today, i thought I would just share some of the list of projects and plans for the homestead. Sometimes it seems pretty overwhelming.  But it is just like running a 100 mile race-one step at a time, one foot in front of the other. We will eventually get there. These arent necessarily in order exactly.
Hire pest company for bat removal and sealing up the attic.
remove and replace all insulation.(which is full of bat poo)
Replace rotted sill on foundation.
investigate cracks in foundation
repair, or maybe replace, front porch. (Rotted boards)
paint complete exterior of house
Repair plaster ceilings and walls and remove wallpaper in interior of house.
paint complete interior
repair broken windows
replace casement window
Dig up and replace sidewalk
Dig up and replace driveway
tear down old shed
refinish wood floors.

Add another bathroom
build garage and barn
Fencing for horses and goats
start the garden space
Remodel duck shed for goats.
dog fence
plant fruit trees
build greenhouse
add screen porch and deck.
plant berry bushes and perrenials
get more chickens
get goats
get rabbits and cages

Some of these things are major, both in expense and effort.
some are smaller.   We have lots of work ahead of us.
This weekend, we are hoping to sit down and plan out some of these things. Having a plan of attack helps to stay foc├╣sed. We need wisdom to know how to proceed.

Weather today:about 22 this morning, some sun, snow squalls and wind.
Wildlife:all the usual suspects at the birdfeeder
Training:push-ups! I am only up to 30. Goal is 100.

Thought for the day.
James 1:5
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
(Glad to know this one for sure!)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cute Furry Critters, Wasting Nothing, and Other Stuff

Cute Furry Critters
The Turkeys were back again today.  I guess they are regulars now.  It's only a small part of the flock that seems to come over here. There are four or five very large Toms, some hens, and a bunch of these youngsters.  Maybe 30-35 in all.  Only four or five of the youngsters seem to come.  
After the turkeys left, I happened to look out the window, and saw this little guy.  At first, from a distance, I thought it was a mouse, but then realized it is a mole.  I walked outside, and got within about 24 inches of him, and as long as I was still, he would continue eating. Their eyesight is very poor, but he would feel the vibrations of me walking and would freeze.  When I stopped moving, he would resume eating. So, here is Mr. Mole.. look at that beautiful thick fur.  And cute little mole snout, squinty eyes, and pink feet. I didn't know that moles would eat sunflower seeds.  I learned something new!  

Wasting Nothing
Being mostly vegan, we eat alot of vegetables.  And while the chickens will eat many of the vegetable scraps, some things they dont really like, and these get tossed on the compost pile. Then I read of using these scraps to make broth.  Seemed like a great idea, as what is left after cooking still goes to the compost, and you end up with useful flavorful broth for adding to recipes. Nothing is wasted.  So i just take the scraps, peels, end pieces, etc. of things like onions, garlic, carrots, peppers, celery, and put them in a ziplock bag in the freezer.  When i have a full bag, i cook them.  Add a little salt and a bay leaf, and cover with water and cook.  When its done, i pour off the broth into a container, amd then dump the mushy veggie pieces that are left into a strainer, and squeeze any last bit of broth out of them.  The pulp thats left goes into compost, and the broth I freeze in jars.  Next time I cook rice, use broth instead of plain water. Or add to soups, stews, casseroles, for extra flavor. 
 Cooking the scraps.

 The remaining pulp that is left after squeezing every bit of goodness out of it.
A jar of broth before it goes into the freezer. Leave about an inch of headspace in the jar for expansion when it freezes. From one gallon ziplock full of scraps I get about 6 pints of broth.

Other Stuff

Today, I experimented with waxing some cheese.  Waxing just involves taking a hard cheese and coating it with a few layers of a wax especially made for this. The wax prevents any air from touching the cheese, and thus keeps out mold or bacteria. This is the traditional way to keep large cheeses. When you buy an aged cheddar, how do you think they age it?   Preserved this way, cheese can last a long, long time if kept in a cool, dark environment.  Like, years, baby. The cellar, which stays around 40 degrees in the back corner, is perfect.  So today, I took some store bought cheese and decided to apply this principle. I will check on this cheese in a few months to see how it is doing, and if I did things correctly.  I picked a mild colby, because, since cheese is a living food, it will continue to age. Maybe it will age into a nice sharp cheddar.

 The block of cheese wax.
 I melted it in a double boiler. Actually, its just a cheap used pot I got at the second hand store specifically for melting wax. The wax can live in this pot after it hardens again, until i need it.

I bought a big block of colby, cut it into four pieces and coated each with 3 layers of wax. The natural bristle brush is used to brush on a thin layer of melted wax. Do half, let cool, turn over, do the other half, and repeat for 3 layers. Easy schmeasy. You could also just dip each piece instead of brushing. 

I applied a label with the date, because  I would never remember, and this way I will know exactly how long these cheeses have been in the pantry. (I stuck the label on and applied a thin layer of wax to hold it in place)

Check back in 3 months when I open the first one to see how its doing.

Weather today:a warm 22 this morning!
Wildlife: That adorable Mr. Mole. 
Training:a 4 mile road run. My legs felt dead for the first mile, but then felt better. It was a nice run. 

Thought for the day.  
PSALM 85:12
The Lord indeed gives what is good and our land will yield its harvest.