Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sugaring:Last Minute Preps

 The sun is getting higher in the sky. I can see it in the way the shadows fall across the field, and feel the difference when I step outside.  Even though the termperatures are still quite cold, there is a difference in the feel of the sunshine.
With temperatures predicted to reach above freezing this week, it is time to drill the taps for the maple trees.
Only we have a slight problem.
The used drum I bought to hold the sap as we collect it does not have a lid that comes off.  So we are going to have to cut the top off with the recriprocating saw. I think the plastic is thick enough that the barrel will not warp.
And I have to go get a few more gallon spring water jugs  which we are using as buckets.  So it looks like tapping will wait till tomorrow. We did a 20 mile run today, and I think we are both wanting a little downtime instead of tromping through the snow and cold.
Got the drill and the taps ready, and did a test drill on a piece of scrap wood to make sure we can easily attach the collecting jugs.... so this will be the project for tomorrow.

We have had many folks exclaim that we sure picked a bad winter to return to New Hampshire. Looking at all this beautiful snow, we see the abundance it will bring come spring... so, we dont mind.

And my mom asked, "Why no more scripture verses"?.  no good answer for that, other than, sometimes I cant think of an appropriate one. But heres one for you, Mom.

Psalm 96:11-13
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad.
Let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant,  and everything in them.
Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord.

Do you ever wonder how conscious the plant kingdom is? Studies have shown plants respond to music and even speech. So is it at all far fetched to think that the trees of the forest know their Creator?
I would love to witness this some day.... and hope they dont mind sharing a little sap with us meanwhile...😊

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Nothing to See Here

The onions are coming along!
 It was bound to happen.  It was just one of those days where nothing much happened.  I did some painting-walls and trim, not artistic, and then filled in for a friend at her office because she is out of town.
I am working tomorrow too, but not until after lunch, and I hope to go get some manure from a dairy farm in the morning. Just enough to add to the cold frames. I do get excited about manure.

On a weather note. It was 11 this morning, and didnt warm up much. I put these weather reports in mainly for myself, so I can compare next year.  This is the coldest February on record.  I dont think its official yet, as there are still a few days to go.  But its going to be close to zero tonight and only in the teens tomorrow.  So I think we will break the record.  I am holding off starting any more seeds inside, as even the cold frames outside are too cold.  Oddly enough, the hens are laying very well.... we are getting just about one egg a day from each hen, with the occasional off day.  The new chicks have been ordered and are scheduled to arrive in about 10 days.  That will be fun.  I plan to video chronicle them.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Turkey Windfall

Wild turkey breast.
Warning: this post contains photos of harvesting a wild turkey.  Just look away now if that sort of thing bothers you.  Here is a cute puppy shot for distraction. 
Cute puppy Gibbs.
 So, is everybody gone that needs to be?

Our neighbor's dog somehow managed to kill one of the wild turkeys.  This is not "my"wild turkey, but a young hen from another flock that hangs out up the hill.
She weighed 15 or so pounds.
 The neighbor didnt want to mess with it, and planned to just throw it away.   I hate to see anything just go to waste.  Though maybe this sounds corny, I feel like it honors the life of the animal if it is at least put to use. So I went and got the carcass, which was still fresh.  And at 25 degrees, it wont go bad very quickly anyway.
The dog had mangled the back and tail section pretty badly, but the breast was untouched.   My other neighbor, the hunter, came down and recommended to only harvest the breast meat.  He said that is really all that is good on a wild turkey anyway.
So, the carcass being too damaged to even attempt harvesting as I would a whole bird, with scalding, plucking disemboweling, etc., we simply pulled the feathers off the breast and removed only the meat.
Jack had his good knife, which made this easier.

The breasts are removed.

The meat. Two or three pounds at least. This will be a wonderful meal for the dogs.  it is completely edible for us, but we dont eat meat.  Now I feel we have given this untimely death a purpose. I gave thanks.

For the dogs, I just boiled this up plain. It smelled wonderful. I tried a small bite and it is the best turkey I have ever tasted.   

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mapping the Homestead

 This is a bird's eye view of most of our property. We are fortunate to have mostly open land.  The open fields in back have been kept as pasture or hayfield for decades, and will hopefully serve that purpose for us as well.
Here is a close up of the core of the homestead.  While this doesnt give you a sense of the slope of the land, it does outline the main features. The house is center bottom of the photo, with the old garage and shed to the left and slightly above.  Directly behind the shed is the stone foundation of the old silo.  It is rather in the way now, but almost impossible to knock down. Those stone walls are 2 feet thick and 6 feet high.  We keep trying to come up with a creative idea for its use.  Can you think of something?
Where the small chicken coop stands now used to be  40x80 foot grand barn.  Sigh, I do wish it was still here.  You can see the forms of the raised garden beds, which I have already dismantled (we are using that wood to burn for boiling the sap).
There is also a small building we call "the white house" which we havent decided on a use for as yet.

Mostly, this overview helps me to see sun and shade patterns.  It also helps me to see zones of activity, so we can plan the best location for things like the greenhouse, and fencing and gates.

 The photo was taken probably close to this time of year, (I am guessing early April) so the shade patterns help me to see where areas of sun should be in the later spring and summer, for garden planning.  I ask the question, "once those large oaks in the bottom left leaf out, how much  shade will they cast on the hillside there?"  Will it be sunny enough to plant the new apple  trees? It seems that there is going to be a great deal of shade.. maybe too much for the apples.
Maybe a better location  for the garden would be behind the white house, where it should still get  mostly full sun, and it wont be so likely to interfere with paddocks and driveway patterns when the new barn is built.  To some extent, this is the time to make big changes, like moving the garden, since we plan to tear down the garage and barn and rebuild.  On the other hand, our resources are limited, and we may need to work with whats here.

Lots of thinking to do!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Preparing for Sugar Season-Getting to the Trees

 The heavy snowfall we have experienced this winter does present problems when it comes to gathering sap for maple syrup.  As you can see in the photo above, getting to the trees, even if they are relatively close, is difficult. Climbing up that snowbank wont work.
 So, I shoveled and beat a path down with snowshoes. A much longer route to the tree, but it is the only way around that nearly 6 foot bank of snow.  The bottom of the path is still a couple of feet above ground level, but with snowshoes it is doable.  There are three more trees just out of sight to the right, and I also snowshoed a path to them.  Due to the difficulty of just accessing the trees, I think we will limit this year's effort to 6 trees, with 10 taps total.
At the tree itself, I dig around till I can at least get an idea where ground level is, because setting a tap now about 3 feet above snow level, might mean when melting starts to happen that my buckets end up over my head!
This old maple will get a tap also, but probably just one. Its large size would normally allow 3 taps, but it has a big dead section in the middle, so I will only place one bucket under a large living branch.   Taps should be on the south side of the tree, either above a large root, or below a large branch.

In a little winter/spring overlap, the onions seeds have begun poking their heads above the soil .   Sigh.... the first of many.....

Weather:  cold, windy, and mostly sunny.  I bet windchills are in single digits, but the actual temp was 12 this morning. Ot is forecast to get much colder again....

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Splitting Wood

I thought you might like to see the manual wood splitter in action. This is how we do all of our firewood. For some reason, I am not getting audio on this, so in case you are also not, I will add a written description.  This manual hydraulic splitter is a great tool. We still split with an ax and maul, but the hydraulic allows us to split green or knotty  wood with much less effort. And since it does not use any electricity or gasoline, we feel it is a more earth friendly option than a big motorìzed splitter.
Steve splits, and I stack.  It works for us!

Meanwhile, as Steve was working on firewood, I finished stacking it. Then, I
Started some yogurt

Hung some laundry

 Then we worked together to cut and stack some of the scrap wood in preparation for boiling the sap.
There is still a large stack of it to cut.

And Steve decided to brush Marley, who sheds like it is her job.

Weather:gorgeous day! Sunny and above freezing.  Going to get down to single digitsagain tonight though. Just about time to drill the tap hole  for the sap..... yay!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Soil Health

More snow today, and the grandkids have gone home (sigh, too soon) so it seems like a good afternoon for some reading.

In my continued readong of John Jeavons' book, I came across the following alarming statistics.

Current agricultural practices reportedly destroy 6 pounds of soil for each pound of food produced. United States croplands are losing topsoil about 18 times faster than the soil formation rate. This loss is not sustainable. In fact, worldwide, only about 33-49 years worth of farmable soil remains. 

It is tempting to feel helpless in the face of such dire  warnings. Better, perhaps, is a commitment to personally be  part of the solution, part of the earth healing, even if it is a miniscule part.

As Jeavons goes on to say, we need to switch our mindset-we need to stop growing crops and start growing soil.  Growing soil doesnt have to require a degree in soil science. It does require looking at the natural order of things, and using practices that mimic those  as much as possible.   Fortunately, there are so many books and resources that give us the information. I am learning as I go.

Weather: was about 4 degrees this morning, and snowing heavily again now.  I believe the forecast is for 4-6 inches.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Guilty Party?

The grandkids and I were out for some fun today.  I left the dogs in the house, instead of out in their pen because it was minus 4 .
They are house broken of course, but somebody had an "accident" while we were gone.  
Who do you think is feeling more guilty?



Exploring Winter Feeding Options

The inside of the chicken run
 During winter, with snow covering everything so deeply ( this winter we estimate we have received close to 8 feet already) there is no way for chickens to free range. If we had horses or cattle in a paddock, they would tromp everything down pretty quickly and there would be at least some open areas for chickens to forage. Without that help, we are forced to explore other options for getting fresh food for the Hens.
its not too diffocult right now with only 6 layers, but eventually we will have several dozen and feed costs can skyrocket.
For our homestead, the goal is to become self sufficient in providing food for the chickens and elimimate store bought commercial feeds as much as possible.
If chickens were left to themselves, I believe their choice of diet would look like this : about 75-80% live protein (bugs, worms, etc.), 10-15%  greens, and only maybe 10% seeds or grains.   I chuckle at the egg cartons at the market that tout "vegetarian fed", as if that's a good thing. Chickens are not vegetarians.

For a small scale homesteader,  there are several possibilities, and I am particularly interested in implementing the following.

Rotating compost piles as main source of food during spring, summer, and fall.  More about this method in another post.

Growing and storing silage for winter feed. (Silage is basically green plant material that is enclosed in an airtight container (think silo) and allowed to naturally ferment.  It has advantages over hay both nutritionally and in processing that I can talk about  later. This of course is also an option for feeding ruminants such as cattle, sheep, and goats.  It is scalable for a small homestead such as ours.

Raising worms.  super easy, low cost, low maintenance, and a great source of protein for chickens.

Sprouted fodder.  I am doing this now by sprouting seeds for them.  The problem is that it involves store bought seeds, and I am trying to implement as much home grown feed options as possible. Could I grow a small crop of barley or oats for this purpose? Maybe.

These are some ideas. The long winter months really require creativity if self sufficiency is the goal.  

Of course, all this snow does function as  a second freezer. Here my jars of vegetable broth are freezing out on the front steps. I dont have freezer space where they can freeze in an upright position,  but once frozen, i can toss them in without a problem.

Weather: sunny, after some snow flurries yesterday. Minus 5 this morning.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Homestead Kitchen: Fire Cider

One of my family members has been sick with the flu, and I was wishing I could give him some of my favorite immune boosting tonic.  But, he is in another state, so that isnt possible, at least not in time for his current illness.

So, that got me thinking I should share this, as it is sure a handy thing to have around, and I swear by it.  In the fall, I make up a big batch before cold and flu season starts.  Though I rarely get sick, I picked up some bug during our travels, and could just tell that it wasnt going to be a simple cold. I was achey, tired, stiff neck, sore was going to be bad. I started dosing with two tablespoons of fire cider that night, and three times the next day.
When I woke up the next morning, I was completely symptom free, not even a runny nose.  This really works for me.

Fire cider, also called Mother Tonic, has a long history of healing as a folk remedy.  And no wonder. Every ingredient has research-proven immune boosting anti-viral, antibiotic, anti fungal properties, and it is infused in raw apple cider vinegar, which contains powerful gut healing probiotics.  My feeling is, it cant hurt, and just might really help!

So, lets get to making some!  There are some variations of recipes,. This is the one I  use.

 You will finely chop or grate ( or put it all into a food processor if you want)
1 medium onion
10 cloves garlic
1/2cup ginger root
1/2 cup fresh horseradish root ( this stuff is powerful!) Note:I didnt have fresh horseradish root, so I used wasabi powder, which is ground horseradish)
Zest and juice of one lemon
zest and juice of one orange
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded
1 Tbsp. Tumeric
1/4 tbsp. Cayenne pepper
1 tsp. Peppercorns
1/2 tsp cloves, or a few whole cloves.

 Chop, grate, process... all this and put into a glass jar. A quart canning jar is a perfect size. If you are using a metal  lid, put a piece of wax paper under the lid, since the vinegar can cause some corrosion.
 Add enough raw, organic apple cider vinegar to completely cover everything. ( use organic ingredients as much as possible. Who needs pesticide residues when you are trying to make a cure?)

Now, here is the hard part. put the lid on, place in a cupboard out of direct sunlight, and...


One month.
yeah, it takes that long for all that goodness to extract.

After a month, strain the concoction, squeezing the pulp to get as much liquid out as possible.

Now, add 1/2 cup of raw honey. it must be raw, unprocessed honey.
You can add more honey to taste.
This stuff is surprisingly GOOD!

It does not need to be refrigerated,( though you can) and should keep quite awhile in your cupboard.

And now you have some Fire Cider!
How to use it?
1. straight, by the tablespoon full.
2.  If that is too strong, put two tablespoons in a cup of hot water and sip as a tea.
3.  made into a salad dressing.  This, by itself with a bit of olive oil, makes a delicious salad dressing.

I personally dont use this as a daily tonic, but keep it for when I feel the need for an immune boost.  I usually do a couple tablespoons three times a day.

Here is some finished cider next to the batch I just made.

Weather today is cold  8 degrees)and mostly sunny after some light snow last night.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sorting Seeds, and Vinegar Fail

First, I want you to notice the thermostat.  Can you see that? From well below zero last night, the temps rose to 36 degrees!
Wow!  That means it is just about time to tap trees.  Usually, the daytime temps need to be above freezing and nightime below freezing.  We havent had that yet, till today. It is still early, but I noticed the big sugaring operation down the road already has their taps in place.

As to my vinegar project. I will call it a failure, and take the blame.  My impatience to start the vinegar made me strain the juice before it had fermented enough.  So tjere was still alot of live yeast, and once I transferred the juice to the vinegar bottle, that yeast continued to proliferate and produced a film on top.  It is possible that this batch could be saved, but I tossed it and made a note how to do it better next time.
I still need vinegar, so I started a batch the regular way, with fresh cider, and  better sterilization.
Here is the small fermenting bucket with airlock, sitting near the radiator, the only place in the house that might stay warm enough. 

 IT was obvious my box of garden seeds was way too small, and needed organizing.  My method of sorting alphabetically worked, but I thought I could improve. I bought four tubs with lids (also good mouse protection) and now the question is, how should I sort them?
All the flower seeds go in one tub. That's a no-brainer .
 Greens go together in another. Yes, I have that many. That's lettuce, spinach, chard, collards, mustard, and I debated about turnips. Also in this tub will go herbs, like parsley, basil, oregano, and dill.  My idea is that edible leaves as a general category might work.
But how to sort everything else? Cole crops as its own tub? That would be  cabbage, brocolli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, etc. Maybe turnips should go here.   I am going to need more than four tubs, I think....

Most of the day was spent getting ready for grandkids visit tomorrow.   Somehow in the move all the sheets disappeared for the spare twin beds, so I picked some more up, plus some "kid food" at the grocery store.  Since we subsist mostly on beans and greens, I thought that might be too much of a shock to their system. I have to admit, I had real trouble buying packaged, processed food. In the end, I made an extra trip to the natural market for organic, grass fed meat and cheese. I simply couldnt buy the supermarket stuff. But I will let them pick a favorite snack food when they get here, and try to have lots of fresh fruits and veggies out.  We are going to learn to make bread, starting with simple pizza dough.  They wont know it, but it will be sprouted spelt flour for something a step above white refined flour.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

First Seeds

 Its probably too early, given our high snow level this winter, but I started a few onion seeds today.  Maybe it is a little bit of cabin fever, or  just impatience.  It still felt good to put a few seeds in some dirt.  I only planted one flat, and planted them quite close together. They have to be transplanted into the garden, so I dont mind crowding them now.  Remember that I determined I need over 400 onions if I wish to reach my goal of onion independence.  These are a heritage spanish onion, decent for storage.  I will be planting several varieties.  
Onions are classified as long day, short day, or neutral. What that means is that certain varìeties need longer hours of sunlight in order to  form a bulb.  the varieties that need the shortest amount of sunlight (11-13 hours) are termed short day onions.  These like a warmer climate and are suitable for zones 7 or warmer, amd typically are good choices for the south, southwest, and southeast areas of the country where summer day length doesnt differ too much from winter day length. Good short day onions might be yellow burmudas, or California red.
Long day onions like 14 or more hours of daylight,  do well in zones 6 and colder, and are suited for northern areas where summer daý length is much longer. A good long day onion is Sweet Spanish, and is what I planted.
Neutral onions are in the middle,  and adaptable to many conditions. Early yellow globe is an easy to find variety in garden shops.


The clear plastic dome holds humidity while seeds germinate.

I also planted a few basil plants.  Notice the fancy container. Anything can work.  These basil plants will just be a small windowsill garden.  Herbs are so easy to grow this way if you just need a few sprigs for cooking.

On an unrelated note, mama canary is sitting on six eggs. Arent they cute? They are about the size of jelly beans. Maybe it isnt unrelated. Perhaps she is hoping for early spring too!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Day Off from Work Does Not Mean Day Off from Working!

Steve had the day off today for Presidents' Day.  it was a good opportunity to get some things done around here. It is bright and sunny today, which almost always means cold. Was minus 12 first thing, and has warmed up to 16 degrees.  Actually, if you are working, and are dressed right, it isnt too bad.  New Englanders have a saying, "there's no bad weather, just bad clothing".

Steve worked at shoveling the snow off portions of the roof.  Can you see how deep it is up there? Why shovel, you ask?  Snow is heavy, alot heavier than you might realize, and can cause roofs to collapse.  There have been numerous incidents of roofs caving in around the region lately.  

Shallow pitched roofs are especially vulnerable to heavy snow loads.
steve did the whole back side too, but I did not want to slog through thigh deep snow to get a picture.

He also split another stack of firewood, and we moved it to the cellar to help it dry out some more by running a fan on it. Thats why it is stacked so loosely.
There is another old yankee saying about cordwood.  A cord is defined as a stack of wood 4 feet high by 4 feet wide, by 8 feet long, and it should be stacked "with enough room between logs that a squirrel can hide, but not so far apart that a cat chasing the squirrel could follow."  By that definition, this pile is too loosely stacked.

HE also snowblowed the path down to the two pens.  the snow is past waist high on me now.

I dug out the cold frames.  They were buried with at least three feet of snow on top.  You can see the depth of the snow behind them. My hope is that getting the sun on them will start the soil thawing inside, and I might be able to start a few early garden seeds.

I also dug out the duck pen, which is our temporary dog quarters. There is still quite a bit of snow, but at least they have an area where it is packed down.

The biggest task was digging out the wood pile.  It was completely buried and not visible.  Wish I had gotten a "before "picture.  This is all  scrap lumber gleaned from taking apart the old raised beds in the garden.  I plan to cut it up and use it for burning when we boil the sap.  So it was important to try to get it cleared and have access to get to It. Sugar season will start soon.  I might move some of the wood inside the shed.

Another view. I was thankfully able to get the tarp unfrozen, and shake it off and put it back on the pile.   It also had at least three feet of snow on top.

So we just stopped for some lunch of leftovers, and steve is headed out to work on some more splitting. The chickens were enjoying the sunshine, taking the chance to "sunbathe" where the sun was streaming in their coop ... I would have taken a photo,  but its really cold out there, so you willl have to take my word for it.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Only 35 days till spring

Well, to the spring equinox. I doubt it will feel very spring like around here till much later...

Digging out the chicken run....

The dogs are not concerned about winter.....