Friday, July 31, 2015

Of Lions and Lambs

This is way off topic for this blog, but I feel compelled to say something.

There is something deeply, deeply wrong when national, even international, outrage centers around the killing of one African lion (which is admittedly sad, and senseless, and on the surface at least, a bit shady and possibly illegal) and at the same time, a government-funded agency is found to be callously negotiating the sale of unborn baby body parts.

Where is the outrage here, folks?  Why are we not protesting outside the offices of Planned Parenthood and calling for the prosecution of those individuals responsible?

Whatis wrong with us? What has happened to our soul?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Beans and Corn and Carpentry

Two of the storage crops, shell beans (black and pinto) and the flint corn.  Turkeys and deer ate about half of the corn. I replanted, but germination was poor.  To fill the space left, I put in some peas, and just for grins, some okra.  Theoretically, both should have time to mature before frost.  Time will tell.  Notice the difference in color in the bean rows, near and far.  Much darker healthier green near.  Soil must just be richer in this end.  

Connecting the new garage/barn to the older structure requires some creative carpentry.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Evil Squash Vine Borer

Sigh.... The dreaded squash vine borer has attacked some of the winter squash.  These  nasty pests will bore into the stem of squash (they are particularly fond of hubbard types) and quickly wilt and kill the stems. This vine wilted overnight.  

This is the same variety of squash next to the affected one. So far, it has not been hit. I am not holding my breath however.

Here is another vine, in the other garden, also affected. I did surgery on this vine, slitting the vine stem horizontally and physically removing the borer, which looks lkke a white grub, with a brown head. There is maybe still hope for this one.

My trusted assistants, examining the squash for other signs of damage.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Power of Observation

Are you listening? I am pretty sure its time for our treat!

I read this on a blog somewhere... that observation is maybe the most important skill (tool? ) that a person can have in regards to caring for animals.

I have come to believe it is absolutely true.  You gotta pay attention.  By doing so, you gain a good appreciation for what is normal for them, so that when they deviate from that normal, you recognize it.   It might be something small, but you see it.  Maybe just a coat that doesnt seem quite as shiny as usual, or rubbing up against the fence constantly, or feathers that seem ruffled,  favoring one foot, a lack of appetite, or some other behavior that seems different... all those things could point to a health problem or injury.

This sort of by default means being here, and spending a fair amount of time with the animals under your care.  Not everybody can do this.  Alot of small homesteaders  such as ourselves must work outside the home. Steve works full time.  I am looking for a simple part time job. I hope i can find something that works around the animals.  Well, it will have to.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Best (Meaning Easiest) Foods for Dehydrating

Home grown celery... intensely flavorful.

In my recent post about food preservation, dehydrating came up high on the list of nutrition friendly ways to keep foods for later use.
Some foods really lend themselves easily to dehydrating without alot of additional fuss. Some might surprise you. Here are my favorites. But first,

Some tips and tricks: 

Moisture is the enemy of long term storage. Dry the food till it is crisp, and will break,  not just bend. This insures you have gotten it good and dry.
Glass is better than plastic for storage.
Vaccum seal in jars adds an additional measure of security.
Adding a silica dessicant adds even more security for long term.
some are easier with a dehydrator or solar evaporator. These are marked with *

And now the list.
1. Mushrooms.  Wash or brush off, slice, and dry. Couldnt be simpler.  
2. Any herb. Parsley, mint, lemon balm, dill are my faves. Cilantro and basil dont retain much flavor when dried. Hang in loose bundles out of direct sunlight.  When dry, put into glass jars, removing any stems first.
3. Almost any fruit. 
     Berries work well as fruit leather. Blend in a food processor, 
     Spread on a parchment-lined tray, and dry until still slightly          pliable. Cut into strips, parchment and all, roll, store in jars. 
     You can also dry sliced strawberries or whole raspberries. If
     You dry strawberries till crisp, you can grind them to a              powder and have your own instant strawberry flavor.
     For whole fruits: sliced apples, peaches, bananas* cherries
     (Pitted) , pineapple, mango*.  I'm  sure there are more, but I 
     have had good success with all these. 
4. Vegetables:  
     Tomatoes, halves, or slices.  (Yes, tomatos are technically a fruit, but we all lump them with veggies)More about ways to dry and use tomatoes in a separate post soon.  
     Zucchini or summer squash.  Plain, or first marinated in a seasoned vinegar oil for tasty zucchini chips.
     Peppers, hot or sweet.  Small peppers like chiles or jalapeno, just slice crosswise , seeds and all.  Bell peppers, chop in bit size pieces or thin strips.
     Celery, leaves or stems.
     Carrots.  Best either grated or julienned sliced, but the usual rounds work too. These are surprisingly tasty as a snack. But very crunchy.  Have good teeth.
      Cooked pinto beans*. Make your own instant refried beans by cooking, then mashing the beans.  Add salt or seasonings, or leave plain. Spread  thinly on a tray, dry till crumbly, being sure to turn and get everything dry.  Great convenience food. 
     Onions and garlic. Peel and Chop first.
Thats it, the ones I dry most often. They can be added to recipes as is, or reconstituted first. One of our favorites is adding the dried , reconstituted pineapple slices to our homemade pizza. A handful òf dried sweet red peppers is a great tasty snack, as are zucchini chips. Dried bananas are sooo yummy. Dried apple chips-fantastic.  If you want to use apples in recipes, peel first before drying. You can reconstitùte and use in baked goods or as toppings for oatmeal or desserts.

Bananas and pineapple. Yummy.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Goose Poop on the Front Steps

You didnt think there would be a picture of goose poop, did you?

Yep, there it is again. Globs of green goose poop on the front steps.  If its one thing those geese are good at, its pooping.  They are champion, world class poopers. 
They have followed one of us to the front door and hung around waiting for somebody to step outside again.  They are nosy  critters and just want to know what is going on  sociable and just like to be around us.. So, since the front door us where the excitement seems to be, there they are. Hence the poop.

It could be worse.  I have had a cow plop on my sidewalk and thats a bit more volume to deal with.

What this really means is that we have a relationship with these animals. Its true for all the critters here.  They trust us.   We are the giver of treats, the bringer of goodies, the source of belly or ear rubs.   In short, we are their people.   I am happy to be just that.  I cant imagine anything much nicer actually, poop and all.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

My Thoughts on Food Preservation

Its the season for preserving the bounty that the garden is producing.  

My ideas about the best ways to preserve food have shifted considerably in the last couple of years.  Mostly after realizing that the two main reasons we grow our own food are
A. To have the highest quality, most nutrient dense, pesticide free, food possible.
B. To avoid being totally reliant on somebody else, somewhere, to provide our most basic necessity.  I mean, really, when you think about it, do you really trust that unnamed "they" to always, without interruption, be able to deliver food to your local market whenever you need it? Really? 

Freshly gathered peppermint and lemon balm

 In line with A. above, growing using organic methods is a given. But even beyond organic, is to work in harmony with natural systems to allow them to work as intended, to build a healthy soil, full of all the micro-organisms, which create the medium necessary for plants to absorb their required nutrients.  Healthy soil =healthy plants=healthy us.  Doing this requires understanding of those natural systems. I feel like I am still at the kindergarten stage of this understanding, but I think it can be summed up as the following:


Cooperation is understanding, and applying, methods which encourage the growth of bacteria and fungi necessary for soil health, and mineral balance. It invites beneficial insects to control the not so beneficial ones. It welcomes pollinators, and earthworms. 
Dominance is importing chemicals in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, to artificially force the intended crop to grow, while restricting all other growth, good or bad, helpful or harmful. 
Here are pictured several key methods of food preservation.
Herbs are hung up for drying. Some small jars of our maple syrup illustrate preserving in sealed jars ("canning") , and both the bottles of homemade wine and the jars of various pickles illustrate how fermentation by natural action of yeasts (wine) and bacteria (pickles) help preserve food.

If we cooperate with the natural systems that the Creator designed, food will just grow.  And grow bigger, tastier, and more nutrient dense.  

So, if we are trying to grow food in cooperation with these systems, maybe we should begin to think about preserving it in the same way. Doing this will retain the "life"of the food, all the enzymes and nutrition wont be cooked out and poured down the drain.
Before the advent of cheap energy and  thus refrigeration, all societies found ways to preserve food. They relied on natural methods like smoking, dehydrating, salt curing, and fermentation.  And these self same methods work today, both retaining, and in some cases, enhancing, the goodness of the food.

So I have categorized common methods of food preservation as to where they fall on the scale between dominance, and cooperation.  Dominance, in this case, would be beating the food into submission and just daring it to rot.  Of course that means using methods that kill all life.  Cooperation would be trying to keep or enhance the life that is already in the food.  Interestingly, the closer a method comes to total cooperation with natural systems, the nutrient density stays high, and the energy requirements go down.  Funny how that is.

Celery leaves drying in a sunny window. They will later be packed into jars for seasoning soups and stews.  Homegrown celery is so much more flavorful than storebought, that even the leaves are worth saving for later!

 5. CANNING. Lowest on my list, meaning it leans the furthest toward dominance, is canning.  Yes, I used to can everything. And I still do for certain things. But the process of canning requires a big energy investment in terms of bolilng water and using a pressure canner or water bath canner. IT ALSO COOKS PRETTY MUCH ALL THE LIFE OUT OF THE FOOD.  The reason canning preserves food is that the high temperatures kill all the bacteria, the nasties like clostridium botulinum(causes botulism) and the good bacteria and yeast which act as probiotics in our own systems. Its like taking an antibiotic - anti (against) biotic (life). This method indiscriminately destroys all life. It has its uses, but it still my least desirable method.
4.  FREEZING.  Freezing retains many more of the nutrients in the food, although some are lost when the food is initially blanched or steamed.  Lots of enzymes are lost in that process.  Freezing also requires a big energy investment.  Do you like paying all those electric bills? Me neither. And unless you have a vacuum sealer (another expense and energy hog) frozen food isnt all that great after a few months.
3. SMOKING, SALT CURING.  These are methods usually applied to meats. Since we dont eat meat, I wont go into detail other than to say this has a generally lower energy requirement, and doesnt cook the heck out of the food. Jerky, wood smoked salmon, corned beef, bacon... these are examples of this method of preservatiom.
2. DEHYDRATING . Now we are further on the scale towards cooperation.   Dehydrating retains most of the enzymes and nutrients in the food.  Basically, the food is still raw, and only the water has been removed.  Dehydrating can vary, however, in its energy requirement,  Using a dehydrator can be an energy hog. Or, a solar dehydrator can be built (some energy investment) which uses the sun's power to do the job. Or it can be as simple as hañging herbs up to air dry. (No energy required). Once dry, the food will last a very long time.
1. FERMENTATION. Now we are completely at the other end of the cooperation spectrum.  Fermentation is the art of using the naturally occuring bacteria or yeast to act upon the food and preserve it.  A yeast fermentation creates wine, beer, or any alcohol.  Bacterial fermentation creates things like kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, yoghurt, cheese.  Fungal fermentation beside yeast creates tempeh, natto, miso.  Combinations of both yeast and bacteria create kefir, kombucha, and apple cider vinegar.  These foods preserved this way are very much alive.  The beneficial microorganisms are healthy for us,  nutritious, and, most often, delicious too. Additionally, energy requirements are low or zero. While some ferments requires a warm temperature to be maintained (could be as simple as a cooler with a hot water bottle) most dont need anything other than a spot on your countertop or in a dark cupboard.

So, when I think now about preserving food, I first see if I can use a cooperative method, like fermentation or dehydrating.  For example, i am making all, or at least most, of our pickles this year using fermentation, rather that vinegar pickling.  I will dry herbs, fruit like apples and tomatoes, zucchini,peppers,  kale, possibly onions and garlic if needed. Dehydrated mushrooms are fantastic to have handy for any recipe. I am fermenting apple cider vinegar and I make yogurt every week.  I have a batch of kombucha going.  Sauerkraut and kimchi will come when we harvest the cabbages.
I WILL use canning for some things, mainly applesauce, possibly some convenience foods like veggie soup, green beans, and the jams and fruit spreads.  I will freeze a little, but, we dont have a separate freezer, so space is limited. Probably just as well.

So there you have it.  My shelves are still lined with canning jars (most of which I am too lazy to label, because, hey, you can see whats in it, but which for some reason Steve can never seem to figure out. "What is this?" )  For the most part, however, they are full of dried veggies and fruit.  Or some fermenting pickles. Yum.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


What?  I was just talking yesterday about the abundance if the summer garden.  Whats this about winter?

The reality is that this time of summer, I have to start thinking about the fall garden.  Its the time I start having to think about when we usually get a killing frost (end of September) and counting backwards from then to know how much time I have to get fall veggies in the ground.  Frost is only about 9 weeks away! Hard to believe I know, but there it is.  I have a bit over 60 days of growing time left.  Blink, and winter , or certainly fall weather, will be here.
So, as summer crops start fading , fall amd winter crops will take their place.

The garlic is all pulled, and is curing on these wire shelves in the garden shed.  This is where the geese sleep. Lets hope they are not fond of garlic.

Where the garlic came out, fall crops go in.  Here I have planted carrots, beets, and turnips. 
I can still enjoy the flowers starting to bloom along the front walkway. My budget for this garden was small this year, and I only tossed some packages of seeds out. They are just beginning to show their colors.

Good ol'Cosmos....

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Eating Our Way Through July

The main garden as seen from the new barn floor.

Abundance! Thats just the best word for the summer garden. Its wait,wait, wait through the cold of spring, and the first tentative days of warm weather.  Little bits of this and that.  Then, suddenly, it is a tsunami of vegetables,a hurricane of harvesting, and days are occupied with making use of the abundance.
We are picking berries (from a friends garden mostly)  all sorts of greens like lettuce, chard, and kale, green beans by the gallon, cucumbers,  zucchini, celery, summer squash, herbs like basil, cilantro and dill, the first tomatoes, a few hot peppers, green onions. Even the chickens are picking up production.  The challenge is to make good use of everything before it goes by. The lettuce is reaching that point...i have had to pull many that are going to seed. 

Today I put up about 35 jars of blueberry and raspberry jam. I started two jars of fermented green bean pickles, and one of cucumbers. I froze quarts of berries. I am dehydrating celery leaves.
Fermenting veggies

This would look so much more impressive if I lined up all those lovely jars on the counter, but then I would have to take them out of the boxes.  There are 36 jars.  

The decking is finally down, covering the first floor of the barn.  This will be where the hay is stored. The second story walls are being built off site, and delivered next week.

Looking up at the decking from underneath.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Garden Goodness

I brought in a five gallon bucket full of  greens today. There was also zucchini,  tomato,  celery, green beans, and snap peas.    Though I didnt get a picture, I picked a small bowl of black amd red raspberries, which just went into the freezer.

Some blueberry preserves.

Henry is helping weed behind the cold frames.

Zucchini spice bread for supper.  It contained our farm eggs, flour that was hand ground in our mill, and of course zucchini from the garden.

The garage/barn is coming along.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Goings On

After I found little Miss Flora in the carrot patch for about the third time, I had to put a layer of chicken wire around the bunny cage so she could no longer escape.

Bunny Prison

Its time to pick raspberries!

 The young pullets are just now beginning to lay.  Here is someone's first tiny little egg.

They set the  main support beam on the barn/garage today, with help from the trackhoe.  The beam weighs about 600 pounds.

View from the uphill side. You can see the beam in place now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Chicken Rock

Your guess is as good as mine why they like climbing around on that rock.

Signs of Summer

I found a nice patch of wild blueberries in the woods during my walk.  All i had was a bandana to carry them in, so I tied the corners, hung it over a dead branch, and voila! Instant blueberry container.  This ended up to be about 5 cups, just the right amount for a small batch of bluebery jam.

And, the real sign of the summer garden is the first cucumber and the first red tomato. Yum.......

We are harvesting a 5 gallon bucket of lettuces, kale, etc. Nearly every day.  The early peas are about gone. Their season was somewhat shortened by being planted a little too close to the goat pen. Green beans will be coming up soon, and peppers are starting to look good.  Celery is looking good. And the zucchini , well, you know what happens when the zucchini start producing..

Friday, July 10, 2015

Causation and Casualties

The whole reason thaat we had to tear down the old shed instead of just repairing it was the fact that water was draining off the hillside behind the shed and over the years had pushed the foundation stones inward by over  foot, seriously compromising the structure. so,in building a new one, we first and foremost had to address the water issue. We had to build a drain and channel the water away from the building and give it a place to go.

part of the drain going in.

 There was a bit of a problem getting the dump truck up behind the new barn to drop the load of sand for the drain.  The truck got stuck at one point and in trying to maneuver it, it ran over part of our potato patch, completely destroying a portion of the potato crop. sigh.
I am pretty disappointed about this, but nothing can be done. however, I did rename the dump truck.  (I was unaware that guys named their heavy equipment, much like you would a boat).  This one was previously known  as Heavy Metal.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Written in Stone

No, this isn't concrete. But after clearing out some woody shrubs, Steve uncovered this blackberry bush. The berries are really tasty.

This is concrete. The new barn build needed a date in the floor, dont you think?

And a few goose tracks (feather optional)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Just Until I can Get a Cow

I really want a family cow. Think about all that a sweet milking cow can provide.
An annual calf for meat, including food and bones for the dogs. Hide for leather if you are so inclined.  Milk and cream for yogurt, butter,and cheese.  Whey for fermenting veggies, and if we kept hogs (probably not) the whey is food for them.  And maybe the most important thing of all... 


Manure is like gold.  It enriches the soil, which in turn enriches the vegetables, which in turn enriches us.  A dairy farming friend of mine said that the most valuable crop from their dairy herd is actually the manure.  And seeing the potatoes that came out of their manure-enriched garden was proof.  Each potato weighed several pounds.  

Well, a family cow is a ways off.  Something to aim for.  So for now, I will have to settle for a slightly smaller producer of fine manure.  Bunnies produces manure that is different from almost any other in its balanced mineral and  nutrient profile, but also in that it will not burn roots, so can be top dressed in the garden without having to be composted first.  this is really handy when you need to give garden plants a boost mid-season.

Meet the little girls. We dont have names yet.

I also scored this great rocking chair for the front porch.  somebody was throwing it away at the dump!

Monday, July 6, 2015


The latest farm crop to go in the ground are some hops for Steve's homebrewing.  
Hops are a fast growing vine, and have to be supported. We used a very simple and free support system... some leftover twine or roap,  attached to some hooks that were already on the outside of our storage building  ("the White House").  
In this not very great photo, you might be able to see the small vines at the bottom of the vertical twine.  I went really low tech and just tied the twine around a rock to hold it in place. we are never in short supply of those around here.

And here`s our fancy support system. A piece of strong twine strung from two hooks attached  to the side of the house.

Hops are a perenniel vine that will die back in the winter, and return in the spring.  I dont really know what to expect from them this year.  Maybe we will get some hops(the flower part of the plant) or maybe not!!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Usual Stuff

Steve moved the chickens to new pasture. Quite  a contrast where they had been (foreground). I will plant something like buckwheat which is a quick growing cover crop, bee attractor, and food crop for the chickens. 

Meanwhile the goat brothers were tethered out for their daily browse. Waldo is cuious about the tractor.

Henry got right down to eating.  

Though I didnt get a picture, I used this time to take each goat and lay them across my lap for some hoof trimming.  Using  a cup of grain as an attention diverter, I was able to cut back the overgrowth on their hooves. Goats' native landscape is rocky, which naturally wears down their hooves.  Without that normal wear and tear, hooves have to be trimmed down or  the hoof wall can start growing inward, and they can get pockets of dirt in there, which can then cause certain hoof diseases and lameness.   Once these guys get bigger, I think I will have to use  stanchion to hold them, but for now, a wiggly baby goat straddled across my lap is doable.