Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Good enough

I spent the morning raking out the last bit of dirt so we can seed this area.  Ideally, you'd have a lawn roller to smooth and pack down before seeding, but I only have Fred and Ethel. They are walking all over it with their funny feet, and I think it is good enough.  Cheap labor, and free fertilizer!  And the cuteness factor is prrtty high, too.
This area has been scraped down to bare dirt and gravel ever since we moved in, and now that the heavy equipment no longer needs to get in and out of here, we can try planting grass.  It doesnt have to be perfect, and it will be awfully nice to see something green here instead of a construction zone.

Monday, September 28, 2015

All in a Day

One of those times I wish I had taken a "before" photo.   With much help from Steve, we dug up this flowerbed, which was completely full of iris, weeds, grass, even a thorny tree. Basically covered in 2 foot tall weeds. It has been driving me nuts, looking so tacky at the front of the house, but food gardens had to come first.
We took out every plant, raked it smooth,  and put down fresh mulch.  People kept driving by and commenting that it looked good.  Its nice to live in a small town.
That pile there is only about 60% of what came out of this  bed.

The woodshed now has four walls, its doorway, and the inside boards too.
We have been spreading dirt out to plant grass in the backyard.

And here's a first.... we broke in the new hayloft with a couple bales of hay!  My plan is to bring about 50 bales in, which shoild get us through most of the winter.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

First Fire, First Killing Frost

 Well, last night caught me by surprise.... it wasnt forecast to get below freezing, but it did, ( we think it got down to 28) and all the tender plants in the garden were killed.  See the snow like frost in the pasture above.  There was ice on our cars even.  So that means i went ahead and pulled up quite a few plants in the garden and tossed them on the compost. The greatest loss may be the winter squash, which I was really counting on. One vine wasnt totally killed, and it has fully half our entire butternut squash harvest, but its too early to tell whether enough of the vine is left to allow the squash to ripen. Fingers crossed....
The woodshed is getting walls. We need this space to stack our firewood. Which evidently we are going to need real soon. We had a fire in the woodstove last night. First fire, first frost.
 I like the look of it.
The north end view. There will be a sliding barn door on the open side.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Chicken Breeds Illustrated

I have 5 different chicken breeds in our flock.  Three of them are shown here.
From the top,
Production Red, a cross between Rhode Island Reds, and White Leghorns (remember Foghorn Leghorn of cartoon fame? He was a white Leghorn). Production Reds are bred for heavy production of very large eggs consistently.

Plymouth Rock, an old heritage breed, solid white, like your grandmother or great grandmother might have raised.

Light Brahma, these are also an older breed, very large and heavy, and supposedly good for winter egg laying when ither breeds slow down.  This will be mynfirst time trying this breed, so we will find out. My teo roostees are both Brahmas, nice boys so far, and very good to the hens, finding bits of food on the ground and calling the hens over, racing to protect them if a hen calls a distress call. So far they are totally non agressive to us.

I also have New Hampshire Reds, and Black Australorps, which I think are by far the prettiest, but also the hardest to get to pose for the camera.

You can see the differences in comb type, some large, some small.  A smaller comb is generally better for cold weather climates, as those little points can get frostbite.

Here is a little known fact.  You can tell what color eggs a chicken will lay by their earlobe.  What? Chickens have earlobes?
Here you can see an earlobe, the red comb-like structure right where you would expect an earlobe to be on the side of her face. Her actual ear is a hole covered by fine feathers right above the earlobe.

So, if a hen has red earlobes, she will lay brown eggs, or in the case of certain special breeds, colored eggs in shades of blue or green. If her earlobe is white, she will lay white eggs. This girl lays brown eggs.

Now go impress someone with this bit of trivia this week!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Nest Box Saga

We are pretty sure that if we cant see you, then you cant see us....

I want that box... can you hurry it up a little?

I'm not going in if you are going to stare at us....

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Our insurance company required a fence here on top of the retaining wall.  Never mind the wall has been here for over 100 years, suddenly it is not safe without a fence. Silliness, I say. But anyway, it was no small project, as it required removing weed trees, shrubs, roots, stumps, weeds and grass, some of which took the tractor to pull them out, and also a tractor to drill the fence post holes because of all the rocks.
But the fence is in, its all mulched, and cleaned up, and hopefully the insurance company is happy now.
We still have to trim the fence posts and paint it, but no rush on that.
I think it looks pretty nice.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

We've Been Hydroseeded

The guys came today to hydroseed the main horse paddock. Hydroseeding is a sprayed-on coating of grass seed, some liquid nutrients, and a cellulose fiber that holds the moisture and keeps the seed in place. It is more expensive than if we spread plain grass seed ourselves, but has several advantages.
Seed germinates more quickly and gets established sooner.
Doesnt wash away as easily in a heavy rain.
And, maybe most importantly, doesnt attract the wild turkeys to come and gobble (ahem) all the seed.
 And who wouldnt like that turquoise color?
Really, you would think if they have to add color to it, that they could make a more natural green.
 They tell us in a week we will see sprouts actively growing.
While they were outside spraying, I bottled up some homemade probiotic ginger ale.  This might deserve its own post some day, but this ginger ale is ginger-y and fizzy and not sickingly sweet, and even full of good probiotics!  That's the "ginger bug" on the left, a starter culture of shredded ginger root and sugar and natural yeasts and bacteria, similar to a sourdough starter for bread. Yum!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Last of the....

These plum tomatoes will be the last of the vine ripened ones for this year.

As slowly as harvest season seemed to take to arrive, it is gone in a flash. Or thats how it seems. 
With frost looming on the horizon, and general temperatures dipping into the low 40s, summer fruits begin to falter, and it is time to say goodbye.

So today, I picked the last of the
Vine ripened tomatoes
Hot peppers
Mini bell peppers

And already finished are
Green beans, 
Early lettuce
First carrots,
Summer squash

It is a little sad to say goodbye to all the daily goodness... we still have the cold hardy greens, cabbages,  more carrots, turnips, and celery... more and more garden beds are empty and cover crops are planted. But, it is nice to see the storage shelves full, and know we will enjoy our own garden goodies ovee the winter.  And frankly, I am TIRED and will enjoy a little break!

Green tomatoes will be placed down cellar for slow ripening, after being washed and dried.  They will ripen, but nothing is as good as a red ripe tomato right off the vine. I left quite a few green ones still on one plant that is so healthy and productive.  If real frost is forecast, will have to gather those in too.

Today's harvest

Monday, September 21, 2015

Homestead Kitchen: Brandied Pears

I picked a five gallon bucket full of pears from our tree.  They are the ugliest pears you can imagine, lumpy and misshapen, and mottled.  In spite of appearance though, they are delicious. I researched possible causes, and I believe the pears have a condition called Stoney Pit disease,  which causes the dimples, and small hard pits at the bottom of each dimple.  It doesnt affect the flavor of the pear, but the hard pits have to be cut around.  Evidently, this is systemic in the tree itself, and there isnt a cure, although some years, the pears might not show many dimples at all.

So, disappointing as the pear situation was, this called for alcohol! You cant go wrong with boozy fruit, I say!

Picking through the bucket of pears, I ended up with enough peeled and cored slices to make 6 pints of brandied pears.  And there was brandy syrup left over, which I am not about to throw away, so I canned that up too. If my taste testing before processing is any indication, these will make a lovely dessert this winter, poured over a slice of pound cake with a bit of real whipped cream. Or possibly eaten straight out of the jar.  At midnight, when I am the only one awake.

How to make them? Easy schmeasy.

Brandy, duh, about 2 and a half cups.
About 30 smallish pears, or maybe 10 pounds total, ripened.
Lemon juice, 2 TBS
Sugar, 4 cups
Water, 3 cups (note: I had lots of syrup leftover, so you might get by with less water, and sugar to start with, or boil it down further to reduce it)
Whole cloves, or cinnamon sticks, if desired
6 sterilized pint jars and lids
Large pot or water bath canner if you are going to can these.

Peel, slice, and core your pears.  I tossed mine into a large bowl of water with the lemon juice as I sliced, to keep them from browning. You can also sprinkle the lemon juice over the pears and mix to coat them.

In large saucepan, bring water, sugar, and spices to a boil.  Add the pears, and boil for 5 minutes.
Strain out the pears, and fill your jars up to 1/2 inch below the rim. Leave the syrup simmering while you are filling the jars.
Once your jars are full,  remove the syrup from the heat, scoop out the spices,  add the brandy , and stir to mix well.
Pour the brandy syrup over the pears in the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
Remove any air bubble in jars by running a knife or spoon around the edges inside.
Make sure the rims of the jars are clean, and place lids and screw bands securely.

If you plan to can these, you will want to process them in a water bath for 15 minutes, adjusted for your altitude.  Follow directions for general water bath canning procedures.  There are many books and websites with directions.  Here is a good one.
Water bath canning directions

Its not difficult, just basically you are immersing the jars in boiling water for a specified time, which not only sterilizes the contents but also seals the lids on the jars.
Remove the jars from the canner.  If any jars fail to seal,(might take up to an hour)  just put that jar in the frig and use it up within about two weeks. Poor you, being forced to eat them so soon.

And thats it!

And now I have to decide what to do with the approximate 60-70 pounds of apples I have left... and a small box of plums that a friend kindly shared.

I also continue to dehydrate everything in sight. Here are some apple slices, green chiles, cabbage, tomatoes, and mushrooms.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Barn Doors

 No, not a barn door, but almost as wide as one. Look at those bellies!

Here is the stable door installed... a nice heavy sliding door.

We finally got the garage bay doors installed.  They are made to look like carriage doors, but they open like any garage door. There are three bays on this downhill side of the barn, two car bays, and a third bay which supposedly is for the tractor but we all know thats where the cow will go (wink).
I think I will go ahead and paint the sliding wood door here the barn color, like the stable door on the other side.
And the wood shed is under construction on the end.

Friday, September 18, 2015


These huge sunflowers will each be about one third day's ration for our flock. They are a rich siurce of fat and protein. We will let them dry and then just toss the whole thing into the pen for them this winter.
  The  plan is to try to grow most of our chicken's food, and get away from commercial  feed products.  Besides being expensive, these foods are all "dead" grains.  It would be like you eating fortified cereal three times a day. You might get some vitamins and minerals and calories, but its not like real fresh food.

 Growing their feed takes some infrastructure, and is a gradual process, but these foods will include things like sunflowers, oats, buckwheat, and corn, wich will be sprouted to increase its bioavailable nutrient content. .  Live protein will be gotten from either mealworms or earthworms grown in a bin in the cellar. Unfortunately, this year's corn crop was mostly destroyed by wild turkey and deer.  We hope to prevent that problem next year by fencing. 

Chickens' natural diet is about 20% greens, which they get aplenty during the summer months.  But how do we provide this kind of real food for them in the middle of winter? 
I will sprout wheatgrass and other microgreens for them in the windòwsill, but I dont have enough space to grow all they need.

So this fall, I am taking some of the abundant harvest of kale, spinach, and chard, and dehydrating them.  The resultant flakes of dry leaves can then be sprinkled over their other rations for a good nutritional boost. 
By the way, it is this natural diet of greens and various insects that give eggs their deep orange colored yolks and rich flavor. 

Here two kinds of kale leaves are drying in a window screen on the front porch. I will run them through the dehydrator once they are mostly wilted, just to ensure they are really crispy dry for storage.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Garden Time Lapse

Well, not like a time-lapse photo. Maybe more like "garden progression".  I was just looking at it today and remembering what it all was when we moved into the house 10 months ago.

What it looked like when we bought the house.  Kinda weedy.

 November:  I started pulling weeds. Some wouldnt be pulled, so had to cut them down. Ground is beginning to freeze.

 Then it all froze, and winter set in.

 December... or just about any day between December and March.

 April... ground is finally almost thawed.  I removed the old raised beds, which were rotten, except one.   We tilled, added some manure, and put up a temporary fence.

 May... a few early things are planted. I see cabbages and lettuce and kale.

 June... it finally looks lime a garden!  Everything is planted. The marigolds that line the aisles have just gone in. This is likely later in June. And notice we painted the chicken coop and goat shed.
 July..... growth! We are harvesting greens, beans, maybe some tomatoes.

August..... this is about peak... sweet corn, peppers, tomatoes, green beans! Look at the marigolds now.

 September... already slowing down.  Corn is gone, tomatoes are done, onions are pulled and a cover crop planted.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Goat Mowing

The goat boys help eat up weeds, vines, even poison ivy.  They are especially fond of raspberry canes, wild strawberries, and forsythia.  They will even eat the locust trees, which have wicked thorns, but the goats are very adept at picking just the leaves, and missing the thorns.
Once we get a larger fence installed, it will be easier  to jist turn them loose to do their goat mowing.

They are the cutest mowers ever.

Sorry for the awful photos, I cant seem to get any photo editing software to work on this tablet.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Late Summer Garden

 The late summer garden begins to look a bit bedraggled,  as some crops are finished, cover crops are planted in their place, and a few things are left to go to seed for next year.
 Green beans have been allowed to go to seed... a hard decision, as we sure do enjoy tender young beans fresh from the garden. Its a balancing act, because its possible I could have gotten a few more beans, but frost is coming and I wanted the seed beans to have time to mature and dry for collecting.
 Cabbages are all ready to pick, a slight problem because the cellar is not cool enough for storage.  However, the cabbage moths have returned, and if I leave the cabbages in the ground, they will be covered with cabbage worms soon enough.  My solution has been to ferment or dehydrate these instead of trying to store them whole. Dehydrated cabbage is surprisingly sweet and tasty, and easy to add to soups or stews.
 The last of summer carrots are also ready.  And one very healthy looking sweet potato vine holds promise of tubers.... we will know soon enough.

 There are still a couple of tomato plants that escaped the blight. We may get a few more garden tomatoes, but i consider tomato season is mostly over... sigh....
 Brocolli have been allowed to go to seed.  I hope to collect the seed heads once they mature.
Winter greens and root crops are planted here where I can cover them in case of frost.... more are in the cold frames.
 The sweet peppers are just really coming into full production. I have never been successful with yellow or red peppers until this year. Notice I did find a few young beans and picked them for a last bean supper. The yellow squash struggled all summer, amd now, suddenly, is producing more squash.
The goat boys enjoy the spoils.... a few spent vines or fruits go their way.