Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Gravenstein


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Apple, that is.  I think I have found a new favorite.  It has a tart, almost lemony flavor, and it is sweet at the same time.  Very crisp and has a beautiful color when polished up.  A quick swipe on the shirt sleeve reveals some lovely colors on the reddish ones and the green ones have a slight blush of red.  Not a good storage apple since they lose their texture and quality quickly after harvest so It is suggested that if you are not going to use them up right away to wash, cut them up and freeze them or slice them to dry.

Our neighbor who brought over a bucket full of them said they make a mighty tasty applesauce, too.  I don’t think they’ll last that long since I’ve been nibbling away at the lot of them but I am to be sure to save some for jam and pie!

Back in the saddle again

With a new adventure should come a new blog, eh?  I tried to give it a go but the darn "free" host would insert ads to pester you all with so not at this time….  so stick with the old one.  Anyway, it has been two years since we purchased the old homestead and I have some thoughts and reflections of those years and the future.  Bear with me as I muddle along here.

Based upon past posts, our adventure began when we moved from the west coast to the northwest, or let’s say changing plant hardiness zones from a zone 9b to zone 5b and from suburban life to rural life.  Needless to say, some adjustments have been made…. like acquiring snow clothes!  Not to mention moving into a much cozier home.  Moving a family of 5 from a 1400 square foot rental into a 800 square foot farmhouse has been quite interesting but we do not spend a lot of time indoors so any larger home would just be wasted space, cost more money to heat in the winter and higher taxes.  There is no air conditioning but coming house from the coastal desert area of the west coast, we know what needs to be done to keep the house cool without air conditioning.

Fast forward to the present…. what have we been up to these past few months?  Well, after this summer of never-ending heat the poor garden has been set back quite a bit but we’ve finally began water bath canning/pressure canning and drying produce from out the garden. Namely green beans, crook neck squash/zucchini and corn.  Even put up a few jars of jelly.

DSC04040Kids cleaned/cut beans or peeled corn.  Beans were then processed in a pressure canner and the corn was cut & put into freezer bags and frozen.  Said corn plants were then promptly pulled & fed to the cows that are mowing the pastures when they aren’t up to mischief or chasing chickens.  Yes, they do chase the chickens.  Not sure why but only these heifers know why.  Oh, and they also herd the goose around when she is in the field.
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Hopefully, the poor old tomatoes and squash will ripen before the first frost hits but I think they are waiting for Christmas, in which there is no hope for them.  I think that gardening is a crap shoot anyway since despite being ahead in the game by getting seeds or transplants set in the ground the heat wave appeared earlier and lasted a lot longer this year.  I also need to find better shorter growing season varieties from more reliable seed sellers and possibly more heat tolerant varieties, too. More on that later…..

Out of the 18 chicks purchased this past spring, plus the 5 we hatched, we ended up with 12 cockerels.  UGH!  Poor hens were constantly on the run from the gang of young roos racing about to claim dominance.  The gang of roos are now resting peacefully in the freezer.  Henwife, the Engineer and I took them to a fellow church members’ home who most graciously assisted us in our plucking/butchering/dressing experience.  They have a plucker which made the job so much easier than hand plucking!

It is quite amazing how much calmer the hen house is now that the cockerel bunch and the old roo are gone.  We kept three roosters – Siracha the Heritage Red, a Welsumer and an Easter Egger.  Those are the breeds that Henwife wants to focus on.

A small batch of chicks should hatch this week so we are on chick watch.  A little late but we are seeing if Siracha is a good roo and hopefully get some nice Heritage Rhode Island Reds out of him.  The little cochin hen that was in the spring chick batch went broody…. think it is a record for broodiness around here!

Well, better head back into the garden – time to get it ready for winter and the greenhouse is in need of some tidying up, too.   Winter will be here in no time soon….

Moving.... uh, not very far

MOVING:


Well, that was the intention to start up a new blog but upon further use, I discovered that ads would be shoved onto my blog without compensation, so .... no thanks.  I'll stay here until further notice.  ha!


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sourdough


Sourdough.  It is fairly easy to do but does take a little time to get going. 
First you need the sourdough starter.  You can either try to 'catch' wild yeast, add yeast into your starter mix, or purchase some dried sourdough starter that you need to rehydrate.

I'll post on capturing wild yeast another time but if you are interested in jumping ahead and not wait due to my slowness in posting, you can search the internet for many variations.  Below is my version of making sourdough starter using active dried yeast. It was too cold when I started it and could not catch any 'wild' yeast, so I added yeast to the concoction.


I have several bread baking books that get used for different recipe variations that I've purchased but do check out your local library if you're tight on funds or search the thrift stores, freecycle or craigslist ads for used bread baking books.  I think my favorite is Storey's Baking with Sourdough (center yellow/white booklet).  Good recipes and easy to understand.  I like things simple.



Recipe and instructions (my adaptation) :

* Quart size canning jar with screw band and a bit of plastic wrap to cover the jar opening
* Medium sized ceramic bowl
* wooden spoon
(whatever you used to mix it up with just be sure NOT to use anything that is metal - sourdough is corrosive.  It won't be corrosive in the beginning stages but will be later as it develops)

2-1/4 teaspoons active dried yeast (one package)
2 cups bread flour
2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon honey


Dissolve yeast in water. Thoroughly mix all the above ingredients together in a ceramic bowl.  No lumps.  Let sit in a warm spot, on top of the fridge works nicely, covered with cheesecloth (to keep things... like bugs.... from falling in) for a couple of days.  It should become foamy and bubbly.  It will start to bubble soon after mixing together but it will take a couple of days for more bubbles to appear in the mix and to get a nice sour smell/fermented smell. 

After a couple of days, stir it and pour into the quart canning jar, cover with plastic wrap and put on the screw band lid to keep the plastic in place.  Set in the back of the fridge for a few more days to develop more of that sourdough flavor.

Like I said above, I really like the Storey's Baking With Sourdough booklet. 10 pages of information on the basics of sourdough (starters, replenishing/sweetening the pot and 'rules' for success) and how to adapt standard bread recipes to use your sourdough starter.  The rest of the 22 page booklet is dedicated to recipes.  But I like my other books, too, for more variations.  Bread shouldn't be boring.

Now for replenishing the pot.  Whatever amount of starter you use to make your sponge (the base of your bread recipe) you need to put the same amount back into the starter jar.  After removing the amount the recipe needs.... let's say it was one cup of starter .... I will then put one cup of bread flour and about one cup of water into a ceramic bowl and mix together thoroughly.  Then I will scrape out the remainder of the starter from the canning jar into the bowl and mix them all together.  At this point, I will set the mixture aside and rinse out the canning jar so I don't have old crusty gunk on the side of the jar from pouring it out for the recipe.  I've had it mold on the sides in the past so I just do this to keep it clean.  After rinsing out the jar, wipe off the outside and pour the mixture from your bowl back into the jar, put the plastic and screw band lid back on and put it back into the fridge for use again later.  Easy.


Now, say you don't use your starter for a month or so and the starter separates leaving the whitish floury stuff on the bottom and a slight brownish/gray liquid on the top.  Don't panic - it is okay, it does that.  As long as you don't have mold or weird looking stuff floating on the top, resembling some science project, it is okay.  If it is just a separation of liquid and flour = stir it back into a mixture.  Weird stuff or globs of mold floating on the top = toss it out.  

So with your sourdough starter in hand, how about making some bread.  Mud ovens make excellent bread baking ovens but if you don't have one on hand, you can sort of replicate the nicely crusted bread in a regular oven with a shallow pan and some ice cubes.  You can even use a cast iron dutch oven with a lid to get the same effect.

Rising in a warm spot
still rising
Go to King Arthur Flour's website and print out their instructions called Rustic sourdough It is a simple recipe and follow the instructions for making the loaf and baking.  I would just add that even though the instructions tell you to mist the loaf with water to aid in making a crusty loaf, that when you preheat your oven to place a shallow baking pan ***(use a cheap one from the thrift store... this procedure will warp your pan!) *** in your oven under the rack that you are going to bake your bread on.  Then after you put that loaf in the oven to toss in a handful of ice cubes in the preheated pan or about 1 cup of water and close the door.  Do not open until baking time is done. Oh, and don't forget to let the loaf cool for a while so that when you cut into your loaf it won't squish down and become a cracker.  Just be patient, let it cool a bit, then dig out the butter or your favorite jam.  It is well worth the wait.

 


Voila!!  Fresh baked sour dough bread

Thursday, May 29, 2014

It is definitely spring!

It's been hard to write of late with all that has been going on.  I don't feel like sitting at the computer when the work is all done.  So my apologies for being, well, so grumpy about the whole thing.  And it has been over a week since I began to write this!  Yikes.

Some notes of weeks past:  One hive of bees absconded.  Left.... gone....no forwarding address.  Packed all their honey, pollen, little bee hobo bags and left.  So we ordered new tenants and set up into their hives.  They are doing well.  But from what we have read it is not unusual for bees to just up and leave for no apparent reason.  We thought it was because I took the candy board away since the wildflowers were in full bloom but they are just .... bees.  They were on the aggressive side so they are not really missed but it sure is disappointing to have an established hive move out.

We also spent several days of riding fence to put it back up, stack up rocks or add a lost fence staple or two before tick season got in full swing. 

We split the remaining hive to see if they'd make a new queen in the queenless half of the split and they made about a dozen queen cells.  Upon the most recent check, they re-worked the wax from queen cells back into the frames but the bees were calm so they must have a queen.  We'll see in a few more days if they have brood or not.  An education in progress.  UPDATE:  Yes, we have a queen and she has been busy!

Adding to our education is that we now have goats.  Three dairy-cross doelings.  This will be a new adventure since we have never had goats and have a lot to learn about them.  The library has been a wonderful resource as well as the interne, not to mention a neighbor lady who has goats and was kind enough to share her expertise with them.  One thing about small towns and being an 'outsider'.... they don't share much information.  But the does are getting used to their new surroundings and their daily trek from the barn to their paddock.  We are also getting used to goat-proofing things, too!  First step was to block off the section in the barn where they could climb or hop up into the hay area.  Right now they can hop out into the adjoining area of the barn but they can't escape or get into too much mischief without a barking dog.  It is amazing how they plot and plan on how to wiggle out of places that you THOUGHT were secure.

The garden has been tilled and prepped for planting.  Potatoes and onions are in place.  Corn, buckwheat, and pole bean seeds have been planted.  Zucchini seedlings have also been transplanted, too.  Early spring rain had delayed our tilling and planting for a few weeks but at least the greenhouse gave  me a bit of a jump on growing.  The grow bags help a lot in getting good root development and buying some time before planting but the tomatillo starts have started to bloom already.  I took a couple of cuttings from the slower growing ones - they were about 7-8 inches tall -  to see if the cutting would root like tomatoes do since they are similar to tomato plants.  And, yes, they do sprout from cuttings.  I can root several cuttings in a jar of water and then transfer them to a small pot or grow bag to get them acclimated to being outdoors for a while before setting into the ground.  I will dig a hole at a slanted angle and lay most of the plant into the whole which allow the stem to root in several places creating more stability against the wind.  This will keep the plants from being spun about by the wind. Another good wind protector for young seedling transplants are large coffee cans that have been opened on each end that can go over them or even gallon plastic milk jugs with the bottom cut out.


So let's ponder some thoughts of growing produce from your own garden, where you know what has been done to your food and how it was grown,  I have come up with a few suggestions that you may want to  consider if you want to start your own garden.

Let's begin with the seeds.  One suggestion when purchasing seeds is to purchase ones that are open pollinated.  Meaning that you can save the seed, plant it the next year and get the same produce from it.  Care should be taken on the placement when planting so you don't get cross pollination with certain varieties of plants (different varieties of corn will cross with each other) otherwise you won't get the same plant you had the previous year and usually with poor results. Some labels on seed packages will tell you how far apart certain varieties of vegetable plants should be kept to prevent cross pollination otherwise it is good practice to keep similar crops at opposite ends of your garden, as far away from each other as possible.  When I had a small garden area I staggered their planting times so that they didn't come to bloom at the same time.  It doesn't always work but sometimes I would get some cooperation.

But before you plant anything in your garden, write a list of vegetables that you eat on a weekly, daily basis. Then on a separate sheet plot out your garden space.  If you have lousy soil (heavy clay) you may want to consider making raised garden beds and filling them with some good organic matter and dirt.  Maybe you don't have a large space for a garden, consider using containers or pallet gardening methods.  Determine what your weather conditions are normally like during your growing season.  If you are new to the area you now reside in, ask some of the locals or look it up on the internet.   It may be a good idea to print that out, too, or jot it down.  Make note of the first and last dates of frost. Does the area you live in have lots of wind? Excessive heat? Short growing season? Drought?  Too much rain?  Too much shade or none at all?  These are factors you need to know because some kinds of vegetables and fruiting plants do not grow very well in some of these conditions and some thrive on them.


With the above conditions in mind, research the fruits and vegetables that you want to grow for your needs.  If you live in an area where the growing season is short, then select a variety that will take a short amount of time from germination to production.  Look to see if they tolerate heat or should be grown in cool conditions - certain kinds of lettuce do not tolerate heat very well.  I discovered last year that despite a good constant watering schedule for the beets I grew (Detroit Red) that because we had an unusually hot month of 100+ degree temps that they ended up being bitter.  So bitter that I ended up feeding them to the chickens.  And despite the constant watering schedule, that said 100+ degree temperatures will affect your pollination of several plants such as tomatoes and beans.  It basically cooks the pollen and makes it unviable.  But when the temps came down the blooms continued to go full blast and then I had so many green tomatoes in the fall that by the time some of them started to ripen in the basement and trying to can them, I was sick of canning pickled green tomatoes.  And the poor chickens would run from me when they saw me coming with the blue buckets that KNEW were laden with spoiling tomatoes!  Seriously.


Good grief, so now with some of the above things to consider.... when do you find time to plant?!  Well, usually in late winter I get the itch and start to plan but with my list of things to plant on list, plot out your garden.  Sketch out your garden area (you don't need to get fancy with exact measurements or perfectly square diagrams).  Then mark on your diagram where you are going to plant what.  Some plants don't do well together, whereas others do.  And some plants may have left some nasty little pest behind that would affect your new crop.  Some seed companies offer planning guides, like Johnny's Seeds.  Mother Earth News has a  companion planting guide and crop rotation article that are well worth printing out as does Dave's Garden , which can be found here .  Save them and then print them out - don't bookmark them.  Who knows how long they will be on the internet or your hard drive will remain running.  Keep them with your gardening books and catalogs.  I do because I will never remember some of the recommendations.

With some of the vegetables that require a longer growing season (like peppers or tomatoes), consider starting them indoors several weeks before the last frost date for your area.  Many seed packages will tell you the recommended time frame.  If you have some extra space to set up a small shelving unit get a couple of grow mats, covered seed starting trays and seed starting soil.  One point of recommendation is to don't set it up by a window if you live in an area that gets cold during the late winter because the cold from the window may affect your temperature around the mat and seedling trays..  You may consider one of those small mini greenhouses if you have to keep them in a cool area.  Lots of the gardening stuff is starting to go on sale now.

Another point to remember when planting is what are you going to do with your bounty?  Are you going to can, dry or preserve your produce, eat them fresh or store them?  Some kinds of vegetables and fruits store very well, some don't.  Some can very well, some don't.  You understand where I'm going with this. Purchase based on your needs and how they store best - do you have space to store fresh, canned, dried or preserved product?  Because before you know it, it will be harvest time and your chickens will run from you when you try to toss out daily buckets loads of tomatoes.  Your neighbors will shutter their windows and hide in their house when they see you coming down their drive with yet another bag of zucchini.  I kept pumpkins and squash in the cellar and fed those to the chickens over the winter as a treat for them when the ground was covered with snow.

So with all the above information I hope this will assist you in beginning your gardening adventure if you have never gardened before. You don't have to start out on a massive scale either.  And sometimes despite what the packaging states the plants may just not do well at all or you may try something on a whim and find out it works amazingly well.  Gardening is not rocket science, thank goodness!!


Saturday, April 12, 2014

My feet hurt....

And I'm ready for a good nights' sleep.  The greenhouse has been tidied up and all 43 tomato seedlings repotted into quart-sized grow bags to give them more root growth before they can be transplanted outside.  It will be a few more weeks before I can get them into the ground safely.  The old timers say that when the snow is gone on a certain ridge that it is safe from frost to plant your garden.  Last year when the snow was gone from the ridge, we had one night of a killer frost that froze all the fruiting flower buds and did all sorts of damage to cold hardy vegetables, such as cabbage.  Even the tomatoes that had wall-o-waters around them suffered a blow.  Lots of locals had to replant their tomatoes and no one had any fruit on their trees.  Even the wild fruiting trees were not spared with the exception of those that were in sheltered areas.  Even those were few and far between.

Greenhouse clean up included removing the pipe frame that held the plastic sheeting and moving stuff around so I can get the seedling trays that don't require bottom heat set up in the southern exposure of the greenhouse.  I also trimmed out more dead plant material and fallen leaves.  Citrus fared really well this year.  The fruiting cacti that froze and rotted were pruned and the good parts were put into pots to root again.  I will have to set it up differently next time to prevent them from freezing, short of putting them in the basement.  I didn't water them over the winter months and they still froze.... except one, which is a different variety (some pink variety) than the others.  Maybe it is more hardier.  I don't really know.  The yellow dragon fruit is pretty easy to root but the red one that did get zinged is a booger to get rooted without the cut parts rotting.  They were all next to each other under the sheeting with the heater, so go figure. 

All the straw that I had on the ground during the winter has been removed and chucked out into the garden area.  Even the bind weed (morning glory) that sprouted up in the greenhouse has been pulled up and disposed of properly.... ie: into a trash bag.  If I were to toss it out with the straw into the garden it would only re-root and cause me grief in the long run.

Hive has been checked and fared really well.  Since the girls have been entering the hive with loads of pollen, the candy board was removed.  The pollen that I put in a few weeks ago was untouched so it was removed, too.  I'll write another post on some thoughts about what we will do differently next winter on the bees.  Every beekeeper you ask on how to do something will tell you a different.  For example, you ask 10 guys what to do and you'll get 12 different answers.....clear as mud. :-)
 
Anyways, so since we've been on the go with the longer daylight hours, below are some pictures of what we've been doing:


Snow?  We thought it was Spring
What was that, you say?  Snow?  Seriously?!  Get it OFF my fur!  NOW!

Fosters

Peeps - time for the bigger ones to get booted out

Removed candy board from hive - will save the candy for winter

Clean candy board frame - won't put newspaper in next time.  It just holds too much moisture and molds
Re-seeded pepper seeds and time to transplant the tomato seedlings

Soon to be transplanted outdoors
Tomatillos and luffas outdoors in the shade so they don't get sunburn.

Spring!

When you have critters, at some point, you'll need to treat someone.  This case is a minor infection one of the pullets received from the young, inexperienced roo who gave her a nice welt on the noggin.   Open wound + dirt = the above picture.
             
Time to set up for seedlings
It's a lovely day for a stroll

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mud & Muck

Woke up to wacky weather yesterday in which the clouds didn't know if it should rain, snow, or part for the sun to peek through.  The ol' barn cat was disturbed that the white stuff dared to fall upon his fur but since it went away about as quickly as it blew in he decided it was time to nap in the greenhouse... if only he could reach the handle with his furry paws.  The girls agreed that a nap would be nice after all the hard work that morning of chasing the mouse that made a home in the wood pile.



But by noon we were able to venture outside to tackled the stream that is actually runoff from the hay fields.  It meanders around and follows along the corrals.  The years of no one living here left the duck pond silted in and overgrown with cattails which causes the water to go where ever it pleases.  The corral posts are showing some decay.  Last year Mr. H dug out part of the pond area for the waterfowl but it is slow hard work by shovel and pick.  It seemed to help with the seepage out towards the corral posts and none of the cattails that were dug out grew back, with help from the goose, too, who gives them a good work-over when they dare try to grow back.  She will pull the small ones out, roots and all, then nibble them down to nothing.  Geese are excellent grazers and weeders.  She also likes the wild chicory.

The storm that dumped on the valley a couple weeks ago eroded some of the pond and the runoff area so it needed some tlc.  The stream path was cleared of grass and rocks (Rocks!?  What a shocker!), we moved the duck water trough to a firmer location (it was sinking in the mire) and shored it up with...  rock.  It is a bit too high now for the ducks to hop into so I'll have to mess with it on a day when the wind isn't blowing my head off.  I don't mind the wind really but when it is cold and frosty, well, I've got better things to do than to freeze.  Like patch my left rubber boot.  It is in dire need of a patch and it was a little tough trying to get the trough adjusted without going at least ankle deep in muck.  Playing in muddy water (which waterfowl do lurk in) that can seep into your boot is not exactly a highlight of the day. ;-)


Hopefully tomorrow will bring nicer weather.  The weather guessers are predicting more rain but today was suppose to rain earlier today and that never materialized until late this evening. I think we're going to start to grow webbed feet or we need to build a large boat. But if it does decide to storm, or if the wind hangs around like it sometimes does after a storm, there are plants in the greenhouse that need to be watered and I do need to figure out where to plant the ones in pots that need to be transplanted here quickly before it is too late for them to get a good root going.  I also need to finish up plotting out the garden for this season.  Not to mention the gazillion other things that need to be done.  There certainly doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day....