Sunday, June 8, 2014


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.... 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!


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.


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....

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cream of Potato soup

The mountains are covered with mist and clouds and occasionally peak through to show that they got a dusting of snow, while the valleys get bursts of rain mixed with some hail and wind.  A really good day for a hearty soup.

Cream of Potato soup

4-5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2"-1" cubes
1/4 cup finely diced onion
2 tablespoons olive oil (lard works, too)
1 quart whole milk
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 pound pork sausage or chorizo, cooked (optional)

Cook potatoes in enough water to cover them, until soft.  Drain the liquid into a separate bowl (you'll use the liquid in your soup) and set the potatoes aside. In a large pot melt the lard and cook the onions until translucent (you can also cook the sausage with onions, if desired).  Add flour and then slowly whisk/stir in the milk and potato water.  Cook until thickened.  Stir back into the soup the cooked potatoes.  (If you didn't add the sausage with the onions you can also add it at this point, too.)  

Serve with crackers or a nice homemade loaf of bread with butter.  You can even top your serving with some shredded cheddar.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Just busy....

The ol' barn yard
A bit of background on the ranch.  It's an old homestead property that was passed down a generation and the former owners had passed on several years ago.  The land had been leased out for cattle and a bit of hay for many years before they died and since the farmer was getting on his years, a lot of the old wooden structures started to fall into various states of disrepair.  Nothing really unusual since wood does eventually rot and breakdown, and unattended cattle are rough on things.... like the barn that was full of hay.  It has several cow-sized holes covered with plywood most sides of the barn.  So needless to say, a lot of work needs to be done to clean up overgrown brush, busted up buildings and junk that has been buried by debris and dirt.

The snow melted quickly this year.  A few days of rain on top of that and things got pretty muddy around here, causing a never ending load of laundry. Last fall we cleaned up dead brush and debris from a section of the main irrigation ditch.  It gets quite a bit of flow from snow melt and spring rains.  We never did get to the larger of the debris dams before the weather came in so when 2 inches of rain fell within a 24-hour period things got soggy really quick.  Definitely a good day for waterfowl.

This past weekend we planted some bareroot fruit trees to get them established fairly well before winter rolls in again.  Hard to think about planting when it is 23F in the morning, 60F in the afternoon and winter arriving again in several months.  If you are buying bare root trees the best thing to do is see what is growing in your neighbors yard or ask some of the old timers.  Just because they sell it at the big box nursery it doesn't mean it will do well in your location.  We purchased the trees from a small nursery south of us but they are varieties that should do well for our locale.  But if you do purchase from the big box nursery or from online, do your research for the temperature extremes that your zone may receive and check that against each plant/tree variety to see if they can handle those temperatures.

The garden won't get set in for a while since it is still too soggy to till (and too cold to plant) but the seedlings in the greenhouse are doing fairly well.  Tomatoes need to be transplanted along with the few peppers that popped up.  The hot pepper seeds are stubborn but I am beginning to think that I have too much soil between them & the heat mat. So I will attempt again with my theory of less soil (about 3/4"-1" instead of the 1.5" that I have in there now).  It is damp enough but just may not be getting hot enough to encourage them to germinate despite the piece of plastic wrap on the top of the soil.  I haven't checked this week but the seeds may have begun to rot at this point, but some seeds can take up to 2 months to germinate.

Another daily activity around here this past week has been harrowing the fields.  Kind of like de-thatching your lawn (which we did a day ago) but with an implement that looks like a gigantic chain link fence being dragged behind a tractor across the field. It pulls out the dead matted grass and rocks.  Lots of rocks of various shapes and sizes.  In which case, said rocks must be removed from off the pasture and taken back to the rock field or used to shore up irrigation ditch from the spring run-off.

The greenhouse is getting a work-over, too.  Most of my dragon fruit cactus have freeze damage and need to be trimmed.  One of the aloe's died, the other is doing well.  They both were next to each other so go figure.  Some plants that went dormant never came out and need to be added to the debris heap.  All of the straw that I put on the bottom of the greenhouse is coming out - I won't do that again since it retained more moisture than I expected.  I had placed the straw on top of the rocks thinking it would give it an extra barrier against the frost that seeps in from the sides but it did not do any good in keeping the pot bottoms from freezing or against moisture. It will get tossed out into the garden to be tilled back into the soil.  I also have an assortment of plants that need to be transplanted.  They are being pulled out from under the plastic to get acclimated to cooler temps and soon they'll get planted but not until the latest weather pattern blows through.

Chicks are growing fast - from what we can guess at this point is that there are Buff Orpingtons, Easter eggers, Cochins, a Wyandotte and maybe a Jersey Giant in the mix.  Pretty sure that 2 of the Buff Orpingtons are roosters, and possibly the Wyandotte, too.  I added three Welsummer chicks over the weekend when we picked up the trees.  They are little cuties and I look forward to seeing those dark brown eggs mixed in with the green, tan, brown and white eggs.

The Heritage Rhode Island Reds (RIR) are laying now and the black Silkie is going broody. Soon we'll have some RIR eggs set under her to see how the youngster roo is doing or at least hatch out a batch from the 'foster' chickens.

Well, back to work.... rain is coming.
runoff from big hay field
Day for ducks.... again

Just a little bit of flooding

beware of the rapids!

buttercups going to a more favorable spot
planted and bees are happy

Girls are busy

Bringing in pollen

Dethatching lawn

result of dethatching

Harrowing big hay field

new fruit trees


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mystery peeps

Ah, the adventure in the world of chickens continues.  Never have we purchased straight run chicks before.  They all have been by breed and we knew what sex they were.  'Straight run' means that you don't know what breed of chick you have, nor what sex of the chick is.  It is a complete mystery (unless you are familiar to what the chicks of various breeds look like).  You get what you get.

Peeps in the familiar glow of a red heat lamp bulb
The chick in the center/back is the largest of the batch.... meet Chickzilla.
On the way back from a farm-related trip south we dropped into a feed store and they had 'chick days' going on for the week... meaning a good special on a days old chicks, chick starter food, feeders/waterers, etc.  But since a long drive home was ahead of us we decided to stop at their other store closer to home so we wouldn't stress them too much. 

Now we have 15 little peeps to add to the flock, if they all survive and if they are not all roosters!  Sometime you can have a chick with a condition known as 'failure to thrive' where the chick fails to grow and dies of the condition.  We had one chick do that in the past out of 4 chicks that were purchased at the same time, two each of two different breeds.  Three of the chicks began feathering out whereas the one did not show any signs of growing any feathers at all, keeping its downy fluff.  It died before the weeks' end.  

So far, these all seem to be in good health but you never know.  We're going to take photos of the chicks now and then compare them to when they get older to see if our guesses on the their breed are correct.  I am really curious as to what breed Chickzilla is.  It is the largest AND fluffiest chick I have ever seen.  Looks like it has fur instead of peep fluff but is sure is cute.

Happiness is a box full of peeps! :-)