Tag Archives: homesteading

Effort, Disappointment, and a Delicious Surprise

Mountaingdad and I began our morning with a group of others from our county to form the core group of Preserve Giles County to oppose and fight the proposed pipeline.  We met for two hours, introduced ourselves and I found that this made me very emotional as we each spent about 5 minutes giving our name and why we were there.  It was the first time I have introduced myself to these people and talking about the fact that I was born here, my grandfather was born here and though I grew up in the eastern coastal Virginia, retired here.  That our home is a labor of love, Son 1 spending two years of his life doing carpentry and stone work on our house. I installing wood siding, beadboard, cedar and doing flooring and baseboards.  That we are invested financially, physically and emotionally in the home we built.  The meeting was productive and will move on to a point where we feel we are fighting as a group, not as individuals with a common goal.

The disappointment came when I realized that of the 5 1/2 quarts of broth that I made with the turkey carcass, even though they were chilled overnight in the refrigerator with plenty of head room in wide mouth jars, all 4 that I put in the freezer, broke the jars and all 4 quarts of turkey broth are ruined.  The remaining quart and a half were used to make gravy for turkey we have eaten since Thanksgiving.  To try to salve a disaster, the remnants of the thighs and the meatier parts of the wings that weren’t really done enough to suit me are currently simmering in another 3 quarts of water.  The meat will be made into pot pies and casseroles, the broth frozen in vacuum sealing bags this time for use in soups and future gravies.

The delicious surprise came just a few minutes ago as I went to collect eggs and do a quick survey of the garden plot after last week’s 20 something degrees and the wet snow.  The row cover over the garlic had blown free from one end and I wanted to re-secure it.  There was kale that had perked back up, not a lot, but certainly enough for a meal, maybe my favorite African Chicken with Hot Greens.  And a berry bucket of turnips that weren’t large enough to harvest a few weeks ago.  I’ll bet they are as sweet as honey after last week.  We will enjoy them within the next day or two as well.  The chard is gone, the wormy cabbages went to the chooks with the turnip tops that were too wilted to try to cook.  With any luck, we will get one or two more meals of kale, then I guess it too will be pulled for the chickens or heavily mulched with hay for maybe some spring regrowth.

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The chooks laid just enough eggs while the kids were here to provide us with a delicious breakfast each morning and to make the pumpkin pies.  Yesterday there were only 3 and today 6.  It seems that the dozen hens are not really going to be laying enough for me to sell many this winter, but should keep us fulfilled.

Love our life on our mountain farm.

Joyful Holiday

The snow lingers, three inches of wet snow on Wednesday took out the power to thousands in this region, including us. Son #1 and I stacked the cord of wood that had been randomly tossed out of the truck, placing the old wood on top. We got fires going in both the wood stove and the Rumford fireplace, so the house remained comfortable. As it was above freezing that morning, the roads were OK so we all went into town for a few forgotten supplies and lunch. Once back from town with the realization that it might be a couple of days without power, we debated how we would do Thanksgiving. The gas grill with it’s side burner was dragged around in front of the garage to a more level and convenient spot, a pound and a half of the Moroccan pork was dumped into the small cast iron dutch oven and set on the now hot wood stove to heat for dinner while the debate wore on. Should we split and grill the pasture raised turkey or wait til Friday or even today to have Thanksgiving? The temperature fell, Son#1 took Mountaingdad’s hunting rifle and went to sit in the hayfield rock pile and wait for a deer. We stayed in the house and kept the fires going. As it darkened, we cut winter squash and root veggies dusted with seasoning and olive oil, wrapped in a foil packet and tossed it on the grill. A jar of the home canned applesauce, one of the kraut I had made and some kimchee were put out, the oil lamps lit, table set and we awaited the hunter’s return. As we were about to sit down to a great meal cooked without the benefit of electricity in a cozy house, lit by oil lamps, the power came back on and the Thanksgiving cooking debate ended.
The hunter has sat the rockpile every morning and evening and nothing of sufficient size with a safe clear shot has appeared.

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If you enlarge the photo, you may see his orange clad head hiding in the photo.
Thanksgiving meal was well worth thanks. Vegetables from our garden, turkey from a local farm, homemade rolls, relishes and pies were enjoyed as we sat in the warm cozy house with fires burning to supplement the heat pump as the temperature for that day and the next hovered in the twenties,  with flurries and light snow fall.
The snow will likely disappear today with rising temperatures for a few day before the next round of wet cold.
We are thoroughly enjoying having one of our kids and family here for these days and wish the others could be here also. Today we celebrate from a distance, the birthday of Daughter.
Loving life on our mountain farm.

Olio – September 10, 2014

Olio: a miscellaneous collection of things.

At times I consider whether I should just rename my blog Olio as most posts fly all over the place.  It is only mid morning on a day that the weather prognosticators said would be mostly sunny and dry, but instead it is thickly overcast and too humid again to paint or stain.  The grass too wet with dew to mow.  This isn’t to say that the morning has been idle, no instead a load of laundry has been folded, Grand #1’s bed remade from his weekend visit; another load of laundry washed and currently drying; the chicken coop refreshed with a turn of the old hay and an addition of new hay; the meaties chicken tractor given a good layer of hay in the bottom as it is currently more or less permanently set at the end of the 6 foot wide run to contain the 5 week old chickies and it was beginning to not smell so pleasant.  Another huge bucket of tomatoes have been harvested, though I haven’t begun to process them yet, as I can’t decide what this batch will become, probably just plain diced tomatoes.  Just in the last couple of days, the tomato vines have begun to fade.

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There are still plenty of tomatoes to harvest, but this is a signal of the end of the summer growing season.  This morning, the spent cucumber vines were pulled and tossed to the chickens to peck at the last few cukes and the bugs on the vines.  Each year I begin the season faithfully pinching suckers from the tomato plants and trying to contain the branches within the cages and by this time each year, the branches have fallen over and through the cages and the plants look pitiful.  Perhaps next year I will use strong stakes instead of cages and tie the plants up as they grow taller, being more faithful about leaving only one main stem.  Next year, they will have the rich soil of the compost bins as we remove the wood from them this winter to expand the garden and create a more reasonably sized compost bin in a new location.  So much of the stuff that used to go into the compost, now goes to the chickens and their bedding becomes the compost, so having the bin near the coop door on the edge of the garden would make more sense.  That area is where I planted the Buttercup squash, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes this year and between them and my weeding efforts, the bin have remained fairly weed free this summer.

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The squash have spread over the woodpile, over to the vegetable garden, into the chicken run and up the hill past the hay bales and out of the electric fence.  Many of the huge leaves have burn marks across them and cause the electric fence to pop as they touch it.  Yesterday as I mowed, with the fence off, I snapped off the leaves touching the fence.  I know that one day soon, I will begin to see those vines fading like the tomato vines.  The peppers are loving the cooler weather and are blooming and producing new peppers daily.  The summer squash are mostly done.  It is now a time for greens and a few radishes and turnips.

As I sit here waiting for the inspiration to can or the grass to dry for mowing, I am enjoying one of the only two magazines to which I subscribe.  The magazine is Taproot, no advertising, full of wonderful art, recipes, articles about back to a simpler time of producing your own food, making your own clothes, growing your own animals and knowing from where your goods come.  If you haven’t ever seen an issue, you should seek one out.

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Each issue has a theme and each is wonderful to savor each word and save for future reference.

Lovin’ life on our mountain farm.

 

A Touch of Fall

This past weekend was to be a staining weekend.  Son #1 and Grand #1 came in on an early morning bus Saturday, but the day dawned as many have lately, overcast, foggy and high humidity.  As the fog cleared, it was still overcast, so the staining was put on hold yet again and since he was here to work, we tackled the garage door that hasn’t worked properly in a couple of years.  We have had to hold the button constantly to raise or lower the door and the electric sensor was not working at all.  This rendered the remote in the car useless.  We made a trip to the nearest hardware store, in the next town since our local one went out of business and purchased a circuit tester and a few odds and ends.  He was able to isolate where power was no longer reaching the sensor and with a bit of rewiring and door adjustment, it now goes up, comes down gently and reverses when it hits an obstacle or the light beam is broken.  The morning harvest sat on the counter throughout the day.

Yesterday was similar weather, but he managed to get the garage doors caulked with me following as clean up before he and Grand caught a bus for home.  Once back to our farm, I tackled the Saturday harvest and made and canned 10 pints of Tom Tom Salsa, though I left out most of the lemon juice as hubby felt it was too tart for his taste.  Yesterday’s afternoon’s storms brought a significant temperature drop.  This morning dawned quite cool and still cloudy.

Each time I can, I get my exercise hauling empty jars up to the kitchen and full jars back down to the root cellar.  The shelves in there are quite rewarding now as they fill with jars of tomatoes, chili tomatoes, salsa, pasta sauce and XXX hot sauce.  The drying shelves are filling with garlic and Burgess Buttercup Squash.  There are many more of them ripening in the garden and I can’t get to the sweet potatoes anymore until the squash and pumpkin vines start dying off.

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As I was taking Son #1 to the bus, I asked him if there was a good way to reinforce the bottom of one of the pseudo orange crates that I purchased years ago at Michael’s Arts and Crafts so that I could load the full jars to the basement and for bringing canned goods and produce to them when I make my trips to their house.  We started purchasing the crates when he was in college and his library that he hauled from dorm room to dorm room to apartment were shelved in them.  Each semester, adding a few for new texts and other acquired books.  When I moved across the state to our new farm, my handthrown pottery, china, and books were packed in similar crates for the move.  Some of those crates have the bottom slats stapled on at an angle, others straight in.  I have feared having the bottom drop out of one.  He suggested taking a 1/2″ thick board cut to the width of the crate, drilling pilot holes and screwing the boards on the bottom across the slats.

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One of my projects this morning was to reinforce one of those crates, then to prepare and can 11 pints of pasta sauce and a pint of Pickled Jalapeno peppers.  My past two days have produced 21 pints of tomato products.   The garden is still full of tomatoes and peppers, but the jars are getting scarce.  I haven’t been able to locate any on Craigs list this time of year and I don’t really want to buy more in Big Lots or the Grocery.  I will can using the last 5 pints and last 11 quarts then start freezing bags of tomatoes.  The freezer us under utilized this year, other than chickens.  Unless we end up buying apples to pare and freeze, there will be plenty of space for quart or gallon bags of frozen tomatoes.

Today as I was boiling a pot of water for peeling the pounds and pounds of tomatoes, one of the burners on our flat top stove failed.  I had mixed feelings about a flat top stove when we bought our appliances 7 years ago, but for it to match the refrigerator and dishwasher, that was my only choice.  I guess we are going to have to get a repair estimate, but this isn’t good timing with canning going on and with estimated taxes due.

Rainy Sunday Musings

Again it rains! Everyday for the past 7 days. The grass is literally knee deep and too wet to mow. The decks haven’t dried to be able to paint. When I brought these in last weekend I had no idea they would still be on the kitchen counter.
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These are my kitchen herbs for a quick snip when cooking and I don’t want a trek to the garden. They live on the south deck, just outside the Dining area French doors. Some winter over in the house, but not this early.
And then there were 4. . .
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Last night when I went to lock up the girls for the night, there were 4 eggs. There are two 17 month old hens (1 not currently laying); three 26 week old pullets; eight 24 week old pullets, one whose comb and waddles are still small and pale. It has been 6 weeks since we were getting more than an occasional egg. I have missed them but have enjoyed a few this week with our fresh tomatoes and a few shreds of raw cow milk cheese.
Since it is rainy and wet, instead of mowing, I will process more tomatoes and tomatillos.
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The garden is giving. The rain causing the tops of the tomatoes to split. There are more Habañeros than we will ever need for hot sauce and salsa, I am going to experiment with drying some. A pinch of them dried and crushed will surely add a kick to curry or chili and Son#1 will use them.
But the flowers love the rain and it does make the weeds easier to pull between storms.
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If it doesn’t stop soon, I will need a machete to get to the garden and the coop.
The chicklets are getting huge. They are 2 1/2 weeks now and going through 2 jars of feed and a gallon of water a day. I moved them temporarily this morning to a smaller brooder box long enough to clean the huge water trough that serves as their brooder. It is 15 square feet of floor space and looks too small for the 15 chicklets that seem to double in size weekly.
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The most severe storm we had on Thursday evening damaged some component of our internet service. Our provider iuis a local coop with no weekend hours, so being on the internet or posting right now is an effort in frustration.
We love life on our mountain farm!

Let Us Preserve

Tis the season to start putting by for the long cold, unproductive months of winter.  We have cousins in Georgia and he has a son in college in Pennsylvania.  We are slightly more than half way in between for them and love to have them for the overnight visit as they drive up and back.  Yesterday afternoon they arrived bearing gifts of fresh Georgia peaches, pecans, and a loaf of a wonderful Artisan bread.  Some of the peaches are at a stage of ripeness where we can enjoy them fresh out of hand or as breakfast fruit, some needed quick attention.  Since our peach trees still are young and not really producing fruit, they are a treasure to enjoy.

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This morning they left to complete their trip north with a southbound return tomorrow and another night with us, so I pulled out the jam making supplies and set to work peeling, deseeding, chopping, measuring and making a batch of peach jam.  That is one jam I have never made before and not wanting to make too much, I first bought the ebook, The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving.  As I started collecting jars, I realized that most of my jelly jars have been given away full of jams and jellies and my stock was low.  The recipe said it made 6 cups, I had 5 1/2 cups worth of smaller jars, but figured that any surplus would go in a jar in the refrigerator to be used first.

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Enough made to get us through the winter and still send a couple of jars home with them Sunday morning.  My taste test is that it is sweeter than the berry, plum and pomegranate jams I have made in the past, but a bit on toast or stirred into yogurt or oatmeal will be nice.   The black cherry tree at the top of our road is ripe and my raspberries are ripening enough to sample a couple when in the garden, but if I’m going to do anything with them, I need more jam jars.

Jim’s comment when he came through the kitchen was that I sure was industrious.  I smiled and said it kept me out of trouble.

I love this time of year with new good things to eat appearing nearly daily from the garden or in this case, as a gift.

Next up is to try one or all three of the fermented mustard recipes from the current issue of taproot Issue 10::Seed magazine.  But wait, I don’t have jars!

 

Canning Time

Recently there have been a few evenings when I wanted a quick dinner only to realize that there was no more pasta sauce and the only broth was frozen.  Last summer was cool and rainy, good for the greens and beans, but not so good for the tomatoes, plus I had planted fewer of them as I was overwhelmed the prior summer.  Because the harvest was lighter and more sporadic, I blanched, peeled and froze the tomatoes in vacuum seal bags, instead of canning them into the usual pasta sauce, tomatoes with green chilies and plain tomatoes.  Periodically this winter, I have hauled out a few bags and made enough pasta sauce for a couple of dinners, freezing the extra.  I don’t like using the microwave, though we have one, so thawing sauce or broth requires foresight.

Today and tomorrow are beautiful early springlike days, highs in the 60s, sunny with the buds beginning to show on the lilacs and forsythia.  These are the days when Jim wants to get on his motorcycle and go for a ride.  His rides give me time to do crafts or household jobs.  I decided early today that I was going to take most of the remaining frozen tomatoes and make a big pot of sauce and can it so that dinner is just a few steps to the pantry, a box of pasta and in the time it takes to boil the water and heat the noodles, the sauce can be heated.

When we killed chickens last fall, we cut some into pieces and as we don’t have a cleaver, we deboned the breasts.  That left us with several carcasses with back meat and random other meat scraps on them.  They were bagged together and thrown in the freezer with the bagged and sealed birds and parts.  This seemed like a good day to take care of them too and to thaw the 2 quarts of turkey broth in the freezer and make pints of broth, also canned to have quickly available to cook rice or as the base for soup or potpie.

Late winter is not the usual time for canning around here, but the empty jars, lids and three large pots were hauled out.  Sauce cooked in one, broth simmering in the second and finally, several inches of water started to boiling in the pressure canner.

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The 10 pints of tomato sauce have finished canning, 9 pints of broth are building pressure and as soon as the pressure is down enough to open the canner, the last 3 pints of broth will go into the canner for processing.

As a bonus, the carcasses yielded 11 ounces of cooked chicken to add to soup or a casserole.  This will make meal prep easier for the remainder of winter and spring until the garden starts giving us fresh goodness to enjoy.  It will also let me consolidate the remaining frozen produce and chickens into the refrigerator freezer to let the chest freezer defrost and get a good cleaning before we have more table birds and produce to add to it.

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Not a bad day’s work.

Life is always an adventure on our mountain farm.

 

Chick Day

Tractor Supply has had Chick Days going now for a couple of weeks, but they don’t carry the breed that I want.  My goal is to keep Cogburn, my Buff Orpington rooster, the two Buff hens and the one Olive Egger Hen and replace the other 6 with 10 more Buff Orpingtons.  That will give me 13 layers instead of 9 and will give me a pure heritage flock, except for the Olive Egger, whose eggs are just fun because of their color and easy to identify.  Hopefully, this will give me a self sustaining flock as the Buffs make good mothers and can raise their replacements and the table birds.  A few days ago, I reconnected with the gal that I bought my two Buff hens from last year when they were about 10 weeks old.  She has 1 to 3 day chicks and though I didn’t want to raise chicks again this year, I also didn’t want to pay $20 per bird for ones that are only a month younger than the layers I have since I wanted 10.  This morning we made a road trip to meet her in a town about an hour from here and did a parking lot exchange of money for 10 new chicks.  We took a towel lined cat carrier to bring the peepers home, with a side trip to Tractor Supply for starter feed as they can’t eat the laying mix for the big girls.

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I have to admit that they are adorable at just a couple of days old.  However when you buy babies they must be kept warm and after my experience of having the brooder in the basement last year, I don’t want a repeat of that, so they are in a makeshift brooder in the garage with a heat lamp, which I also don’t like to use, but have no other option at this point.  Last year I used a large black plastic livestock water trough as a brooder, but it is full of split wood in the garage and I didn’t want to have to empty it. maybe later as they grow.  The makeshift brooder is half of a plastic large dog crate set inside a larger wire dog cage with the heat lamp hanging from the wire cage.  Pine shavings, a chick feeder and waterer in with them and a blanket over part of it, they are set for a while.

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Hopefully, this brood will be a success and in 7 weeks they can be moved outdoors, the 6 hens from my United Nations flock will be moved to the chicken tractor for the young ones to be introduced to the coop.  Sometimes this summer, those 6 will go to freezer camp and my egg production will drop until the babies are ready to lay.

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Hubby says I have an addiction, but at least I limited my purchase to only the breed I want and only females, so we won’t have multiple pens of different ages, and one of them full of testosterone like we had last spring when I bought 21 chicks over a two week period and had half of them cockrells.

The Return of Winter

Spring is coming, we know it is by the flocks of robins, the few springlike days we have had in the past couple of weeks.  The past two days have exceeded 60ºf ), absolutely delightful weather.  The weather encouraged outdoor time, to clean the chicken coop, to give them free range time, and to allow Jim to take a jaunt on his motorcycle.

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Yesterday afternoon it clouded up and by evening, it was a steady cold rain with the temperatures beginning to drop to the current 28º (-2º) and headed for tonight’s 8º (-13.33º).

By the time I awoke this morning, the rain had turned to sleet, then snow.  The snow is falling steadily and accumulating.

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The weather prognosticators are warning us of 6 to 12″ of snow, depending on which source you choose to believe.  I’m hoping for a much lower amount and a return to the weather of the weekend, but it looks like winter is back and here to stay for at least another week.  I’m ready to do more than think about the spring garden.  Instead, I will knit and spin, make a warm comforting stew for supper and sit tight.

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What I’m knitting, Beaucoup in Happy Feet, a light baby sweater for a spring baby, and Honey Cowl of Green Dragon Terminator color is Heat Wave.

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Easter Egg Hunt

The cold winter has taken a toll on egg production and on the cleanliness of the coop.  I use the deep litter method.   For you non chicken raisers, that involves starting with a very clean coop, putting down a few inches of pine shavings or fine straw, then piling dry straw, leaves, etc on top and stirring it up every day or so like compost, adding more straw or leaves as necessary.  If this is done correctly, there is no odor and in the spring, you have a coop full of hot compost to add to your pile for further decomposing.  Because we have hay fields and they are mowed and baled each year, I squirrel away 2 round bales that are stored near my coop and covered with a tarp for use in the coop.  I know, you aren’t supposed to use hay, but so far I haven’t had any problems.  Because hay generally isn’t as dry as straw, I do have to fluff and turn it daily and keep all ventilation holes open whenever the temperature is above freezing, but because of the cold and snow this year, the birds are spending more time indoors than I would like.  As a result, it has been harder to stay on top of the turning and fluffing.

It isn’t spring yet, but I was beginning to detect odor and knew that something needed to be done.  Leaving the compost part in place, I removed most of the hay from the coop and threw it in their run.  Pulled out the last of one of the big bales that had gotten very dry and added a new thick layer in the coop.

The chickens are very curious whenever I am doing anything inside their coop and they always come to supervise.  They lean out the open doorway, peck around in the corners, and get just where I need to be.  As soon as I put an armload of hay down, one would push it around and make a bowl shaped nest in it.  I would shoo one away to put hay down and another would be there.  By the time I finished layering new hay in the floor of the coop and under their perches.  Removed and replaced the old hay from their nesting boxes, I had about half of them in the coop making “nests” in the floor of the coop and trampling down the fluffy new hay.

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I’m betting that today’s egg collection will be an Easter Egg Hunt throughout the floor of their coop.  Funny birds.  I just wish spring would come so that the egg production picks up.  At least I have gotten eggs all winter.

Live is an adventure on our mountain farm.