Monday, September 26, 2016

Homesteading books for sale

In the spirit of Marie Kondo, I am going through my shelves of rural living books and sorting out some of the ones that would get more use if they lived somewhere else.  For example, having sheep is something that I'd still love to do someday but not here and not any time soon... same with goats. So it's time to pass these books on.  Here's what got listed today and I'll be putting more up for sale during the week - I need to get a box out of the closet and I know there's a butchering book in there that I have two copies of.  Also a cheese making book that I actually made cheese from but no longer have a place to get raw milk.  I don't know what else.  You can check it out by clicking here or there's an Ebay link on the right hand side of the blog.  If you mention you read this I'll ship your book/books for free.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Edible mushrooms aka pre-supermarket groceries.

Apparently we'e had great mushroom weather around here this past week.  They've been popping up all over the place.  I used to do a lot of foraging for edible mushrooms but now, not so much.  I still gather morels in the spring and will happily take a chicken of the woods if I see it but that's about it. Those two are pretty much impossible to screw up as far as identification, and as far as mushrooms go there's not much wiggle room for mistakes.

These were in our yard this week.  

Foot for scale.

It had a thick base that made it look like an upside-down pear.  The top is a bit netted looking.  There were five of them in different places in our yard.  Obviously this is a puff ball of some kind.  But which one?   And are they all edible? I have three field guides and they tell me conflicting things about what variety this is.  

Then there's this.  A bolete mushroom because it has pores underneath instead of gills.  There's a patch of them growing under some pines in the side yard and they are huge.  Are they King Boletes? Who knows.  I can't tell.

As with the puffballs, my guidebooks tell me that sure, most of them are not only perfectly edible but also delicious.  You know, except for that one that might kill you. 

People forget that the world is stuffed to the gills with edible food.  To some people, if it doesn't come wrapped in a sterile little package and was purchased from a big box store it somehow seems either intimidating or gross.  That's just been my observation anyway. But that certainly wasn't always the case.  I've read that wild edibles in general are much more nutritious that their cultivated cousins. Especially those first bitter greens in the early spring.  They retain more vitamins and other good-for-yous because they haven't been bred out of their original state by humans looking to capitalize on sweetness, storage or marketability.  

I wish there were some kind of class that I could take, a primer on edible foods with a good textbook and a great instructor.  I wish I felt as comfortable gathering mushrooms, greens and tubers as I do picking wild berries or the produce from my own garden.

More dahlias

More pictures of dahlias before they get killed by frost.  Because I dig up the tubers, store them over the winter and re-plant them in the spring I thought it would be useful to document some of the ones I have. So in the spring I don't, um.... accidentally buy any more than I need to or something. Because gardeners sometimes do that, am I right?

Dahlias and a Bee butt.  These flowers are some of my favorites.

Growing in the garden.

Love the orange and white ones too.  

I don't remember buying that yellow one.  At all. 

Last year I had a ton of the large "diner plate" sized flowers but they either didn't make it through storage or I planted them too late.  Dahlias are so lovely and normally so easy.  They bloom for months and seem to thrive on neglect.  I'm thinking next year part of the garden might be devoted to a big row of them just for cutting.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Ending the growing season - plants & poultry - done.

I'm done. Calling it quits.  Throwing in the trowel.  It's time to admit it: I really overestimated the amount of productive time I would have staying at home with my son.   The garden is about 60x35 and was planted just as heavily as it was in previous years.

Newly planted

vs current mess

Usually at this point I should be setting up a cold frame for greens because the quality of lettuce in the shops around here can be really bad. I guess we'll suffer.

I've decided to give myself permission to be done for the year. To pull up plants and close up shop. To not stand in the kitchen fretting that tomatoes are going unpicked or refilling water fonts for the hundredth time. To use the time I have for cooking, quilting, dreaming of campers, heck yes, maybe even some fall fishing. And of course there will be time for browsing seed catalogs when they arrive in November. The property has been a joy but also a source of stress in that I usually have higher standards than this and am very aware of what I've been neglecting.  Isn't that one of the goals of all this, to improve each year?

We did get a lot of very good meals from it and I did get a respectable amount canned and frozen. The produce that got away from me got fed to the poultry and they turned it into meat and eggs. Lots of poultry in the freezer. Not a total loss in the least.

Things still to do:

Those brown patches on the right side of the garden are potatoes that still need dug and the mess on the far left is millet to be harvested.  The poultry pasture looks like it produced a good amount of free turnips so those will be dug too. Some herbs will be dried. Dalhias and cannas lifted and stored after the first frost.

Root vegetables store really poorly in our basement and I'm strongly leaning towards burying a lidded bucket in the garden and covering it with a straw bale.  I've never done this before and am looking for advice. The idea is that root veg are stored in the bucket and the earth and straw insulates them and keeps them at the proper temperature through the winter. This old method seems to have good success from what I've read. 

When this is all done I'll kick the remaining poultry in there for clean-up/composting duty. Which brings on point two in making life easier.

It's time to scale back the poultry and get down to winter numbers.  I took a hard look at the chickens this weekend and decided who's going to graduate to the freezer. Mamas who hatched babies will get to stay long term and will get a zip-tie leg band so I don't forget.  The others have an appointment on Wednesday to go to the local processor. I think I'm going to take them off the roost Tuesday night while they're sleeping and let them hang out in the garage until it's time to get in the Honda. Hopefully this will avoid another humiliating fiasco like when I tried to round up the meat chickens.

Sorry, buddy. You are handsome though.

If I was being honest with myself I would also be getting rid of the remaining ducks. They multiply the work load by emptying the water fonts a million times a day with their constant dabbling and drilling. They make a mess of everything. They annoy me. But I love them. I love their waddles, their quacks, their enthusiasm for life and how they shake their little butts. So they stay. The two ducks of mystery fathers are looking to be both drakes but I'll give them a bit more time to be sure.

It feels good to make this decision. There's a bit more work to be done but a lot of relaxing days ahead.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Spiderwebs in the garden

For whatever reason it's a super misty morning here.  The little man and I were eating breakfast and saw these out the window so we decided to take a walk and investigate. We didn't see the owners of any of these beautiful homes, so I don't know what kind of spiders made them. That's ok. Spiders fall into two categories for me: "cute daddy long legs" and "hell, no". I'm guessing these were probably made by the latter.

On the bird feeder stand.

The asparagus patch was prime spider real estate.

My little man makes a grab. 

The dogwood tree. I just noticed there are two webs here.

These were such a lovely surprise this morning.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Heirloom tomato jelly - amazing!

I know, it sounds bizarre and more than a little ick.  Tomato jelly?  That's what I thought too.  But I am here to tell you that this is the most amazing, delicious treat ever.  I wish I could pass a jar and a spoon around the internet so everyone could have a taste.  It's sweet. It's spicy. It's vaguely tomato-y. It has ginger in it.  It is pretty much perfect.

So I was looking at a small pile of tomatoes on the kitchen counter yesterday and was wondering what to do with them.  It's the end of the season but we're still getting some here and there because the heirlooms ripen over a couple of months.  I've canned plenty of tomatoes and we're eating them everyday already so... what to do with this handful?  To the Ball Book where I found their recipe for Tomato Jelly. I don't see where they have uploaded this one to their website, but I have two different editions of the Ball Blue Book and it's listed in both.

It's so, so simple: tomatoes, pectin, crystallized ginger, salt, lemon juice, hot sauce (sriracha) and sugar. That's it.  A very, very minimal amount of effort later I had this:

That's a pretty accurate color.  It's beautiful.

I made this with cheese plates in mind, but it's going to get used on everything: toast, cheese, roast chicken, sandwiches, whatever. There was a baby food jar's worth left over and I stood at the counter and ate most of it with a spoon. I should make more, it's not going to last long.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Who's the baby daddy?

I don't think I've show pictures of these two as adults.  They were hatched in the incubator in mid-July.

The permanent adult duck census around here includes 2 runner hens, 1 pekin hen and 1 pekin drake.  That's plenty to keep year-round.  During the spring and summer we're getting three eggs a day, every day from the hens.  The yolks are higher in fat content than chicken eggs and they are excellent for making homemade noodles and baking.  Also, just eating scrambled too.   It's also a good number of adults to ensure that we have some ducks in the freezer every year.  I like roast duck and the fat is absolutely amazing on any kind of root vegetable.

From their posture, I think it's safe to say that mom was a runner duck in both cases.  The father could have been either my pekin drake or it also could have been the mallard was coming to the yard every day for shameful duck humping.

Really, really hoping that the colorful one is a hen. I'm pretty smitten with that one.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Week in review - pepper jelly, fair ribbons & fall

It was a busy week.  I read this post over at An English Homestead and suddenly remembered that I had planted shallots this year.  I had totally forgotten.  They were an impulse but at Away and I'd never planted them before so why not try?  I went out to have a look.  While wading through the mess I was distracted by the jalapeno peppers that have been ready to pick for two weeks.  Peppers were picked and carried back into the house and washed. I started to clean the kitchen.  The shallots, I thought.  Crap.  Back outside.  They were under the overgrown patty pan squashes and are very small but still edible.  Not perfect but not bad for total neglect.

When I saw the jalapenos I remembered that I had wanted to make jalapeno jelly from the Blue Ball ,  Ball Blue Book.  We really enjoy pepper jelly over cream cheese with crackers and cheddar.  I wear contacts and have burned my eyeballs one too many times chopping peppers so out came the Nutribullet and in went the hot jalapenos along with some cider vinegar.

Nutribullet. Sold under the guise of making healthy smoothies - also makes good homemade pate.  I would have loved to have used my homemade apple cider vinegar but couldn't because I don't know the acidity level.  You need 5% acidity to can safely. 

I followed the recipe except added some tiny Thai pepper rounds to the puree to add some color. Here's the finished product. We tried a bit.  Husband said it was fantastic but my mouth was on fire.  Next time maybe pimentos.

The fair wrapped up on Saturday night.  There's a certain time frame when entries can be picked up. 9-10 p.m. on Saturday ONLY and if memory serves correctly over the years it is, more often than not, pouring down rain during that particular time period.  Husband dropped me off at the corner so I could dash in through the downpour to collect my things.  Gonna brag myself up here - look at all the ribbons!  I also got some "honorable mentions" not worth mentioning.

There is a small premium for placing and it varies according to what category you've entered (a first place in canning wins $4.50 while a first place in floral about $2.50) but they add up.  For this stay at home mom, my fair premiums totaled $58 without really even trying.  When I take that money to the local feed mill those premiums will pay for 250 lbs of fresh ground layer mash and a 50 lb bag of cracked corn.  That's a pretty good payoff for having a great time.  I'd like to get my act together and enter some baked goods next year too.

It's the start of September and we've turned the corner into fall.  You can feel it in the temperature at night and the air smells different.  The goldenrod is coming on and the honeybees are all over it.  Goldenrod will be their last major nectar flow of the year.  I'm not sure when we'll extract honey.  Both swarms we hived on our property died over the summer but the ones at my father's are doing spectacular.   Here are another couple of ways to tell that fall is near in western Pennsylvania:

Pumpkin beer is in season.

Also this finally came in the mail:

My antlerless tag for deer season.  Buying a PA hunting licence automatically includes an antlered tag  (for a buck) but you have to fill out an application and send in additional money to secure a doe tag. The kicker is that you have to do this in the middle of the summer for a hunting season that starts in December. This wasn't a problem when I worked for the County because I was in the Treasurer's Office often enough to see the notices but this year I just plain forgot. I love venison.  Love, love, love venison.  Dry aged and cooked rare it is the best thing out there. So it was a happy day when I got this. 

Well, that's about it.  My plan for the week is to get into the garden and start going through it.  It's so far gone with weeds that it's more of a search and recovery mission for edible vegetables at this point.  Last summer I was nine months pregnant and had an immaculate garden.  This year, not so much.

Little man assists by using a stalk of kale to beat back a weed.  In my defense, he's on the outside of the garden here.

Time to start a new week.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The book that is changing my life - The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Wow, am I ever so excited to share this book with anyone that will listen.  Currently I am reading Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

It is brilliant.

You will read that the basic premise of the book is this: pick up and hold every object in your house.  If you don't literally feel joy while holding it, get rid of it. Touch every item.  Every object in your home starting with your clothing.  Keep only those items that fill you with joy.  The items you dispose of; thank them for the service they provided to you.  Literally.  As in, " Thank you, sock for keeping my foot warm and protected".  Then let it go.  The item has served its purpose.  Items that were purchased but never used? "Thank you for the joy you gave me when I bought you.  Thank you for teaching me that this color is not flattering". When you have sorted all of your belongings in this way you will wake up to, and come home to, to a place that fills you with joy. Every day.  Do you want to live in a storage shed or a house that fills you with happiness?  Really think about it. It's that simple.

I have been, let's face it, pretty close to a hoarder since childhood.  A love of crafting + american consumer culture + frugality (I paid money for this!) = an inability to throw anything out ever.  It was disgusting.  Totally disgusting.  I will say I have realized over the last few years that space in my house is worth something too and so have been actively working to weed things out that I don't need or see a use for.  But this was the kick that I needed at this time in my life.

I sorted my clothing this week.  All of it except the maternity clothes in the attic.  I couldn't believe some of the crap that was cluttering and choking the life out of my house. Clothing that was moved from floor to laundry basket, washed and never put away.  Repeat.  I will be honest and admit that some of the items I had been keeping actually filled me with disgust when I held them. Those tank tops that cost $3 new at Wal-Mart? That I bought a dozen of in various colors? Here's the kicker - that I wore when I WAS NINE MONTHS PREGNANT? Why was I keeping them? Because I needed to be told it was OK to get rid of them.   I donated two garbage bags of clothing and threw 3 more in the trash.  For the first time in my life all of my clothes fit into a dresser and my closet.  With plenty of room to spare.  I cannot even begin to tell you how good that feels. 

I did cheat a little and kept some staples until I can replace them.  Because if I kept only the items that truly sparked joy when I held them this is literally all I would have left in my closet:
  • I have exactly two blouses that I love. They look like something to wear to an office circa 1950.
  • My fancy dresses from when husband and I took ballroom dancing lessons.  I have lost 20 lbs since then and they don't even fit.
  • A kelly green Calvin Klein raincoat.
  • My deer hunting clothes.  As in, camouflage/canvas brush pants, blaze orange vest and collection of wool socks. Wanna know what fills me with joy? This. Pretty much this.
The thing about the book, and this is the part that is so important, is that ridding yourself of all of this crap (that, let's face it,  you didn't like anyway) puts you in the mindset to honor the things that DO bring you joy.  To be mindful. To thank each item at the end of the day for the service it provided. 

She encourages you to think like: as I'm letting my hair down at night "Thank you hairpins, for holding my hair up and making me feel beautiful". Or, in the morning, "Thank you nightgown for clothing me softly while I slept."  What a beautiful mindset to extent gratitude for the things you do have and cherish in life.  

And it's making me view my world differently.  To look at the activities that I have enjoyed over the years and admit that some of them do not bring me joy at all.  Like beekeeping for example.  Video gaming. Most all crafting.  It's time to thank those hobbies for what they taught me and release them.

And to be more more mindful.  I took so many Buddhist studies classes in college that I was on my way to a minor before I transferred and this is it in a nutshell.  I was hungry tonight and wanted a snack before bed.  I was also mentally spent from taking care of our little man all day.  So I put my husband in charge, sent everyone upstairs and made myself what we call a "nibble plate" - soft homemade bread with butter, hard cheese, cured meats and mustard.  I poured a glass of wine and sat down to eat.  I was wrapping a piece of prosciutto around a slice of cheese when it occurred to me that I was very much in a meditative moment and had been for the last ten minutes.  The silence, the cricket outside the window, the smell of the wine and the act of eating deliberately with my hands.  This is what I had been wanting, needing.

This is what the book has shown me.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Best In Show eggs - hell yes!

It takes the sting out of all of the "Honorable Mentions" I got in the canning division.  The hens will be so proud to hear about this tomorrow morning.  Good work, ladies!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Let's enter the fair!

Today is entry day into the little local agricultural fair in our area, the Jamestown Fair.   It's a fair that seems to get a little smaller each year and I wonder sadly if this isn't the trend all over? When we were little, my mom made my sister and I enter crafts into the fair so we could earn spending money.  I still try to enter items into the fair each year because the idea of the fair is dearly important to me and if no one enters, there is no fair.  That plus, of course, bragging rights.

So I can remember what I have to pick up on Saturday, this is what I entered:

Eggs - blue/green eggs, quail eggs

Veg - patty pan squash, potatoes, herbs & this potato under "freak vegetable".   If you can look at this fingerling without snorting, you are a more mature person than I.

Some flowers.

Some canned goods; jams, jellies, tomatoes and homemade apple cider vinegar.

Husband was at work and I couldn't find another pair of adult hands to help me so little man and I loaded the car and headed off to the fair.  We loaded up his wagon with the our entries and a friend's hot peppers.  I don't know what the people at Step2 had in mind but this wagon is pressed into agricultural service more often than not.

I strapped all 22 lbs of little man into the baby carrier on my chest, put a hat on his head and away we went.  We got all of our stuff entered and took a little look around.  There wasn't much to see but we were there around lunch time and it gets really, really busy after people get out of work for the day.

Look at this!

That's the thing about the fair.  I think other people enter because it's deeply important to them too. That massive squash, delivered on a pallet, was tended to all summer in preparation for this day.  Then somehow it was delivered to the school gym.  I just checked the fair book and the maximum premium that could be won for all of this work is $4.00 for "largest winter squash".

All done. Judging is tomorrow morning and doors open at 6:00.  Here's hoping for a blue ribbon!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Week in review - poultry, grains & campers

It was our first really cool morning here.  We had left a couple windows open last night and it was cool enough in the house for jeans vs shorts when I woke up.  I went outside to open coops and found something upsetting - the tiny duckling was hunkered down outside the broody coop door shivering.  Mama hen was sitting on the other side of the screen. He must have been left outside last night and I have no idea how that could have happened - it was dark when I went outside and everyone was already in for the night.  You can't exactly do a head count of peeps underneath a hen.  It took him awhile this morning to get his little feet back under him and so I got together a quick brooder in the garage to warm him up in but when I went back out it seemed like he was going to be ok. He was having breakfast and was able to keep up with his siblings.

 Everyone took a nap under mom shortly thereafter.  

I'll keep an eye on him today but hopefully he'll be fine.  The poultry got kitchen scraps this morning along with their regular feed; some old sweet corn that was in the fridge and leftover salad.  Which they enjoy and turn into eggs.  Scraps which if, they lived in England, would be illegal to feed to them because they had passed through my own kitchen.  Thank you to Kev at An English Homestead for explaining this.  It blows my mind that food - inspected and deemed fit for humans - could be determined unfit for poultry consumption on the basis that it had entered my home.  What the hell indeed.

Speaking of poultry, there was some unused space in the garden this spring so I put in some feed again.  It was a very easy project last summer and the kind of thing that requires zero attention once planted.  They eat the grains, it gives them something to do, the stalks turn into bedding which then turns into mulch and compost.  

Lots of foxtail millet.  I honestly don't remember what this other one is.  Amaranth of some kind?

What else... I came to the conclusion weeks ago that the Shasta 1400 renovation is just going to have to wait until spring.  Finances are a part of it, along with the little man being so little.  The big thing is that there are too many decisions that I want to have made before I start repairs.  Like the paint color. That sounds silly but once I get the rails off and the windows out in order to repair the framing I want to be ready to paint each side of the Shasta before I add new putty and seal it back up.  So I need to decide on an exterior paint scheme.  I'm really leaning towards painting the stripes yellow like this picture I can't find a source to credit.  Husband really likes that traditional Scotty aqua color.  I have been painting swatches on the camper but haven't decided yet. 

I also need to decide what I'm doing with the closet that I want to convert into a bathroom.  Here are the pictures.  

Looking left into the closet. We're not going to use the propane heater so I want it out because this will give us another foot of space but those drawers run the whole way back and I hesitate to lose that storage - also what will do with the front of the cabinet to hide the missing heater panel?  And I guess I'll have to move that fuse box and the old Ford radio unless I add some sort of interior shelf.

Here's looking to the right.  Plan is to move the horizontal bracing (where the icebox used to be) back a couple of inches so it's over top what I assume is the water tank inside that plywood box.  This will give us more "bathroom" space but I need to decide if I want to try to fit an icebox/dorm fridge in that space or just use our coolers in which case I could put up shelving.  Also, what to do with that missing vent that's currently covered with plexiglass and plywood. 

So, I have a few things to work out in my mind before I start into the renovation.  But there's plenty of work that can be done over the winter; taking the doors off of the cabinets and painting them, polishing and repairing fixtures, replacing the zippers on the cushions. I'm looking forward to it.