Friday, December 30, 2016

2017 Goals

I'd like to lay down on paper some personal goals (not resolutions!) for 2017. Some of this is going to tie into the list of what I learned in 2016.  I want to check back with myself in another 12 months and see what got done, what didn't and what I deemed not as important as I thought it was. Let's keep on getting better, amiright?

Let's start with personal goals. I think a lot of stay at home parents can relate to the the feeling that whatever they do is never enough and don't cut themselves slack or allow themselves downtime, because there is always crap on the counters and crumbs on the floors to clean, however much their spouses encourage them to take time "off". And in spite of it all, your house is a hot mess 24/7 and your child has sticky hands.   I didn't do a lot of my loves last year because I had a beautiful, nursing, bottle-refusing baby who needed me.  I'm going to put these first because I think I'll be a lot more productive overall if I keep these in the forefront:

Go turtle trapping again.  That was awesome.
  • We've talked about getting one of those bicycle trailers for the little man so we can all go biking.
  • I hate shopping but am trying to put together a classic capsule-type wardrobe that I feel good in. That sounds fancy but all it means is that I can reach into my closet and any items I pull out will fit, make me feel good and match each other. 
  • Keep trying new things in the kitchen.  In December I discovered leeks and squid.
  • Keep making bread.  I bake about 5 loaves a week.
  • Read a book each month. 
  • Possibly 2017 might be the year I take the time to get a haircut.
  • Possibly 2017 might be the year I shoot a deer while hunting.  Last year I slipped in fell in a pile of deer crap and that was about the closest I got. 

Homesteading goals.  Keeping the above in mind, and realizing that I have a toddler who is more important than micro greens, here are my personal goals.
  • Freezer chickens.  
    • I raised 10 Red Rangers for the freezer, butchered 9 and kept one for laying (she's doing great).  I'd like to put 25 in the freezer in 2017.  
    • I also put away two silkies - they have black skin/meat/bones and are used in soup. Not sure if I'll do more next year because I need to order things like wolf berries online to make the soup.
    • I don't know how many random roosters/culled hens we ate -maybe 5 or 6?
  • If I'm at this auction again and grown roosters are going for $1 each, someone hold my wallet.  I will impulse buy a dozen. Also, any turkeys for sale will be bought and killed because Lord knows I'm not raising them myself again.
  • Eggs.  As it stands, I got my winter numbers down to 7 chickens and 5 ducks.  The ducks lay an egg a day, every single day, starting in about March.  I'm projecting 4 dozen eggs a week for the house.  This is enough but I'll set more eggs because I can't help myself.  They're Easter Eggers and I can always Craigslist the pullets.
  • Quail.  I really miss having quail and that cute layer pen is just sitting there.  I 'm thinking of ordering Golden Manchurian eggs from James Marie Farms. I'll keep a small covey for tiny eggs and butcher the rest for fancy-looking dinners.
  • Mushroom logs really need re-seeded this year.  I've had my shiitake logs for about 7 years and while they give mushrooms every season, I don't know how much longer it's going to last.
  • I'd like to find a way to grow fresh herbs indoors in the winter that doesn't involve my gross basement or the cats messing with them.
  • The garden.  I am re-evaluating the layout and our food priorities in order to be more effective in the future.  Eventually, I would like to work back up to selling at the farmer's market again.  For 2017 I just want to feed us very, very well and have a house full of beautiful flowers.
Other goals.  
  • Sometimes I feel like our house, a small 1930's Sears & Roebuck, is closing in on me.  We have too much stuff, period.  Time to cull out the things we don't need and set up a spot at the flea market.  Which is great fun in itself because I get to spend the day tanning myself and making a bit of money.
  • This is going to sound ridiculous, but I plan on kicking ass at the local fair this year.  Bragging rights and ribbons are fun.  And when you win Best In Show? Golden.  So far I've done it once in the Eggs division and twice in the Canning.
Dreams.  Things that I don't expect to happen but would really be thrilled about if they did.
  • I really want geese on our property.  A trio of American Buffs or Toulouse.  Geese that will chase off cats, bite the UPS man and honk really, really loudly.  Geese that look beautiful in out yard and eventually produce offspring that I can roast for Christmas.
  • It would be really nice to find a foraging class or survival skills class to take instead of just reading about these things.  A (very) long-term goal of mine is to do a months-long pilgrimage hike like the Appalachian Trail when the little man is older. I want to start laying a path to prepare myself. 
  • I would love to be in a place at the end of 2017 where I'm thinking of selling at the Farmer's Market again in some capacity during 2018.

Comments? Suggestions? Here we go; cheers to a new year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My pet rooster died. A changing of the gaurd.

Well, there you have it.  And it was my fault.

Christmas night we were at my parent's house celebrating with my father and my sister and her family.  We got home really late.  I forgot to close the coop door.

The next morning we were getting ready to travel to my in-laws for a couple of days.  Around 8 a.m. I looked out the window and saw chickens puttering around in the pen, and then I got busy because there was so much to do and I didn't go out there to feed and water until we were literally packing the car to leave.

I started across the property with the feed and water buckets and I saw something odd in the window of the chicken coop.  What the hell?  As I got closer I could tell it was a foot, hanging upside down from the window.  There was a black mass of fluff half blocking the door.

Talk about feeling like you're going to lose your breakfast  Something had scaled the fence during the night and walked up the ramp into the coop.  A raccoon probably.  Mr. Rooster had fought off the intruder and had given his life to protect his ladies, all of which were unharmed.  Somehow during the battle one of his massive spurs got caught in the fencing that covers the windows and this is how he died.  Hung upside down from the window.  The only consolation I have is that looking at his wounds (his tail and lower back were missing) and how I found him - he was injured before he got tangled up.  That, and once a chicken is upside down it only takes seconds before they pass out.  I'm guessing that his panicked flapping is what drove the animal off.

I feel sick.   Mr. Rooster was with us for five years and was, honestly, a beloved pet.  He protected his ladies, was a respectful gentleman with me and produced beautiful babies.  He was a massive cochin, weighing probably 12 pounds, and had a wonderfully fluffy butt.

I didn't even have time to bury him.  I took him to the far corner of our property, thanked him for his service and laid him beneath an old apple tree.

Anyone who knows me personally knows that this has been a pretty shitty month overall. I know he was "just a rooster" but I really did not need this.

Anyway.  It's important that the hens have a rooster.  I hatch babies every spring and the hens need the protection and guidance.  Tonight they were just wandering around the run looking lost.  Mr. Rooster used to round everyone up at night and make sure everyone was inside before he got on the roost himself.  The irony here is that I put Mr. Rooster's beautiful and well-behaved son in the freezer a couple of months ago because I had too many roosters. I have the bantam rooster but he doesn't count.  That leaves me with this guy who I just hadn't gotten around to turning into enchiladas yet. 

He's the striped one in the back.  Tonight I plucked him from the his roost in the duck yard, tucked him under my arm and walked him out to the big chicken yard.  I gave him an impromptu talk as we went.  Out loud.  "You're getting a pardon, little guy.  Because of the  untimely death of Mr. Rooster I need you to take his place out in the big coop.  You will protect those ladies at every moment and defend them with your life if need be.  Mr. Rooster left some pretty big shoes to fill and I need you to step up.  Oh, and you also need to get on the baby making."

We'll see how things work out.  I am really sad about this but that's how things go.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Canning citrus & egg review

I've been doing a little bit of canning this week, those tiny mandarin oranges that are in season. What's that? I live in PA and no oranges grow here? Don't I have anything better to do with my time?  Apparently not.  My little guy adores those tiny oranges.  I used to buy the ones at the grocery store marketed to parents, in the little plastic tubs, until I started to notice that every single one of them was manufactured in Asia.  I could not find a single canned orange made in North America or Europe.  And then I started to wonder just exactly how the factories in Asia got all of the pith off of the oranges.  Give it a google and you will read references to things like "chemical process" and "lye solution".  Um, hell no.  No thank you.

So I got out the canning jars and started peeling.  It takes about 3 or 4 mandarin oranges to fill a jelly jar.  Because I read that the sweetness of the solution you can them in has no impact on canning safety, I made a very, very light solution with some of our honey to top off the jars.  

I figure I'll keep doing jars of these while they're in season.  That way I'll have something on those "crap, we're out of fruit" days. 

Also, see that egg?  Apparently all the hens needed was a good public shaming.  One of the hennies has started laying every other day.  And thank goodness, because the next thing I am going to complain about is the organic expensive eggs I bought the other day.  Check this out:

Store egg on the left, home laid egg on the right.  

My chickens aren't free-ranging because the ground is still covered with snow.  They get a mix of  grains from a nearby feed mill along with whatever table scraps I throw at them.  It's not organic, fancy or expensive.  More like "cheap and easy".

The store eggs didn't look or act like normal eggs.  Mixing our eggs for a scramble takes some work, these were like stirring water.  My husband said something to the effect of "why are they that color?" They had no flavor.  Here's the best part: the cats wouldn't even eat them.  I threw out a dozen and a half.  

I am just so regularly disappointed with the quality of food from stores.  It's depressing.  And with our incoming president I don't exactly foresee regulations on big business, GMOs or food safety moving in a direction that is going to make me feel any better about things.  

Just my two cents today.

Friday, December 16, 2016

An illicit purchase

I finally had to break down today and purchase something I have not bought in three years.


It's a sad day.  We've been without any of our award winning eggs for about a week and a half now and there is only so much toast a person can eat for breakfast. Pep talks have not worked ("Hey ladies, if you get some free time today maybe someone could lay a damn egg") treats of leftover mashed potatoes and bread crusts haven't made an impression either.

The cartons look so exotic in the refrigerator.

I froze a bunch of eggs over the summer but we've run out.  The bright side is that I have an older easter egger hen who lays her first egg of the year between Christmas and New Years like clockwork, so it won't be long. Trying to pick out the most ethical, humanely produced carton on the shelf is such a hand-wringing event for me it's a big part of why I got a flock in the first place. That and laziness. It's much easier when groceries just appear out in the yard.

Christmas is coming up and I should start think about baking. I'm thinking of a bunch of mini bundt cakes;  the Bicardi rum cake my mom made,  this lemon buttermilk cake and something else, maybe chocolate.

Baked a couple of loaves of bread today.  A nice seeded one with flax, chia and sunflower seeds and a sweet bread with whiskey-soaked dried fruit.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Winter wonderland & book review

Winter has come on with full force here.  We got a foot of snow this weekend and now there's more coming down.  Friday is supposed to be our first day without more snow.  Nothing to do but stay in the house, read a book and roast a chicken.

Snow ducks.

I read The Kitchen House this weekend and it was very good, if a bit predictable.  It's the story of an Irish child brought to a plantation as an indentured servant in the late 1700's who is raised by slaves and grows up to eventually marry the man that owns the place. When I closed the book what stuck with me was that I really do not understand why the main character didn't grow a pair and kill her husband. Maybe after he beat her senseless but before he sold off the child she called her daughter would have been a good time to get that job done.  She had a husband who passed out drunk everyday and a house full of opium at her disposal.  It would have been easy. There was already one dead body in the privy and there wouldn't have been a lack of volunteers to help get rid of this one.  Just sayin'.  It would have saved everyone a lot of heartache.

There's a sequel to this book and I might pick it up at some point. I don't know.

The little man is used to spending time running around outside and so the snow has really put a cramp in his style.  He's really into books and blocks and pulling Bee's tail right now.  I gave him a handful of colorful fabric scraps that he likes to sort through and put into a bucket.   The majority of the day my house looks like this:

Lots to do this week.  I think we're going to get a Christmas tree and hopefully finish holiday shopping.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

2016 Winners and Losers

I wanted to make a list to remind myself of these thing come spring.

Things that worked this year:
  • The red ranger chickens were really a joy to have around.  The hen I kept is also a really good layer.  Get more next year.

  • Poultry pasture - huge win. Cannas look great & attracted lots of hummingbirds.  Cheap seeds and no work on my part equaled a lot of feed and cover for various poultry. I should do this every year.  Heck yes.
  • The heirloom fingerlings were fantastic and well worth the effort of actually buying on-line and having shipped. Yes, I know you can buy potatoes in the store for cheap. No, I still don't want to have to drive to the store.
  • Poultry nursery coop.  With the exception of the bantam peep murders and resulting early turkey harvest of course.  It was nice to have moms, babies and young ones close to the house.
  • Straw mulch. Did a great job of keeping the weeds down.  The straw was mostly weed-free because the chickens had pecked through it all winter either as bedding or keep-the-mud-down in the chicken yard during spring. 
  • Peppers.  Dang, what a good pepper year.  Must have been all of the heat because they had no help from me. Lots went into the freezer.
  • Cherokee Purple, Violet Jasper and Monarch heirloom tomatoes were the heavy performers.

  • The nasturtiums looked beautiful.
  • I liked having herbs right outside the kitchen door.

Things to improve on or not do again:
  • Oxheart tomatoes usually do well but this year they were terrible.  Nearly all went to the poultry due to odd fungal (?) spots.  So sad.
  • Winter squash in the poultry run.  Yeah, that was a disaster.  They didn't wreck the plants, it was the softball-sized patches of dirt they were planted in that proved irresistible.  I might try to do this again but will make some sort of squash cages for the first month.  What a bust.
  • Pattypan squash look cute but were kind of a pain to cook so most got fed to the chickens.
  • Turkeys.  Once was enough.
  • I can tell that I'm going to run out of canned tomatoes.  I've been putting them in scrambled eggs so next year I need to can a ton of pints and half pints. 

  • I freeze eggs during the summer to cook over winter while the chickens are on break.  I think I froze 4 or 5 dozen and we've run out.  We're getting about an egg a day now but next year I should freeze maybe 10 dozen.
  • The quail project was a bust.  I'd like to get another handful in the spring because I do miss having them around. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

A seed order & winter squash jambalaya

My big seed order for the year came today.  I didn't need much to fill in the gaps in my seed inventory  All of these came from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds, which is a fantastic company I've ordered from for years. Thousands of heirloom choices, great service and $3.50 flat rate shipping. Here's what I got:

Some alpine strawberries and this packet of orach.  We've never eaten orach so this I'm excited to grow it.  Looks beautiful too.

Tomato seeds. Plum lemon and striped roman are old favorites, prolific and very good for canning. Indigo apple doesn't produce quite so much but is absolutely lovely to look at. I've always had very good luck with heirloom tomatoes. This Pink Bumblebee cherry type is new for me this year and got great reviews.

I bought some tall nasturtiums because I want to make one of those flowering tepees out in the garden. This mix is supposed to get up to 10 foot vines.  Hopefully it will be a nice shaded place for my little guy to hang out while I work.

Some cucumbers for fresh eating.  Baker Creek always includes free seed packets with every order (seriously - even if you only order one packet they still send you a freebie) and they sent me two.  The carrot I'm excited to try but anyone want these cabbage seeds? We don't eat cabbage. The back of the packet says that Brunswick was introduced in 1924 and is a "large drumhead cabbage, very cold-hardy". Honestly, I happily will put these in the mail if someone will plant them, just send me an e-mail

We had a really good dinner tonight that I want to remember to do again.  A box of jambalaya type rice, shredded chicken from the hen I cooked yesterday, a little sausage and shrimp.  Then I added a ton of butternut squash and squeezed a couple of oranges over it. A good dinner for a cold and overcast day.

Friday, December 2, 2016

What's this chicken?

Ok, usually I'm not too bad at sexing birds but I really thought the black and white barred one was going to be a hen.   Now I'm thinking rooster.  I don't really see any saddle feathers but do those look like hackle feathers?  And wow is that a long tail... or maybe I'm a just poor judge because the chicks hatched here from our eggs are all easter egger/cochin crosses and have really round butts.   

Will we be eating eggs or coq au vin?