Wednesday, April 27, 2016

April Vacation Week: Garden


This year, during April vacation week, I finally pounded fence posts in around the garden and put up an almost respectable looking fence -- a necessity since getting chickens and newish neighbours (it never hurts to make your garden and property look a little nicer, even if it is being productive and efficient).  The fence has done a wonderful job of keeping the chickens out and has allowed me to to *finally* get my spring planting started.

The garlic has been coming up nicely; it gets planted in October after the Garlic Fest, and we always have great luck with it.  It's very exciting to see those green shoots coming up in the spring before anything else is growing.  Though this year, I will admit, the lettuce also made a big showing -- I let it go to seed last summer and some of those seeds starting growing and leafing out pretty early this year.

Also recently planted is the spinach, which is starting to come up.  This week saw the additions of more lettuce, kale, beets, peas, and potatoes (purple and golden).  Hopefully, I have amended the garden soil sufficiently and the plants will have enough nutrients to grow.  I am so excited to get those seeds into the ground and to see them start sprouting.  I have never planted potatoes before, and can't wait to see how they turn out.  They have been planted in the newest part of the garden, though -- the part that has been improved the least -- so we'll see how it goes.  Carrots will go in soon.

I started the tomatoes and eggplant inside.  This is something I usually do much earlier in the year, but I had an ailing cat that occupied my time and energy, so I didn't get to them.

A new addition to my garden is an in-garden compost.  I dug a shallow hole, took extra chicken-wire and formed a wide tube around the hole, and dumped compostables into it.  I plan to move this one to a new location in the garden each year to further improve the quality of the soil. 
(Some of our compost goes to the chickens, some to our black bin composter, and some into the garden.  More on that in a later post.)

Tune in next time for the final post on what happened during April vacation week!
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Sunday, April 24, 2016

April Vacation Week: Dandelions

What a week for April vacation -- warm, sunny, and perfect for high productivity.  I took advantage.

With all the dandelions making their appearances, I decided to take Saturday afternoon to pull -- and pull and pull.  Our front yard looks like a dandelion garden, which isn't so bad when they are yellow, but I'm not fond of them when they go to seed, which they do all too quickly.  And since dandelions are such great sources for tea and tincture herbs, I didn't feel like I was wasting my time plucking so many of them from the ground (roots, blossoms, and leaves can all be used).

I pulled nearly a basket-full, using one of those special dandelion-picking tools that help get the roots out.  Our lawn is in dire need of help (which it will continue to be until I can get it turned into a garden of sorts), and I was very pleased to realize that I was aerating it with every dandelion I pulled out.  Then, to make the task even more beneficial, I filled each hole lightly with compost, to add a little extra nutrition to our under-cared-for lawn.

So I now have a load of dandelions to trim and wash and dry.  I look forward to trying different herbal remedies with them.  Unfortunately, I didn't take the time to behead them, so I could use the blossoms to make dandelion jelly, but I can still dehydrate the leaves and roast the roots for beneficial drinks and medicinals.
And in case you were worried, there are still plenty of them in the lawn, should I need more -- plenty so that the bees have something to eat while they wait for all the other flowers and blossoms to bloom.

Tune in next time for more April vacation week updates!
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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Eggs, Dried


How to preserve eggs is a big question for those with chickens.  Chickens will lay and lay and lay throughout spring and summer, then when they molt, they will stop.  My chickens lay steadily for about 7 months, during which time we have more eggs than we can use (even giving one to the day every day!).  We give away tons of eggs.  And then fall hits, and the chickens quit, and we have to buy eggs.  Now, there are some great egg producers in our area, and they sell fabulous eggs.  But if our chickens lay more than we can use, why can't we save some of those for later?

One way to preserve eggs is to dry them*.  (You can also pickle them and freeze them, but I haven't tried either of those methods, yet.)

First, I took 8 eggs and blended them well.

Then, I poured those blended eggs onto plates -- my dehydrator sheets do not have ridges or raised edges that would keep the egg from dripping off.

I set the dehydrator to 145 degrees and let it work overnight.  When I opened it the next morning, I had three plates with very dry egg.

I chipped the egg off the plates (that was easier than I thought it would be), and then put the crumbles back in the (clean, dry) blender.

I blended the dried egg to a fine powder and put it in a jar.  Eight dried eggs filled about half a pint jar.

Dried eggs.  Easy.  The big question, however, is: how can they be used?  Obviously, sunny-side up is out of the question, as is hard-boiled, but I hear they can be used in baking and for scrambles.  So I tried a scramble.

Mix one tablespoon of dried egg with two tablespoons warm water and mix.

Put the mixture in a hot frying pan and scramble.


Add a little salt or other seasoning, and give them a try.

Verdict: the eggs do not taste exactly like fresh eggs -- they are a little gritty.  But with seasonings and/or sauces and/or vegetables added, they make a passable scramble -- a great way to preserve some of your eggs for winter when the hens aren't laying, or for taking on camping trips.
Store them in a sealed container in a cool, dry location.

*A reminder to be careful with the eggs you choose.  Eggs can carry a variety of food-borne pathogens, so only dehydrate eggs you trust, and keep the temperature appropriately high.
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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Homegrown Cornbread

It's a wonderful feeling to make something to eat with ingredients you grew or made yourself.  This week I made a delicious blender cornbread with corn* we grew in last year's garden, eggs laid by our own hens, kefir we made from local raw milk, and wheat-free flour we ground.  The sweetener was even local maple syrup.  The result -- a light delicious cornbread that was truly homemade!

Recipe: Blender Cornbread 

2/3 cup kefir
1/3 cup almond milk (or soy or regular milk)
2/3 cup dry corn
1/3 cup oats
1/3 cup quinoa (sometimes I split this with brown rice)
3 Tbs maple syrup (more isn't bad, either)
1/4 cup melted coconut oil (or butter or butter substitute)
2 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease an 8x8 glass baking pan.
Grind the corn and grains in the blender.  Add kefir, syrup, and oil and blend until smooth.
Blend in eggs for 2-3 minutes on high speed.  Add baking powder, salt, and soda and mix just enough to blend in.
Pour batter into baking pan and bake for 25-35 minutes (be sure to use a tester).

*Last year's corn was Cherokee White Eagle from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
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Monday, April 4, 2016

Winter Improvements

It's a still, quiet morning.  The snow outside is dampening the sounds of the few cars on the road, and the birds have left off singing their spring songs.  It seems a good day to look back on the three major improvements we made on our house last summer and autumn to make it more winter efficient. 

Our house is heated entirely by electric radiant heat from the ceiling.  Electric radiant ceiling heat is delightful -- it feels like the summer summer sun when you can turn it up high and not worry about the cost of electricity, monetarily or environmentally.  We worry about both.  And so last summer and autumn, we began to look into improvements* that could be made on our older, not-quite-perfectly-sealed house.  Here are the three things we did:

1. Make window inserts.

I constructed a couple of window inserts using wood, wood glue, and plastic window sheeting.  I hope over the years to perfect the method and build a solid squadron of these that can be placed in the windows to help with the drafts.  A table saw was the only tool needed.

2. Install programmable thermostats.
Each room in our house has its own thermostat.  Five of the rooms we only heat on an as-used basis (like the guest room), but the others we like to heat at least enough to take off some of the winter chill.  Over the summer I installed programmable thermostats in five rooms, so the heat would be up only when needed, and we wouldn't have to remember to turn it down again.
Until I replaced the thermostats, we still had the original (beautiful) thermostats that came with the house when it was built in 1959.  I far prefer the look of them -- vintage and bronze -- but there are times when one must make sacrifices!  The ones I installed look a little better than I thought they would, and they are quite easy to use.

3. Put a wood stove insert into our fireplace.

We have a lovely fireplace.  It faces our living room, and backs into the kitchen.  We have used it in past winters, but it has not been an efficient source of heat, allowing a fair portion of it to escape up the chimney, and requiring quite a bit of work to keep going on a cold evening.  It never really heated much of the living room, and the back wall to the kitchen rarely warmed enough to make a difference.  So this fall we *finally* (after years of waiting and saving) had the Pacific Energy Super insert installed. 
I admit that this was not my first (or even second) choice of inserts, but the size and setup of our fireplace was small, and this was the best insert that would fit.  We had a few problems with its initial installation, but after getting a replacement firebox and fan, it works wonderfully well.  When left burning for a full day or longer, it heats the living room, the kitchen (via radiant heat from the brick wall), and a fair portion of the upstairs; and even if it doesn't burn through the whole night, there is often enough heat in the brick and the insert to keep the downstairs warm enough that the electric heat doesn't have to turn on.  It keeps us cozy!

Making these improvements have vastly decreased our electricity usage (of course, a mild winter doesn't hurt), and they should pay themselves off within just a few years.  Plus, they make us a little bit less dependent on the big energy suppliers and the accompanying market fluctuations.

*We did look into solar this past summer, but the upfront costs were prohibitive, and we don't have enough property for a windmill.
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