Saturday, December 27, 2008

And Then There Were Three

I had been thinking that the three hens that had not started laying
yet might make a good dinner...Well, another one has begun earning
it's keep. :) Rich found three eggs when he went out this morning!!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Two More eggs...

Both in the nest box for the first time!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Out My Window

I have been working furiously on the holiday gifts that need to be
completed this week, and have once again gotten behind in my blogging.

Just wanted to share this cute picture of our feathered girls outside
our back door, pecking for bugs and worms. A second one is beginning
to lay, we suspect it's the big red one because Rich saw her setting
in the nest box. Yesterday morning there were 2 eggs in the bottom of
the cage they sleep in, one was without a shell.

We need to help them learn to lay in their nest box...Most of the eggs
we are getting now are being laid in their cage during the night or
early morning. They like the nest box, and have laid in there, but
it's not very consistent...we are hoping that changes as they get
older, they are only 5 months now.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

4 Eggs In 5 Days

The Layer, sitting on her "nest" under the deck
And this is what she left:
"Come see what we found!!"
Egg #4
Collecting the Egg
"It's still warm!!"
He wants to have his picture taken with every egg we find now
Those white speckles were made when Kaden was holding the cold (from the fridge) egg #2 in his warm hand... interesting, isn't it?? When the eggs are first laid, and warm, they are completely speckled

1st egg: found Sunday a.m., chicken tractor
2nd egg: found Monday a.m. (possibly laid on Saturday?), on the grassy knoll
3rd egg: Tuesday a.m. (possibly laid on Monday), under the deck
4th egg: Tuesday a.m., under the deck
5th egg: Wednesday a.m., in the shed

Did I mention they are SOOOOOOO delicious?!?

Monday, October 13, 2008

And a Second?!

Rich was packing pallets down the hill (FREE firewood!!) and he almost stepped on this:

Now the question is, how do you make sure you are GETTING the eggs that your free-range chickens lay?? I'm wondering how many more hidden eggs there are around our neighborhood.

Kylin is outside egg-hunting now...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

We've Got a Layer!!

Rich went out to open the coop this morning and found an egg! I have
heard of chickens laying "fluke" eggs around 3 or 4 months, so that is
probably what this is, but it is exciting nonetheles and a very
tangible reminder of why we're doing all this work.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


The second week of September Rich picked the pears from our tree...150 lbs to be exact. We decided it was time to harvest because many of them were already falling onto the ground. It turns out that pears don't ripen on the tree (which is what we were waiting for them to do), you must pick them and then give them a few days to ripen. Next year we should start earlier, and pick a quarter of them, ripen them, use them, and then go on to the next quarter.

So, 150 lbs of pears were stored in boxes and bags in our basement food storage area. Within a day the room hung sweet and heavy with the smell of pears...but I didn't have a plan, so I left them to sit as I searched for recipes, looked up canning information, collected jars (thank you, Danielle!), and mentally prepared.

The next week I got up my courage, and dug in. I piled and sorted all of the pears on our kitchen table (I wish I had a picture of was loaded! This picture was taken after just one box): damaged but salvageable, ripe, almost ripe, still green.

I began peeling and coring, and soon found my groove. I will outline it here, in hopes of saving myself some time and trial and error next year:

  1. Wash pears with cool water
  2. Peel with paring knife, bottom to top
  3. Chop off stems with chef's knife
  4. Cut pears into quarters with chef's knife
  5. Slice out seeds, strings, and base with paring knife
By my 3rd day of Pear Week I had filled my most gigantic stock pot with sliced pears, added a little water, and turned on the heat. Soon I heard bubbling, as my pears began to warm up and break down. A yummy warm-pear scent filled my kitchen....for about 10 minutes, until it was overpowered by a scent I remembered all too well. This particular pot had been my cookware of choice for making soup until I burned a batch to the bottom. I forgot about this incident when I chose the pot for my first pear-sauce making experiment, but quickly recalled it when I smelled the reminder. I hoped and prayed that it would not affect the pear sauce. (Don't laugh). I continued to hope and pray. More hoping and praying. Until I looked up and saw smoke billowing out of the top of the pot. I knew instantly that my first batch, and 2 days worth of pear peeling, coring, and slicing would be wasted. I chalked it up to "Valuable Lessons in Homesteading," and went back to peeling, coring, and slicing.

Soon I had another pot full (I tossed the burned pot, and got out my Calphalon one) and I tried again. Success!! A nice big batch of sweet, yummy pear sauce. I had already sterilized the jars in the dishwasher and boiled all my lids and rings. I ladled pear sauce into each jar, screwed on the lids, and turned the jars upside down and left them on the counter to cool. I am not sure where I read about this, but it worked: all of the lids were sealed. I am still unsure about whether these will be safe to eat when we are ready, if anyone has info on it feel free to let me know. I figured, though, if it does work then this would be the easiest way to do it year after year. If it doesn't work, then I wasted some pears the first year, but I will know the additional work of water bath canning is necessary. It is all a learning process, and I expect to be doing this for many, many more years...

After making and sealing several batches of pear sauce, I decided to chop and freeze some pears. I cubed them and laid them out on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and then put them in the freezer. When they were all frozen, I put them into ziplock bags and put them back in the freezer.

With the remaining box of pears I borrowed a dehydrator from a friend (thank you, Adina!!!) and made dried pears. I followed the advice of the Fanatic Cook cutting the unpeeled, cored pears into quarters, and then soaking them in cold water with a few teaspoons of ascorbic acid and the juice of a lemon.
I packed all of them I could, single layered, into the dehydrator, and then put the rest on parchment paper on cookie sheets in the oven.
Our oven's lowest setting is 170, so that's what I left them on. Every couple of hours I rotated the dryer trays and cookie sheets so that a different one was on top and bottom in each. I left them drying this way for 29 hours (yes, twenty-nine), at which time the pears in the oven were pretty much completely dried (there were a couple of really plump ones that were still soft in the middle which got added to the next batch going into the oven from the dehydrator) but the ones in the dehydrator looked only about halfway done. I removed those from the oven and let them cool for awhile, and then I took the pears out of the dehydrator and put them onto the cookie sheets and into the oven. I left them there (rotating every once in awhile) for 10 hours, and then they were finally DONE! So far I am really happy with the result--the pears are super sweet, some are a little crispy and chewy, and others are still kind of soft in the middle....but they are all delicious. I wish it had not taken so long--I am wondering if I should slice them down more next year, although I don't want to end up with dried-up little fruit-shrivels. I probably will try cutting them in eighths and see if that cuts down on drying time.

The one thing I have not mentioned yet, the most irritating effect of dealing with all of these pears, is the fruit flies. oh. my. god. the fruit flies. We thought they really might take over our entire house. We still have an apple cider vinegar trap set out on the counter, and are catching several a day (down from the literally thousands that filled the bowl the first time we put it out). I am hoping that by picking and processing the pears in batches next year, instead of all at once, we will be able to deal with them more quickly with less of them lying around in the house at one time and less flies will have a chance to grow. We also should keep screens in the kitchen windows while we are working with the pears, at least.

This was an exhausting and memorable experience, which I'm glad I only have to look forward to once a year.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fall Planting

Planting for fall and winter vegetables is a game of Heat vs. Frost. Because of this, plantings are split into 3 categories: August 1st--those which can stand some heat and need to be done before first frost, August 15th--like less heat or can tolerate some cold, and September 1st--which don't like heat at all. Because of our elevation (approximately 370 feet) we should move up the first two plantings by a week, which in the future would make them July 24th and August 8th.

Before planting, we prepared the beds by adding a mixture of bonemeal, bloodmeal, and kelpmeal and turning it in to the soil. After the summer crops the soil is really lacking in nitrogen, so in the future we will need to at least at bloodmeal every fall.

After digging up the potatoes on August 22nd I got to work planting. I put in the celery, cabbage, chard, collards, kale, and cauliflower. Rich put stakes around the beds and draped bird netting over the top so that our free range chickens would not come by and eat the little transplants or peck all of the seeds out of the soil that I just planted.

I did the second plantings on August 26th, putting in leeks, chives, onions, peas, carrots, turnips, parsnips and beets. It was a warm and sunny day, and very nice for working in the garden.

I planted the rest on September 5th: cilantro, bok choy, mustard greens, spinach, and radishes.

September 15th I planted the peas, after stalling because I couldn't make a decision about where they should go. I'm not sure if they are going to show up at all...they are yet to be seen popping out of the ground.

We moved the chicken tractor to a fresh spot

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Journal Entry

"The deer are demolishing our garden. :( They ate 70% of the leaves off our green bean and cucumber plants, and broke off a few stalks of corn. We have to do something to keep them out.

We are eating kale, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, green peppers, collards, and we picked our first corn today.

The boys tried some pears...they are looking the right size, but are not ripe. Not sure what to do... wait? Many are falling off the tree.

The goats need access to fresh pasture. I am going to call Premier One to order the movable electric fencing we need."

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Rest of August

The rest of August saw us eating lots of yummy treats from our garden:

We didn't actually eat these this year, but the two artichoke plants that were planted in the alpaca manure actually grew several chokes each! Can't wait to taste them next year...

The potato harvest happened August 22nd. I spent a hot afternoon digging for the red and gold treasures. We got quite a bounty, 34 yukon golds and 16 reds, and are looking forward to planting even more next year. We ate all of these by the end of September!
The emptied potato patch
The chickens have true free-reign now, and love to explore all around our property and beyond. They think the goats' pen is especially yummy, as the goats are fairly picky and leave lots of good veggie scraps for the chickens.

Because our tomatoes got a late start after the first plants were munched by the deer, they needed a little extra help in the pollination department. That's where our Busy Little Bee came in:

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Our First Zucchini!

I'm not sure how we overlooked this fat one up til now, but Kylin found it hiding under some shady leaves today. Mmmmm... chocolate chip zucchini bread!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Welcome Home!

When we awoke on Wednesday morning last week, after stumbling in at 2 am from a 12 hour car ride, we quickly hurried out back to visit everything we had left behind, and see how they all had grown. And GROW, they did!!!

We found the beans totally outgrowing the trellis,

corn plants as tall as me, squash plants overtaking the paths,

and cherry tomatoes dripping from their vines.

We found GIANT chickens in the tractor where we had left our little baby chicks.

Luckily, the goats did not drink whatever it was that our garden and chickens seemed to have drunk,

they stayed close to the size they were when we last saw them, although their voices have gained an intensity we did not experience before leaving them-- when they see us or hear us (from the house, from the backyard, or even the front yard sometimes) they "MAAAAAAAA" loudly and persistently (don't say "I told you so," Donna!!!)... they have come to enjoy the company of people.

Luckily they are quiet at night...that's when it really matters, right? ;)

I have spent the last week getting caught up on weeding and harvesting yummy stuff daily.

We are eating blueberries, raspberries, kale, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, nasturtiums, basil, parsley, & Kylin even found a nice green bean.

I am crossing my fingers that we will get some big tomatoes, but the plants aren't looking promising. After the deer ate the first ones, I think the 2nd set were planted too late.

Everything was taken such good care of by Camille, Leah, and our wonderful friends who house-sat... We are so thankful for all of their help.

Rich let the chickens out of their coop today, to free range around the pen and the yard. They are L O V I N G life... I am hoping they will come back in at night, though. Those suckers are damn hard to catch. The goats seem to be enjoying the entertainment, with the birds clucking and pecking all around, and Rich also put a nice big log in the middle of the pen so that the goats can play "Queen of the Mountain," or something like that.

I've gotten a lot of really great emails and comments, some of you asking for me to post about specific topics. I am keeping a list and will try to get to them all -- thanks so much for your interest!!

Pears look like they are going to be ready soon

Checking out the garden for the first time in a month

Green Peppers

Flowers on the potato plants