Thursday, May 12, 2016

May 12, 2016

Spring is so busy!  Since our last post, we have been doing so many things, it is difficult to find time to blog.  As a matter of fact, it has been difficult to find room for anything in the calendar, but it is fabulous to be this excited about life!  Our friends, Kenneth and Lori Cherry, invited us to their farm to help with their alpaca shearing.  It was our first shearing ever.  We had a great time and learned a lot.  While we were there, they also had chicks hatching and a baby alpaca was born.  Loved the great time with friends and made lots of new friends. First they used a powerful blower to blow the dirt and dust out of the alpaca's coat.  Then they used ropes to stretch them out on the clean and cushioned floor so when the shearing took place, the other parts of the the alpaca was safe and out of the way.  My husband was brave and even helped put the ropes on the feet of the alpaca.  I helped gathered the wool in three different batches, the back, the neck, and the legs.  They were all carefully labeled per alpaca, and per part. It was organized so well by Lori, that the shearing team finished shearing all 18 alpacas in about an hour and 45 minutes, I think.  It is wonderful how many people from different farms and friends show up to help.  Many hands truly make light work.  Their website is here.

We also enjoyed being asked to chaperone an AIMS Club dance for the school where my husband teaches.  The students worked so hard to bring this together and are so polite.  Of course they couldn't do it without teacher and mentor, Rausie Hobson and her husband.  She works so hard to help the kids.  The theme was old Mexico, so we served drinks in costume. I made my husband's vest out of an old pair of black jeans, my belt out of a shirt with decorative stitching from the thrift store, and the fan came from the Dollar Tree.  The screen from the background is one I found at a thrift store for my daughter's wedding, which I added some curtains to the back.

Just because we are busy outside of the farm, does not mean progress stopped here, though.  The garden is growing, we are harvesting asparagus and strawberries, and we have been working hard on the fence for the cow pasture.  Finally finished it! 
It was a bit of a challenge since we had so many areas of the fence that were curved.  We had to judiciously decide which posts we went behind and which ones we kept the fencing in front so we could keep the fence tight and go with the curve.  Our daughter, Leah, came by to lend us a hand.  We are still awaiting a gate to arrive and for the calves to be released to us due to a vet visit before leaving their current farm.  We have gotten great advice from the Cohen family, the Clark family and the Lewis Family.  It is so nice that farm people are so generous with knowledge!  I am so proud to call them my friends.

I will leave with one last picture of the beautiful fuschias that are now blooming from the ERHS plant sale.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

April 17, 2016

Well, indeed necessity is the mother of invention.  As we were finishing up our fencing in the front, we realized that we needed a walking gate through the fence over by the chicken run.  We also needed a way to let our chickens out towards our front yard, as the dogs are moving out of the growing area (since it is time to plant) and into our backyard.  I wanted to use wood that we already had on hand, so I designed and cut out two gates that my husband helped me to put together and put up.  Since they are kind of side by side, I planned for them to look alike, but the chicken gate was, well, chicken sized.  Even though the days are longer now, we are still having to resort to our headlights to finish our projects as it starts to get dark.  I love the way they turned out! To put the chicken gate in the side of the chicken run, we pounded some treated stakes into the ground and put a center piece between.  We then stapled the chain link to the framework, cut a hole in the chain link, and stapled a second row on the framework so there will not be any loose ends to catch the chickens.  My husband sprinkled a little food outside of the gate, and that was all they need to entice them to try the new gate. 
We are trying to prepare the pasture for our new calves.  We had a truck from Southern States come and bring 8 tons of lime and spread it on our pasture.  Surprisingly, they were finished in 15 minutes.  Amazing what big equipment will do!

Our next projects are planting the garden, and finishing the fence for the calves.  We are currently reading Joel Salatin's Salad Bar Beef together.

Friday, April 1, 2016

April 1, 2016

So much going on.  We are trying to fence in the boundaries of our property.  Surprisingly, as far out in the country as we are, we are being threatened by someone who hunts in the property behind us that if we don't keep our dogs on our own property, we will be fined as much as $100 per dog if they are caught on camera off of our property.  Unfortunately, the person who complained doesn't even own any property around us, just hunts it and its not even hunting season.  Crazy, huh?  Oh well, it should benefit our pigs and cows in the future, as well as keep our dogs out of our growing area, as we are hoping to sell garden products in our produce stand in the future. 
We are attempting to level our ground in the back for weddings, as we are hoping that diversification may attribute to the success of our small farm.  Next is the planting of grass.  A funny story about this is when I was hurriedly raking rocks out of the soil, I forgot to watch where I was stepping and landed in the 3' deep frog pond.  How refreshing!  (Read muddy and cold.)  I am so glad my husband did not have a camera!  After smoothing out the soil, my husband spread 40 lbs. of rye grass seed, which our chickens just loved!  We are hoping the rye will advance and provide a hiding place for us to sow fescue (hiding place from our chickens, that is.)  In the meantime, we ran across some small azaleas for $2.50 each that we bought four of, and transplanting to our woods trail with some daffodils. 
We also are trying to stop erosion on our backyard slopes and have decided to create flower beds on each side of the basement area.  So far, we have planted rosemary for small shrubs (such a better deal for $3.87 each than the $30 we found shrubs for), dusty miller, and red verbena.  We are planning to fill in by plants that we are hoping to glean from helpful neighbors who might need some eggs or garden weeding.  We have found that any plants in our yard that we have gotten from family or neighbors are so much more meaningful.  It also gives us another chance to get to know our neighbors, as we spend time with them.  Additionally, all of our seedlings have made tremendous progress by taking them outside during the day and bringing them in at night.  They are hard to even recognize from the last picture. 
They will be ready in 15 days to plant out in the garden.  Another story is about the sweet potatoes.  We got 5 sweet potatoes from a friend and put them  each in a jar with water added, so they would grow slips for the garden.  Four of the jars of sweet potatoes did great, and the last one appeared to be a dud.  However, I started thinking about how when it was putting out roots in the upper section and slips in the lower (under the water) and decided that I had nothing to lose by flipping the sweet potato over in the jar.  That seems to be what it needed, as now the "dud" seems to be sending out new slips.  Also, the slips that I took off of the potatoes previously seem to be doing well and forming new roots. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

March 8, 2016

So much to do.  You would think there isn't that much when it is mostly cold out, wouldn't you?  So we have been planting seedlings:  tomatoes (Juliet, Amish Paste, Cherokee Purple and German Johnson), peppers (cayenne, bell and jalapeno), lima beans, cilantro, onions (red and white),  fennel, and basil (one of my favorites to dry - I use it every day, I bet.)

For the lima beans, we decided to try buying some at the grocery store and see how they would do.  They are doing great!  The best luck we had for the seedlings coming up in a hurry were the cayenne peppers from our own seeds saved last year.  We also cut 20 lbs of potatoes to get them drying for planting next weekend.

The sweet potato slips are starting to emerge from the sweet potatoes.  We got some sweet potatoes from our friend Amy (hers are bigger than ours) and we followed her instructions to place them in a Mason Jar with water where the temperature is even (not next to a window).  So now they are my new kitchen bar decorations.  Five sweet potatoes in jars.
Soon it will be more jars as the slips get long enough to be pulled from the sweet potatoes.

Another project we have going on is learning about having cows.  This weekend we went to the Cohen farm and they graciously showed us around their place and educated us on what they do with cows including the basic equipment we need, pasture cultivation and mineral supplements, how to read a cow as to whether they are just curious, or you better watch for the closest fence, where to stand if you want them to move forward, how to use a stick to distance yourself from the cow or keep from falling over with the divots in the pasture, and rotational grazing (among other things).  At one point, the cows got curious about us and came over to socialize.  Their pig and chicken operations were also very interesting.  We really enjoyed the visit and learning from them.  Thank you Esta and Murray! We hope that was the beginning of a long lasting friendship.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

February 17, 2016

In our journey to go off grid, one of the major items I needed to replace was our oven.  While many people use a gas range, I have allergies to petroleum products, so I was hoping for an alternative.  Of course I was looking for a 110 volt appliance, big enough to bake all the sorts of things I bake, and use a minimum of wattage.  The one I chose was the Oster Model TSSTTVXLDG, as pictured here.  The oven came with two racks and a broiler pan with rack.  It is so exciting that I can run it completely off grid!  So far I have made a pizza (you must try a pizza with sour dough used after the first rise - best crust ever!), a loaf of sour dough bread, cookies, and some blueberry muffins. 
I wish I had taken a picture of the bread before we cut it, but it just didn't happen. 
The first thing I made with it was a pizza.  The way the oven is made, is the back bows out a bit especially to accommodate a round pizza pan.  I use a pizza stone which I put in the oven while it's preheating and it takes less time to cook the pizza.  I had no problems fitting my pizza stone in the oven and it is 15" in diameter.  I have been using the convection bake feature for all the items I have cooked, as it takes less time, and, well, I have never had a convection oven before, so it's a new toy.  The pizza came out perfect.  Next I baked the loaf of bread (next day).  I only baked one loaf in the oven as I had used the rest of the dough on the pizza, so I had it in the middle of the oven with the long way going from the front of the oven to the back.  I set the timer to 25 minutes (a separate timer - I have got to try the one on the oven, but I haven't yet) as I had read to try it 10 minutes less than I use it on a regular oven.  Before I got to the 25 minutes, I heard something beeping and went to check on the oven.  It had shut itself off and said end.  Inside was a perfectly baked large loaf of sourdough bread.  The oven must have some kind of moisture sensor.  I had read that you might have to worry about a large loaf of bread looking cooked on the outside but is doughy on the inside, but this didn't happen in my case.  Yay!  An oven that helps me not forget things in the oven!  Wow! Next I baked the cookies (the next day in the morning.)  While I had two pans, the pans were thin and I was worried about using them on the bottom rack so close to the element, so I only put in one pan at a time on the center rack.  I managed to fit a whole dozen on the baking sheet. 
The oven shut off again, but I noticed that the cookies in the front were not quite done.  This taught me to rotate the pan in the middle of cook time.  They came out great and took about 7 minutes to cook.  Some people on reviews complained about not being able to find the right size baking sheets, but when I got the oven, I measured the interior which was 15 1/2" x 13" (excluding the bowed back).  I found some stainless steel  baking sheets that fit perfectly.   I also made some blueberry muffins.They came out great.  I am wondering if the fluffiness of all these baked goods have to do with the convection oven.  This oven makes me look like the best cook ever! WARNING:  the oven door gets very
hot!  Especially the metal trim on the top!  I have the oven sitting on a Formica countertop and the door opens very wide, so I keep a potholder on the counter to rest the door on.  Also, I have learned not to open the oven door without wearing an oven mitt, as your knuckles hit just the right place to get burned.  Another great thing is that I can unplug the oven when I am done and do not have to reset the clock to cook.  Of course it doesn't have the right time, but who in the world came up with putting clocks on every appliance?  All in all, I love my new oven, it is operating completely off grid, and I have had no trouble with an excessive drain on our batteries or kicking off our system even though it has a well pump, refrigerator and freezer running on it.  It is my plan that if I explore the induction cooktops and they work as I hope, to build a rack with shelves the size of my current range, and put it in where the range goes.  Yes, that is a marble chess board that I leave sitting on my kitchen counter.  It is great to have a beautiful cutting board sitting out all the time so no one is tempted to scratch the countertops while using a knife, and it makes a great place to put hot pads and hot items as well.

Friday, February 12, 2016

February 12, 2016

What to do when it's cold, the water is freezing and it is beginning to snow?  So I gathered the dogs and put them in the basement.  I then took the spare water that we keep in the basement (so one is always thawed out) and went out to the coop to replace their water.  The dogs tagged along.  When I opened up the door to exchange the water, there were only two out of ten chickens in the coop.  I was rather surprised by this, since the chickens really don't like snow.  I then thought about it for a minute and realized that I hadn't seen our chickens for a while, so I put the dogs back in the basement with the extra water and went to find the chickens.  I figured they would be in our little woods area so they would be out of the snow, so I went down that trail first.  When I was nearing the end of the trail, there they were.  I wanted to get them back to the coop, so I picked up a big stick (lest our mean rooster turn on me), and started to heard them back to the coop.  Just to make it fun and help me not worry about the rooster, I made up a little song to sing and started waving the stick in time to the music.  They went even faster (guess I won't quit my day job).  The song was sung to the tune of "skip to my loo". 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

January 30, 2016

Life is so good!  We love our little farm!  Even when it is cold out, there are things to do.  We are trying to add to the fences, so we have had to clear underbrush to the old fences to make sure what shape they are in and shore them up where necessary (thanks to our neighbors who will let us connect to their fence). As most of the underbrush was too small to do much with, we ended up with a burn pile.  We let the pile sit for a few weeks to dry out, then it was ready to burn.  The snow and wet ground provided us with the perfect safe conditions to burn in.  The snow, however, was not good for our solar panels.  We discovered that the snow pretty much blocked their ability to create power for us.  For the few days we had it, our batteries were going lower.  Thankfully, we conserved their use and never went below 68%.  We also had cloudy conditions during that time. 
If you read back in June (at least that's when I think I posted it), we worked on a woodland gazebo for our anniversary in May made with a grain bin top and some cedar poles we had.  We are intending to do further work on it with cement in the bottom and windows to make it look like one on my landscape pinterest page (you can get there by clicking the pinterest button on this page).  As it is an extra, however, we have decided that we will only be working on it one day a year, which happens to be our anniversary. 
One thing I like to do in the winter is read books that will motivate and inspire me.  One of my recent finds was The Good Life Lab by Wendy Tremayne.  I really enjoyed the book.  One of the things I picked up from it was buying green coffee beans and roasting your own in a popcorn popper.  I was not able to find a used popcorn popper around me that met the requirement of having the fan on the sides of the inside instead of the bottom, so I ended up buying a Nostalgia Popcorn popper from for $19.99.  I bought five pounds of green coffee beans from Ebay.  When they arrived, it seemed odd that they were smaller than what I was used to.  I had no idea that they would expand during the roasting process.  I used the eight minutes that Wendy mentioned in her book, but I think we will try one less minute next time.  Other people online seem to use as low as 5 minutes.  We shall see.  At any rate, the beans turned out looking good, but we are thinking of cutting down on the time because they have a tiny bitter aftertaste that we might be able to get rid of. 
The other thing we are doing is going to a Mardi Gras celebration.  I volunteered to make a King Cake.  Since it is made like yeast bread and I was making some sourdough bread anyway,  I just worked some sugar and cloves into one loaf's worth of dough and rolled it flat, put in a cream cheese filling, wrapped it up and shaped it into a circle on a pizza stone, and let it rise over night.  After baking, I glazed it with green, yellow and purple glaze.  Then, I printed out a pattern from the internet for a mask, enlarged it a bit for an adult (it seemed to be child sized), cut it out of two paper plates for my husband and I, painted them, added some glitter, chopstick handles and some chicken feathers.  This really only took about 20 minutes.  What a fun thing to do on a Saturday!  Laissez les bons temps rouler!