Monday, October 15, 2018

October 15, 2018

It is quickly becoming that time of year where we are having to add some heat to the house.  Currently, we are just opening our bedroom windows to glean the heat from the greenhouse.  Soon, we will have to stoke up the wood stove at night.  Having a lean-to greenhouse on the south side of the house has worked very well for us.  You can see in the picture that we are drying the cayenne peppers in there.  Drying the produce, drying clothes,  and getting some sun in the winter months for vitamin D has made it so useful that we haven't yet gotten around to growing plants in there!  Maybe this year. . .

Recently I wrote to my favorite Facebook Group Homesteads and Sustainability about whether we should bother to use cover crops, as the earth seems so good at providing itself with just the right plants to turn the top dirt into top soil.  Never was it more evident than across the place where we dug this summer to put in a water pipeline.  The volunteer plants, Senna Obtusifolia, seem to have nitrogen fixing capabilities.  Despite all of its uses in folk medicine and food, such as in cassia gum, or a coffee substitute, it has become known as an obnoxious weed.  The group pointed out that while nature is good at providing the plants that it needs, if you choose a plant in the same group, you might get more out of it such as a forage for animals or a food source you would rather have.  Also, planting seeds tends to hurry the process along.

I recently ruined my cell phone (and it was only about ten years old) by carrying it in the same bag as my water when I was going to stain the calf barn.  When I found a new one (my first smart phone that will still work on my $80 per year pageplus plan), I decided I needed something else to carry it in and pulled my hiking bag out of the camping equipment.   It was a great way to be able to function hands free while mowing.  I had made it out of the end of a shirt sleeve with a tab on it to slip onto your belt. 

We are in the process of turning our old greenhouse into a storage shed.  I am picturing it with a metal roof with a solar charging station for my golf cart with room for the trailer and a few other items.  I am having to rid it of thousands of blackberry vines and passion fruit vines, but I hope to be able to add the metal roofing by next weekend.  Then we have to get the old golf cart running again.  I found a service manual online that I hope will help with this.  How hard can it be?  Compared to our other equipment it seems to have so many fewer parts. . .Cross your fingers for me!

Our two pigs, Freckles and Red, are growing up a storm and are in their third pasture rotation.  We are experimenting with feeding them goat feed since it was what they were using when we got them, as well as has a higher protein percentage with a lower cost.  I was also recommended to feed them Bull rations, and will check on that next time we need to buy feed.  We have had them since 9/3, and they are only on their 5th bag of feed, as they are eating so much from the pasture.  We are thinking they will be ready by March 3rd, but we'll see. 

We got a new barn kitty from one of our friends at church.  The kittens were abandoned at her house and she was looking for homes.  Meet Merlin!  We kept him inside the first week, and for the last few days have been transitioning him outside, trying to get he and Guinevere used to each other (no worries - she is spayed).  He is so cute, but was beginning to show his velociraptor tendencies to the furniture.  Tonight might be his first night outside in the barn.

In our journey to self-sufficiency, we have yet to add a dairy animal to the farm.  With the help of our friends Joe and Michelle Sroka, I was able to try out milking a cow to figure out whether it would be a good fit.  Thanks to Joe and Michelle and your very patient cow! 

Additionally, I have been working on a new business to help fund the farm and have just gone live with the website:  Check it out!  I also added a new capability for people to be able to follow this blog by getting an email when I update.  The link is in the upper right hand corner.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

September 25, 2018

How to do a cheap neighborhood potluck to get to know your neighbors. Since the weather was iffy, it was great motivation to clean out the basement. As you can see, there is a piece of pvc pipe with a rope running through it and attached to our ceiling rafters with old curtains on it to hide our junk. Our tables are a bit beat up, but color unifies and we had a roll of brown kraft paper. The flowers were perennial balloon flowers I found at Lowes that they were marking down for $1 each and I intend to plant. I decorated them with some tulle netting that I had and some Christmas curling ribbon that we had. The candle holders and candles were leftovers from my daughter's wedding here two years ago. (We made the candle holders out of some old bunk beds we had found at the thrift shop.) We bought bottled water at Aldi's (about $5.00 spent - and these are the leftovers) and used an old planter as the method to keep them cold (washed out, of course). Then we just threw some hot dogs on the grill, made the fixings, and asked everyone to bring a potluck dish and a drink to share. Had a great time and even met a new neighbor. We sent the invite and reminders by Facebook messenger this year, with a few phone calls thrown in and asked neighbors to invite neighbors. We did buy paper plates, forks, and cups (for other people's drinks they were bringing.) I also made two chocolate pies. Another year we didn't want to clean out the basement and the weather permitted us to move our equipment and have it under the Tractor shed for shade since we don't have a lot of trees. We also had benches left over from the wedding, but in past years, we have asked them to each bring a chair.

We had a Dinner for Eight party at our house this weekend on Saturday, and a neighborhood potluck on Sunday afternoon.  The hit of both of these parties were our new pigs, Red and Freckles.  It gave the kids something to do to go pick some tomatoes to take to the pigs.  The pigs showed off by showing us how they drink from the water barrel with the pig nipples.  We so enjoyed seeing this.  The pigs have also been entertainment for our cattle.  The cattle rotation came close to the pig area this week, so they were busy getting to know each other.

Sherri Powell picked a peck of peppers to pickle.  Where did Peter Piper find a peck of peppers already pickled?  I mostly pickled these jalapenos for one of my brothers who loves them.  We have gotten around to just canning them right in with what we used to mix the pickled peppers with.  This year's peppers have fresh mixed horseradish that we got from our neighbors  (Thanks Don and Carol!).  I planted some of the leftover pieces in my kitchen garden to grow.  

So we went and picked my mom up from SC to keep her out of the path of Hurricane Florence. My mom is a busy person and needs something to do (wonder where I get it from?) Anyway, when she came, I mentioned I needed to clean the fabric up in my sewing room. I thought that would keep her busy all weekend. Ha. She finished that the same day, and called me up to help her. Then she wanted to vacuum, and before I knew what happened I was taking the vacuum cleaner apart and fixing it and she was directing me where to vacuum. Well then she proceeded to direct me on how to clean the dish drainer with a paint brush to get those tiny metal pieces. My husband took a turn when she wanted to clean out the refrigerator.  Anyway, we got so much done she ended up being more of a blessing to me than I was to her.   For those times when I just needed to sit down a minute, I found my husband's homemade blueberry wine to be delicious.  LOL.   It even gave me the subject matter for the children's moment I did the Sunday after, and left the house cleaner than ever for the events we had at our house the next weekend.

Life is so good. . .

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

September 4, 2018

So excited!  Yesterday marked the first time we have had pigs at Powell Acres!  Our new adventure!  We bought two pigs locally.  Red and Freckles.  They are Duroc/Yorkshire cross.

Don't know what we would have done without all of the helpful hints we got from our friends at Homesteads and Sustainability Facebook group here.  Because of their advice, we shored up our pig area with more electric fencing, contained our pigs to train them to electric and help them assimilate to a new environment, and learned a number of other tips and techniques.  We also watched a number of Youtube videos where we learned how to put peanut butter on the pig nipples for the pig waterer to attract the pigs and "train" them where to find water.  We also learned from Youtube research what kind of feeder to get by weeding out what went wrong with others and learned to anchor it to a post by watching some videos by Lumnah Acres.  We really like these videos as they do an excellent job of showing how Homesteading is really trial and error, and there is no end as to how you can tweak things to make them right for you.

We transported the pigs to their new home in our horse trailer.  It was quite convenient to put them in the side door, as it is above the floor of the trailer and insured that they did not escape while we were bringing in the next one.  When we got home (a very short distance - maybe 7 miles), they were still terrorized by the new experience, with one hiding behind the other one in our trailer.  After some water and food, they decided it was safe to come out.  

One of the things we worry about with adding a new animal to the farm is how our "security force" is going to react.  Our dogs, Phoenix and Hercules.  We put them both in the basement (they love it there on a hot day - especially when a neighbor is enjoying target practice, as they don't like the noise.)  We brought out one dog at a time to meet our new farm animals, since they are brothers and tend to be closer to inciting a riot when they are together.  Once one dog met the pigs, my husband took him back to the basement and brought out the other dog.  This led to a more peaceful introduction to our new farm animals.

Friday, August 31, 2018

August 31, 2018

We are continuing to prepare for getting pigs this fall.  My latest project was a pig waterer.  This was made out of a barrel, two bulkhead fittings and two pig nipples, with some teflon tape thrown in.  I am so thankful my husband showed me the right way to wind the teflon tape so when you screw it in, it does not just unravel.  I still need to build the skids it will be sitting on so we can rotate it when we rotate the pigs to new pasture.

Tomatoes are still coming in, and since we already have 57 quarts of spaghetti sauce, 20 quarts of tomatoes with green chilies, and 15 quarts of ketchup, we have decided to dehydrate the rest.  I did an experiment between dehydrating them in our Excalibur dehydrator and the greenhouse.  The Excalibur took from 12 - 24 hours to dehydrate them (but uses electricity).  The greenhouse took a day and a half (of course there is no heat during the night, but it uses no electricity).  We sliced them thin with the food processor and laid them out in trays.  I learned to be careful to turn the end pieces of the tomato up as I dried all of these Juliet tomatoes with the skins on.  They taste like candy and I can't wait to throw them in salads in the fall and spring when we have lettuce, but no tomatoes.  One five gallon bucket ends up drying into two one gallon freezer bags, and I put them in the freezer to make sure no bugs could get in.

Okra is coming in steadily now and We already have about 13 gallon bags of cut up okra in the freezer.  I just cut them up and put them in the bag with no blanching.  When we are making fried okra, I just batter them while they are still frozen so they will hold their shape.  Works great!  We also use it for soups and a great okra tomato dish from a recipe a friend shared (Thanks Jeanne!)

A big project was getting the new barn extension stained so we could put in the windows and painting the trim.  Done!  Thank goodness.  I got tired of ending every day with a bath with some vegetable oil in it that did a nice job of removing the stain from me.  Why do I make such a mess when I do things?  Must be half of the fun!  My husband and I make such a great team.  He is tall and I am not, so if I can't reach something on my 6 foot ladder (my comfort zone), he pitches in and gets the rest.  So glad to be married to a hard worker who is such a handy guy!

This is the time of year, as we harvest, that we are picking our best produce to save seeds.  I am doing a much better job this year, as I have adopted the practice of using empty spice containers and labeling them with a picture of the item.  I also learned to put the seeds with lots of stuff around them (pumpkin and watermelon seeds for example) in a large bowl and massage them out of their stuff.  The seeds fall to the bottom and I scoop out the "stuff" with a tea strainer.  Then I pour the seeds in water in a colander, and oila!, clean seeds for saving!  Also, some fellow homesteaders taught me to dry them on wax paper.  After I think they are dry, I put them in the spice containers and watch them for a few days.  If you see a fog forming or water droplets, immediately dump them back out on wax paper and let them dry some more or mold will form.  I also air out the containers during this time.

We are getting closer and closer to retirement and hopefully making a little money on the side with our freed up time.  I am always looking for new things to add the possibility of income to our farm.  This year I planted 30 bulbs of Crocus Sativus for the spice saffron which is very expensive.  I am hoping it will multiply greatly in the next three years.  I also used an old horse trough to plant some turmeric on one side and ginger on the other.  In our zone, it is said that you can plant it outside as long as you mulch it in the fall.  The horse trough will not only protect it from too much sun and the lawn mower, but give us a way to keep in the mulch.

Life is so good here on the farm!  Always something interesting to do!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

August 22, 2018

I love the creativity in small farms/homesteads!  I just finished building this pig hut.  Please see the new tab I have created with the name Pig Equipment.  I will be working on the waterer next.  The tab includes instructions, additional picture in progress, as well as where you can find the idea I got from Living The Dream farm.

My husband found a way to keep the watermelon from wasting!  Why does it all seem to ripen at once?  He said he had been contemplating watermelon wine for some time.  I had been dying for an opportunity to use the Squeezo I had purchased off of Ebay!  We both love it!  While we were using it, it not only got the juice we needed for the wine, it also spit out the fiber and seeds in another bowl.  I put it in a bowl of water, massaged out the seeds until the fell to the bottom, used a tea strainer to get the stuff off the top, and poured it into a colander to get my clean seeds for saving, then spread them out on wax paper to dry.  We used the two varieties of watermelon that we grew, Crimson Sweet and Mountain Sweet Yellow.

My husband is a science teacher at a high school teaching Earth Science, AP Environmental Science, and Physical Science.  I created this bulletin board for him which includes examples straight from our farm.  Love it that he is living what he is teaching!  He is setting such a great example.   While I was there, I noticed he did not have a flag holder for his flag and put this adjustable one together from scraps - a piece of pvc pipe, a wing nut, and an L bracket.

My husband was having a hard time getting his boots off without getting mud on his hands until he built these boot jacks out of scrap wood.  I added a little paint to the one for the front porch.  Works great by standing on it with one foot and putting the boot in the slot to remove it!

Temporary fix
Permanent Fix
While we were running the trencher to put in our automatic waterer, my husband cut the phone and internet line.  He has now done a great job on the permanent repair, both soldering the connections and using marine heat shrink covers for the wire ends to keep it solid when in contact with water.  It is now covered in the trench.

As you can see on the bottom of this pantry picture, we have canned 25 quarts of pumpkin to add to this years' collection.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

August 8, 2018

I am so proud of us for all of the preserved harvest this year!  Our pantry looks lovely with all the fresh, chemical free food that we have to last us until next year, and to think it is not even over!  Our favorite tools this year have been: 1) Again, the fish fryer on the front porch for canning with the propane tank to keep the heat out of the house.  2) a little food chopper we found at Aldi's for $9.99 to add tomatoes with green chilis to our food repertoire.  It lowered our time from hours of chopping tomatoes to minutes!  What a joy!  3) our Victorio apple peeler to peel the asian pears for canning in a very short time (Just move the corer/slicer out of the way)

 4)  Learning to use emptied spice containers for saving seeds from this harvest 5) Using our greenhouse again for dehydrating large amounts of spices  (It is one goal to have all the spices that are in my cabinet be home grown)  6) Our improved chicken plucker with more rubber fingers and using Cornish Cross with less feathers and cutting them while processing to make the chicken more useable.  Life is good!

As we had finished the extension on our calf barn, we had to find a way to keep the door closed in a way that the cattle would not push it open.  We are hoping this way will work.

We finished our summer project to get an automatic cow waterer set up in the center pasture by the barn, set up a hydrant and sink within the barn (for things like bottle washing, and perhaps washing up a future dairy animal), and getting a hydrant out to the growing area for watering the garden!  Yay!!  That was a lot of trenching, laying pipe and covering it back up.  We can now truly let our cattle graze in a rotational pattern, now that their water in centrally locate
We have really enjoyed my husband's experimentation with high/low growing.  We partnered up the okra and sweet potatoes again this year.  We also added growing the Roma bush beans in between the rows of tomatoes.  You just have much more room to move around in and are much less itchy when picking.  

I finally found a catsup recipe that tastes like catsup!  I got the recipe from The Up-With-Wholesome, Down-With-Store-Bought book of Recipes and Household Formulas.  We put up 8 quarts of it!  Our Asian pears turned out lovely also.  

Lastly, we have a very tiny chimney sweep that has been visiting our wood stove.  This is the third time this year he has come down our stove pipe.  We were able to catch him with some tulle leftover from our daughter's wedding in order to take him outside for release.  As he has such an attitude, like the world's tiniest bully, we have named him "Biff" from Back to The Future.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

July 22, 2018

Life is so good and busy here on the farm in our busy season.  Almost to busy to get to the blog. . .

Farm Maintenance continues.  We finished painting the flat bed trailer and wiring it for new lights!  Yay!  This is the first time it has had working lights since we got it.  We were using some temporary ones that attach by magnets from Harbor Freight in the meantime.  Funny how long temporary is sometimes. . .

After finishing the trailer, we knew we needed to take care of the rust spots on the tractor to keep it in good stead for a long time to come.  We sanded the rust spots and taped off the 1920 New Holland sticker and sanded off the ones that would not be easy to paint around.  We found a brand of paint called Majic at the Tractor Supply store that was in the blue color for older Ford tractors.  It worked great!  I used some black appliance epoxy I had on hand for the grilles.  For the side one, I took it out to spray it, and for the front one, I put a piece of brown Kraft paper on the inside and taped it off.  It turned out well.

It was time to process the Cornish Cross chickens, so we set everything up and were able to process the 20 chickens in about 6 hours, which included cutting them up for use.  We found that we are able to use it better this way and it does not take up so much space in the freezer.  We let it rest for more than 24 hours in the cooler before freezing.  We have had the opportunity to have some, and it is great!  We will definitely be raising Cornish Cross again.  My husband says that now his chores are about 20 minutes shorter per day, without having to take them food, water, and moving the chicken tractor twice per day.

Our old greenhouse plastic has fallen into disrepair.  The only thing we have used it for the last two years is for lumber storage.  This did not bother our bull, however, as he just let himself into the new back door to see what was in there.

We have almost finished our calf barn extension.  At this point we are waiting 30 days for the treated lumber to dry out a bit so we can stain it to match the old section.  We really needed some space for hay storage, so the new section is two feet taller with a wider and taller door to get the tractor into.  We used some clear corrugated roofing to put a window in for the connection of the new section's roof to the old roof.

We did a little experiment on harvesting.  I used a shovel to harvest two rows of beets, and my husband used the tractor to harvest 5 rows of potatoes.  In the same amount of time I harvested two bushel baskets of beets and separated some of the smaller plants to replant, while he did not even get a bushel basket of potatoes.  This is the first time we have tried replanting the beets at this time of year.  Sadly, we had a potato crop failure.  Funny how no matter how many potatoes you get, it doesn't seem to be less work.  You still have to dig even if you haven't found them.

We used solar distillation to harvest some mint essential oil for a new batch of soap.  It involved using a large bowl for the mint, putting a small bowl on top, wrapping it in plastic wrap and putting a rock on top, then placing it in the sun.  I went back in and added more mint for a second day to get more essential oil.  It takes a lot of plant material to get a small amount of oil, but we had plenty and it did not take much time.

This year we experimented with some new items for the freezer.  Pesto sauce due to a bumper crop of basil, and garlic buds jarred with oil.  Last year I tried just drying the garlic, but many cloves dried away to nothing, so I am going to see if I like this better.  Thanks to the Anders family for the spare baby food jars!

This year we experienced a bumper crop of beets and got 28 quarts for the pantry!  Two of the fingers that I was using to skin the beets felt like they had arthritis the next day. . .I love canning as a team sport with my husband, as it is not as pleasant with just one person.  We make a great team!  Another new thing for us is we have had a pear crop!  Finally our fruit trees had a good enough production for canning at about 7 years old.  We found out from a youtube video that is is better to pick them and let them sit for a couple of days to sweeten up.  We will be canning pears this week.  Currently they are laying out single file on a table in the basement so they can get some air and not rot while we are waiting to can them.  We have three varieties of asian pears along with some moon glow pears.

Our neighbors shared a melon with us that is new to us.  It was delicious!  Thanks to the Ramzan family!  Through research, we think we have pinpointed it as a Charentais Melon (aka French Canteloupe).  As we liked it so much, of course we are saving the seeds. . .

In other news, I have discovered yet another use for the velcro cord ties - a belt loop to hold the end of my belt down when I don't have a belt loop!  Yay!  Those things are so versatile - I've used them to tie cords, to sew curtain tie backs, to fix a curtain rod inside our car for car camping, and now a belt loop.

As far as bits and bobs, I made soap today, my husband bottled beer today, and we have both sliced and chopped cucumbers waiting to be processed into relish and pickles.  Until next time. . .