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Archive for April, 2011

We met most of our human neighbours in the first couple of weeks here, but our non-human neighbours are just now starting to put in an appearance.

The other morning, we saw a cow moose picking her way across the field out our front window.

The squirrels have been scolding us for quite some time, now.

The coyotes yip as many nights as not.

We’ve seen tons of birds, also – juncos, robins, crows (nesting in our spruce trees, we think), sparrows, and plenty of red-tailed hawks, as well as one I thought just might be a juvenile bald eagle.

We’ve now sighted two different rabbits, as well, grazing on the grass at the verge of the drive, right outside our kitchen window.  They are quite bold, and although they take off into the bush when we open the door or get too close, they hop back out again as soon as we are safely out of sight (or in the house).

Hubby managed to get a few pics of some of the new neighbours:

We know these critters are going to wreak havoc on the fruit trees and gardens, but we probably won’t do much about them for now, except maybe to fence a few things off, and perhaps plant extra in the garden.   It totally ruins our “farmer cred”, but then again, they were here first…

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Out of It

Sorry for the lack of new posts lately – a back injury has relegated me to non-sitting activities, plus a lot of time spent in bed, slightly-to-very stoned on the not-quite-effective-enough painkillers my doctor has prescribed.  Not exactly ideal conditions for thinking up and writing blog posts.  But have no fear – I will be back…we have chickens on the way, an enormous vegetable garden to plant, pastures to fence, trees to plant, compost bins to build, mushrooms to grow, herb gardens to construct, bees to order, and goats to research.   It’s going to be a busy summer, no matter how slow the start…

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There is a song by a band called Spacehog.  It is called “Standing Outside A Broken Telephone Booth With Money In My Hand”.  I always thought that was an extremely evocative title.  You could really “get” the sense of defeat, just from that title.  It just so happens I like the song, too.

I had that sense, today.  In honor of Spacehog’s song title mastery, I am hereby calling today “Driving 25 Miles Home On Three Cylinders In A Saskatchewan Blizzard“.  It doesn’t cover the exceptionally long and crappy day at work, the car-swallowing potholes, the knee-deep snow, the broken windshield wiper, the homicidal snowplow driver, or the annoying squeaky rattle that developed around 2500 RPM, but you get a sense of how my afternoon went, anyhow.

If you ever do have to drive home on three cylinders, I recommend turning the radio up, putting your head down, revving it high, and just going for it.

So, as you may have guessed, my trusty Corolla did not pass the inter-provincial safety inspection.   The mechanic got up to about $4,000 worth of work (on a $2500 car) without even getting it in to the shop.  At least he was kind enough to stop and call me before getting into the part of the inspection that would have cost money.  He did not even charge me for the bit of investigation he did do, which was kind, and will win him more business from us.  It is really unfortunate, as the engine is in excellent condition, having been rebuilt just before I bought the car, but apparently, almost every other part of the car is on its last legs.  Oh, well.  We needed another lawn ornament.

Also, we killed the tomato seedlings by leaving them in a window that was apparently a bit too hot and sunny.   About half the broccoli has succumbed to what I presume to be damping-off – it just fell over and shriveled up.  Conversely, we apparently bought our squash seeds from the The Little Shop of Horrors (for anyone who remembers that movie), as they have sprouted these monstrous root systems that are flopping out of their pots and into pots of the nearby celery, which has hardly sprouted, and will be completely crowded out if we don’t tame the squash somehow.  Pretty soon they’ll be attacking the cats.   I’m guessing that 7 weeks to last frost was too early to start squash.  Oh, well, live and learn…

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I was hesitant to post such a simple recipe on my blog, but Hubby pointed out that it is our favorite summer drink, and many people may not realize how easy (and cheap) it is to make your own.   We like to make iced tea in half-gallon glass jars – we keep two or three going at a time, as we can polish off a jar or two on a hot afternoon, and it takes a little while to brew and cool.   Mom always brewed it in plastic 2L juice jars, which works just as well, except for fishing the tea bags out, which is a pain in the butt with such a narrow opening.   There is a trick to this, as well:  when you are pouring the water into the jug, make sure the stream hits the teabag, which will aerate it and make it float.  We’re trying to avoid plastic, and we like the wide mouth on the glass jars, as fishing out the teabags is much easier.   We often get our big glass jars from garage sales for 10 or 25 cents each.

 

The actual recipe is dead simple:  pop two regular teabags into a half-gallon (or 2L) jar.  Pour in tap water – we aim to have it hot from the tap, but the temperature is not that important – hot just speeds up the process slightly.  Let sit on the counter for a day or so (overnight if you used hot water).  Add 1/2 cup of sugar (or to taste) and the juice of one lemon.  Lately, I have been cutting the lemon into quarters and popping a couple of the squeezed-out quarters right into the jar, peel and all – the oil from the rind really adds something to the flavor.  Shake the tea vigorously for a minute or two, until the sugar dissolves.  Chill and serve.

 

Home-made iced tea is unbeatable on a hot afternoon when you’ve been working hard in the garden…

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We eat a lot of yogurt. It’s good stuff, and good for you. Someday, we’ll make it from milk and cream from our own cow, or maybe goat. In the meantime, we make it from stuff we get from the store…it is unbelievably easy. Today, I had my homemade yogurt with a bit of sugar and a few big spoonfuls of raspberries that I canned last fall. It was divine.

    Yogurt:

 

I make my yogurt in glass containers. I have been making it two quarts at a time, and they will last a couple of months in the fridge. Well, not around here, but theoretically they would, if I didn’t eat them up first…

Measure out your milk and cream (I use half 1% milk and half 10% coffee cream). You can vary the proportions, or even leave the cream out entirely. It just tastes richer with cream in it, is all. The easiest way to measure is to just pour the milk and cream into the containers you will be using. Glass quart (4 cup / 1L) jars work really well.

Pour the milk / cream mixture into a good-sized pot, and bring to a boil on the stove, stirring constantly. While this is warming up, rinse out your jars with hot soapy water. I sometimes pour a bit of boiling water in and swish it around. This serves two purposes – it kills off any bacteria in the jar, and it also warms the jar, so that pouring in boiling milk does not cause it to break from the sudden temperature change. Once the milk boils, pour it into your jar(s). Put the lid on loosely, and set it in a draft-free place to cool a bit. Once the jar is cool enough that you can hold it in your hand without burning, open the lid and stir in a tablespoon of yogurt from your last batch, or from a container of store-bought yogurt that has an active culture (it will be labeled as such). Put the lid on tight, wrap the jar in a towel, and set it in a warmish spot, like the counter beside the refrigerator. The idea is to keep it warm for several hours. I usually do this after supper, and leave the towel-wrapped jar on the counter overnight. In the morning, it has solidified, and you can put it in the fridge. Now you have plain yogurt.

You can flavor it any way you like, or just eat it plain. Today I had mine with canned raspberries.

 

    Canned Raspberries:

 

We pick our raspberries by the ice cream bucket. As soon as we get home, we rinse the berries, gently so as not to mash them, and pack them snugly  into pint jars. We make a syrup of 2 parts sugar to 3 parts water to pour over the berries – for each pint of berries, you need about one cup of syrup. After pouring the syrup over the berries, we put the lids and rings on the jars, and process for 15 minutes (at 3,000 feet) in a boiling water bath.

Enjoy!

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Yesterday was just one of those days.

We went into town to drop the Corolla off for the out-of-province safety inspection, but could not get in until Tuesday. The insurance is only good until the end of the month, and we need to figure out if it is worth fixing up and re-insuring, or if we need to go looking for a different vehicle for me. It was a long, annoying ride to town on three cylinders, and I was a little frustrated that they could not get me in, though I really had no right to be, as I hadn’t thought to book ahead.

We went to the Co-op Agro Centre and Peavy Mart to price out how much it is going to cost us for heat lamps and feeders for the chickens. They don’t come until the last week of May, but I want to be ready for them long before that. It sure would suck to get 50 chicks and find everyone sold out of heat lamps. We did not purchase any equipment yesterday, but we are satisfied that it will not be overly expensive – heat lamps are around $25, and feeders and waterers are about $10. We plan to keep the chicks confined using 2×6 boards, or maybe a couple of plastic kiddie pools…we’ll see.

What we couldn’t find was bedding and/or a selection of feed. The one pallet of feed we did find, at Peavy Mart, Nutrena Starter / Grower Feed, does not have an ingredient list on the bag. This is a real problem for me, as I cannot eat commercially produced eggs. I am not allergic to eggs, but I AM allergic to something they feed commercial chickens, if you can believe that. Therefore, the contents of my chicken feed is going to be critical. The bag had a note that the ingredient list was available from the manufacturer. I checked the website when I got home, and still could not find any indication of what, exactly, was in the bag. I figure if you can’t find something on a website in 10 minutes of searching, it probably isn’t there. I emailed the company (and boy, do they want a lot of personal info before they’ll answer a simple question), and we’ll see if they get back to me. I kind of think they won’t – there must be something to hide.

Though we didn’t buy chicken stuff, we did buy a bunch more garden seed. Not that we probably needed it, but what the heck – we’ve got an acre or so we could plant if we wanted. As the snow has melted, it has become apparent that there is a strip of land along our laneway, which used to be farmer’s field, and is now part of our acreage. It looks to me to be about 60 x 400 feet, based on our survey map and google maps. Hubby and I went and walked the length and width of it (we finally found some survey stakes), and it’s HUGE! I don’t know if we’ll actually plant it all, but we have no reason to exercise restraint, and the seed buying spree is now officially on…

I also started a bunch more herbs in terra cotta pots, to keep in our south window through the winter, so we can still have the odd bit of fresh basil or parsley in January. I was going to set out some of the other stuff in seed starting flats, but got sidetracked with recording. Hubby and I created a database, like a spreadsheet almost, to record information about different plant varieties and seed suppliers and such, so we could compare in the fall and decide what worked well enough to plant again next year. It took a couple of hours to set up, and I had already entered a bunch of information on the varieties we had started in flats last weekend. I went to add some information about the new seeds I was going to plant, and somehow deleted several hours’ worth of work. By two hours past my bedtime last night, I still had not recovered any of the lost information, so I am resigned to having a couple of afternoons’ worth of typing to re-do. Bleh.

At least the started seeds are doing well. In the last few days, the squash, melons, tomatoes, and some of the herbs have come up. Yay! Nothing from any of the peppers, yet, but we planted a couple of terra cotta pots’ worth of hot pepper plants (jalapeno and cayenne), just for fun.

Today I am going to start some of the new stuff – some of it is completely frivolous, like Turk’s Turban, bushel, and birdhouse gourds, as well as a bunch of flowers, and I’m kind of looking forward to growing some ‘fun’ stuff, as well as the veggies…

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Hubby has been on a real water conservation kick, lately.  It was a real eye-opener to him to have to wait until the water truck comes to be able to take a bath, and the cost bothers him.  It is $140 for 2,000 gallons (approximately), which fills our cistern about halfway, and does not last nearly as long as Hubby suddenly thinks it should.  I feel somewhat like saying “I told you so”, but I shall refrain.  I have spent years harping on water conservation, but until he could actually see the water come and go, I guess it wasn’t very meaningful.  Now, he can take a peek in the cistern anytime to see how much it has gone down, and suddenly we are collecting meltwater from the roof and only flushing solids.

Two thousand gallons sounds like an awful lot, but then you start doing math.  One single toilet flush is around five gallons, at least with our vintage toilet.  A bath is probably thirty gallons, maybe more (I haven’t measured, though I should).  A load of laundry is probably forty or fifty.  So, if you flush, say, four times a day (a very conservative estimate in a household of even two), each bath every other day, and do three loads of laundry a week, that is 500 gallons in a single week, without even looking at cooking, washing dishes, mopping the floors, watering the dogs and houseplants, and all the other things you do with water.   What we should do is get a front-loading washer and a composting toilet, but both are beyond our budget for the time being.   When we get the shower running, I plan to install a shut-off valve right at the shower head, for conservation.  I threatened to get Hubby a washboard, but that one did not go over so well.  Maybe this summer, we’ll dig an outhouse.

We decided, tonight, that the ‘cold’ portion of my bathwater could come from the buckets of snowmelt that Hubby has been collecting from various drips off the eaves of the roof.  The ‘hot’ portion came from the cistern via the hot water tank, which made as good a bath as any other, and I’m happy enough to keep bathing this way, as long as free water continues to drip off our roof.  We’ve also figured out that the initial wash cycle in the washing machine could be meltwater as easily as drinking water – you should be able to just pour in the water before turning the machine on, though this is only theory so far.  The rinse would still come from the cistern, but that’s still 50% less paid-for-drinking-water used for non-drinking purposes.   We’ve thought about plumbing the roof gutters into the cistern and getting lots and lots of water for free every time it rains, but I am not 100% sure this is a great idea, based on the asphalt shingle grit that is sitting on the bottom of the buckets.

Meanwhile, my Shitake mushroom growing kit from The Mushroom Patch arrived in the mail today.  I wonder what the postman thinks of us now?  I read the instructions while I soaked in the tub, and they amounted to leaving the thing completely alone for the next month or so, then sticking it in the fridge, soaking it in water, and waiting for the mushrooms to form.  I am sure it is not quite that simple, though I kind of hope it is.  I will report back sometime after May 6th.

We also found little green sprouts in our seed starting flats, of cabbage and broccoli.  I am now certain we’ve started them waaaayyyy too early, but we’ll enjoy watching them grow while we are waiting for everything else to sprout…

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