Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2011

…All 50 of them:

 

 

Plymouth Rocks:

 

 

and Silver Laced Wyandottes:

 

Read Full Post »

…Actually, it’s not just the Jam Gods.  It’s also the Chicken Coop Gods, the Hitting Yourself in the Knee with a Hammer gods, and the Sore Back Gods.  I think they are having a good old laugh at my expense.

 

We got going on the barn at about 6:00 this morning, as we wanted to get things finished up before the chickens arrive…tomorrow.  Things went fairly well until about 11:00, when we ran out of nails.   It all got pretty frustrating very quickly after that.  Hubby moved some straw bales around and was off doing useful things, but my back was too sore to contemplate most of the useful stuff that I could reasonably tackle.  With my back being so messed up, I can’t reliably work the clutch in the car, so I couldn’t even drive into town for more nails.  It’s probably for the best, as it would be an awful waste to spend $10 in gas to buy $5 in nails.

 

I was leaning in the doorway of one of the stalls, contemplating the goats’ million dollar view, when I noticed the dandelions getting thick again, even though Hubby just mowed the lawn.  in the spirit of good permaculture, I decided to try to make a resource out of something that is otherwise a nuisance.

 

I wandered inside and googled ‘dandelion recipes’, and came up with some interesting ideas for a batch of wine.  Unfortunately, they all seemed to call for about four gallons (!) of dandelion flowers.  I decided I had nothing better to do, and at least crawling around on all fours doesn’t aggravate my back.  It was interesting getting down there with a bucket – I noticed all sorts of bugs that I would never normally see, as well as really looking closely at dandelions for probably the first time.  Once you get past the ‘noxious weed’ mindset, they are actually quite pretty.  I was even kind of enjoying myself, but after about two gallons’ worth of dandelion heads picked, the knee I smacked with the hammer earlier (don’t ask) started to protest.  I couldn’t keep picking, but I did not want to have wasted all that effort.

 

I eventually found a recipe for dandelion jelly that looked pretty good, and only used ingredients I happened to have on hand.  It was fiddly, as you have to cut the petals off of each flower, enough to make a quart of petals (which takes about two quarts of flowers), but again, I had lots of time.  I cut the petals off the couple gallons of flowers I had, and got to work.

 

The first batch of jelly, I got over-excited, and put the sugar in before the pectin.  That one may just be syrup.  The second batch, I used low-sugar pectin, because I had run out of the regular stuff, and the whole thing set into a solid mass the second I added the sugar.  I am not sure what I did wrong there, as I followed the directions exactly.  Panicking, I added more dandelion broth and sugar, but it just turned into a lumpy soup, even after bringing back to a boil.  That used up almost all of my dandelion broth, so the planned third batch did not happen.  This really sucks, as it actually tastes great, even if neither batch gelled properly.   I am already looking forward to having some on pancakes.

 

So, in case anyone else wants to tempt the Jam Gods, here is the recipe for Dandelion Jelly:

 

1 quart dandelion petals (takes about 2 quarts of flowers.  I just used scissors to cut the petals off)

2 quarts water

Boil these together for about 10 minutes.  Strain through several layers of cheesecloth, or a jelly bag.  Add the juice of one lemon.

 

Measure out 3 cups of dandelion juice, and put it back in the pot.  Return to heat, and add one box of (regular!) pectin.  Following the directions on the package, add 5 cups of sugar (my packet said to add the sugar once the juice has come to a boil, then return to a boil for one full minute before removing from heat).  Ladle into pint or half-pint jars, and process for ten minutes.

 

Hopefully it will work better for you than it did for me, but by all means try it – it really does taste great!

Read Full Post »

So we had our TV – less home invaded by two adults and three kids (aged 4 to 10) for the weekend – Hubby’s brother and his family.  I say invaded, but really, we were absolutely delighted to have them.  They drove all day to come and help us dig holes and plant things and cut down trees and bushes.  They said they wanted to do some ‘real work’ for awhile.   And take pictures of their kids doing ‘country’ things like building forts and planting trees.   The kids were pretty disappointed that we did not have chickens or goats yet, but made do with the house pets.   One of our dogs outweighs any two of the kids put together, but by the end of the weekend, even the littlest one could boss her around – the pooches soaked up all the attention.  The cats were less impressed, and mostly hid out, but that just gave the kids a new thing to stave off boredom – cat stalking.

The weather co-operated, sort of.  It was clear and sunny, and sweltering – almost thirty degrees Celsius on Sunday.  Not ideal for yard work, but certainly better than cold and rainy.

On Saturday, I grabbed my hand pruners to cut a couple of eyeball – poking – height dead branches from the crab apple tree.  Five minutes later, I was searching for pruning shears for two kids to help.  Twenty minutes after that, their mom came out with the bow saw, and by the end of the morning, we had cleared a big, gorgeous area under a maple tree that had been completely obscured by caraganas and lilacs.   It took hours and hours, and our sister-in-law spent even more time cleaning up the ground and raking everything out.  It was not a job we had planned to tackle, but it is much appreciated – now we’ll have a shady spot to kick back with beverages on those thirty-degree days.  Sis says it is her housewarming gift to us, and I can’t think of anything I would have liked better!

Meanwhile, the boys (all three of them) dug post holes.  The little guy was really enthusiastic about digging, and motivated the adults to keep at it, which was an accomplishment all in itself.  While Hubby was digging by himself, one of the ground squirrels came by to tell him off, and was so busy watching Hubby while it ran that it fell in one of the post holes.   That one was good for a laugh!

The kids were fascinated by the hummingbirds at the feeder, and the littlest one would holler every time one came to have a drink.   “Hummingbird!  Hummingbird!  Hey. guys, come see the…oh, it’s gone now…”  It was pretty cute.

Somewhere along the way, I wanted to identify a couple of plants that I was wondering about.  I had my wild plant book and a ten year old shadow, and we wandered off into the woods beside the house.  it turned out that yes, in fact, we do have stinging nettles, and also tons of  chokecherries and possibly wild gooseberries or currants, though I will have to see them bloom to be sure.   We also disturbed a frog.  Instead of shrieking and being grossed out, my niece tried to catch it.  When she couldn’t, she asked me to help.  We dragged the poor little guy in and set him in a jar on the windowsill until suppertime, when we let him go again.

Having kids around really brought back memories of my own summers on my Auntie’s acreage when I was a kid.  I hope they had as much fun as I always did.

I was also very impressed at how little water an extra five people used.  Now, this family has been on missions to third world countries where water is precious, and know all about conservation, but really, the five of them used less water than the two of us usually do.  They did, however, eat more than we had accounted for.  After going through a loaf and a half of bread and a whole box of cereal by the end of the first day, we made a quick run into town for groceries.  It would have been less of a deal if the weather had been cool, and we could cook on the stove without heating the house too much, but in this weather, we were kind of down to sandwiches and cut veggies.

We accomplished a lot over the weekend.  The boys finished digging all of the post holes for the goat yard, and started putting the posts in, as well.   They also dug a bunch of holes for our latest delivery of trees and bushes, and my sister-in-law and I planted blueberries, currants, blackberries, hazelnuts, cherries, apricots, apples, pears, and a plum.   I now have four big circular flower beds in the front lawn, though they mostly won’t hold flowers this year – we never got around to building the raised beds for the strawberries, so they are living in the flower beds with the roses.  It will actually probably be quite pretty.   Brother-in-law figured out how to get one of the painted-shut windows open, and we took down storm windows and hung screens for the summer.  Hubby and I also put in fifty asparagus plants and a couple of rhubarb roots.  Those ones looked kind of dead, so we will see if they actually grow or not.   Sister-in-law and the kids moved most of the brush pile for the kids to build a fort with – ‘coincidentally’ in the spot where we had wanted to move the brush pile to.   Then there was a lot of pruning, and clearing the sitting area.  All in all, I am not sure if they will want to come back, with all the work we made them do, but it moved us forward by weeks on the digging, planting, and building, and we are very grateful for that.

Of course, now the forecast is for frost tonight, so it appears that planting out the peppers and tomatoes was, in fact, premature.  Oh, well – we’ll find some old sheets and towels, I guess…

Read Full Post »

We have been making little discoveries all over the acreage, now that the snow is gone and things are starting to leaf out.  We’ve found wild strawberries, wild roses, peonies in a random patch of tall grass by the (crab?) apple tree, raspberries, and what looks like an elderberry bush.  Hubby stumbled across an old rhubarb patch, right in the middle of a truck track behind one of the sheds.  There are a few other odd plants that I will have to identify – one of them might even be horseradish.  Of course, there are also a ton of what look like little stinging nettles – they are too little to tell if they are nettles or wild mint, just yet, and I have no interest in finding out the hard way.

There have also been swarms of bumblebees and hordes of little wood frogs.  Today, we saw hummingbirds for the first time, and also caught a glimpse of the woodpecker that we have been hearing for ages, but had not seen.   There were magpies squawking and swallows swooping.  We heard a bird song that sounded like all the world like a ringing phone, though it went on long past when the machine would have picked up, and was in the wrong direction, anyhow.  There are these little rodents, that look like squirrels but act like gophers, which we have been watching for a couple of weeks.  We also saw one of the bunnies on the lane while we were eating dinner.   This place is suddenly crawling (and sprouting and hopping and flapping) with life.   Unfortunately, the mosquitoes are out in swarms, also, but it’s a small price to pay to have the rest of it.

Hubby is determined to take pictures of all of the birds here in our area, so we hung up a hummingbird feeder, as we doubted we would ever get one to stay still for the camera, otherwise.  So far, there have been two ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting, and hopefully we will see lots of them, as we hung the feeder just outside the kitchen window, where we can watch it while we eat.  Of course, as soon as Hubby set the camera down, one flew right up to the window and tapped on it with his little beak.  I laughed!

In other news, the garden is coming along, albeit more slowly than we would like, with me being so creaky and all.  We’ve gotten the potatoes in, now, and also some radishes, parsnips, kale, chard, spinach, golden beets, lettuce, and broccoli.  We are going to try adding another quarter – row every week or two, to have a fresh supply through the summer.  That’s the theory, anyhow – we’ll see how fast we run out of room and / or patience.  We’ll make a big planting of the storage crops (beets, turnips, carrots, and such) later in the summer, so that they mature right around first frost.

Hubby found an old compost pile from some former residents, and hauled a few wheelbarrow loads over to my front flowerbed, which I decided to plant in tomatoes and peppers, instead.  It seemed like a great place for them, as it is sunny, protected, and close enough to the bathroom to lug buckets of used bathwater (“greywater”) out to water them with – the bed is right out the front door.   It is still a little early, but Hubby has been hauling the plants in and out every day to harden them off, and the weather has been fine, with a forecast for more of the same, so hopefully they won’t get too chilled at night.  We put in eight tomatoes, four hot peppers, and four sweet peppers – we started more, but they would not all fit.  While I was at it, I planted some little potentilla bushes that I bought on a whim, and some tulips and daffodils that were given to us by a friend who neglected to plant them last fall.  I tucked some herbs in between the bigger plants – parsley, basil, oregano, chives, and some garlic cloves that I just tucked in here and there.  That should be an entertaining “flower” bed, for sure!

We likely will have to put the rest of the garden on hold, now, as we have family coming in for a visit over the weekend.  If the kids get too bored with our lack of a television, we’ll set them to work planting beans and corn, but otherwise it’ll just have to wait until Monday…

Read Full Post »

…And I really mean that.

We’ve pared down our grocery bill, we’ve been skimping on heat, turning out lights and appliances as soon as they’re not needed,  and watching our water use like hawks.  We’re doing things the hard way, digging post holes by hand, rather than hiring a guy with a tractor, and wearing shoes with holes in them.  This lifestyle is still costing us a small fortune.

It would probably be cheaper if we had opted to ease into this whole project, by maybe just putting in a garden this year and getting chickens next year, or planting a couple of fruit trees each year, rather than a hundred at once.  Unfortunately, I am not patient that way.  While we are not exactly throwing money around frivolously, the infrastructure is a big up-front cost, along with the up-front cost of obtaining the seeds, and tools, and livestock, and feed.  Then there are the fruit and nut trees, and the shelterbelt.  This is not to mention the truck we are going to need, nor the tractor, nor the lost wage from Hubby switching from a day job to doing the farm work.  Once we’ve gotten all of these things in order, then it will be cheap to maintain, but for now, sticker shock is getting to me.

I guess it is the same as anything else, though – you get what you pay for.  You can get a mid-price pair of solid boots that will last for a few years, or you can buy your footwear on the installment plan, paying $20 every few months, which always seems to cost me more in the long run.  We do the same thing with groceries – buy in bulk, and pay more at a time, but less per pound.  In that vein, we’ve chosen to go with papered livestock, because the offspring will be worth more when it comes time for us to sell, so in the long run, it will make us more money.  In the meantime, I console myself with the thought that I bought four (!)  goats for less money than we spent on a week in Cuba last fall.  The goats will last longer, at least.   It is just that now we need a barn,  and hay, and straw, and buckets, and a pitchfork, and a fence, and and and…I can see why you need to inherit a farm in order to be profitable at it.  And that’s just the goats!

Someday, I hope, we won’t be paying for groceries, and we’ll be getting better quality (free range, organic, etc) as well.  Someday, I hope, we can sell eggs and milk and goats and produce, and get some (or all!) of the outlay back.  For now, though, we spend and spend and spend…

I sure am glad we saved up for this, but I’ve got to say, much like everyone else I’ve ever spoken to who has purchased a house or an acreage, I underestimated what this was going to cost.

Which is not to complain.  Every morning, seeing all of the ducks and geese and patchwork fields full of tractors and cows, I remember how unspeakably lucky I am just to be here in this place.  Hubby and I are very happy here, and although it is only supposed to be a temporary stop, we’ve fallen quite in love with this acreage.  I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be right now, nor anything else I would rather be doing…I just wish we could do it all a little cheaper, somehow…

Read Full Post »

After a flying trip down south to plant the dozen new nut trees at the Farm, we came home to a nicely plowed garden bed, and a notice that the rest of the T&T trees are on their way.  This means we have to get our butts in gear on the garden, so that it is done, or mostly done, by the time the next batch of trees arrives.  On the bright side, all, or nearly all, of these trees and shrubs are for the Acreage, so at least we won’t spend another 6 or 7 hours driving  just to get them planted.

This morning, we slept in a bit, but we were still out in the garden by 8:30, measuring things out, planning planting plots, cutting stakes, and staking out paths.   We planted two long (85 – foot) rows of black oil sunflower seeds along the south edge of the plot, as an experiment – if they grow, they will slow the wind a little, and feed the chickens in the fall and winter.  We just used black oil sunflower bird seed that had been kicking around the house, after I read about someone else doing the same thing.

By the time we’d done all that, it was starting to get pretty hot.  We retired to the house for breakfast.  Home-made banana chocolate chip muffins – Hubby’s specialty breakfast, these days.  Then back out to plant 400 onion sets.  We still hope to at least get a start on the peas, potatoes, lettuce, and spinach today, as well as putting in short rows of beans and beets and carrots for early summer eating.  That may be a little optimistic, considering it’s 2:30 and we;’re lazing around on the computers, waiting out the heat.  We’re not out of the woods yet, as far as frost goes, either…traditional planting weekend for tender veggies here is after the May long weekend (Victoria day), which is next weekend.  However, it is certainly hot, and the garden is dry and plowed, and if we lose a 5-foot row of green beans to the frost, so be it.  The garden is 85  (ish) feet by 95 (ish) feet.  We have the room.  We are, however, going to run short on time…

Read Full Post »

It’s gonna be busy around here for the next month or two.  Being the queen of biting off more than I can chew, I have ordered 50 chickens, 4 goats, and over a hundred trees.  Not to mention the vegetable garden, the herb garden, and the house renovations.  Then, of course, I wrecked my back, so Hubby is having to do all the actual work, and all I can do is supervise.  Poor guy.  I am unspeakably glad he is patient and easygoing – he just keeps repeating his mantra “you will get better soon”.  I hope he is right.  I am on three different medications, and none of them is working very well.   I only seem to get 4 hours of sleep at a stretch, and commuting to work is excruciating at the moment.  But I digress.

Last weekend, we (Hubby) planted 50 hazelnut trees at the Farm.  The University of Saskatchewan had a seedling variety trial on offer, and the trees were cheap cheap cheap.   Mom had commented that they needed a shelterbelt along the lane…so now they have one.  Or at least 150 feet of one (we planted in two rows).  We did not have enough spare cash to have someone else plow up the area, so we dug each hole by hand, then surrounded each tree with landscape fabric held down by rotten hay.  It was a loooonnngggg couple of days.

While we were at the Farm, we took a look at the orchard.  The temporary fence (long rebar stakes and plastic deer netting) did not hold up well, and the deer have nibbled off the tips of most of the apple trees.  Fortunately, they do not look too dead, so I guess we will just plan a better fence for next year…if we can afford it.  There was unfortunately a lot of damage to the apricot shrub, though – we did not wrap mouse / rabbit protector around the little shrubs, as we were afraid it would harm them.  It looks like the mice will harm them more.  I doubt the apricot will survive, as it is completely girdled on one side, for about three inches up the trunk.  That’s really too bad, as the tree would have been on its third year this year, and might have been bearing soon.   We had ordered another apricot for the acreage, and might just put it down at the Farm, instead.  We will see.

Our order from Grimo Nut Nursery (sorry, links don’t seem to be working today) arrived yesterday, and everything appeared to be there and in good shape. We ordered two types of black walnuts, a couple of butternuts, some shagbark hickories, and two Ultra Northern Pecans. All of them are questionable for our climate – there is some disagreement over whether they are zone 3 or zone 4, and the pecan could even be a zone 5. However, we decided we would plant them and see what happens – maybe they will be like the apricots, and grow just fine, but only bear nuts when it is a long summer. Even if they only bear one year in five, I would call them a good investment. If they survive the winter (and decades after), the walnuts and butternuts could also be used for lumber (I have heard of a good, straight tree being sold for ten grand, for furniture making), and the hickory wood can be used for smoking. So most of them have a purpose, even without the nuts.

We still have a ton of fruit, nut, and shelterbelt trees on order from Rhora’s Nut Farm and T & T Seeds. We have ordered from T & T before, and been pleased with the results. Rhora’s is new this year, so we will see how they do. Both Rhora’s and Grimo are in southern Ontario, so I am not so sure about how hardy their stock will be, but as they are the only reasonably-priced places I could find the nut trees I wanted, I will take the risk of losing some to winter kill.

In other news, the chickens will be coming in about two weeks. Fifty day-old chicks – some Plymouth Rocks, and some Silver-Laced Wyandottes. We have gotten the heat lamps, feeders, and waterers. We have not quite decided how we will contain them, or what to use for bedding. We actually don’t have a proper chicken coop, yet – it went on the back burner, as they have to be inside for the first few weeks, anyways. We have the choice of three different run-down former chicken coops here at the Acreage, or we might build their coop into the goat shed, so they can all help keep each other warm in the winter. We will need to decide soon, though!

We put a deposit down on four Toggenburg goats. The breed is the oldest registered, and although they don’t give the most milk, they are winter-hardy and calm. We will be getting an adult milking doe, a dry (not milking yet) adult doe, a baby doe, and a baby buck. I milked a goat a few times as a teenager, but Hubby has never been within five feet of a goat, so it will be a steep learning curve. They were supposed to be delivered this coming weekend, but the fellow had an emergency and had to change the delivery date. We were pretty relieved! Now, the goats are supposed to be coming in mid-June. That will give us more time to build the fence and renovate the former-granary / soon-to-be-goat-shed. We’ve already been in there cleaning, and that was a big job. Hubby has dug a couple of fencepost holes, but that job got interrupted when the hazelnuts arrived, and will be interrupted again to go plant the latest batch of nut trees this weekend. Too bad the Farm is so far – it is a 3 or 3.5 hour drive, so not really a day trip when you are doing heavy work in between. Oh, well, at least we have a bit of time on that, now…

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »