February 28, 2010

Baby Chickens Sure Do Grow Fast

It's hard to believe we've had our chicks for over two weeks. They've been in the chicken coop a little over a week now. We moved them from the house on the one week anniversary of their arrival. We figured it was time. They were discovering that if they ran, jumped, and flapped their wings all at the same time, something wonderful was starting to happen.

Putting them in the coop enabled us to enlarge their brooder guard

I purposely gave it higher walls because it's been cold and very windy here. They adapted quickly...

Since then they've grown quite a bit. Following are the latest photos, taken this morning. They are 18 days old ...

Two Barred Hollands on the left, Ameraucana on the right, everybody else in the back. All wondering what that flashy box is all about.

The red brooder light makes it difficult to show their colors well. That's an Ameraucana in the left foreground, Welsummer behind it on the right, Delawares behind.

They are feathering out nicely, as this Delaware chick shows.

Also starting to grow their combs. Look closely at this Welsummer chick's head.

The little black Barred Holland chicks are no longer black, but starting to develop their bars. They are the smallest, but boldest of the lot.

Welsummers and Ameraucanas. They are all definitely starting to look like miniature chickens.

Baby Chickens Sure Do Grow Fast text and photos copyright 

February 26, 2010

A Self-Supporting Homestead?

I'm still musing about farming and homesteading. Not from a need to put a label on what we're doing, define, or defend it, but because we're trying to find the way to fulfill our dream.

My husband's desire is, and always has been, to stay on the homestead and support ourselves from our land. I'm not talking about making a profitable business out of it. I'm talking about making enough to comfortably meet whatever needs we can't meet for ourselves. He talks about self-sufficiency and getting off the grid. This is why we will never be a hobby farm. It is why we seriously consider whether or not we could make a living at farming (see Farm? Homestead? What Are We? ). And it also means that the question continually before us is, how?

Perhaps a better goal than farming, would be to work toward becoming a self-supporting homestead. Yes, I use the term "self-sufficient" a lot, but really, that's not what we're looking for in the strictest sense.

Complete self-sufficiency would mean being able to meet all of one's needs from the land and by the work of one's own hands. Well, some things I just can't do for myself. For example, I can't produce salt. Being an experienced handspinner and weaver, I can tell you that there's no way I can grow, harvest, process, spin, and weave enough cotton to make my own bedsheets. Because of that, I should probably use the term "self-sustaining," rather than thinking "self-sufficient." For example, if our food production is self-sustaining, then we can decrease our financial dependence on others and use our limited resources elsewhere, toward meeting needs we can't meet for ourselves. And that brings us closer to the dream of a self-supporting homestead.

There are two obstacles to fulfilling this dream I think - debt and lifestyle.

Of debt, we only have the mortgage. If it wasn't for that, Dan reasons, he wouldn't have to have a job away from the homestead and could devote all of his time and energy here. Not that we could eliminate the need for money altogether. Even if the mortgage was paid off and we could provide for most of our own food and energy needs, there would still be property taxes to pay at the very least. But think about it. How much is your mortgage or rent? What could you do with that money if you didn't need it to pay for housing? How would it change your life if all your debt was paid off?

Two obvious things come to mind: use the money for other things, for example, we could invest it back into the homestead; or, it would mean that many less hours at a job away from home. It would be that much less money we'd need to make.

Paying off the mortgage seems a near impossible task on our income. It took a long time to find something we could afford with both a little acreage and a livable structure. We were fortunate to have a small inheritance for a good down payment to keep our monthly payments low. We do pay down on the principle, yet at the rate we're going, we're looking at more years to get it paid off than Dan has until retirement.

Lifestyle changes to decrease our expenses are more do-able. Because of this, Dan and I often ask, what can we do ourselves? Even though we can grow much of our own food, to be truly food self-sufficient requires more than that, it requires changing how we think about our diet.

Case in point. Americans shop at grocery stores, where we can buy anything we want, whenever we want. We can buy tomatoes, grapefruit, and eggs all year long. Or chocolate, brown rice, and bananas. If my goal is to produce most of my own food, then I am faced with the choice of either trying to reproduce my customary diet, or learn to eat what I have available, either from the garden or from my food storage. I think about this as I prepare meals. More and more I try to work mostly with foods that we have the potential to provide for ourselves. The more I can do that, the more I can reduce the actual monetary income we need to make a living.

Other considerations, can we provide for any or all of our own energy needs? Heating, cooling, running the computer, the vacuum, and the deep freezer? This is more complicated to figure out. To be successfully implemented, this too requires a change in thinking. Decreasing our energy consumption is the first step. Learning to ration energy is another. After all, do I really need to run the dishwasher, the dryer, the mixer, the computer, and blare the stereo all at the same time?

One question that we've had to answer is, what are our expectations in terms of income? "Making a living" means different things to different people. Does it mean supporting a family of five persons, three pets, two vehicles, a $200,000 mortgage, and cable TV? Does it include an annual vacation, college savings, and retirement investments? Does it mean simply paying the bills, shopping at thrift stores, and eating out at (insert name of favorite cheap restaurant) once a month? Or something in between? How would you define it?

Is a self-supporting homestead possible? I don't know. Basically it all boils down to either increasing our income, or decreasing our expenses. We consider both. Do we have all the answers yet? No, but we're working on it. What I do know is that the goal is a valuable tool for setting priorities, making life choices, and keeping in touch with the natural world around us. And that's much of what this blog records, our journey toward our goal.

Related Posts:
Why We're Not A Hobby Farm
Farm? Homestead? What Are We About?
A Simple Life

February 24, 2010

The Front Door

Does it seem to anyone else as though the big parts of a project seem to go a whole lot quicker than the nitpicking finishing up stuff? We've been working on the finishing details of our dining room, but it's the little things that seem to have gotten us bogged down. Even so, the dining room to-do list however, has gotten mighty short:
  • put hinges and knobs on cabinet doors & hang
  • paint and replace vent cover
  • hang decorative stuff on walls
Seems like we ought to be able to knock that out in a day!

Along with finishing the dining room, is finishing the living room, because we sanded, stained, and finished both floors together. Considering the rooms are visually connected, the projects do go hand in hand somewhat.

Besides the floor, the other thing the living room needs is paint. It was painted the same stark white as the kitchen, hall, hall bath, and dining rooms. I can only live with so much whiteness.

In contemplating all that, we made an observation about the front door.

Our ugly ol' front doorThe strips of white you see on the left is daylight! And this is with weatherstripping. When the wind's blowing, guess what. We can catch the breeze from the discomfort of our own living room. No wonder our house has been so cold this winter.

Well, we went out and bought a new front door.

Our new, to be installed, front door.The good news about this one is that it's Energy Star rated and qualifies for an energy tax credit. I like it because it will not only stop drafts and breezes, but allow some much needed light into the room as well as. I do not like dark rooms.

Installing it will be a real job of work though. Our front door is smaller than the standard size, measuring 34 by 79 inches. Most new front doors all measure 36 by 80 inches, and this doesn't include the framing, which will necessitate making a larger opening to install it. This creates a couple of problems.

One problem with putting in the wider door are the light switches. The switch box is too close to the door and will have to be moved.

The other problem is the fact that in the living room walls are 3/4" cement board. All of them. While it's not impossible to cut cement board, it's not as easy as drywall not to mention makes a heck of a lot of dust!!!! :(

We'll need warmer weather before we can work with a big hole in the living room, so as soon as we finish up the dining room, we'll get started on the bathroom. Expect to see more on both of these projects sometime this summer.

The Front Door copyright February 2010
by Leigh at http://www.5acresandadream.com/

February 22, 2010

Early Spring Planting

So, is it spring yet? Maybe not according to the calendar and the groundhog, but yesterday was an absolutely glorious day; upper 60sF, beautiful blue skies, and no bone chilling wind blowing out of the north. As you can imagine, I was out in it.

Except for the red Pontiacs, sweet potatoes, and rugosa roses, my seed and nursery orders are in, so I have been planning, preparing, and planting!

I'm late for planting garden peas outdoors. Also for starting cabbage plants indoors. I could have planted the peas during the first two weeks of February. But, the soil's been too muddy to till, with all the rain we've been having and then that snow. We did finally get part of the garden tilled, and I got the peas planted last Wednesday. Little Marvels, which aren't supposed to need trellising. We'll see.

I didn't realize it, but I could have started my cabbages indoors around the first of the year. I'm way behind on that, but then I didn't have my seeds yet. I need to plan better next year. For spring planting, I bought nine Dutch flat cabbage plants to put in. My mouth is watering just thinking about sauerkraut I'll be making from them. I'll use my cabbage seeds for a fall planting.

Some of the really exciting stuff though, is this bed of 52 strawberry plants...

... planted where last year's green beans and sunflowers were. I planted 25 Junebearing (Allstar) and 27 everbearing (Eversweet).

Down in the big garden, in the garden side zigs and zags of our zig zag fence....

.... I planted three Caroline red raspberries (in the foreground, you can see one cane sticking up) and two more blueberries (one Jubilee and one O'Neal), farther down the fence.

Still to plant, five horseradish roots. I've never had horseradish plants before, and need to figure out where to put them. They're perennial, so they need a permanent spot. My research tells me they deter potato bugs, so the potato patch is a good place for them. I wasn't sure about that though, because my potato patch won't be in a permanent location. I also read that horseradish is prone to taking over, and to plant them in pots. So, I'm thinking about planting them in pots, and then sinking the pots in with the potatoes. I have plenty of three and five gallon pots leftover from planting the Leyland Cypresses. If I do that, I can keep them contained and move the pots about as I change locations for my potatoes from year to year.

I also need to plant my cabbage plants. I've been hardening them off and now today, more rain. *Sigh*. Hopefully I can get them in the ground soon, with the rest of my cool weather crops!

Early Spring Planting text and photos copyright February 2010 

February 17, 2010

Farm? Homestead? What Are We About?

I was very interested in your comments to my Why We're Not A Hobby Farm post, and I want to thank everyone for taking the time to share your thoughts. It's turned into a very interesting conversation, and you've given me a few more things to ponder and think about.

Besides "hobby farm," another term popped up quite frequently in my internet searching, homestead. I've pretty much thought of the terms farm and homestead, as interchangeable. More and more though, I realize I've made a subconscious switch to "homestead," when I think and talk about what we're doing with our five acres and our dream.

As I wrote last time, we are not and never will be a hobby farm. While I won't deny that I'm enjoying myself tremendously here, I will be the first to insist that our goal never has been to farm just for fun while we get on with the rest of our lives.

So what are we attempting to do here? To clarify my thoughts, I looked up a couple more definitions. These are my words, based on various sources:
  • Farm - area of land and structures maintained as a business through producing food, fiber, and fuel. Involves the production and sale of such products for the purpose of making a living.
  • Homestead - area of land (rural or urban) and home maintained for the purposes of a simplified, sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle.
These alone tell me we're definitely about homesteading. Most of our motives were described in an earlier post, A Simple Life, so I won't necessarily repeat them here.

Like farming though, homesteading is still hard work. I have to tell you though, after a day of cutting and splitting firewood, digging in the garden, putting up fence posts, etc., we are tired but satisfied because we've done something tangibly constructive and meaningful. Something that contributes to our lifestyle. As I work I consider the alternative. We could spend lots of money on labor saving devices, then lament how out of shape and chubby we're getting, and so go spend more money on a membership to the fitness club. Why not simply eliminate the labor saving devices and fitness club, and stay in shape the natural way, with good old-fashioned hard work? It would be cheaper, and just maybe I wouldn't have to work so hard at my job because I would be living a less expensive lifestyle. Makes sense to me.

Still, I wonder about farming. I know that Dan longs to quit his job (he's an over the road truck driver) and make our living here, as farmers. But there are obstacles.

For one, we didn't grow up in farming, so we do not have all the necessary practical knowledge and experience. We have bits and pieces of experience, but to put it all together, there's no modern day farming apprenticeship so to speak. Oh, we could take workshops, courses, seminars, or probably even go to college... no wait, college would just focus on industrialized, agri-biz farming, wouldn't it?

Another problem is that neither Dan nor I have a business mindset. We're artists who tend to gravitate toward planning, creating, and producing rather than marketing and selling. In the past when we've looked into having our own business, the bookkeeping, business and self-employment taxes, plus government impositions, regulations, certifications, fees, etc., are daunting. If a farm is a business, this is something else we'd have to learn.

Lastly, is land usage. We have five acres, about half cleared, the other half wooded with mostly mature pines. It seems to me that all of our land would have to be dedicated to production. I wonder if we would have enough land left over for personal use, such as garden, orchard, animals. As homesteaders we can utilize the land on a smaller scale to meet most of our homesteading needs. Like our master plan.

As many of you have pointed out, farming is a hard life. It's no wonder that over the years children of farmers have instead chosen the security of the steady paycheck elsewhere. But sadly, with that we've lost the agrarian base our society once had, as well as the freedoms it offers: having purpose, being one's own boss, not being totally dependent on others, understanding the seasonal rhythms of the natural world around us, having a sense that what we're doing really matters; to name a few. These are the things Dan and I are trying to get back.

Well, I reckon I've talked your ear off long enough. I'll save the rest of my thoughts for another post. I still have questions, and I'm still contemplating the answers.

Related Posts:
A Simple Life
Why We're Not A Hobby Farm
Fine Tuning The Master Plan

February 16, 2010

Problems With My Barred Hollands. And Chick Pics

We interrupt our philosophical musings to bring you an update on my baby chicks. Unfortunately, I've had problems with my Barred Holland chicks and have lost three.

The first, as I mentioned previously, was dead on arrival. The second had either a leg injury or congenital deformity, we aren't sure which. We made an effort to save it, scouring the internet for causes and cures. We found information on an "orthopedic chair" for chicks with leg problems, here, but the instructions didn't transfer the "how to" from the writer's head to ours. I managed to give it water with an eye dropper and food with a tweezers, but it continued to grow weaker and started to have trouble breathing. I didn't like to see it suffer, so after much emotional turmoil, I made the heart-wrenching decision to put it down. We had already determined that our chickens were not pets, but livestock. We knew that some of them would eventually be butchered. Still, I wasn't mentally prepared for this so soon. Since DH was on the road, the job fell to me.

Then yesterday morning I heard a tiny (but loud) squawk from the brooder box. I looked to see one of the remaining four Barred Holland chicks being run over by another chick. Nothing unusual about that. But when it didn't get up, I took a closer look to discover that this one too, had a bum leg. There had been no sign of it until now, so I don't know what happened.

I called the hatchery (Ideal) and they were very helpful. They credited my account for three chicks and offered explanations and advice for leg problems. Besides slippery surfaces, leg problems in young chicks can also be caused by a vitamin E deficiency. They recommended a vitamin/electrolyte additive to the chicks' drinking water.

The last chick died shortly after that, so there was no prolonged suffering nor a need to do something about it. I'm thankful for that. Still, it leaves us with a bit of an emotional dilemma to resolve.

We plan to take the best care of our animals we possibly can. We will treat their injuries and ailments when we can. But we don't want any of them to suffer needlessly. DH and I realize that death is a part of life, and that sometimes life and death decisions have to be made. We faced that when Rascal was diagnosed with Feline Lymphoma, and fortunately our decision has given him a prolonged, happy, and useful life.

As much as we value life, sometimes death is kinder, even if an animal can be "cured." The question then becomes, "am I doing this for the animal's sake, or mine?" It was difficult to make the decision to put that chick down, and it was difficult to do it. But the relief that followed, from knowing that I had made the right choice, more than made up for the inner struggle I experienced beforehand.

Well, let's end this post on a positive note. Here, as requested, are some lots tons of chick pics.

Three Days Old

Three Welsummer chicks and one Ameraucana chick on right, with black Barred Holland looking to climb over the pile. On left, yellow Delaware chicks. They are already starting to scratch to look for feed.

Ameraucana chick with wee, budding wings.

Yellow chick on left is either a Delaware or Ameraucana. The other two are Ameraucanas.

Four Days Old

I had to replace the brooder box because somehow they managed to dump out all their water during the night and soak the old box, without tipping over the waterer.

I installed them in a new box, covering the litter with paper toweling, until they can learn not to eat their litter. Even so, we noticed that they still managed to discover pieces of litter under the paper towels. This created no small uproar and a great chase around the box. Everybody wanted it.

I tossed a couple pieces of dried grass into the box and waited. These strange objects were suspicious at first,

But as soon as one of them was brave enough to pick it up, the chase was on.

After the games....

A change of litter paper and a nice nap.

Five Days Old

They really like the vitamin and electrolyte flavored water.

The Ameraucana chicks are beginning to develop the facial "muffs" characteristic to the breed. You can see the muff just beginning to puff out under this chick's eye.

Trivia question? What is the difference between Ameraucanas and Araucanas?

Trivia answer. True Araucanas are rumpless (tailless) and have ear tufts. Ameraucanas have tails, facial muffs, and beards. Both have pea combs, red earlobes, and lay bluish green eggs. (Q&A source -
Ameraucana Breeders Club).

Delaware chick with developing wing feathers.

Tails are coming along too, as sported by this Ameraucana.

Welsummer and Delaware chicks trying to roost on the feeder.

This was the day I removed the paper towels and allowed them to roam on the pine mulch (way cheaper than pine shavings in the pet department). The chicks now know the difference between it and their feed, and are enjoying scratching around in it.

text and photos copyright 16 February 2010 by 

February 15, 2010

Why We're Not A Hobby Farm

"Are we a farm yet?" Dan and I joked as we admired our new chicks. Our becoming farmers has been DH's dream ever since we first read the Little House books 12 years ago. It seemed that we are finally on the way to making that dream come true.

Technically we had been looking for a place of our own for about 14 years. After three long distance moves, we finally settled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and started looking for land again. This go-round I used the internet in our searching. As I looked for land and articles about farming in general, the term "hobby farm" popped up here and there. Ever changing terminology, I thought, I can live with that. I found a lot of useful articles at Hobbyfarms.com, and read them with interest. But the more I read, the more I sensed that the type of farming they talk about, wasn't what we had in mind. That was what got me started on trying to define what we are about these days.

Dictionary.com, says a hobby is an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation. Wikipedia defines "hobby farm" as a "small farm that is maintained without expectation of being a primary source of income.... to provide some recreational land ... for sideline income, or are run at an ongoing loss as a lifestyle choice by people with the means to do so."

We don't fall into any of those categories. To me, a hobby is a recreational activity to which one devotes one's time and resources, for the express sense of pleasure and relaxation the activity provides. My spinning, knitting, and weaving fall into that category.

When it comes to the land, our home, and what we are attempting to do here, this isn't a hobby, this is our life. Not that I don't enjoy it, I do, but the more we can raise, grow, and do for ourselves, the freer we'll be from consumerism, the whims of big business and industry, and an economic system which aims solely at ever increasing profits no matter the cost. To not have our lives dictated by these things has been our motivating purpose all along. (See my post, A Simple Life.)

Why do I feel it's important to define this? Is the "why" we do something, as important as the "what" we do? I think if we believe in what we're doing it is.

OK. I've stated what we're not. Now I need to define what we are. More on that, click here.

Text of Why We're Not A Hobby Farm, copyright 15 February 2010
by Leigh at http://www.5acresandadream.com/

Related Posts:
A Simple Life
Farm? Homestead? What Are We About?
A Self-Supporting Homestead
Mindset: Key to Successful Homesteading?

February 13, 2010

They're Here

We have baby chicks!

The post office called at 5:07 yesterday morning to let us know they had just come in. Within minutes we were on our way to pick them up.

We lost one in transit, and two seemed possibly injured, and one was quite weak. DH set them up in a private brood box and we were able to transfer two of them back to the rest later in the day.

These are obviously not the best photos in the world. The flash on my camera alarmed them so most of these are taken without. As you can see I purchased the recommended red heat bulb for my brooder lamp.

Our original deliver date was supposed to be the last week of February. Several weeks ago the hatchery called and asked if they could move it up a couple of weeks. This was due to availability and demand. This was why there was something of a flurry over the coop roof, which happily neither leaked nor blew off in our last round of rain and wind.

I ordered four breeds, six each of: Delawares, Barred Hollands, Welsummers, and Ameracaucanas. I ordered straight run, which means that theoretically I should get half pullets (girls) and half cockerels (boys). We'll see.

The Delawares are most of the yellow chicks. You can learn more about that breed and look at photos of them here.

The dark chipmunk colored ones are Welsummers. Click here, for more info and photos of that breed.

Most of the black ones are Barred Hollands. These are the smallest and least active of the lot. The one that died and the weaker ones were Barred Hollands. More information with photos here.

All the rest are Ameracaucanas, who come in various colors. More on this breed here, along with photos.

These are different from what I was originally thinking about. Part of the reason was based on a comment from Laura (unfortunately blogless). One of her suggestions was to choose a heritage breed. That struck a cord with me, so that part of the decision was easy. Which breed, was much more difficult. The more I read, the more I realized that every chicken owner has different preferences and different favorites. I finally narrowed it down to those four breeds. All four are considered rare breeds. Two, the Delaware and Barred Hollands, are American Heritage breeds. From these we will hopefully develop a preference, and we'll keep a rooster from that breed.

Besides choosing breeds I think are handsome to look at, we will have a real rainbow of egg colors! Delawares lay brown eggs; Barred Hollands, white; Ameracaunas, blue-green; and Welsummers, chocolate brown.

So that's my chicken report. But before I close, I wanted to show you what else we got yesterday....

.... snow!

Two inches by the time we went to bed. A welcome change from rain. Today it's supposed to be mostly sunny and get up into the mid 40sF, so I suppose it will be good bye snow. DH got part of the garden tilled before the snow came, so hopefully I can get my garden peas in the ground soon!

They're Here text and photos copyright 13 February 2010 

Related Posts:
Of Chickens: Gathering Information
Of Chickens: Feed
The Chicken To-Do List
Problems With My Barred Hollands. And Chick Pics

February 11, 2010

Testing For Seed Viability

My seed orders have been sent off, and my saved seeds are safely stashed away. In going through my seeds though, I discovered that I had some old seeds tucked away, collected from several years ago. I'd forgotten all about them.

Still, I wondered if the seeds (echinacea, marigold, and leek) were viable and decided to test them.

Testing echinacea seeds for viabilityI placed ten seeds (echinacea in the above photo) on three layers of damp paper towel.

I rolled the paper towel up and then rolled that in an old wet wash cloth.

This was placed in a plastic bag and labeled. I set it aside in a warm place.

Sprouted leek seedsAfter three days I took a peek. The leek seeds (above) had sprouted, six of them, giving me a 60% germination rate. The echinacea and marigolds hadn't sprouted, but not to worry. Echinacea takes a good 10 to 12 days anyway. [It should be noted that after several days I did remove the damp rag, as it was beginning not to smell so good. The seeds remained moist in the damp paper towels.]

Unfortunately, even after more than two weeks, neither the echinacea nor marigold seed had sprouted. The marigolds were labeled 2007, so that wasn't a surprise. I'm not sure how old the echinacea seed is, probably about the same. Obviously it needs to be replaced.

Happily, my Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalogue just arrived in the mail! Now I can do a supplemental seed order to pick up anything I missed previously, including replacing my dead seeds. :)

Testing For Seed Viability text and photos copyright 11 February 2010 

February 9, 2010

Chicken Coop Update: Almost Ready

Well, we're getting near the end of our chicken to-do list. Still need to make the nest boxes (not a priority), roosts, gate to the chicken yard (materials are at hand), finish ramps, clean up our mess, and set up the brooder. What we have gotten done, hasn't been accomplished without a problem however.

The problem was a big one, as the roof on the shed developed a leak. Several leaks, actually. The roof, tin on top of shingles, hadn't leaked the entire time we've been here, but unfortunately, in this last bout of storms it did!

This was bad news because we're getting down to the wire before the chicks arrive. The silver lining though, is that it was better to have it happen now, rather than after we had chickens housed there.

This situation created something of a dilemma. If the roof was leaking in only one spot, we could have fixed just that spot. But there were several leaks and the roof obviously wasn't going to get any better.

We discussed the options.

Patch it? Pinpointing all the leaks was one problem. Then too, there is no guarantee more won't develop.

Build a new coop? Even if we reallocated some of our savings there wasn't enough time.

Put on a new roof? This seemed the necessary option, but we hesitated. Time and money were one consideration, but the age and condition of the shed was another. Putting a new roof on a semi-dilapidated shed would be like putting shiny new hubcaps on a car with a rusted out body.

In the end we opted for a quick fix, which hopefully will last until we can actually make and implement plans for new housing. I bought a 16 x 30 foot tarp, which covers the entire thing.

We put the blue side down and you almost can't tell it's there. (That's Rascal in the photo, testing out the chicken door.)

This is a real "making do" solution, obviously not permanent, but hopefully satisfactory for the time being. Dan has been itching to build a new barn, so he doesn't mind pushing the project up on the priority list.

Chicken Coop Update: Almost Ready text and photos copyright 
9 February 2010 by Leigh at http://www.5acresandadream.com/

February 7, 2010

Fine Tuning The Master Plan

One of the things on my winter to-do list has been to work on my herb garden plans. Getting my seed order in has prompted me to set about this task in earnest, because I need to decide where to plant those seeds!

To help with this, I've turned to two of the volumes I mentioned as being on the nightstand, Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke. These books are similar in content to two other books I read last summer, Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard Into a Garden and Your Neighborhood Into a Community, by Heather C. Flores, and The Self-Sustaining Garden: A gardener's guide to matrix planting by Peter Thompson. Neither of these are nearly as extensive as Jacke's books, but they served as a good introduction to a concept which has been a goal of ours for as long as I can remember -- to steward every square foot of our land for function as well as beauty.

I set about to plan my herb gardens by taking a look at the Edible Forest Gardens chapters on design process (ch. 3, vol. 2). As I read through the section, "How to Articulate Your Goals: Four Options," I quickly realized that my first step needed to include a consideration of our land as a whole. Even though I had previously drawn out a master plan, we now needed to refine that plan to better fit the herb gardens into the big picture.

Copies of all our master plans are available in my book, 5 Acres & A
Dream The Book: The Challenges of Establishing a Self-Sufficient
. For more information, click here.

The new master plan is similar to my first sketch, but more accurate I think, in terms of building size and placement, and the yard. Some things, like the fence line, are still approximate, but you get the idea. Some things on the sketch have already been implemented, others are future.

What this exercise did for me, was to more clearly define the separate "landscape" areas for which I need to plan:
  • Herb gardens in the front yard
  • Bird garden to the right of the house
  • "Orchard" between the veggie garden & zig zag fence
  • Almond tree area across the driveway from the herb gardens. This is where last summer's garden was.
  • The "backyard" left of the house, which will serve as a recreational area
Here are my thoughts on these areas at present, including an update of what we've done so far:

Herb Gardens

This is actually my target area at the moment and I'm working on a separate post for that. Details soon!

Bird Garden

  • Bird Garden is the view from our kitchen and dining room windows, also from the back windows of my studio.
  • Has two bird baths, two seed feeders, and one suet feeder
  • Is shaded
  • Is fairly private from the road
  • Serves as a walk through area to the vegetable garden
  • To develop it as quite area / bird sanctuary type shade garden.
  • Benches for seating
  • DH would also like to put a solar fountain there. I wonder though, how well would a solar fountain work in the shade???

Does four fruit trees qualify it to be an orchard??? I just don't know what else to call it.

  • Have planted two dwarf pear trees and two semi-dwarf apple trees.
  • Added the zig zag fence to define the area.
  • Planted elder bushes in two of the "zigs" on the garden side of the fence; daylilies and daffodils planted on the road side.
  • This area needs the drainage tended to. We almost planted the almond tree at the bottom of the tree row, but fortunately discovered an underground rain puddle there before we put it in (which is why we planted it where it is now). It needs a series of swales to direct rain runoff down the slope, and a cistern/pond at the bottom to collect it away from the trees and shrubs.
  • This spring I'm going to plant a mix of orchard grass and ladino clover there, for ground cover, for some nitrogen fixing (which the apples and pears will appreciate), and for whatever small amount of hay we can get.
  • Plant more flowering and fruiting shrubs in the fence zigs and zags (on order).
  • Also need to consider the strip of ground on the side of the road. I don't want to have to maintain it by mowing. Maybe plant a short perennial clover there, like White Dutch? (Also considering this for the shoulder of the road near the Leyland Cypresses.)
Almond Tree

This is where I had last summer's vegetable garden.

  • Area defined by a concrete border
  • Almond tree newly planted
  • Daylilies and daisies planted along the roadside edge
  • Original plan was to plant a big shade tree here to shade the house's southwestern facing windows and front porch. This plan was upset when we needed a quick place to plant the almond tree. The almond tree will not be as big, mature height of 15 feet, spread the same, so I'm not sure how much shade to eventually expect for the house.
  • Still need to shade those windows. Currently thinking, muscadine vines on trellises(?) One thing I've discovered is that these windows only get setting sun in summer. In winter the sun sets directly to the front of the house.
  • Not sure what to do with the rest of this space. On the original master plan, it was labeled "shade garden."
  • Will put my strawberry plants there in the spring, where last year's green beans were.
  • Also considering putting my forsythias along the line farthest from the house, to provide some visual privacy from cars coming from that direction.
"Backyard," Recreational Area

I have "backyard" in quotation marks because it's really a side yard, but will serve as a backyard would.

  • Shaded by the big old oaks.
  • Open with little to no shrubs or undergrowth
  • Easily accessed from the back door
  • Fire pit for camp fires
  • Recently transplanted azaleas to define the area and create a privacy hedge
  • DH wants to build a barbecue pit and smoke house here.
  • Maybe I can get an outdoor oven into the bargain???
  • Will be the only area with "lawn"
  • Need to consider growing replacements for the oaks. They are old and we don't know how much longer they'll last.
  • Need to consider seating and dining. Picnic table?
I should mention one other book which has been helpful in planning these areas, What Plant Where, by Roy Lancaster. This book was recommended to me by Canadian reader, Val. Though it doesn't deal specifically with edibles and medicinals (the qualifying feature for what I plant), it has been helpful nonetheless, as it divides plants according to specific landscape categories such as size, shape, color, soil, sunlight, position, seasonal features, etc. (Plus, being a Dorling Kindersley book, it's a treat to look at.)

Other areas of consideration

  • Field #1 - will be used for grazing/browsing for livestock (goats and chickens)
  • Field #2 - we're hoping to have at least part of it plowed this spring for field corn and ?
  • Researching eventually alternating the two for growing and grazing
Other new features in the Master Plan
  • Greenhouse - the best idea at present is to put it next to the carport. My clothes line is there now, so this will have to be moved. A greenhouse location has been something of a problem, because the sunniest places on the property are near the road, and I don't want the greenhouse near the road.
  • Rainwater catchment tank - behind the greenhouse(?). Possibly others?
  • Bees - hives on the south side of the coal barn where they'll be shaded in summer by the magnolia and fig trees, and protected by the barn from northern winter winds
  • Pond - well, that's not new but it still is a future project
  • Coal barn & animal shed - these were replaced by a barn in the original master plan. We're rethinking this and are leaning toward replacing the respective buildings in their current footprints. Unanswered question - are they large enough to meet our needs?
Undecided - not on the master plan
  • Rabbits - we've discussed these in terms of meat and manure. The hesitation stems, I think, because I used to have Angora rabbits for fiber, (more on that here), and these were pets. It would take a mental adjustment to see them as livestock and to butcher them.
  • Pig - for meat, manure, and lard. This isn't on our radar yet, so to speak, but something we mention from time to time as a possibility.
  • Hay storage - can use the coal barn car port, but need to think of a better location. This is a consideration in regards to building a new barn or replacing current sheds.
Fine Tuning The Master Plan text and photo copyright 7 February 2010
by Leigh at http://www.5acresandadream.com/

February 5, 2010

Problems With My Sourdough

I have been having a couple of problems with my accidental sourdough starter. Oh, it remains alive and well....

This in itself is something of a minor miracle because it requires daily feeding, and I can be decidedly absent minded about things like that. However, daily feeding also means daily growing. This is my first problem. It keeps growing and I continually need to do something with it so that it doesn't outgrow it's crock.

One possible solution would be putting it in the fridge to slow it down. But I don't have room in my small refrigerator for it! So it resides in our unheated back room "cold storage," quite happily, but still growing. Under the circumstances there is nothing for it but to use it.

My first couple of experiments using my starter weren't that great, as I tried to use the starter itself as a batter base. Then Sharon gave me a sourdough applesauce cake recipe and I began to understand how to use my starter. The basic process is to mix the starter, flour, and liquid, and let stand for several hours at least, if not overnight.

I have to confess that even though I've used her recipe quite a bit, I still haven't made it with applesauce! What I have done, is to modify it and substitute things like some of my rehydrated figs, canned pumpkin, or unsweetened carob chips....

Sourdough Carob Chip Cake

1 C sourdough starter
1 C unbleached white flour
1/2 C milk

Mix and let stand about an hour and a half. Then cream

1/2 C organic palm shortening
3/4 C raw sugar

Mix with starter mixture and add

1 egg
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Mix well. Lastly, fold in

1 pkg unsweetened carob chips

Pour into greased and floured Bundt pan and bake at 350° F about 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Unsweetened carob chips are naturally sweet, so I was able to cut the sugar by 1/4 cup. We loved it! I do plan to try the original recipe with applesauce soon. If you'd like a copy of that, you need to ask Sharon.

While experimenting with this, I began to wonder why the starter couldn't substitute for buttermilk in pancake, muffin, and biscuit recipes. Like buttermilk, it contains lactic acid, which reacts with alkaline baking soda to create carbon dioxide bubbles, causing the batter to rise. I reasoned that it should be able to replace buttermilk in any baked goods recipe.

With that in mind, I started using starter in my muffin and pancake recipes, without allowing the batter sit and rise. I found that I sometimes have to add a little more liquid, but it works well, uses up some of the starter, adds fermented whole grain flour to our diet, and makes things mighty tasty.

Between these two things, the problem of ever increasing starter was solved.

The most challenging thing has been bread. Do you remember my first loaf? I was delighted that it rose, but the texture was more like muffins than bread and the taste was distinctly sour. I needed to work on the recipe.

I found that by using less starter, say 1/2 cup for 3 cups of flour, I could get a dough that rose well and produced a better textured bread. I felt this may be the answer until DH told me he really didn't care for the sour in the sourdough bread. This was my second problem and it was devastating because I thought I'd found the answer to natural bread baking!

I was still puzzling over this when I read this post, at Chiot's Run blog. In it, Suzy mentioned reading that baking soda is supposed to help reduce the sourness of sourdough pancakes. I had definitely noticed that all the recipes in which I'd been using both starter and baking soda (muffins, pancakes, cake, etc.), really didn't taste like sourdough. I hadn't realized it was the baking soda however.

I decided to experiment with my bread recipe. The result?

Leigh's Sourless Whole Wheat Sourdough BreadBeautiful whole wheat bread with no sour taste to it! Second problem solved.

Here's what I did...

Sourless Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

The night before:

1/2 C sourdough starter
1/2 C warm water
3 C whole wheat flour

Mix to form a soft dough, adding more warm water if needed. Grease or butter the surface to keep it from drying out. Cover with a clean dishcloth, and let sit overnight.

Next day add:

Big glob of honey
Big blob of organic palm softened shortening
1/2 tbsp sea salt
1/2 tbsp baking soda
Enough unbleached white flour to make a stiff dough

Knead well (I cheat. I use my Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook). Shape in bread pan and let rise until double in bulk. This takes quite a bit longer than yeast bread and I could have let mine go a bit more if I'd wished. Bake at 350° until done (I use the baking cycle on my bread machine.)

Problem solved! DH is happy with the taste of the bread, and I'm happy that I'm baking beautiful bread without yeast.

Related Posts:
Accidental Sourdough

Problems With My Sourdough text and photos copyright
5 February 2010 by Leigh at http://www.5acresandadream.com/