April 29, 2010

Chickens Lookin' Good

Theresa asked how my chickens are doing, and I have to say very well. They are about three months old now, but since they're pretty much grown, I don't run out there with the camera quite so often. But, since it's been awhile since my last chicken update; obviously it's time for another!

Good Mornin' Chickens!My first chicken chore of the day is to let them out into their yard. This is pretty much a typical presentation, with the white Ameraucana cockerel (I've seen this one crow, or rather, attempt to crow) front and center. The Delawares (left) are always first for anything. The chicken on the right is another Ameraucana, I'm hoping this one is a pullet.

My chickens enjoying a drinkWhile they're running around and stretching their legs, I get fresh water. I don't know why, but the water in this old dog dish is infinitely superior to the same water in the chicken waterer in the coop.

Chickens foraging under the cedar treeUsually I go get some handfuls of weeds next. I'm learning to identify what they like. Late April has been tough though, because the offerings I find aren't as much to their liking. I was hopeful though, when a few of them were willing to eat some of the kudzu leaves I brought.

What are you lookin' at???Besides foraging, resting in the sun if it's chilly & the shade if it's hot, running in and out of the coop, and an occasional communal dust bath fill the hours of their days.

One question that might be on your mind (and mine as well), is how many roosters do I have? I have 19 chickens total, and I've positively identified six, maybe seven cockerels, though I know there are more.

The Welsummers were easiest to sex, due to different coloring of males and females. I have six of this breed, three of each.

3 month old Welsummer pulletWellie pullet

3 month old Welsummer cockerelWellie roo

Of my five Ameraucanas, I've seen three crowing. I'm watching and waiting on the last two. Of course I'm hoping for pullets. I don't know about this one though...

3 month old Ameraucana Ameraucana pullet????

You may recall that I lost four of the six Barred Hollands I ordered. Thankfully, I seem to have one of each.

My pair of Barred Hollands
3 month old DelawareThe Delawares are more difficult to tell the difference yet. I have six, and I know there are some of each. I won't know the final count until they've matured a little more.

Waiting for their kitchen scrapsIn the early evening, I bring out the kitchen and garden scraps. The late day timing of this is deliberate, as eventually they will be allowed to pasture in the goat field. I want to develop the routine now, so that they will come back to the yard for their scraps before going to bed. As you can see, they're catching on, and I always find them watching and waiting for me around suppertime. When I come with their scraps, I call out "chick, chick, chick" for a verbal signal as well. Food is a wonderful incentive, isn't it? :)

Chickens toward the end of the day.Eventually they head back into the coop.

A cozy roostExcept for one Welsummer, they all roost together on the top roosting bar. There are 18 chickens up there, all wondering what in the world I'm doing in the coop after dark.

Soon we'll have to start culling out the roosters. There are daily mock stand-offs amongst them, but I realize that it's going to get more serious pretty soon. I'm not entirely certain how to choose a flock rooster, except to eliminate some by breed. If we do indeed have a pair of Barred Hollands, that one may very well be the rooster we keep. DH really likes the breed, and as a rare American heritage breed, it would be a good choice to raise. Not many places raise and sell them.

I have to confess though, that I'm kinda partial to the Welsummers, and we have discussed the possibility of keeping two separate flocks. Considering everything we have to do, that may well be a future project. In that case we'll stick with the Barred Holland rooster, as Welsummers are easier to come by.

Chickens Lookin' Good text and photos copyright April 2010
by Leigh at http://www.5acresandadream.com/

Related Posts:
Did I Mention They Are Boring? - The chickens from our cat's perspective

April 26, 2010

Colors of April

Sue (Life Looms Large) has put out the challenge to show our April colors. April has been our "greening" month, and I have to say that the predominant colors seem to be spring green, pink, white, and purple.

We've had violets absolutely everywhere. I didn't notice them last year because they were buried in the overgrowth.

My azalea bloomed. Hopefully the ones I transplanted last fall will bloom next spring too. I had to prune off all the flower buds for a more successful tranplant.

Two little blossoms on my new almond tree! I won't get any almonds, but was delighted to see these. Two little blossoms on one of my peach trees were pink as well. Unfortunately, I appear not to have photographed them. :( They were a brighter pink, more like the azaleas than the almonds.

The spirea bloomed this year. I noticed the bushes when I cleared out last year, but I'm guessing it hadn't received enough sun to bloom. This year, here it is.

My rabbiteye blueberry bush was loaded with blossoms! These bloomed light pink, but have paled as they've opened. If they all become blueberries, we will be wealthy indeed.

Dogwood with one of our old oaks in the background.

And here's another discovery, periwinkle. It too, is all over the place, and it too was smothered with overgrowth last year. Then too, I suspect we mowed both it and the violets down last summer, in an attempt to clear out around the house. This year I'll be more selective in my mowing. I love these spring bloomers and want to keep them and nurture them. Lovely little gifts of nature.

That's it for me. For more Colors of April, click here.

Colors of April text and photos copyright April 2010
by Leigh at http://www.5acresandadream.com/

April 25, 2010

Independence Days Challenge: April 18 - 24

I build the time into my life

Sharon Astyk on "The Food Preserver's Year," Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation
Is there anyone out there who can tell me that they aren't busy with their lives? Who have so little to do that they are actually bored most of the time? Maybe. But chances are that most of you (which are probably homesteaders and fiber artists), are like I am, with to-do lists bigger than the day is long.

Building the time into my life makes sense. The concept fits well with goal setting, priority setting, and time management. Even so, there are many aspects of homesteading that require flexibility. Weather for example. This morning I was going to harvest the last of my fall garden root crops: carrots, beets, and garlic. After that I was going to help DH work on the goat fence. But we awoke to rain. A gentle rain, a welcome rain, a rain necessary for all the seeds on my "plant something" list below. But also a change of plans rain.

Of course another project had to be substituted, but that also meant a change of mental gears, if you will. And with that a sense of urgency regarding the outdoor projects which had to be put off. That is something else I contemplate. Urgency versus importance. Are urgent projects the same as important projects? If for example, I have a pile of library books due today, and a garden full of bursting ripe tomatoes needing to be picked and canned, what do I do? I may have a sense of urgency about those library books, because they will start accruing overdue fines if I don't get them back to the library pronto. On the other hand, when my tomatoes are ready to pick and process, I risk losing them if I procrastinate. Sometimes the urgent thing isn't the most important thing. I often have to remind myself of that.

In many ways, building the time into my life is part of the seasonal lifestyle rhythm that I lamented not having in this post. But also, I tend to get fixed on my daily plans so that I sometimes forget that I need flexibility as well as structure. I admit that's something of a challenge for me, but a necessary one.

That said, here's the update I on what I accomplished this past week:

1. Plant something
  • Rutgers tomato seedlings
  • melon seedlings
  • rhubarb plants
  • Echinacea purpurea seed
  • calendula seed
  • yarrow seed
  • anise hyssop seed
  • petunia plants
2. Harvest something -
  • cabbage leaves from spring garden plants
  • romaine lettuce from fall garden
  • broccoli from fall garden
3. Preserve something - nothing this week

4. Waste Not
  • I didn't think about it earlier, but these are some things I do personally to conserve water.I got into these habits when we were under severe drought conditions for a couple of years.
    • Since there are only two of us, I wash dishes by hand. When filling the sink, I used to turn on the hot water until the cold water was out of the line, then turn on the cold water to adjust the temperature, and lastly stop up and fill the sink. It finally occurred to me just to stop the sink first and turn on the hot water. It would take 3/4 of a gallon to warm up, and I didn't need to turn on the cold water. I simply let the running hot water mix with the cold already in the sink.
    • If I am going for straight hot water, such as when I make yogurt, I let the water run into a pitcher while waiting for it to warm up. I use this to fill one of the bird baths, water a potted plant, or dump it into the washing machine for the next wash.
    • After the yogurt is done and the water has cooled, I dump it from the cooler into the washing machine, or use it for plants.
    • I often save and freeze cooking waters as a soup base, but if not, I let it cool and use it to water plants.
  • Tried to make a soaker hose from an old, discarded garden hose. I punched holes in it with a nail and hammer. It worked, but not all that well. I'll continue to use it until either it proves itself worthless, or I manage to conquer it.
5. Want Not
  • Continuing working on goat fencing
  • Dried leaves for chicken litter
  • Dried leaves for mulch
  • Bought 10 pack of soap for storage
  • Started working on the back room for an enlarged pantry/food storage (details soon)
  • We use our outdoor grill a lot, in fact it is part of my summer kitchen. One day we were out of charcoal, so DH collected sticks and grilled our hamburgers over a small wood fire. Tasty! We've been doing that for hamburgers ever since.
6. Build Community Food Systems
  • Found a local feed store which sells a western Carolinas livestock feed. The feed is milled about 95 miles away, from locally grown grains. Perhaps the mill isn't part of my community, but the feed store is. And at least it's grown and milled closer than the national brand I was buying.
7. Eat the Food
  • Wild onions in scrambled eggs
  • sourdough starter in cakes, bread, and muffins
  • fresh lettuce on those fire roasted hamburgers

April 23, 2010

Planting & Harvesting For Food Storage: How Much?

I mentioned in my last post, that one of our goals, is to grow and preserve as much of our own food as possible. Obviously some planning is needed here. How much will we need? How much do I need to plant? How much will I need to preserve and store? How big does the garden need to be? Where will I store it?

My approach to all of this is not very profound. Common sense, mostly. I consider how much of a particular item or food group we eat each week, and then figure out how much of it we will need until next year's harvest comes in.

For example, if we want to eat a quart of green beans each week (two meals for the two of us), then obviously I'll need 52 quarts, whether fresh or preserved. If I can manage seven canner loads (7 quarts a load), then those 49 quarts will serve both our weekly needs when I can't get fresh, as well as having extra for company or other occasions.

Or fruit for breakfast. This year we should be able to eat fresh melon, strawberries, and figs from our garden in season. Blueberries too perhaps, although I didn't find the rabbiteyes particularly good for fresh eating (better for pancakes, muffins, or pie). In the next several years we can add raspberries and peaches to that. And pears, although I'll prefer those fresh pears and apples for snacks. When fresh fruit isn't in season, I need to consider how much to preserve. I am still in the discovery phase regarding how long I can count on fresh homegrown fruit, but for the sake of planning, I may want to assume I'll need eight months worth of preserved fruit, once all my fruit comes to bear. That means (!mental math calculations ahead!) if we want to eat a serving of fruit with breakfast, and we can get two breakfast's from a pint of canned fruit, I need 3 and 1/2 pints per week, or about 136 pints for the year. Or 68 quarts. I can further ask myself, do I want to supplement with something I can only purchase at the grocery, like grapefruit? If so, I need to put up less. Or I still may want the extra just in case.

Key to this is knowing how much to plant, which includes calculations for possible losses from to insects, birds, plant disease, or some other disastor. It's not an exact science and for this location I don't have that figured out yet. I do know from last summer's garden, that one green pepper plant isn't enough for a year's worth of peppers (frozen). Nor is a 75 foot row of green beans adequate for that one quart a week we'd like to eat. I know that four hills of cucumbers is just adequate for a year's worth of fresh cukes and pickles, but I have to consider that I'm down to my last jar of picckle relish and will need to make more this summer.

Where to store it all is another matter, and we're working on that too.

The challenge this year is that I still have a number of unknowns. I'm still learning about my soil, growing season, and garden yield for my little corner of the world. Then there's unexpected things, like the fact that only one pea in the row decided to grow this spring. Or things like never having planted potatoes before, I'm not entirely certain of what to expect. Nor what our need will be, especially if we switch our staple dinner starch to potatoes rather than brown rice.

In the end, this year will be one of experimentation. And I'm okay with that. I'm just happy to be doing it.

April 21, 2010

Thoughts on Seed Saving

Gardening. Self-sustaining food production. Open-pollinated seeds. Produce variety. Seed saving. Each of these concepts by itself is pretty easy for me to manage mentally. Putting them all together is turning out to be not as simple as I first assumed however.

I have to confess that I have a sense of frustration with the concept of a self-supporting homestead. This is largely because I don't have a seasonal routine yet. I know that spring is for planting, fall is too. Summer is for harvesting and preservation. Autumn for collecting seeds and preparing the garden for the next year. Winter is for nurturing the fall garden, planning, and getting an early start on planting seeds. So the general overview I'm okay with. It's putting all the details together that are difficult.

Part of this is because I am still learning the soil and seasons here. With each garden I've had, I developed a seasonal rhythm, knowing when things needed to be done. As we come up on the anniversary of our first year here, I know that I am just beginning to get a sense of that. It is an experiential process, for which cooperative extension literature and regional gardening books are only nominally helpful.

Another thing is that some of these activities are new for me. In the past I've had little success with my early seed starting, yet I know this is something I must master and make a permanent part of my homesteading routine. My attempts this year were weak, as were many of my seedlings. Still, they're getting in the ground and I have hopes most will make it.

My fall garden was a new experience. Rather I should say my successful fall garden was a new experience. I'd tried before with not such good results. Being able to harvest turnips and carrots throughout the winter was a real blessing. As was seeing my fall broccoli, lettuce, radishes, and spinach make a spring comeback. This year I need to expand on that by learning and utilizing more overwintering techniques. I've also added a hoop house to my to-do list.

Food preservation. I'm very comfortable with this for the most part: canning, freezing, and dehydrating, are things I've done for many years. Lacto-fermenting has been new. And welcome. I had good success keeping winter squashes and sweet potatoes throughout the winter, but I've never grown and kept white potatoes before. This is new.

The goal of course, is to grow as much of our own fruit and vegetables as possible. It will be a few years before the fruit trees and bushes will come to bear, but I certainly work toward this with the vegetables. In the beginning, how much we'll need will take some guesswork, but aside from unexpected problems, we should do fairly well with this.

The other goal is saving as much seed for 2011 as possible. I managed to save quite a few from last year, but I would like to expand that this summer. The end goal is to not need to buy any seed.

One concern is growing and saving seed from different varieties of the same vegetable. Corn for example. In the past I only planted hybrid corn and never gave a thought to saving the seed. Now I am concerned about managing to grow both sweet corn and popcorn, but without having them cross pollinate. How to manage? My thinking is going somewhere along these lines....

The sweet corn, Stowell's Evergreen, has 100 day till maturity. Or so says the seed catalog. The popcorn, Japanese White Hulless, takes 110 days. I have some field corn seed too, which takes 95 - 105. I'm not sure if we'll be able to plant the field corn, but the sweet and popcorn for sure. I planted the sweet corn seed last week. The popcorn I will wait until next month, taking advantage of our long growing season. Hopefully they will flower at different times and I can avoid the problem. As an added measure, I will plant them in different gardens. Hopefully I'll be able to save seed from both.

I have the same concern for my beans. I got two types for drying, one for canning green, and one to try for feed: One takes 60 days to mature, one 64, one 85, and the last is unknown! I find myself wondering, can I stagger their plantings over the weeks and days of my growing season to avoid cross pollination?

Then there's squashes (Buttercup, Acorn, & Butternut, yellow crookneck) and melons (cantaloupe, watermelon, and casaba). Oh my. How can I grow all those things but maintain seed purity. How do seed savers manage it all? How would you?

Of course I could take the time to sit down, read, and study Saving Seeds: The Gardener's Guild To Growing and Saving Vegetable and Flower Seeds by Marc Rogers. And I do. Still, there seems to be a vast gap between instructions in a book, head knowledge, and the experience of a thing. It's the knowledge from the experiences that are the building blocks of the seasonal routine I long for. Well, I won't get that by just sitting here at the computer and lamenting that I don't have it! Time to get back to work.

Text of Thoughts on Seed Saving copyright April 2010 

April 19, 2010

"World Famous" Croutons

You'll have to indulge me a bit with the title of this post. My homemade croutons are not world famous, except perhaps, in our little world. But this is what DH calls them because he thinks they are the best thing since sliced bread. Actually, they are made from sliced bread crusts, and we love them on salads and in soups.

This is the perfect thing to do with leftovers and ends of homemade bread: the stuff that's too dry for a sandwich, but not hard as a rock yet. I often toss my bread crusts into a bag and pop them into the freezer until I have enough for a batch.

Sourdough bread crusts saved for croutonsThis is some of my homemade sourdough bread, being sliced into bite size pieces.

Simple ingredients for simple croutonsWe like them simple, just drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Sprinkle and mix...After they're coated, I spread them out in a baking dish or on a cookie sheet. I don't bake them specially, but put them into the oven after I've finished baking something else. The leftover heat in the oven toasts them perfectly. I just have to remember to take them out before I preheat the oven again. (I learned this the hard way.)

Looks good enough to eat, doesn't' it?  :)I've also used melted butter, and seasoned them with garlic powder and other dried herbs. Tasty!

Homemade bread crumbs, tooThe other thing I do with leftover bread is make bread crumbs. I dry it out and whir it up in my blender. Perfect for any recipe calling for them.

"World Famous" Croutons text and photos
copyright April 2010 by Leigh at www.5acresandadream.com/

April 18, 2010

Independence Days Challenge: April 10 - 17

I can't say when the sight of my pantry full of food started to make me feel richer than money in the bank. It was a process of unlearning all the things that my society told me.

Sharon Astyk, Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation

I can relate to this. Not only in terms of a sense of security in case times get tough or a natural disaster strikes, but also in the sense that I am able to help more folks with food from my storage, than I could buy for or donate money to at any given time. This has in fact happened. I have been able to give a week's worth of groceries to friends and family in need, when I never could have afforded to buy that much for them.

Just like with saving money, a little here and a little there adds up in the end. But while saving money seems out of fashion these days, the Independence Days Challenge is heartening in that more and more folks seem to be interested in having well stocked pantries once again. Obviously, myself included.

Here's the little bit I did this past week:

1. Plant something
  • replacement Junebearing strawberry plants
  • Pyrethrum
  • comfrey
  • tomato seedlings
  • sweet pepper seedlings
  • sweet basil seedlings
  • marigolds
  • Lavender
  • thyme
  • oregano
  • parsley
  • sage
  • hollyhocks
  • butterfly flower (weed)
  • rudbeckia
  • corn
  • beans

2. Harvest something -
  • broccoli
  • turnips
  • wild onions
  • carrots
  • radishes
3. Preserve something - nothing this week

4. Waste Not
  • mulching with leaves and cardboard
  • line drying clothes
5. Want Not
  • Stocked up on canned items: mushrooms, mandarin oranges, & chicken
  • Bought an extra can each of black olives & tuna fish
  • Bought a rhubarb plant. Not sure where I'll put it yet!
6. Build Community Food Systems
  • Same ol' same ol', just blogging about it
7. Eat the Food
  • Fresh broccoli and dried cranberry salad with poppy seed dressing. Very tasty!
  • Opened the last jars of strawberry jam and tomato sauce (for pizza, always for pizza)
  • Finally tried my lacto-fremented turnips. Delicious!
  • I have 5 lbs of organic raisins in storage so I made sourdough raisin muffins. Trouble is, DH isn't all that crazy about raisins. The muffins were really tasty, but it looks like I'm going to have to find something else to do with them! Does anyone have a good recipe for raisin pie?
To see what others are doing for Independence Days, click here.

April 16, 2010

Comfrey For The Compost

One thing I never seem to have enough of, is ready-to-use compost. It seems to take a long time to make, mostly due to our shortage of manure. While we can hope to get some from our little flock of chickens and the goats we plan to get as soon as the fence is up, it won't be enough to make all the compost I need for our various gardens, fruit trees, etc. This is why I was delighted to find a source for comfrey.

Comfrey as a medicinal herb is quite controversial. (If you're interested in that discussion, see links at the bottom of this post.) As an aid to composting however, there is no dispute. Here are my quick comfrey facts:
  • High in nitrogen, making it a great compost activator.
  • Deep rooted (8 ft) dynamic accumulator, tapping deep soil for nutrients like potassium
  • Contains 2 -3 times more potassium than barnyard manure
  • Low in fiber, so that it has an extremely fast decomposition rate
  • Carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is lower than well rotted compost, meaning it be tilled directly in the garden with no wait-time before planting, nor the need for added nitrogen.
  • For the same reason it can be used as a side dressing
  • Can be used to make liquid fertilizer. More info on that here.
  • High in protein, making it an excellent supplementary feed for livestock
  • Source of allantoin which is curative and preventative for scours
  • Can be dried to like hay
  • Also a general nectary plant for bees and beneficial insects
  • Grows quickly (2 ft / month) and can be cut frequently. This makes it a high yield plant for feed and especially that compost!
This is a crown cutting of Symphytum peregrinum, Russian comfrey, Bocking #4 strain, which makes it especially suitable for livestock feed, as well as composting. I ordered 25, but received 5 extras plus 3 root cuttings.

It is perennial, and likes a fairly rich, sweet soil. I decided that a good home for it would be last year's garden, where the strawberries and almond tree are planted. Last summer's mulch has decomposed quite a bit, enriching the soil, plus I have been dumping wood ashes there all winter, so the pH should be better for it. It prefers sun, but can grow in partial shade. Whether or not the almond tree shades it too much in the future remains to be seen.

I planted the crowns on a grid, 3 feet apart. Hopefully I should see first growth in about a week. This first year will be for establishing the plants, with a few leaves for the chickens. Next year I will be able to harvest leaves for the garden. I am looking forward to that.

Before I forget, here are the links I promised:

The Organic Gardener - Growing & Using Garden Comfrey - How to use comfrey in compost

Comfrey Central - A Clearinghouse for Symphytum Information - a balanced and objective look at current comfrey research.

Henriette's Herbal Homepage - things to consider when reading claims about comfrey
University of Maryland Medical Center - uses and cautions of medicinal comfrey

Mother Earth News - Comfrey For the Homestead

Alternative Field Crops Manuel - Comfrey - University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension

Comfrey For The Compost photo & text copyright 

April 14, 2010

Wild Foods: Onions & Sheep Sorrel

Common wild onions grow all over the placeIn my last IDC post, you all joined in for an interesting discussion about food stigmas. I suspect there are stigmas about wild foods too, though Euell Gibbons did a lot to bring wild foods into the gourmet spotlight. I certainly enjoyed his books and still have my copy of Stalking The Wild Asparagus. In addition, I have a copy of Peterson Field Guides Edible Wild Plants in our homestead library.

The wild onions pictured at left are a common sight. They seem to grow everywhere and it's not unusual to get a whiff of them whenever someone is mowing their lawn.

I harvested some last week and we've been enjoying them. The tops (before flowering) can be chopped and used like chives. They smell wonderful while being sautéed in olive oil or butter...

Wild onion tops chopped into cooked eggsFresh pickle of wild onions... and add a mild, pleasant flavor for my scrambled eggs.

The little onion bulbs are like working with shallots and can be used the same way. I took the ones I didn't cook and made a fresh pickle with them, using leftover pickle juice.

They do get stronger (hotter) as they get bigger. But they sauté nicely and make a nice substitute for garden grown onions.

Once they flower, I'm thinking I'll be better able to identify the species.

Medicinally, the wild onions are used for colds and respiratory ailments.

Another common sight, sheep sorrelThe other thing we've been eating is sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), another common sight. I haven't found enough to cook a couple of servings by itself, but I've been adding it to cook with spinach. It adds a nice tangy flavor to it. I think it would be an excellent flavoring for fish too.

Sheep sorrel is kin to dock and I read that it's juice can remove rust, mold, and ink stains from linen, wool, and wicker. I haven't tried this though so I don't know how well it works. Anyone?

Although wild foods are sometimes a bit more trouble to gather and prepare than garden grown, I still like the idea having care free, volunteer foods available. Consequently I'm tempted to say that these are two "weeds" that I won't try to eradicate completely, but really, who can keep up with weeds anyway. :)

April 12, 2010

Goat Fence: The Home Stretch

Some days it seemed as though we'd never get to this point...

9, 100 ft rolls of 48 inch welded wire fencing
The day to purchase the almost 900 feet of welded wire fencing we need for the goat field. It rained all winter and the ground was too wet to put in fence posts. Last month it finally dried out and we made good progress then.

The back side of the field, along the wood line
We got all the h-braces completed and t-posts in.

Corners braced with either wire or cedar posts
We also finished bracing all the corners. This is an odd shaped field (see field #1 on our Master Plan), which meant we had six corners to set and brace. We will also end up putting in five gates. This is not only for access to the field itself, but other parts of the property.

This area is by far the most complicated to fence. Field #2 on the other hand, has four corners and will need only three gates. For it, the back side will use the fence for field #1, so it should go more quickly. After that, we want to fence the back of the property, the woods, which is shaped like a triangle. The challenge back there will be areas where trees are down along the property line, and have to be cleaned up first. The terrain is a little rougher back there as well.

Dan is hoping we'll have the fence up and ready by the end of the month. That would be great because the field is becoming quite a jungle. We either need to get it grazed down, or we need to have it brush hogged. The first option is our first choice!

Text & photos of Goat Fence: The Home Stretch copyright 

April 10, 2010

Independence Days Challenge: April 4 - 9

I've been reading chapter 8, "Eating From Food Storage Every Day," in Sharon Astyk's book, Independence Days. One of the things she addresses in this chapter, is food stigmas. I have experienced this.

When my children were small, I told their Louisianan great-grandmother that I wanted to have a summer garden and preserve as much as I could from it. Since she had done the same for many, many years, I thought she would be pleased to hear this. Instead she was shocked and disapproving. "Why in heaven's name would you want to do that!" she asked. "You can afford to buy food."

My first husband, who grew up in her home, carried this attitude into his adult life. Not in regards to gardening and preserving food, but he would buy things simply because we could "afford" to. Whether it was gas at a more expensive gas station, or eating at an expensive restaurant, it was important to him to show that we had money to do things. In fact, when I wanted to cut up our credit cards, he refused because we could "afford" to be in debt. Of course, this went against my frugal grain, and as you can imagine, was the primary source of disagreement between us. It's probably no surprise that he was never interested in having a garden.

Sharon speaks of a slightly different food stigma, that of "poor people's food." Her point is that as Americans, we see a staple diet of basic foods as something only poor people eat. We are accustomed to food variety via our grocery stores, to the point where this is our "normal," even though such luxury is quite recent in the history of human civilization.

Food stigmas are stumbling blocks to creating a food storage. That and the idea that only radicals and doomsdayers stockpile food. But consider this. What if the breadwinner in your family were to lose their job and couldn't find work for several months. This has happened to Dan and me.

The first time he was unemployed, we had no food storage and it was horrible. It lasted long enough that I started skipping all but one meal a day in order to have enough food for my kids. Our cupboard got down to having only a jar of peanut butter and a box of stale ice cream cone cups. That was breakfast for about a week. Canned pork and beans and 25 cent boxes of mac and cheese were our dinner.

The second time was while we were preparing for Y2K, and we did have food storage. DH was out of work for several months, but we ate well. Well enough to not notice that we couldn't afford to buy food. What a difference.

Those experiences are why the Independence Days Challenge is meaningful to me. It's motivating me to get serious about our food storage once again, and weekly blog updates help keep me on track!

Here's what I did this past week:

1. Plant something
2. Harvest something -
  • cabbage leaves
  • carrot
  • beet leaf thinnings
  • lettuce thinnings
  • spinach thinnings
  • radishes
  • wild onions
  • sheep sorrel
  • broccoli
3. Preserve something -
4. Waste Not
  • Used an old cardboard box, wood ashes from the woodstove, and some sandy soil to make a dust bath box for the chickens.
  • mulched blueberry bushes with pine needles from woods
5. Want Not
  • found organic pasta for an excellent price and bought several packages for food storage. It's made with unbleached white flour, so should keep well
6. Build Community Food Systems
  • Blogging about it (0f course)
  • drew seed giveaway winner this week
  • talked with neighbors about chickens and gardening
7. Eat the Food
  • Had our first salad with ingredients solely from the garden: included raw broccoli; thinnings from beets, lettuce, & spinach; a few cabbage leaves; grated carrot & turnip; and sliced radishes.
  • Ate the last butternut squash, halved, seeded and baked with honey and butter. Yum.
To read what other Independence Days Challengers are doing, click here.

Related Posts:
A Self-Supporting Homestead?
Re-establishing A Food Storage

April 8, 2010

Potatoes & Horseradish

My seed potatoes are planted.

Originally I ordered 4 lbs of Red Pontiacs, but when confronted with bags of them at Tractor Supply, I bought another 5 lbs "just in case." Just in case of what I'm not sure, but now I have 10, 23 foot row trenches of potatoes planted. Once the plants are taller than the trenches, I'll fill them in. Later I'll mulch heavily (up to one foot deep) and then wait for the harvest.

Except for occasional volunteers from buried compost, I've never grown potatoes before. In a way this is odd, because of all the years I've been gardening and we do like potatoes. After all, I grew up in the midwest, where potatoes were our staple starch. You know, the old "meat and potatoes" thing.

The other thing I planted, or rather sunk, were two pots of horseradish, smack dab in the middle of the potato patch. You can see the tops of the two pots sticking out of the soil, in the photograph above. I saw on a companion planting chart, that horseradish is a good companion to potatoes. Since horseradish is perennial however, I didn't want a permanent bed in that particular spot. After all, next year my potatoes will be planted elsewhere.

My order came with five horseradish roots. Three, I planted in a corner of the garden, the other two I potted.

I don't usually do well with potted plants.

However, I figured that sinking the pots might work well. They won't dry out for one thing.

For another, they won't spread uncontrollably, plus I can move them when I want. I'm curious as to how well this will work out.

I'm thinking now, that I probably should have waited to order the potatoes so that I could plant them later, for a fall harvest. That would make more sense, considering our long growing season, and as most of them will go to food storage anyway. My seed potatoes were beginning to sprout however, so I figured if I didn't get them into the ground, I'd lose them. How long the last of this crop will keep in the spring for a later planting is a question I don't have an answer to. It's one more thing I'll have to work out as I go along.

Potato Growing Links:
University of Illinois Extension - Potato
The Organic Gardener - Growing Potatoes
Seed Savers Exchange - Potato Growing Guide
BBC Gardening Guides - Growing Potatoes
and some nutritional information - World's Healthiest Foods - Potatoes

Horseradish Growing Links:
Bert's Gourmet Horseradish
How To Garden Guide - Growing Horseradish
GardenGuides.com - How to Grow Horseradish

Potatoes & Horseradish (both text & photos) 
copyright April 2010 by Leigh at http://www.5acresandadream.com/

April 7, 2010

April 6, 2010

A Dustbath For The Chickens

I noticed one of the chickens taking a dustbath in a patch of damp soil in their yard, and thought it might be a good idea to make them a dustbath box for the coop. I did the requisite research online, and found that folks use various mixes of dirt, sand, dust, hardwood ash, and Diatomaceous earth. I decided to use what I had on hand, which was the sandy dirt that had been used to fill in the old swimming pool, and hardwood ash from the wood stove.

It took a couple of days to dry the soil out, and in the mean time, I found an appropriately sized cardboard box and cleaned out the wood stove.

Once mixed, I placed it in the coop and waited to see what the chickens would do.

Delaware chickens inspecting the strange new box in the coopAs usual, Delawares were first to investigate.

Barred Holland not to be left out on the discoverySoon followed by a Barred Holland

The other chickens coming for a closer look tooAnd then the rest.

To my dismay, they were more interested in eating the sand out of the box than they were in bathing in it. Hmm. Wasn't all that grit I gave them good enough? I decided to wait and see if they figured it out later.

1st box dustbatherI finally found one chicken dustbathing in the box, but also discovered that the real dustbath action was elsewhere in the coop,

Chicken litter makes a good dustbath too... i.e. outside the box. Oh well.

April 4, 2010

Independence Days Challenge: 3/28 - 4/3

The power of our food system is this. Up to 12 percent of our total fossil fuel use is linked to the food system. More than 35 percent of our total greenhouse gas emissions are linked to our food system.

Sharon Astyk, Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation
If you are concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, that 35% should get your attention. Think about it. First the seeds have to be grown, harvested, and trucked to the farmer. Then it takes fuel to operate the farm machinery (plowing, planting, cultivating, and harvesting). Add to that the production and delivery of fertilizers and pesticides. After that the harvest has to be trucked to the market or a food processor, trucked and flown to markets and stores, and then we drive to the store to buy it.

Processing food includes not only canning, drying, or freezing, but also packaging. That includes the manufacture and transport of the packaging itself, to the food manufacturer. And unless we use recyclable shopping bags, we need to add that to the list too. All of these are part of the unseen costs that most of us don't give a thought to.

The good news is that these are things we, the average consumer, can do something about. For example, we can buy locally produced food in season, rather than produce that have to be trucked or flown 1000s of miles. Even more helpful, is growing a few favorite items in our yards or window sills, and stocking up when items go on sale. These things mean less trips to the store, less fuel used, and a extra dollars in our pockets.

With that in mind, here's what I did last week:

1. Plant something – nothing this week

2. Harvest something -
  • wild onions - bulbs and tops
  • broccoli
3. Preserve something -
  • froze 3.5 gallons turkey broth (in pints & 1/2 gallons)
4. Waste Not
  • Took the holiday turkey carcasses out of the freezer and made turkey stock using the method described in Nourishing Traditions (cooked with a dash of an acidic ingredient such as vinegar or lemon juice to dissolve minerals in the bones). Yield: 3.5 gallons broth and 4+ cups of turkey meat simmered off the bone.
  • Used saved milk cartons to freeze some of the turkey broth
  • Weeds & food scraps given to the chickens
  • Mulching almond & fruit trees with cardboard
  • Bought 2 used 55 gal plastic drums to be used for rain catchment
5. Want Not
  • Resolved to start buying just a few extra items each week for food storage. Mine was depleted awhile back, and I've lacked the motivation to get really serious about rebuilding it. That needs to change, though it will have to be a little at a time. Still, something is better than nothing.
  • Ordered 25# fine sea salt, 5# natural cocoa powder, and 5# dried cranberries for food storage, from Bulkfoods.com
  • Bought 5 large cans of pineapple rings on sale. Also bought 2, 3-packs of sterno cans on clearance. I almost didn't because I thought, "well, we have wood for cooking," but then I thought, "but what if we get another long rainy spell and I run out of dry wood." The other possibility would be to give the sterno cans to someone else who could really use them.
  • Ordered a self-pollinating cherry tree for the one spot we have left in our row of fruit trees.
  • Bought 50# of local onions for $6
6. Build Community Food Systems
7. Eat the Food
  • turkey and broccoli in meat pie
  • turnips and butternut squash from storage roasted
  • Starting to use onions in everything. Well, almost everything. I'm not going to try onion brownies any time soon. :)
  • leftover pie dough made into fig "jiggers," using some of last summer's fig jam. Recipe below

Fig Jiggers

When I was a kid, jiggers were a treat my grandmother made from leftover pie dough. She would roll out the dough, spread it with butter, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, roll it up, cut into slices, and bake. We loved them.

My fig jiggers are similar, except that I used my homemade fig jam instead of the butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Roll out, spread, roll up, slice, and bake at 425 F for about 10 -12 minutes or until golden brown.

April 2, 2010

Rethinking That Bathroom

The next house project is to be our tiny second bathroom. The plan has been to finish the goat fencing first, then get started on that bathroom. I'd carefully analyzed the bathroom's problems (in this post), and thought I had solutions (in this post.) I'd ordered the corner pedestal sink. I was getting ready to buy the rounded corner shower stall, but hesitated. Considering how tight things looked on graph paper, I decided it might be wise to tape out the shower's footprint on the bathroom floor.

The bathroom floor plan looked okay on graph paper, but the reality of that shower is that even with the largest pocket door we could manage in a 72 inch wall, entry space to the bathroom was just too darned tight. Needless to say, I am disappointed.

The next step was to brainstorm this problem, which we did extensively. The sad reality is that one can't put 10# of potatoes into a 5# sack. Without enlarging the size of the bathroom, there's no way to do what I wanted to do.

Is enlarging the bathroom a possibility? Yes, but a more realistic question is how much time, energy, and money, do we want to pour into this one small room when there's still so much to do on the rest of the house.

At the top of our list:
Not to mention the lingering details of the dining and living rooms, nor other rooms in the house we want to re-do.

My husband, bless his heart, is willing to do whatever I want. If this bathroom were the only project we had to do, then I would be willing to consider how to enlarge it and do everything I'd like to do. But it's not. It's not even the main bathroom, it's just a second bathroom off the kitchen for the sake of convenience. If we're going to be good stewards of our time and money, I need to keep that in mind. I'm still disappointed though.

What we can do, is to replace the sink and add a ceiling vent/light/heater, as planned. Dan can add shutoff valves to the plumbing and put in GFCI electrical outlets. I can tear up the old vinyl floor and put down ceramic floor tile. I can wallpaper, add hook, towel racks, and a shelf unit for tissues, extra TP, a few wash clothes, and an extra bar of soap. The trouble is, once I get my mind set on an idea, it's hard to change! It's difficult to switch mental gears once I have an outcome in mind. Have I mentioned that I'm disappointed over the whole thing???