November 29, 2010

Progress On The Bathroom Plumbing

In my last bathroom remodel post, I showed you the progress I made on re-taping the drywall seams over the shower stall. Dan has the harder task, as he's been working on the plumbing.

Since we're installing a corner sink, some reworking of the plumbing was necessary. The above photo shows what it looked like after the original sink was removed and the drywall cut away. If you look closely, you can see small holes in the floor where the original plumbing was, just front left of the black pipe.

That black pipe is the vent stack. The white PVC is the new drain. As per building code, it has been tied into the vent stack 6" above the height of the sink.

The next step was to install copper tubing for the hot and cold water supply. He went with copper for two reasons: 1 - all the supply lines in the house are already copper and 2 - the jury's still out on whether or not PVC pips can leach harmful chemicals into supply water.

Then he installed shutoff valves to both supply lines and for the toilet.

When we bought the house, the only shutoff valves were in the crawlspace. Very convenient, eh? (I'm being sarcastic). After the new valves were installed, he went back into the crawl space, hooked everything up, and tested for leaks.

The last step was to cover the cutaway with drywall.

I don't have to worry about taping and smoothing out those seams. We're planning to put up wainscoting, which will hide that.

The other thing Dan did, was to install a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. Much of the home's wiring was updated when the addition was built on to the kitchen, but regular outlets were used, so we changed this one.

The next step is to reroute some of the drainage pipes under the house.  Partly this is to make it easier to move around in the crawlspace, but also, we plan to  install a greywater system for the sink and shower water.

While Dan's been working on that, I've resumed work on the bathroom interior: painting the ceiling, wallpapering, and putting the floor tile down. After that, Dan can put the toilet back (removed to give us some working room), and install the new sink.

Once we get to that point the bathroom will be fully functional! We'll still have a few details to finish (robe hooks, towel racks, medicine cabinet, storage, window treatment, etc), but after that, I'll be able to show you how the finished room looks! I'm looking forward to that.

Progress On The Bathroom Plumbing © November 2010 by Leigh at

November 27, 2010

Homestead Multitasking


Tree droppings

Preliminary piles sorted into...

sticks for kindling,

pecans for shelling,

and wheelbarrow loads of leaves...

to start a leaf pile in the garden for next year's mulch.

Do you have any tips for killing two or three birds with one stone? I need all the help I can get.

Homestead Multitasking © November 2010 by Leigh at

November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving At Our House

American Thanksgiving is upon us. Anybody willing to swap recipes and traditions (no matter when or where you celebrate)?

Thanksgiving Dinner at Our House

Roast Turkey
Cornbread Stuffing
Green Bean Casserole
Honey Baked Squash
Mrs. Yeaman's Refrigerator Rolls
Cranberry Jelly
Pumpkin Pie
Apple Pie

I don't have a special recipe for roasting my turkey, nor for my gravy. For the turkey though, I have the best results with a roasting bag. Also, my cranberry jelly is commercial canned (though I did find organic). Hopefully that will change, because I'm going to be planting two American cranberry bushes this fall. Here are the recipes that are special to me however:

Cornbread Stuffing

I grew up in the North, where bread stuffing is the norm. It didn't take too many Thanksgivings in the South however, to quickly become a cornbread stuffing convert.

1, 8" pan of your favorite cornbread (skillet preferred, can make ahead)
3/4 cup onion, minced
1 & 1/2 cup celery with leaves, chopped
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp salt
1 & 1/2 tsp dried sage leaves, crushed
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp pepper
cooked giblets & their cooking water

Break cornbread into fine crumbs & place in large mixing bowl. In frying pan, melt butter and saute onion & celery. Stir onions, celery, and seasonings into cornbread crumbs, mix well.  In a blender, liquefy the cooked giblets and about 2 cups or so of their cooking water (this is to disguise them from the fussiest eaters). Stir in enough of this liquid to make a sticky paste. This makes a moist, tasty, stuffing. Save leftover liquid for gravy or soup. Stuff turkey and cook according to directions.

Green Bean Casserole

This is a classic recipe, with personal modifications noted.

1 quart home canned green beans (may substitute frozen or 2, 15 oz. cans)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (I like Annie's Organic semi-condensed)
1/2 can milk (I often substitute unsweetened almond milk)
1 & 1/3 cup crispy canned onion rings (organic, non-trans fat preferred)
salt & pepper to taste

Mix soup, milk and pepper in a casserole dish (I use a 2 quart round). Stir in beans and 2/3 cup of the onions. Bake about 25 minutes or so, at 350 degrees F. Top with the remaining 2/3 cup fried onions and bake another 5 minutes or until the onions are toasted.

Honey Baked Squash

I'm going to be trying this with my buttercup squash this year.

Halve winter squash of choice. Scoop out seeds. Put a huge blop of butter in the hollow. Fill with honey. Place squash in baking dish with about a half inch of water in bottom. Sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg if desired. Cover with foil. Bake at 400F for about 30 mins. One squash = 2 servings

Mrs. Yeaman's Refrigerator Rolls

We always ate Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents' house. This is the recipe my Gramma Wilson used for holidays, and I have no clue as to who Mrs. Yeaman was. This is a plan ahead recipe, as you will need one cup of leftover mashed potatoes. It's good for a company meal because the dough is also made ahead, and rises in the refrigerator. It makes the best ever rolls.

1 yeast cake (or 1 packet yeast, or 2 tsp dry bulk yeast)
1/2 cup warm water
2/3 cup shortening (best with organic palm)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup mashed potatoes (from fresh makes the tastiest rolls)
1 cup scalded* milk
2 eggs, well beaten
flour to make stiff dough (I use unbleached all-purpose)

*A note about the milk. This is a very old recipe and probably used raw milk. Heated would do if pasteurized milk is used. It needs to be warm enough to soften &/or melt the shortening.

Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water; set aside. To scaled milk add shortening, salt, sugar and mashed potatoes. When cool, add yeast mixture. Mix thoroughly and add eggs. Stir in enough flour to make a stiff dough. Turn out onto floured board and knead well. Put into bowl large enough to allow for rising. Cover with damp cloth, put a tight lid on the bowl, and refrigerate. When ready to use, shape and let rise till double in bulk. Bake at 425 F for 15 to 20 minutes.

Pumpkin Pie

I'll have to refer you to another post, here. I use my recipe for Sweet Potato Honey Pie, substituting my homegrown pumpkin for the sweet potatoes. Serve with organic whipped cream.

Apple Pie

This one too, is on another post, here.

Thanksgiving Traditions at Our House

Traditional foods, of course. :)

At our house this is a sit-down, family style, no TV, no football (gasp) meal. We use good dishes, serving dishes, cloth table cloth, candles, centerpiece, and even bread and butter plates. I think these are part of what make a meal special.

When the kids were little, I would tape a huge sheet of drawing paper to the refrigerator door, around the first of November. All month long, everyone would write or draw things they were thankful for. Guests were encouraged to participate too. By Thanksgiving, we had quite a work of art, and we were reminded to be thankful everyday, rather than just one.

This one from my childhood. My grandmother's family was from Cape Cod. One tradition I remember as a wee girl (this was both Thanksgiving and Christmas), was that of serving orange sherbet in special crystal cups at the beginning of dinner. My mother told me it was to cleanse the pallet, which was over my head at the time. This formal dinner tradition is long lost in this country. To a little girl, it was very special and I liked it because it meant two "desserts".

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the Holiday Season at our house. It is followed by DD's birthday (which falls on Thanksgiving day on occasion), Advent, Christmas, DS's birthday, and ends with New Year's. Since we don't have a TV service, we can't participate in the traditional New Year's Day parade and football games. Instead, we pop in a tape of the 1995 Mummer's Parade (DH is from South Jersey) and watch football movies. Not the same as the real things, but it's the tradition at our house.

That's it for our Thanksgiving (and more) traditions and recipes. I'd love to hear about yours.

Thanksgiving At Our House  © November 2010 by Leigh at

November 22, 2010

November Garden Tour

We finally had our first frost on November 7th. It was predicted for Nov. 6, so the evening of the 5th, I went out and diligently covered all my tomato and pepper plants. Last year, by covering the plants every time frost or freeze was predicted, I was able to extend my harvest of these by about 6 weeks.

This year I planned to do the same thing. I woke up on the 6th, no frost. OK, so I uncovered the plants. The next night was predicted to have a low in the 40s. So did I cover my plants? No. Guess when the first frost was. Yup. I woke up that morning to frost covering the rooftops, the ground, and the garden.

My first chore of the day was to pick all the green tomatoes and remaining sweet peppers. As you can see, I had lots. I froze 2 quarts of peppers, and still had plenty left. Some of the tomatoes I laid out on a pantry shelf to ripen, but I also wanted to try Michelle's suggestion of Farmgirl Susan's green tomato relish.

I was able to put up 21 pints, using not only our own green tomatoes, but also our sweet peppers and onions. I had to buy some of the other ingredients, but these are all things we will eventually grow ourselves. Michelle is right, it's really more like a salsa than a relish. Very tasty with tortilla chips and I can't wait to try it in my Americanized enchilada recipe.

So that's it for the summer garden except for the Swiss chard....

... and calendula. Both have withstood frosty mornings so far and continue to produce. I'm saving seed from the calendula, and we're still eating fresh, steamed Swiss chard plus...

... I've been dehydrating quite a bit. I have some 33 pints canned, so had been thinking about trying to dry Swiss chard, but wasn't sure. Then I read Mr. H's blog post about making his own dehydrator. One of the links he provided showed old photos of folks drying, what else, Swiss chard! I have close to two gallons dehydrated so far.

Of my fall crops,

the beets continue to thrive.

And the broccoli is starting to head. We've had samples in salads.

Cabbages are finally making heads as well. I have nine planted, and am hoping for a big batch of sauerkraut from them. 

Carrots are doing well.

So is my garlic! I bought only one bulb to plant last spring. Rather than eat any of that harvest, I divided the bulbs into cloves and replanted. We eat a lot of garlic so I need to be planting plenty.

Lettuce with a backdrop of carrot greens.

And mesclun mixed with radishes.

I thought I planted my turnips too late in the season, but obviously not. They are getting huge. Besides one batch of sauerruben, I'm trying to store some. It's still too warm in my pantry for that though, so these are sprouting. Another batch of sauerruben is probably the answer to that.

Then there are the parsnips and rutabaga seeds I planted not too long ago.  So far no sign of the parsnips. I understand these are a little fussy to grow, but I'm hoping for the best.

Something is coming up in the rutabaga bed however. Do you see the sprouting plant on the left? Does anyone know if that's a rutabaga? This is my first year to grow them so I don't know what the seedlings look like. I'm hoping these are them.

We also planted annual rye in the lower half of the garden, where Dan tilled in the chicken litter.

It's coming up kind of clumpy, but it's coming up. We'll till this in as green manure come spring. And that's how my garden grows this November. How about you?

Text and photos of November Garden Tour © November (of course) 2010 by Leigh at

November 21, 2010

Award & Listings

I was quite pleased that 5 Acres & A Dream recently received the "One Lovely Blog Award" from Melissa at Kids and Canning Jars.

Every person who visits this blog, and especially those who take time to leave a comment, are very much appreciated. Those of you who follow with Google Friend Connect, are a tremendous encouragement.  Awards are an honor, because it means an acknowledgement that we are making a contribution about homesteading. Yes, there's value in the personal record that a blog affords, but beyond that, it means we're a valued part of a larger community, and that, as they say, is priceless.

There are a number of excellent blogs receiving one of the other of these awards. To find them, you can click on either the above links, or the award buttons themselves.

I'd like to mention too, two other websites that have honored us by including our blog on their homesteading and lifestyle resources pages. I've never mentioned them before, but am doing so now, as a way to say thanks.  They are Life Unplugged, where we can be found on "Our Favorite Homestead Blogs" page, and Manna Pro, where we can be found on their Community Blogs page. If you're looking for a few more good blogs on homesteading, check these out too. And if you got here from any of the above, thanks for checking us out!

I love exploring link lists like these, because I love seeing what others are doing, picking up ideas, sharing experiences, encouraging others, and making new friends. Because really, blogging is more about community than anything else. It's an excellent way to learn, but also an excellent way to enter into conversation with folks with a common interest, from varied backgrounds, all over the world.

Now, I need to list 15 blogs to pass the "One Lovely Blog Award" on to. Forgive me, but it's five o'clock in the morning, so I'll have to take a raincheck on that chore! Look for those soon, or better yet, go check out some of the link lists I mention. :)

Awards & Listings © November 2010 by 

November 19, 2010

Progress On The Bathroom Ceiling

Now that most of the garden chores are pretty much done and the pantry is organized, I feel like I have a little more time for other projects, specifically, the bathroom. Dan's going to work on the plumbing (post on that soon), so I volunteered to do the ceiling and walls.

This was the photo I showed you on my last bathroom update post. The first step, was to replace the old drywall tape.

Pulling off the old was the easy part. Putting up the new, less so. Not that it's a hard job, but having never been a mud pie girl, it was both messy and awkward.

Still, I managed.

Here it is, after the new tape was applied and the joint compound had dried. I wish I had gotten a photo of that corner after I pulled the old tape off. It had a huge gap, more than 1/4 inch, but I filled it before I remembered the camera.

The next step will be sanding, and then painting the ceiling. Once Dan finishes plumbing the bathroom sink, I can get started on that, and then the wallpaper. We're still busy with outside chores and projects, so working on the bathroom is somewhat random. After no progress for most of the summer though, it's nice to be doing something with this room once again.

Related Posts:
Bathroom Renovation: Planning Ahead
Bathroom Renovation: Neglected But Not Forgotten

Progress On The Bathroom Ceiling © November 2010 by Leigh at

November 17, 2010

2010 Seeds Saved & Seed Saving Goals

Here is my list of saved seeds for this year [UPDATED: Nov 22]

Amaranth, Golden Giant
Beans, 3 types:
  • Black turtle
  • Kentucky Wonder
  • State 1/2 Runner

Black Turtle Beans
Broccoli, DeCicco
Calendula (aka Pot Marigold)
Cantaloupe, Hale's Best
Corn, Stowell's Evergreen
  • traditional white & lavender
  • yellow
Cucumber, National Pickling
Dill, Bouquet
Lettuce, Parris Island Cos Romaine

Parris Island Cos Lettuce
Marigolds, mixed
Okra, Clemson Spineless

Clemson Spineless Okra
Onion, Yellow Rock (I have my suspicions that this isn't OP however)
  • Serrano - saved from boughten peppers
  • sweet, Chinese Giant
Popcorn, Japanese Hulless
Pumpkin, Small Sugar
Radish, Cherry Belle
Sunflower, Mammoth Grey Stripe
Turnips, White Globe Purple Top
Tomatoes, Roma
Watermelon, Sugar Baby

In addition, there are some things that have yet to go to seed: Detroit beets, radishes (Pink Beauty & China Rose), and Watham 29 broccoli in the fall garden, plus the Fordhook Swiss chard I planted in the spring. The rutabagas and parsnips I planted aren't up yet, so we'll have to see about those. Some of these are biennials, so I'll have to wait until their second year to get seed. And hopefully, I'll manage to collect from seed from the sweet basil seed heads I gathered. I didn't bother with seeds from the other herbs because they are perennials.

On top of that, I still have seed I didn't plant this year, which hopefully will still be viable when I plant them next year:

Cabbage, Late Dutch Flat - need to start the seed in January
Chard, Ruby Red
Corn,(field) Truckers Favorite - for feed and cornmeal
Cowpeas, Ozark Razorback - for another feed experiment
Creeping Thyme
Garden Huckleberry, Solanum melanocerasum
Garden Peas, Wando
Ground Cherry (husk tomato)
Mangels - for feed, may still get these in.
Salsa value pack from Contains about a gram each   of: anaheim chili peppers, cilantro, jalapeno, onion (sweet spanish), sweet   pepper, tomatillo
Tomatoes, Rugters (though I still may get some from these)

Mine is a modest list, but one I'm pleased with. Last year I saved only 8 types of seeds, so this is a huge expansion for me, 26.

My goal, like many other gardeners, is to save all my own seed. This has largely to do with our personal goals of becoming as self-supporting as possible.  Also, I confess that I'm concerned about the integrity of our seed supply especially in light of mounting evidence concerning the dangers of GMOs, and the FDA's refusal to acknowledge them. Besides the problem of cross-contaminated seed, the USDA now wants to allow GM seed under the legal definition of "organic." I don't know about you, but this bothers me. (If you're still uncertain about the safety and legitimacy of GMOs, read The Institute for Responsible Technology's GMO Dangers and The Council for Responsible Genetics FAQs. Also, if you listen to a lot of Public Radio, you've probably heard opponents of GMOs referred to as "denialists." Please be aware that Monsanto is a supporter of public radio, so a certain amount of GMO loyalty is to be expected. Read this, for more information.)

I don't know if that last paragraph qualifies as a bona-fide soapbox (of which I don't mount many on this blog), but, these are my concerns and a strong motivator for me in regards to having a self-sustaining homestead.

In terms of reaching my goal, I figure it will be several years before I can fulfill it, as I'm still experimenting with vegetable varieties and adding new crops. One thing I'm realizing about sustainable gardening, is that seed saving means more that a simple gather and plant cycle. It also means preparing for failures, either crop or seed. For example, this year I barely managed to harvest enough tomatoes for the amount of pasta sauce I needed, because I had disease problems. At first, I wasn't sure I wanted to save those seeds. When my plants made a comeback, I planned to save some of that seed, but only managed the Romas. To prepare for a recurrence of something like this in the future, I need to be saving more than a year's worth of each kind of seed. I need my own personal seed bank, if you will.

There are a lot of books written on the subject of seed saving, and I do have a gist of the basics, which include storage conditions and seed viability. For me, it will also mean good organization. I store my saved seeds in recycled envelopes, placed in alphabetical order in an old shoe box. Seed of larger quantity (corn and beans) are kept in recycled jars).

I store that box in the refrigerator during the heat of summer.

Last year I wrote the type and variety of seed, year gathered, and planting dates on each envelope. This year I will add an expiration date based on that particular seeds viability.

Unfortunately, seed viability isn't an exact science, and depends on a number of factors. That's why there is so much variance in the viability charts. Keeping the seeds dry and cool is the most important factor. This is one I doubt I've fulfilled very well, considering that we didn't have AC last summer with it's soaring temps and humidity. When in doubt, I can test viability before planting.

Lastly, some links to viability charts. As mentioned, you will notice they aren't the same. But at least they give us a gist of what to expect in our seed saving under ideal storage techniques.

Hill Gardens of Maine
Iowa State University Extension Service
Growing Taste - 2 charts, one by years, one by vegetable
Virginia Cooperative Extension

Do you save your own seeds?

2010 Seeds Saved & Seed Saving Goals © November 2010 by Leigh at

November 15, 2010

Test Driving My King Kutter

Of all my bargain finds, the one I was most anxious to try was my King Kutter food processor.

Besides feeling fortunate that I got such a deal, I was also pleased that I found a manual to download for it. I took a quick look at the set up and was able to choose a blade without much guesswork.

My project? Sauerruben with turnips from my fall garden. Even though I thought I planted them late, they have thrived in our delightful autumn weather, and definitely need to be harvested. Last spring I made a small batch of sauerruben in a quart canning jar. DH didn't care for it as well as sauerkraut, but I loved it. Now that I have some fermenting crocks, I can make a better batch.

The King Kutter was quick and easy to use, and the suction base worked much better than I'd hoped. I figured this would be a test batch in terms of size and shape of the cut pieces, so I didn't worry about uniformity. I'll try out different blades as I go along, and with practice my consistency will get better. I can tell you that it was a breeze to process a basketful of turnips and clean up the machine.

I have two books that I turn to when I'm wanting to lacto-ferment something:  Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, and Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning by the Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante. Sandor's method uses only the turnip juice, obtained by pounding and pressing (right side of above photo, I use a potato masher). This is the traditional way to do it. The other book has recipes using salt water (brine) to finish covering the vegetable, if enough juice can't be pounded out. Always being one of the easier route, I opted for that recipe. Actually, I've made sauerkraut with both methods, and prefer the one with the added brine. Not sure why, it just tastes better to me.

The one thing I don't have is lids for my crocks. Those are flat, round pieces of wood, sometimes with holes in them. They don't sit on top of the crock, but rather fit snugly inside it to keep the contents submerged under the brine. This is important to prevent mold from forming and decay from setting in. This is a problem I've had using quart canning jars to make sauerkraut; it was difficult to keep the contents under the brine. Fermenting lids are available, but I found that one of my 6½ inch diameter Blue Willow dessert plates that fit perfectly. I weighed it under the brine with a pint canning jar half filled with water. There's just enough room around the rim to slip a butter knife in and lift the saucer. I placed the crock in my new pantry, and covered the whole thing with a clean cotton dishcloth.

I also remembered to label the crock with contents and date, because I'll be able to start another batch in a week or so and need to keep track of which batch is which.

My conclusion? That the King Kutter is a fabulous kitchen tool. Quick and easy to set up, quick and easy to use, and super quick and easy to clean. I'm already beginning to wonder how I ever lived without it.

Test Driving My King Kutter © November 2010 

November 12, 2010

My New Favorite Cookbook

I love this cookbook. I didn't even know it existed until my last sweet potato post. Karen (blogless?) mentioned to me that The Practical Produce Cookbook had a lot of good sweet potato recipes, so of course I had to check it out. All the reviews I read raved about it, so of course I wanted one too.

I love this cookbook. It's a gardener's cookbook. Unlike most cookbooks, which are organized according to types of dishes (entrées, desserts, soups, salads, etc.), it's organized by garden produce: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, ..... summer squash, sweet potatoes, turnips & rutabagas, and winter squash.

The full title is The Practical Produce Cookbook: How to Plant, Pick, Prepare, and Preserve Produce. With all that information plus recipes, the book is a handy resource. Planting, growing, and harvesting particulars are included for each vegetable, plus lots of recipes and we've liked every one I've tried so far. In addition to vegetables, are a few garden fruits: ground cherries, melons, rhubarb, and strawberries. The last two chapters are vegetable and fruit canning and freezing guides. To see sample pages and recipes, click on this link, which will take you to the publishers website.

With a fall garden still full of vegetables, this is already becoming one of the first cookbooks I reach for. It's taking its place of honor right next to my other two trusty favorites, The Joy of Cooking, and the all-American standby, Betty Crocker (1969 edition, now badly stained, coverless, and with the index torn to shreds. It was a gift from my grandmother.) It's funny, because my cooking practices and techniques have changed so drastically, that I no longer actually follow the recipes in those two books to the letter. I substitute many ingredients, like the types of flours, fats, and sweeteners I use. I adjust the amounts. I soak my grains or substitute sourdough starter. I've learned to adapt them to how I cook. Even so, I just like those cookbooks.

Nourishing Traditions probably had the most profound impact on how I cook and how we eat. I use it as an information resource, but to be honest, I haven't liked any of the recipes I've tried from it so far.  I've just learned to apply the methods to recipes I do like.

A few other cookbooks that I grab on occasion are my Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook (not so new anymore however), More-with-Less Cookbook (how to reduce food costs and resources by simplifying meals), The Amish Cookbook (purchased at Shady Maple Restaurant Gift Shop on our trip to Pennsylvania last year. It was the canning recipes that interested me, particularly for bologna.) Also Cooking With Wisdom , and a church fundraiser cookbook called Cooking With Love. All of these have recipes I like.

A lot of cookbooks have come and gone from my kitchen, but some I keep around (though use less often) are The Little House Cookbook, Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats (purchased during a homeschool field trip to Mt. Vernon. A very interesting read, not only for the transcriber's tidbits on historical cooking and recipes, but also for the pre-modern convenience techniques), Woodstove Cookery (a book I've toted around since my wood cookstove days), and The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book aka Fanny Farmer Cookbook. I believe mine is a third edition, published in 1918, but I can't be sure because someone pasted an "outline of can sizes and their contents" clipped from an old newspaper over the copyright information. It was my grandmother's cookbook, and she had two copies, so she gave me this one. It's rather fragile, so I keep it where it won't get messed up. I did find two public domain online versions of this cookbook:

Some that I rarely even think to look in are a Time-Life book, Vegetables (The Good Cook Techniques & Recipes Series) (25¢ at a yard sale, currently selling for 1¢ on Do you think I overpaid?) and Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery (left in this house.) That last set is 12 volumes, and so far not very helpful (the sautéd cucumber recipe for example, was yuk. I keep it around because, well, an encyclopedia ought to be useful, right?)

I have a few specialized cookbooks, such as Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning, Wild Fermentation, and The Red Star Centennial Bread Sampler. Then of course there are recipes in books like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Small-Scale Grain Raising, or recently purchased How to Store Your Garden Produce. Unless I know of a specific recipe in one of these however, they aren't the kinds of books I go recipe hunting in.

That about covers my cookbook collection. What about you? What cookbooks do you like? Which ones do you reach for when you need an idea or some inspiration? You can either tell me in the comments or blog about it, come back, and leave a link for us cookbook collectors. I'm always interested in a good  recommendation.

My New Favorite Cookbook © November 2010 

November 10, 2010

Of Chicken Litter

I honestly think Dan and I are gardening oddballs. Let's face it, almost every homesteading and gardening blog and book I look at shows beautiful photos of beautiful gardens with beautifully constructed raised beds. It's the modern technique after all. We, on the other hand, have one large plot, which must be annually divided into new rows and beds, none of which are framed out.

What's that got to do with chicken litter? Well, this...

Sheet mulching with the chicken litter

Here it is, the coop cleanings for the year, spread out (albeit thinly) over the lower half the garden, ready to be tilled in. And the heart of our outdated gardening technique is in the last phrase of the previous sentence, "ready to be tilled in". The thing is, my husband loves to till.  He loves his tiller. He doesn't want to make raised beds. One can't till raised beds. So there you have it.

But back to chicken litter, or in our case, the deep chicken litter method.

There seem to be two theories about chicken litter:
  • change it weekly to keep the smell down
  • keep it thick, loose, and stirred up, to keep the smell down.
Two very different approaches to accomplish the same result, a nice smelling chicken house.

Which works best? I've only tried one method, so I can't compare the two. What I can tell you is that the deep litter method, properly done, works. Our chicken coop does not stink. There is no manure odor. There is no ammonia odor. What's more, it's easy and the chickens love scratching around in it. Plus, it produces a goodly amount of pre-composted material.

What you see in that photo is about 8 months accumulation of dried leaves, chopped straw, pine needles, chicken droppings (dried and fresh), feathers, hardwood ashes, old sawdust, shredded newspaper, and spilled food. I would call it disintegrated more than composted. This can either be added to the compost pile, or tilled directly in to the garden. This is what I spread on the garden.

The theory behind the deep litter method isn't new. There are several good articles about it around the internet:

Deep Litter in Chicken Houses at Robert Plamondon's website
When Life Gives You Lemons - a 3-part article over at the Modern Homestead website, and
Brooding Chicks on Deep Litter - by Jean Nick

The biggest difference in these articles is that Robert Plamondon's information is based on a 1949 article, which recommends adding lime to help combat any ammonia odor. I didn't do that, but followed the other two articles, and did not add lime to the litter at any time. By keeping it stirred up and frequently adding more litter materials, we didn't need to. It is possible though, that the addition hardwood ashes, spilled by the chickens from their dust bath box, helps with this as well.

It had disintegrated down to less than six inches by the time I cleaned it out. Then I added a new layer of dried leaves, and we begin the cycle again. The key is to use materials that don't compact easily and are easy for the chickens to scratch up.  I don't buy anything special, I just used what I have on hand, including discarded bean pods from the beans I've been shelling.

Tilled in, the lower half of the garden looked like this...

Of course we had snoopervision...

The day after it was tilled we raked it out, planted annual rye for a green manure crop, and rolled the seed into the soil. Just in time too because two days later we got a long gentle rain. What a relief to get the timing right on this one. Now we're just waiting for the rye to sprout.

Of Chicken Litter © November 2010 by