August 31, 2011

August Harvest & Preservation

There's been a lot of good eating out of the garden this month. Quite a bit of food preservation too.

Tomatoes. I have to admit that since I learned the trick about freezing tomatoes to peel them, I've been tossing all the ripe ones that we don't eat, into the freezer to save to make juice and sauce later. :) This has relieved me of some of the time pressure that comes with a heavily producing garden. After I had two plastic shopping bags I got to work...

Tomatoes preserved in August:
  • tomato juice, 16 quarts canned
  • pizza sauce, 3 pints

I also used garden tomatoes in the chicken & okra gumbo I canned.

Chicken & okra gumbo. Just add rice.

One thing I've figured out about canning soups, is to strain out the liquid first, divvy up the meat and vegetables amongst the jars, and lastly add the broth. This way I get fairly equal amounts of solids in each jar.

Preserved this month:
  • chicken & okra gumbo with tomatoes, 11 quarts canned

Okra. Of that, I'm still getting more than I need. Besides the gumbo, I've also made and canned okra pickles.

Pickled, canned, okra pods

We've never tried these before, but so many of you recommended them last month, that I just had to give them a try.

Okra preserved this month:
  • okra pickles, 6 pints canned
  • frozen, sliced, 6 more quarts

My prettiest pepper so far
Sweet Peppers. I didn't have very good luck with any of my peppers this year. None of the seeds I planted indoors last spring germinated. Neither did any that I sowed directly into the ground. I finally had to buy 3 sweet pepper plants just to have some.

Even these haven't done well however, due to blossom end rot, the dryness, and the heat.

I like to preserve these by slicing and freezing for pizza and pepper and egg sandwiches. We won't get much for that I'm afraid.

Preserved this month:
  • a handful, frozen

Figs. For two quick weeks at the beginning of the month, we had figs galore.

Bucket of ripe fresh figs

Besides the traditional August fresh fig cake, we don't eat these fresh, so all are preserved. I still have plenty of canned figs from last year, so this year I decided to preserve by making jam and dehydrating.

Halved figs ready to dehydrate

I wondered if I could substitute dried figs for raisins in recipes ....

Oatmeal fig cookies

The answer to that is, yup. They rehydrate well too, for cakes or muffins. One of these days I'd like to try  making a filled fig cookie too. Anybody have a good recipe?

Figs preserved this month:
  • fig jam, 13 pints canned
  • dehydrated, 1/2 gallon

Melons have been ripening and we've been enjoying both watermelon and green nutmeg melons.

Sugar Baby watermelon

We eat our fill and dehydrate what we don't eat. The nice thing about drying melon, is that it's a good option for both under or overripe ones. It makes a candy sweet, sort of fruit leather, perfect to snack on.

Melons preserved in August
  • watermelon, dehydrated, 1 quart
  • green nutmeg melon, dehydrated, 1 quart


Elderberries (what the birds didn't get)

I'm afraid the birds got most of these. They start eating them green (as they do the figs & pecans) so the humans don't seem to stand as much of a chance. My bushes are still young and just beginning to produce, so the elderberry harvest will only improve as the years go by.

Rose Hips. I also harvested my first handful of rugosa rose hips. A couple years ago I researched rose hips for jelly making and I read that they are best after a frost. Well, our frost isn't for another two months yet look....

Rugosa rosa hips

Some of them are drying out and shriveling. They simply won't last until October on the bush. So I picked them. It was just a handful, but it's a start.


Kentucky wonder pole beans on left
Hutterite soup beans in middle
Cowpeas on right

The Kentucky Wonders in the corn, I've given up on. The last time I picked there was just a handful of fresh eating size to be found, so I'm just going to let them dry to collect for seed. Fortunately we still have plenty of canned green beans from last year, so I decided not to worry about it except for fresh eating.

The Hutterite soup beans are being picked regularly. We have yet to do a taste test, so I don't know whether or not we'll grow these again next year. I do like a good white soup bean though.

Cowpeas continue to produce, but I'm saving all for seed next year. I'll grow them in the field then for feed.

Beans preserved this month:
  • Kentucky Wonders - dried for seed
  • Hutterite Soup Beans - 1.5 pints dried
  • Cowpeas - also for dried seed

Black Oil Sunflowers (BOSS)

The drooping heads of black oil sunflowers

I planted these in two places; in the garden as companions to squash and melon, and in the field, on their own. The ones in the garden have done much, much better than the ones in the field. The ones in the field were disappointing, engulfed by weeds, small heads, many empty shells. The ones in the garden produced well. So well in fact, that I've been in competition with the birds for them

Several of the heads were bird pecked

BOSS ripe & ready to pick
When I saw that happening, I checked to see if the kernels had filled out with  seeds.

Sure enough they were ready. So I cut off the heads and put them on our screened front porch to dry. Without the ones in the field, I won't have a lot for feed, but I figure, live and learn, and I've got a start.

With September right around the corner, I have to say that both the garden and food preservation are winding down. Soon I'll be able to count the summer totals for my efforts, and put my summer garden to bed until next spring.

August 29, 2011

Indecisiveness & The Repotting Plan

I have trouble sometimes, with decision making. Not all things, but some things, at times, will render homesteading progress stuck in the proverbial mud. I've seriously examined this in myself, and wondered if it is actually indecision or procrastination. There are times when I'm a champion at putting things off.

From left: dwarf banana, olive tree, lemon cypress, ginger
(with volunteer tomato), and Katy in the background

Sometimes though, nothing gets done because of lack of knowledge, or questions about the outcome. One thing I don't want to do, is make an uninformed or hasty decision which I will regret later. Such was the case with putting off the where to plant several potted plants. Some are indoor plants and needed a larger pot; genuine procrastination. Some really need to be planted. Somewhere. It's the not knowing how big they'll get and how they will fit into my general landscaping goals that puts to brakes on progress.

Two American cranberries with a dwarf thyme in center

Sometimes I have trouble making a decision due to weariness. I simply run out of energy for all the things that need to be done. Sometimes it's a matter of time; I always seem to have more to do, than time to do it in. That's when I have to remind myself that there's often a difference between things that are urgent, and things that are important.

What do I mean? When considering a day's to-do list, I may feel it's urgent to get library books returned before they start to accrue a fee, but it is more important to get the tomatoes canned before they spoil. The sense of urgency regarding the library books however, can nag me until I do something about it and put off things that are truly more important. I have to ask myself which is worth more to me, the spare change to pay an overdue fine, or the potential loss of food for preservation.

Making potting mix from compost & filler soil from the old swimming pool

Another example, I decide to stay home and can those tomatoes. In the middle of putting the jars into the water bath, the phone rings. My sense is that I must answer it (urgency) rather than let the answering machine get it (prioritizing according to importance.) Recognizing the difference is important, because urgency affects me emotionally. It's not only nagging, but driving. I end up feeling slavish, disorganized, and ultimately frustrated.

Repotted (front left): 2 American cranberries & dwarf thyme
(back left) dwarf banana, lemon cypress, ginger, olive tree

With my plants, making a decision about where to plant them was never urgent. I knew they could get root bound and die, but other projects always crowded the inevitable out of my mind. Neither did it ever seem more important than other things needing to be done. I finally had to put the task on a to-do list and commit myself to getting the job done. Did I decide where to plant the ones that needed it? No. In the end, my plan was to repot them all. In the end, I was able to put the location decision off for a little while longer.

It's a temporary solution, which I realize will still need to be addressed in the future. Even so, the plants are happier and I'm happier. If only I could repot all of my problems, concerns, and indecision.

August 27, 2011

Kitchen Remodel: Beam Up, Post Down Pt. 2

Our original idea, was to use corbels to support the new ceiling beam. This kind of bracing is found in early American barns, and is often used for a rustic touch in modern archtecture.

Drawing by Eric Sloane, in his An Age Of Barns (click to biggify)

When we got down to the knitty-gritty however, we opted for another early American technique, 18th century shouldered barn post bracing...

Drawing by Eric Sloane, in his An Age Of Barns (click to biggify)

It was easier, i.e. less time and labor.

The new posts were cut from the same tree as the ceiling beam.

Like the beam, these were stained before they went up.

Pounding the tight fitting post into place.

They fit snuggly against the beam.

When we removed the temporary ceiling support posts....


Next on the kitchen remodel list, replacing the kitchen back door.

August 24, 2011

Kitchen Remodel: Beam Up, Post Down, Pt. 1

Once the buck browse was fenced in, we were at long last able to return our time and energy to the kitchen remodeling project. We had previously done some tearing up, but set it aside for higher priority projects. It's exciting to get back to it. Now that we are, the first thing on the list was to remove that support post in the middle of the room. Here's what it looked like originally....

How the kitchen looked before we got started.

We had already torn out the cabinets and shelving, so what we'd been living with since February, was this...

The back door & post, as we last left it

Before we could get to work on removing the post, I first needed to clear the area and remove the old ceramic floor tiles.

A hammer and chisel did the trick

This was super easy, because the thinset was old, cracked, and hadn't adhered well to the wood floor.  It was interesting to see what was underneath the tile.

The yellow arrows point to where an old door frame stood

You can see on the floor, where walls used to be. A wall once existed where the edge of the tiles now is, on the right side of the photo. The yellow arrows point to where a door used to be framed out.  My guess is that this was a once-upon-a-time pantry, which would have made the original kitchen a square of 11.5 x 11.5 feet. I can understand why they'd want it bigger. Tearing out that old pantry enlarged the kitchen from 132 square feet, to over 173 square feet. Quite a bit more room, but since one of those walls was load bearing, the post was left as both functional as well as a "decorative" feature. It did look kinda neat, but boy was it ever in the way.

After I got the ceramic tile up, it looked like this....

Ceramic floor tiles removed to expose a
hardwood floor underneath.

That's a tongue-and-groove hardwood floor underneath, but it's the only floor. There is no subfloor. In fact, where the wall used to be, you can see down into the crawl space, because the walls were built on floor beams instead of a subfloor.

The next step was to take down all the trim that covered the post and the original ceiling beam.

The original support post beneath the white trim

I don't know how well you can tell in the photo below, but the original ceiling beam turned out to be two, 2x4s spiked together.

Ceiling beam made of 2, 2x4s
That's attic insulation poking down from above

Dan decided he would remove the original beam's bottom 2x4, and leave the top one in place. The new beam will fit up against that one.

The new beam is the one Dan cut from one of our fallen pines with his mini-mill...

New ceiling beam, ready to be stained

We were concerned about drying time for the beam, until we realized there was no sap in it. Unusual for pine. It was cut from a tree that had been dead for some time. It had fallen, but instead of landing on the ground, it got hung up in the neighboring trees. Because of that, ground moisture hadn't rotted it, and it had cured on it's own. Dan cut it to size, then sanded and stained it.

Before we could remove the old post however, the ceiling had to be supported first.

Temporary support posts

Dan used two fence posts to do this, placing them next to the original ceiling beam. The sheet was to keep at least some of the dust out of the rest of the kitchen. It did help actually.

He wanted to check the beam length, to make sure it was cut correctly, so he nailed two temporary 2x4 supports to the wall posts. You can see them against the walls in the photo below. We then rested the new beam on these.

Testing the fit of the new beam. Perfect.

It fit perfectly! Not that we planned it otherwise, but sometimes mistakes do happen ;)

At that point it was not bearing any of the load, so the temporary support posts were left in place (they are actually behind the new beam in the above photo). We left it there for several days, to adjust to the house temperature and humidity. In the meantime, Dan worked on the permanent support posts. More on that in the next post,  Kitchen Remodel: Beam Up, Post Down, Part 2.

August 21, 2011

Around The Homestead

Well, the calm has arrived after the storm but we're not back online. Our internet came back up four days later, but we have been unable to connect due to ethernet problems. Research to correct this has been slow, especially since I have a time limit on the county library computers. Even so I can't stop writing and documenting our homestead adventure. Until I resolve my computer issues, posts will be done at the library, and will probably be less frequent. Also I won't be able to respond to comments very quickly, nor make many return blog visits. I have always tried to do these things because I value my readers, your comments, and the sense of community we share through blogging.

As a catch up post to my week offline, here's what's been going on since my last Around The Homestead....

~ Storm Damage. Besides the computer, the other damage we had was when two of those diseased pines fell onto the new fence in our new buck browse.

Dead pine on the fence
The ones Dan didn't take down, right? Damage was not severe, fortunately.

~ Buck Browse. Speaking of, finished!

Gruffy in the new buck browse

There's about a half acre in there, enough to keep the boys happy for awhile.

~ Weather. The storm not only brought much needed rain, but also cooler, drier air. Unusual around here for August, but very welcome.

~ Rain Catchment. Though technically, we no longer have drought status, those long, hot dry spells every summer are a concern. Because of that, we've taken first steps toward our rainwater catchment system.

We bought four, food grade, 250 gallon containers. These will eventually be hooked up to two of our downspouts. Dan thinks they look kind of ugly and should be covered. I'm thinking they'd be perfect for vining plants I'd like to grow: muscadine, hops, hardy kiwi, etc. Hopefully they'll be installed by next summer so I can irrigate the areas that get the driest.

~ Chipper. Some sad news, we lost Chipper. The vet's best guess was that he had internal bleeding, but I didn't spring for an autopsy, so I don't know for sure, nor what could have caused it. Heartbreaking to be sure, but I have decided I cannot dwell on it. It's so easy to look back and think "if only I'd..." I have to keep in mind that in the natural world, death is as real as life. We can nurture life, we can support life, but in the end, we cannot control it. Dan and I believe that our job as stewards, is to give our animals the absolute best care we can, and allow them to live as natural of lives as possible, for as long as they're with us. This does not require emotional involvement, it requires a choice of will, it requires commitment.

~ Kinder breeding plans. The loss of Chipper changes these, to be sure. There aren't enough pennies in the piggy bank to buy another registered Pygmy buck, even if one were locally available. We'll just use Gruffy for both does, and see what we can work out in the future.

~ Chicks. Are growing!

Buff Orpington chicks

I've expanded their nursery area, and am gradually allowing them to mingle at will with the rest of the flock. Initially, the adults were all up at arms and chased the chicks around. Now, they just go on about their chicken business, even our rooster, with the stipulation that he will chase them away from anything his hens might want to eat.

Mama & her brood

Several of the hens have challenged Mama, but only once each. Apparently she has to reestablish her rank in the pecking order. I'm not sure what will happen when I actually try to mix the two groups permanently. I'm not sure how territorial Lord B actually is, though all the older chickens (Himself included) seem to be getting used to the chicks.

~ Oil Tank. Remember the fuel oil tank we were in the process of digging out of the ground?

Oil tank as we left it last June

Well, we racked our brains for the longest time, trying to think if the unused oil and tank itself could be useful for something else. Dan finally decided to find someone to pump it, dig it out, and haul it away. He called all the local heating oil delivery companies, spoke with secretaries, was told someone would call him back with infomation, only to never hear from any of them again. We finally saw a hand painted sign by the side of the road that said, "We pump and remove oil tanks." Dan gave them a call and they came out to take a look. They told him they'd pump the estimated 200 gallons of oil for free, because they could sell it for $1 a gallon. For the tank, they could cut it open, fill it with gravel, and fill in the hole for $500. We listened to him, both thinking, we could do those things ourselves. It was getting it out of the ground that we wanted, but he didn't want to do that. We were hoping the value of the oil would offset the cost of digging it out, but he didn't want to do that either. We parted with, "don't call us, we'll call you."

He called the next day anyway, with an "oops, I accidentally dialed the wrong number". But while he had Dan on the line, he tried to talk him into giving him that oil. Guess who didn't budge. Needless to say, the tank is still in the ground and the oil is still in the tank. We had an interested potential buyer for the oil via Craigslist, and then the storm came and the computer went out.

~ Electrical Project. We've made a little progress. Dan got the new circuit panel installed in the utility room.

We aren't ready for the circuits yet because of the wiring that has to be done for the kitchen remodel. After that we can get the power company to come out and do their thing, getting us hooked up and getting the meter moved, this time with proper amperage to the house (which is currently 60 instead of the customary 200).

~ Chicken Waders. I finally had another volunteer venture into the chicken wading pool!

Wading Ameraucana

This is one of my two Ameraucana hens. She didn't do it to cool off, nor because she saw the Delaware and Barred Holland do it. She did it because some grain was in the bottom and she wanted it! She decided she didn't like getting her feet wet however, and abandoned her grain recovery mission. With cooler temps, even the water dish doesn't get waded in these days.

Off the top of my head, that's about all I can think of. I'll try to get some garden, harvest, and preservation updates up. Also, we've started working on the kitchen! I'm very excited about that and can't wait to show you. More on that soon.

August 15, 2011


After four weeks of no rain, we got a real live, bonafide Texas-type gully washer on Friday night. We were eating dinner when we realized it had started to rain. Not a gentle rain, but a pelting rain. My first thought was of Surprise's twins. Since they've been weaned. they've preferred to spend the night behind the doe shed, as close to her as they can get. They had no protection from the rain, so I needed to get them to the buck barn as quickly as possible.

I remembered that my poncho was in the tool shed, so I took off without it, running to the gate to go fetch them. I found them huddled under a pecan tree, crying their hearts out. In knew if I carried the younger one, the older would follow.

It was raining so hard that I couldn't see. My denim skirt was soaked and heavy, pulling at my legs as I tried to run toward the billy barn, one little goat in my arms, calling to the second one to follow. The wind was blowing so hard that I didn't even know if he could hear me, but I could hear him bleating from behind. I ran the best I could, but for some reason, possibly the atmospheric pressure, I couldn't breathe. I couldn't get air into my lungs. I had to will myself toward the buck barn, gasping as I went. Branches crashed around us, but thankfully we made it; soaking wet, but unharmed.

In the meantime, Dan had taken off to check on the does and the chickens. He showed up within seconds after I got to the buck barn. "I can't get any air" he said. Fortunetely the does and chickens were secure and dry, thanks to the tarp we covered the leaky tin roof with two years ago!

Chipper and Gruffy were already in the buck barn. The roof was not leaking, but the wind was blowing rain in through the windows and unchinked log siding. Because their shed is just down a small
hill, water was steaming into it. Fortunately the ground at the back of the barn was higher and drier, so we all huddled there until the storm passed. When the rain let up, Dan went to get towels to dry the boys off, as well as cardboard and dry straw for their bedding.

When we got back to the house the power was out. We checked the rain gauge, 1.25 inches in 15 minutes. The electricity came on about 6 hours later, but our internet service is still out. And I'm having computer problems as well.  Usually when there is a storm, I turn off the computer and unplug it. This time however, we were out the door before I could even think about it. When I call my IP for more info, all I get is a recorded message that they are dealing with a regional outage and are working on it.

So, I'm at the county library, checking in. My Goat Butter post was on auto-publish, so this is why I'm publishing two posts in one day! It also means I am unable to reply to comments and return blog visits. Sorry about that. Hopefully we'll be back online and my computer problems will be fixed soon.

Storm © August 2011 by Leigh 

Goat Butter

One of the things I've been doing with our goat's milk (besides yogurt, yogurt cheese, hard cheese, mozzarella, and ricotta), has been to save the cream. I know some folks claim there is cream in goat's milk, and I sometimes read that it's naturally homogenized. This puzzles me, because I definitely get cream from my goats' milk.

Creamline marked on 1/2 gallon jars of goats milk

Perhaps folks who say this have goats that give milk with low butterfat? Or perhaps they're referring to the fact that the cream takes longer to separate from goat's than cow's milk? It's true that it does take longer, but I don't think of that as being naturally homogenized. To me, homogenization is permanent. I've never bought homogenized milk that separated back into milk and cream over time.

A lot of what I'm writing here is based mostly on my own experience and observations. What I can tell you is that after about 24 hours, I'm able to use a slotted spoon to scoop off a fairly solid layer of cream...

Spoon skimming the cream

I call this my first skimmings. This is the stuff I used to make whipped cream for strawberry short cake last May. Since then, I've been putting it into a quart jar which I keep in the freezer. To that I add the second skimmings, i.e. the more liquidy cream that I skim after the milk has sat a day or two longer. The idea is to save it in the freezer until the jar is full, then defrost it to make butter.

Really, the composition of milk is more than just milk and cream. According to Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making,  goat's milk is composed of

87.5% water & minerals
12.5% solids, which include:
     0.7% albuminous protein
     3% casein
     4% lactose
     4.2% butterfat
     0.6% salts

This is about the same butterfat content as cow's milk. Since the total quantity per milking is quite a bit less for a goat than a cow, the amount of cream per milking is quite a bit less as well. Which is why I have to save it up.

For my first butter, I decided to try the shake-the-jar method. I used a half-gallon jar for my quart of heavy cream. It worked, though not without quite a bit of elbow grease. (I'm thinking I might try Food Renegade's blender butter method next time.) I was surprised that I got as much as I did...

Freshly washed goat butter

Looks more like vanilla ice cream, doesn't it? That's because goat milk contains no beta-carotene, which gives cow cheese and butter a pale yellow color. My goat butter is a creamy off-white, though it would be possible to color it with something like annatto, a plant extract which is often used to color things like cheese and margarine.

I poured off the buttermilk to use in baking, rinsed, and then kneaded the butter in ice water with a bowl scraper. This worked out as much buttermilk as I could. This will help preserve it longer, because it's the buttermilk that will sour first.

My goal will be to keep us in butter all year long. At least for table use, as I'm not sure if I can get enough for baking. How did it taste? Absolutely divine.

Be sure to check out my updated post: Goat's Milk Butter For Two

Goat Butter © August 2011

August 12, 2011

Baby Chick Update & Chicken Wading Pool

Speaking of chickens, how about an update on my baby chicks?

Mama and all 17 chicks are doing fine. The two home hatched (black ones) are going on 3 weeks old. The mail order chicks (yellow) are several days older than that.

I found some old screens in the coal barn, and used them to section off a small area outside the chicken and goat shed. Mama can bring her chicks out into the fresh air, sunshine, and real dirt, yet they can't wander off too far. Nor can they be stepped on by goats, or chased by bigger chickens, though they're little enough to hop through the welded wire fence.

She is an absolutely excellent mother. She shows them how to scratch around, what to eat, and how to take a dust bath. She's always available in case one of them wants to hide or warm up a bit. Amazingly, she's an expert at rounding them up.

Several folks mentioned a chicken wading pool in the comments of my Beat the Heat Chicken Style post. Actually, we had already tried that. Dan found some large plastic tray like boxes in the dumpster and brought them home. I suggested we make a wading pool for the chickens, which he obligingly did. After he filled it with water, we stepped back to watch.

But would they wade in it? Nooo.

The chickens came over to take a look, discussed it amongst themselves, got a drink, and went off about their chicken business. They still haven't waded in it, but they still take turns in the water dish! [UPDATE: Aug. 21, 2011 - one of them finally gave it a try!]

Wading Delaware, watching Welsummer
(but that's as close as  Ms. Wellie will get)

Actually it's only two of the seven chickens that wade in the water dish, the Delaware and the Barred Holland hen. None of the others have given it a try. We noticed early on that none of our Delawares seemed to mind the rain, or being wet. And it's the Delaware that always comes running any time I dump out a dirty waterer or bucket. She loves to scratch around in the mud.

Lord B beckons the hens into the pasture

The Barred Holland hen is probably the most intelligent of all our chickens, even though the poor thing is at the very bottom of the pecking order. She's very expert at foraging (a Barred Holland breed quality). In fact the Delaware (top of the pecking order, even over Lord B), will follow Lady B around and steal her finds. Because of the difference in their chicken social status, it's curious that they hang out together so much.

Lady Barred Holland & Lady Delaware, buds

Fascinating creatures, chickens.