June 30, 2012

June Harvest 2012

I didn't get much early planting done this year, so there aren't many summer veggies to show. Just these...


These are on the to-do list today to become relish.

Most of June's harvest has been things planted last fall or before, and fruit (no complaints about that). I've already told you about the peaches, also my garlic harvest and first half of the potatoes. My second potato bed produced a slightly better yield. In addition, I've harvested:


Of onions I've harvested two types: regular yellow from sets I planted March of 2011,

Finally harvesting onions from sets planted March 2011

and multiplier onions I planted last fall.

Multiplier onions planted last fall

They practically harvested themselves actually; they were just laying there on top of the ground. I'll save the largest ones to replant this fall.


I had no hopes of many strawberries because I had to move my bed again this year. While I was weeding the asparagus, I found these....

Strawberry harvest? This is it.

I reckon the only reason the birds didn't get them is because they were hidden under the weeds! Not enough for jam or strawberry shortcake, but I loved them on my morning cereal.


First blueberries of the year, early!

Blueberries are early and thanks to all the rain, they are bountiful, plump, and sweet.

I've been freezing some of these and the other day canned seven quarts of pie filling. I had canned some two years ago, using the recipe from PickYourOwn.org. The pie filling was okay, the pies tasted just like a restaurant pie, i.e. lots of sauce and less fruit. This year I used the blueberry pie filling recipe from Putting Foods By. The recipe was much easier and used almost double the blueberries, so I'm curious as to how well we'll like it.

Rugosa Rose Hips

Rugosa rose hips

I've read that rose hips aren't ready to harvest until after a frost. Makes 'em sweeter they say. As you can see, quite a few of mine were drying on the bush, so I picked them. I'll dehydrate them to use at a later date.


A handful of grapes

The grape vine was here when we got here. I found it hidden in the brush. The past two years the birds got most of them. This year I got them. They are sour and seedy, I assume wine grapes or for jelly. These are all I got, so I'll freeze them along with a few other things and make a mixed jelly later.

Nothing else to show, but I've got green tomatoes growing, borage blooming, cantaloupe vines blooming, a scattering of volunteer potatoes, and soup beans drying on the vine. I still have more to plant too. So tell me, how is your harvest coming along?

June 28, 2012

Making A Kitchen Utensil Rack

One of my pet peeve clutter areas is utensil storage. In the past I've had both a stonewear pitcher and a drawer, but they always end up a mess. Plus they take up space I could use for something else, so a rack of some sort, one that I could put under the wall cabinets, seemed like a good idea. First I looked for one locally, then online, and finally figured out how to make one. All I needed was a dowel or rod, and some hooks......

shower curtain hooks & mini-pendant rods for a utensil rack
Shower curtain hooks & rod sections
leftover from the mini-pendants we hung

The rod sections were leftover from the mini-pendants I bought awhile back for kitchen lightening. The hooks were harder to find. Hardware type s-hooks were either too big or too small, and specialized hooks too expensive. Walking through Walmart one day, I saw the shower curtain hooks you see in the above photo. They were even the right color!

The decorative wall brackets we used for my shelves had the perfect cutout to run the rod through. This is not my original idea, there are plenty of examples of the same thing around the internet. The finial is from an old ceiling light fixture, and just happened to fit perfectly.

Because the rod is over 48 inches long, Dan used a cup hook to secure it in the middle, to prevent sagging.

There you have it!

We're actually down to only a few projects to finish the kitchen. Dan's work schedule has changed though, so he's home less. This has slowed things down a bit, but I still hope to be presenting you with my new kitchen soon.

June 26, 2012

Poll Results, Conclusions, & Comments

Folks, here are the results of my what-to-do-about-spam poll:

But it only equals 98%.  ?????

Even though nobody likes the current word verification on Blogger, it was readers' preferred anti-spam method with 45% of the votes. That's the option I went with, and I'll explain why below.

Comment moderation came in second. As many of you point out, it can be time consuming if one has a lot of comments. I think too, it stifles a conversation, if the comments aren't approved quickly. On interesting posts, readers often read through the comments as well, and add their thoughts to what's being said. I also considered that I'd still be confronted with the spam and to be honest, I don't even want to read about free photos of celebrities in their birthday suits.

Disallowing anonymous accounts came in third, even though almost 100% of spam is in this category. To those of you who do not allow anonymous commenting on your blogs, I'm curious as to how much spam you do get. There are actually very few of you who comment via anonymous, mostly WordPress bloggers. Those who do always sign their name, so I know who respond to. I appreciate that.

I mentally divide comment spam into two types: the obnoxious kind, and the sales kind. The obnoxious kind is almost always about porn. Thanks to Blogger's excellent spam filter, these never get published. But the spammers know that. Their target is you, the blog owner. They know that if you have comments forwarded to your email account, you still have to look at them, even if it's only to delete them. Then too, legitimate comments sometimes get routed to the spam folder, so I still have to fish though it on occasion to approve these. Spammers hope to either hook you or to annoy you. Whether I disable word verification or choose comment moderation, I still have to deal with them and I feel like they still win in a sense. Unfortunately I get too many of these and since word verification eliminates them, I've gone back to that. There you have it.

The biggest complaint about word verification is that it is often impossible to read. I think we have a couple of options here. Rather than get annoyed, you can try clicking on the reload button.

Click the reload button for a clearer word verification

Within one or two reloads, you should get one that is easier to read.

If you have a Blogger blog, consider sending feedback. You'll find a "send feedback" button on the lower right hand corner of your behind the scenes pages.

Click on "send feedback," to, well, send feedback

I send feedback as needed. If I'm having a problem, I state it, but I never criticize. While Blogger staff never respond personally, the problems do get addressed. Also, if I like something, I let them know. If they fix something, I thank them. I did send feedback about word verification, asking if it could be simplified somehow because it was discouraging people from commenting.

Some of you have said you don't comment on blogs with word verification and I respect that. I'm still honored by your visits. For those who do comment, I always try to return the blog visit unless the comment is from the other kind of spammers.

The other kind of spam is what I call sales spam. These comments are more likely to get through Blogger's spam filter when they are posted by a real person who can negotiate word verification. Oftentimes they seem relevant to the post, but sometimes they are so off base as to be hysterical. I delete them all, and here's why.

Search engine rankings take a number of things in to account. One of them is the number of links to one's site, especially links coming from other sites with a lot of traffic. You can see how they'd think that by commenting on blogs, especially well read ones, they'd boost their rankings. Or so they hope. What most of these spammers probably don't know, is that Google automatically uses the 'rel="nofollow"' attribute tag for all links in the comments. (Read it from the horse's mouth, here.) This is a computer code which tells search engine robots not to follow the link. Hence comment links do not get indexed and do not boost search engine rankings. Or maybe these spammers do know it. In that case their hope is that you will click through to check out the link. That counts as a hit and hits boost rankings too.

Since sales spam often looks like a legitimate comment, how can I tell where their link will take me without clicking on it? In both Firefox and Chrome browsers, the link's URL will be displayed in the lower left hand corner if you hold your cursor over the link.

By holding your cursor over the link, it's destination address
will be displayed in the lower left hand corner of Chrome & Firefox

These are the only two browsers I have, so if you use a different browser, please let us know if this works for you.

If the comments are "anonymous" this technique will usually show a link to a commercial website or blog. Occasionally though, spammers will register with Blogger to get around the "no anonymous" option for comments. In that case, hovering over their link will show a Blogger profile. Under their profile you can hover over their links to find out where they will take you.

Why do spam comments usually end up on old posts? One reason of course, is to try to sneak it in. If a blogger doesn't have their comments forwarded to their email address, they may not even know about them. Sales spammers seem to like to put them on posts relevant to what they're trying to sell. They do a search with a particular keyword, like "kitchen cabinets," to find relevant posts to drop comments for free links back to their site. I have to assume though, that if they have the spare time to do that, then they or their product must not be all that great. Otherwise wouldn't they be busy with real sales?

One way to deal with these is to turn off comments for that particular post.

Choose a "don't allow" option to
close comments on a particular post.

That's done from the post editor. On the right sidebar of the post you wish to close comments on, choose "options" and select the one you want.

In the end, what to do about these is a matter of preference. You may feel that having the comment is a fair trade. I delete them all. I think that putting them on old posts or trying to pass them off as interested comments is sneaky. Who would do business with sneaky people? And why would I want to give free advertising for a product or service I would never purchase? Especially since the gist of this blog is about working toward self-sufficiency. Legitimate sales folks will do one of two things. They will either ask the blog owner for a link, or they will advertise through AdSense. AdSense give a blogger an option to allow sales ads on their blog and make a little money for doing so.

Well, that's enough off topic stuff for this century. It's relevant to blogging though, so I hope it it offers a suggestion or two for new bloggers especially. If you have another idea, I'd like to hear that too.

Next post.... back to all things homesteading.

June 24, 2012

Around The Homestead

I haven't done one of these in awhile, but here are my updates and other bits since my last "Around The Homestead."

Growing Stuff

thick growth of buckwheat blooming near the house

I planted buckwheat in the spot where I've had several unsuccesses at growing anything else. First summer it was a small vegetable garden. The next year I planted strawberries, an almond tree, and comfrey there. Unfortunately, wire grass all but strangled everything out. Last summer we covered it with black plastic, which disintegrated; what a mess. The buckwheat seems to be the best solution so far. In addition to the seed (groats), buckwheat makes good green manure, goat feed, and deer distraction because the deer love it (in fact I'm surprised they haven't found it yet.) According to Dick Raymond, planted thickly, it will choke out the weeds. We'll see if that includes wire grass. One thing, it certainly is better looking than the mess that was growing there before.

Weather Stuff

With all the rain, the front of the goat shed has been mud pit. I don't like that kind of situation, especially after Jasmine had so much trouble with hoof rot. It's caused by anaerobic bacteria which thrive in wet, muddy conditions. It's also associated with copper and zinc deficiencies. I finally thought of a tent gazebo we had packed away, and decided to see if I could make a "porch" in front of the goat shed.

I'm hoping this will keep the ground from getting any muddier. The straw is to give the goats something dry to walk on. Trouble is, the chickens love to rearrange this stuff all over the place.

Goat Stuff

With Jasmine gone, Surprise is not too crazy about having Gruffy for a companion.

She constantly complains about him and they've been going at it in the manner of goats, pushing, shoving, and head butting.

In one of their scuffles, one of Gruffy's scurs broke. Scurs are the remnants of horns that still grow after disbudding. He broke the other one in a tussle with our wether awhile back, so this is the second time it's happened. I don't know if you know this, but cayenne pepper powder is excellent for stopping bleeding. A good coating over the bloody scur works wonders. He was not cooperative however.

It takes two of us do do anything with Gruffy: vaccinations, hoof trimming, or treatments. I usually pin his neck between my knees (below actually because he's only 18 inches tall). That has worked well enough, except this time. He did not want that scur messed with. He tried to take off running, dragging me to the ground. I held on with my knees, but he kept running. He couldn't actually drag me away, but it didn't stop him. The best he could manage was running around in a circle, with me in the middle, my shoulder as the pivot point. After 2 or 3 turns Dan managed to grab him and we switched places.

Community Stuff

Dan and I pretty much keep to ourselves. That's just us and besides, we're busy. One day though, he was out in the pasture playing with the dogs when a man in a pick-up truck stopped and commented on our fence. He wondered if Dan hired out to do that kind of work (which he declined). Anyway they got to talking and the fellow told Dan his wife calls us a couple of hippies. That really took us aback and we wondered why. Because we have a large garden? Because we do a lot by hand? Because I wear my hair in a long braid down my back? Because we're not diligent about mowing the lawn? Because we'd rather let the weeds grow than drench everything with Round-Up? ;) Back in the day, I would certainly fit the hippy description (a little of my story here). But Dan? Never. He's been as square as they come from day one. [Que background music, "It's Hip To Be Square"] We were kind of hoping to be an inspiration to others, you know, to do something similar. Then again, maybe not.

Puppy Stuff

"We'll get up when it's time to eat."

I wanted to mention that the gelatin is still helping Kris, though he has set-backs on occasion. While Kody is growing at a slow, steady pace, Kris grows in spurts. We can almost see it. Those days he's mopey and limps, and I up his dose of gelatin. Usually the next day he's fine again, playful, happy and active.

Kitchen Stuff

Here's what I decided to do with that blind corner opening between the base cabinet and shelves...

lacy curtain to cover blind corner
I covered my blind corner with a lacy curtain

It's one of the lace curtains I'm going to use for the windows. Some of you suggested that the cat might find this spot and he has. He goes in through the curtain and then sits there and meows for me to let him out by opening the cabinet door. Like I have time for cat games.

Winter Wheat

I showed you how we got half of our harvest ("Winter Wheat 2012"). The rest was a problem. A lot of it was knocked down, by what(?). A lot of it was dragged down by vetch. It was impossible to scythe, so I used my hand sickle for some, then we decided to let the rest be. Á la Sepp Holzer, the stalks are forming a thick mulch mat and it will reseed itself. I'm interested in seeing how this turns out. There should never be a loss on a homestead, just a different purpose than originally expected. Successful permaculture seems to take some work to get established, but it certainly works for you once it is. Hopefully this will be one example of that.

I reckon that's all for now, except for this....

Parting Shots


June 22, 2012

No Guarantees

I want to thank everyone who commented on my "Goat Updates" post. I very much appreciate your sympathies and encouragements. It was the kind of situation no one wants to face, and for which ordinary life does not prepare us. It was a good reminder however, that there are no guarantees in life, and that there are especially no guarantees in homesteading. It's a reminder that while I cannot always control my circumstances, I can always control my attitude towards them.

Emotionally, making the decision about what to do was the hardest part. The question that plagued us was, did we / are we, doing the "right" thing. Then we had to deal with disappointment which tried it's hardest to morph into discouragement. Spiritually, it was a test of faith. If I say I believe in a Sovereign God, then do I trust Him even if things aren't working out the way I expect?

On a practical level, I had to examine the choices that lie before me. Our goal was to start our own herd of Kinder goats and I have to reevaluate the practical and economical aspects of that goal. In a broader sense, our commitment is to self-sufficiency, but we're not there yet either. Goat milk, yogurt, cheese, etc., have become a mainstay of our diet. But do I want to buy another goat right now, when being a grocery consumer is such an easy option?

This engages my thoughts on an economic level. Some folks think having animals is more expensive than simply buying the product, but I disagree (see "The Economics of Food Self Sufficiency"). I recently saw raw goats milk at a farm at $8 a gallon. Raw cows milk is about $6 a gallon at the bulk food store. Then there's the fuel to drive there and the time to make the trip. Seems easier to let my goats live on pasture, browse, and a little grain, and simply milk them twice a day! Even so, there is still the potential for crises, like Jasmine breaking her leg. I have to decide if these are risks I am willing to take.

I'm writing about this, because my goal is always to encourage other homesteaders. That means writing about the problems and the bad things as well as the good. Unfortunately most of us are not well equipped for many aspects of the homesteading life, because it runs against the grain of modern culture. We know we want to slow down and simplify our lives, but we often don't know how to do that. We know we want to be less dependent on the system to meet our needs, but we often lack the knowledge, skills, and tools to do so.

One thing we all have to deal with is that of expectations. When Dan and I first bought our place, I planned to plant and grow everything we liked to eat. It didn't take long to figure out that everything we like to eat doesn't necessarily grow well here. It can be done, but it would take a lot of extra work. There are only so many hours in a day, so in the end we decided to adapt to our location and modify our diet.

Expectations become a pitfall, when they are attached to assumptions. This has become a modern social problem (at least I think so), and is one reason why there are so many stupid lawsuits; folks want a guaranteed outcome, guaranteed results. It's why prices always to up; businesses want guaranteed income, guaranteed profits. If something doesn't work out, we want to know why and we want somebody to be responsible. The fact that some things aren't anyone's fault, never occurs to some people.

In part, I think this is because human nature likes predictability. We make plans based on predictable outcomes. That's why most folks see farming, or the agrarian lifestyle in general, as a hard way to live. If you've read any of the Little House on the Prairie series, you know what I mean. How many times did Pa make plans for the harvest that didn't come in? "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched" is a well-known, well understood reference to the uncertainties of agrarian living.

It's especially difficult for those who like to be in control. Unfortunately there are some things that cannot be controlled: hurricanes, accidents, earthquakes, cancer, rainfall, how many eggs hatch, etc. Some folks have great faith that science will ultimately save us from the uncertain. I'm not one of them. I think it is far better to learn to accept life as it comes. I may not be able to control my circumstances, but I can certainly control my attitude towards them.

Intellectually I think we all know that working toward a self-sufficient lifestyle does not come with guarantees. Yet crises still catch us off guard despite our understanding. In the end, true success requires acceptance without blame. It requires adaptability. It requires being willing to take risks. Ma Ingalls used to say,“There's no great loss without some small gain.” Oftentimes the gain is experience and knowledge. If we can see that as a gift, then I think we will do well.

June 20, 2012

Gardening In The Mud

Volunteer calendula
Remember "rain, rain, go away"? I've felt like chanting that some days, even though I know I'll be wishing for it when our summer dry spell hits. Seems like every time I make a date with myself to work in the garden, it rains! We've had about 7 inches of rain over the past 4 weeks, which is good to ward off drought status, but nothing seems to have had a chance to dry out. So I've had to plant in the mud (sweet potato slips), and harvest in the mud (potatoes and garlic). Though gardening in the mud isn't recommended, I'm finding that with permanent beds, at least I don't have to worry so much about compacting the soil.

My garden efforts have been sporadic because we're making the kitchen a priority. I need to get it done before canning season starts. In spite of all the weeds, and with the exception of the potatoes, everything is doing well, even if it was planted late. And all my volunteers are amazing!

Volunteers: a sunflower & 4 O'clocks.

Last year, I planted 4 o'clocks as companions to my potatoes. Also known as Marvel of Peru, they are truly marvelous. And colorful. The seeds were sold as annuals, which in most parts of the country they are. Here in our milder climate though, they can grow as the perennials they really are. My plants grew back bigger than ever.

Amish Paste tomatoes & borage

My tomatoes are blooming. I planted Amish Paste directly because I didn't have time to start plants early. As you can see, not all came up. I planted two beds and have 29 tomato plants. If all goes well I'll have plenty. In the past I've planted Romas, so this is a new variety for me. The borage (at least I hope its borage; this is another new one for me), is a companion for the tomatoes. I also planted marigolds in the bed.

Amish Paste tomatoes, marigolds, and volunteer broom corn

They're coming up along with some volunteer broom corn. At first I was going to pull these, but then I decided to try them as living tomato stakes. Plus, the goats love broom corn seed as grain and the leaves.

My sweet potatoes are doing well,

Row of Vardaman sweet potatoes on the right
Parsnips flowering in the back left

I'm still trying to root the last of the slips, but hopefully it won't be too late for them. Yesterday I raked the mulch back from the aisle. This has worked pretty well to keep some of the weeds down. Actually now would be the time to mulch everything to keep the moisture in the soil. Mulching will have to wait because we've got to get the kitchen done.

The Egyptian walking onions are walking,

Egyptian Walking Onion topsets falling to the ground

All parts are edible: the little bulblets, called topsets, the greens, and the onion bulbs that grow in the ground. By either picking or letting the topsets fall to the ground, you can direct where the onions walk.

Taylor Dwarf Horticultural Beans
and Marketmore cucumbers. I think. 

Ever in search of yet another dried bean, I'm trying Taylor Dwarf Horticultural beans this year. They are a bush bean. We love Black Turtles, but I'd like some variety too. Neither of the white beans I tried did very well. I'm pretty sure that with them, are Marketmore 76 cucumbers I planted from saved seed. Yesterday though, I found tiny cucumbers growing where I thought I planted butternut squash seeds. And I can't find my garden chart in all the kitchen clutter! Well, maybe it's butternuts that are growing in that other bed.

For those of you interested in companion planting...

Companion comparison: same bean in both photos, different companions

The above comparison shot is of the Taylor Dwarfs, all growing in the same bed. On the left, the beans were planted with the remnants of my fall planted carrots. On the right, they're were planted with the cukes, and are growing where collards used to be. Pretty interesting, huh?

One last shot of more volunteers...

Volunteer amaranth & dill

I have volunteer amaranth and dill, which reseeds itself every year. The volunteers always seem to be bigger and hardier than what grows from seed I plant myself. I need to plant lots more amaranth, because I use the seed heads as feed. I've not tried harvesting any for us because it seems a lot of work to process the seed as grain.

Actually I have a lot more to plant. In some ways I feel behind, but then remind myself that something is better than nothing. Plus, our first summer here we planted a late garden, (June) and it did pretty well.

So how are all you other mud gardeners out there doing? I've been reading your blogs, so I know I'm not the only one having to wrestle with the weather! We have more rain forecast for the weekend, so I'd better get off the computer and get gardening.

June 18, 2012

Featured Homesteader

What an honor! I've been featured on the Homestead Barn Hop for my blog post How To Break A Broody. Or Not. You can read about it at New Life On A Homestead, plus, take a look at this week's homesteading blogs. Or join in! It's a wonderful way to meet to other homesteaders and harvest a wealth of advice and information. Thank you Kendra!

Peach Problems & The Sink Window

my 2012 peach crop
Photo of my peach tree, taken 31 May 2012

Last year about 98% of my peaches were infested with Oriental Fruit Moth (also called peach moth) larvae. This year, I've found them in less than half. This year's problem I've identified as Brown Rot.

Brown rot is a fungus which infects the tree about three weeks before the fruit ripens. It starts with a small, soft, brown spot on the fruit which spreads quickly. The fruit literally rots away on the tree. It's not uncommon in humid weather, and our spring has certainly been that, with all the rain we've gotten.

This would have been something to address before spring growth (chalk up this year's crop to another valuable learning experience. :) The Organic Gardner's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control recommends inspecting for and removing any gummy lesions on twigs and branches, before the tree starts it's spring growth. A sulfur spray helps protect the flowers when they begin to open, with a second application later, to protect the fruit. Copper spray is also said to be helpful. I admit I would not have known to look for this beforehand, but will know better next year.

At first it wasn't too bad and I managed to salvage enough for fresh peach slices on our breakfast cereal every morning, and a delicious pie...

peach pie from homegrown peaches
Our first (and only) fresh peach pie of the year

There wasn't enough to can, so I opted for dehydrating some.

homegrown peaches on my Excalibur dehydrator trays
I dried about a quart's worth of this year's peaches

While canning requires enough for a canner load (7 quarts for a standard size canner), drying and freezing are good for small amounts. I froze about three quarts worth. Another nice thing about freezing is that I can use as is, in smoothies, in baked goods, or make jam later on. Sadly, the remaining peaches are going bad before they have a chance to ripen. Sadly, my second peach tree, which ripens later, is a lost cause. War is officially declared for next year.

While I was busy with the peaches, Dan was busy trimming out the window over the kitchen sink....

Kitchen sink window shelf above
The shelf helped solve the problem of how
the window fits between the cabinets.

Kitchen sink window shelf above
Stool, apron, and a closer look at the trim.

That's another thing checked of the kitchen project list. I get to do the painting. :)

June 17, 2012

Faithful Readers, Please Vote in My Poll

I've eliminated word verification twice now, but spam continues to flood my inbox. I know word verification is annoying, especially the new one: the font is illegible and the photos too blurry to make out.

Most of the spam is "anonymous," but thanks to Blogger's excellent spam filter, most of it never gets actually published. Still, an occasional one makes it through, so I always check each originating post to make sure. I also get a lot of advert spam, where it's a real comment (some more subtle than others), except it links back to a commercial sales site. This is a personal journal, so I delete all of these. It's too bad business is so bad these folks have nothing better to do than run around the internet trying to find blog posts to comment on in hopes of a sale, but this blog is not for commercial purposes. I don't even use it to make money for myself, though I could certainly use it.

So, Faithful Readers, please tell me which you prefer by voting in my poll on the sidebar: word verification, no anonymous comments, or enable comment moderation. Word verification is easier for me, more annoying for you, so I lean least toward moderation, and most toward eliminating anonymous comments. However there are a few of you who don't have blogger or google accounts, yet comment often. Please let me know what you think.

To view the results and what I decided to do about it, click here.

June 15, 2012

Unexpected Spice Rack

There have been a number of things I've puzzled over as I've tried to work out the details for our kitchen remodel. Some have been things I've wanted to work into the design, like a place to keep a stool, or a spice rack. Other things have been the result of necessary, but unplanned design changes. Like the gap between the corner cabinet and the Amish built cabinet we hung on the wall over the peninsula.

Gap between cabinets was the result of  installation choices

In my original design, these two wall cabinets were directly adjacent to one another. No gap. The gap was the result of Dan wanting to make sure the Amish cabinet was firmly anchored to at least two wall studs. To do this it had to be moved to the right by several inches. The result was a 3 and 1/2 inch gap.

My first thought was to put a shelf at the bottom and turn it into a place to keep my cutting boards. Eventually though, we found this....

A Rev-a-Shelf fill pull out spice rack

This is pull out spice rack with adjustable shelves by Rev-a-Shelf. It's a cabinet filler, made to fill small spaces between cabinets. These come in both wall and base cabinet models, 3 or 6 inches wide. Perfect.

If you aren't familiar with Rev-a-Shelf, they make a lot of nifty storage items for cabinets. I've always thought they were a bit pricey, but we decided this spice rack was a good investment. I shopped around and found the best price (including shipping) at Rockler.

Spice rack in the closed position

Technically it is made for new installations, not retrofitting. We had already put in the two other cabinets, but that didn't stop Dan from taking it apart and figuring out how to get it in between them anyway. He had to cut into the top of the Amish cabinet, but it's really not noticeable. The spice rack kit did not include a door, so he had to make that too, and add the pull.

Spice rack pulled out 

I'm just thrilled with it. It solves two problems in one, and couldn't be a more perfect solution. I'll paint it to match the corner cabinet and fill it with my spices soon. Another thing checked off the countdown list. :)

June 13, 2012

Goat Updates

My goat news is disheartening, for me anyway. We're down to only two goats. Jasmine's broken leg never healed properly and she was unable to get around very well on only three. In fact, she finally pretty much gave up trying. We decided that the thing that made the most sense was to take her and our wether to a meat processor. That's what they call butchers these days. At the very least it will be meat and bones for the dogs, and some stew meat and sausage for us. It's not the way we'd hoped things would turn out, but then real life is not always a "happily ever after".

In addition, my remaining doe is not pregnant. My potential due dates have come and gone (with one more longshot date this weekend.) No kids. Until the past several months she'd always been a skinny goat, but when I couldn't palpate anything in her state of rotundness, I began to figure it was just rumen. I should be able to feel something (feet, heads, butts) besides mush. Healthy goats are supposed to have large rumens though, so belly size is no indicator of pregnancy. On the other hand, I take comfort that she's not so skinny any more. It means my research and changes in diet and supplements, have paid off. Both goats have round rumens and soft shiny coats. I'm very pleased about that.

However, this means no Kinder kids for us this year. :( Which in turn means no milk, no yogurt, no mozzarella, no cream for our coffee, no cheesemaking experiments, no whey, no whipped cream, no butter. That means I either have to buy it or learn to live without. Perhaps this is a good test of my dedication to the goal of being food self-sufficient.

You probably noticed that I did not mention buying more goats in the above paragraph. Dan took Jasmine's accident and what followed pretty hard. We've lost what seems like quite a few animals and he feels like each one is a defeat. Intellectually he knows better, but it always makes us stop and evaluate what we're doing and how we're doing it.

Considering that neither doe got pregnant, I can't help but look at our buck, and analyze this in terms of supply and demand.
  • Supply - I'd assumed he's fertile. Now I have to wonder.
  • Demand - Though the does were flirty, neither was particularly cooperative. Sometimes he appeared to give up trying. Maybe it's because as an experienced buck he's used to shorter women? He is a Pygmy after all and those long legged Nubians may have been more of a challenge than he willing to persist at.

So there you have it. I reckon this is why they say no news is good news.

June 11, 2012

How To Break A Broody. Or Not.

A broody hen is a great thing if one wants more chicks. I've both raised mail order chicks myself, and let a mama hen hatch a few homestead eggs. In my opinion hen raising is absolutely the way to go, even if it means sneaking mail order chicks under her in the middle of the night.

broody buff orpington pullet
Our flock is now at 12 chickens, 11 hens and a rooster. I'm getting an average of about 50 eggs a week, we still have cockerels in the freezer, and that's plenty. Since we just raised a batch of chicks last summer, I wasn't even thinking about more. What I thought however, didn't stop one of the Buff Orpingtons from deciding she was going to set. In fact she insisted on it. I waffled a bit at first, and finally left her with about 5 or 6 eggs.

Mrs. Mean. Determined to stay on top of the pecking order
There was a problem however. Mrs. Mean (formerly Lady Barred Holland) kept chasing her off the nest. She would jump into mama's nest and stand on her head until mama finally had to leave. Mama would park herself in another nest box, but the eggs got left behind. I would move the eggs but Mrs. Mean would chase her off again.

This game of musical nests quickly became a nuisance, so I decided that since I didn't need any more chicks, I'd try to break her broody.

Broodiness is associated with an elevated body temperature. Lowering that is supposed to break it. Some have success simply by removing mama from her nest until she stops going back. The next step is several days in a mesh bottom cage, with food and water of course. Both of these methods "cool her bottom" so that she ceases setting. I tried removing her from the nest, even keeping her from going back to the chicken yard. This didn't work, and I don't have a mesh bottom cage. Nor was I inclined to make one, so I tried the dunk method.

Chicken dunk method to break up broodiness
Holding the broody hen in cold
water is supposed to break her broody.

This is another way to try and lower the broody's body temperature. At first I thought it seemed a little harsh for the hen, but then I considered that they don't mind being soaking wet from the rain, so how much would she mind this? It certainly did seem to shake my broody hen out of it, but only for awhile. Soon she was back on the nest. I repeated it several times that day, but she was insistent that she was going to sit on that nest. At least now I know what the term "mad as a wet hen" means.

Mama won
Broody hens can be super persistent

She finally settled for a spot under the nesting boxes, where Mrs. Mean can no longer jump on top of her and stand on her head. I tried for several more days to remove her, until the day I found one egg under her. I don't know know how she got it (broody hens stop laying). I gave her two more eggs, so now she has three. We'll see what happens.

I did run across a couple other ideas afterward and thought I'd pass them on to you. One is to try filling plastic Easter eggs with ice cubes and putting those under the hen. You can read about that, here. The second was to put her with an aggressive young cockerel, that one here.

Have you ever tried to break a broody? I'd love to hear about it.

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop #65.

Click on the icon or link for more, or to join in.

June 8, 2012

Piddly Potatoes & Gorgeous Garlic

I planted my first bed of potatoes the last week of March. I harvested them the last week of May, which is early, but the plants had all died back by about day 65. These are Red Norlands which are an early variety, though days to maturity should have been closer to 75.

Red Norland potato harvest laid out on newspaper to cure
Yield from 1st potato bed, not much. Hopefully 2nd bed will yield better

I planted 5 lbs and harvested 7 & 1/2. While I'm sure I didn't find all of them, this is disappointing. I grew up in a midwestern meat and potatoes family, so I love potatoes. Plus they are an easy to grow starch.

Last year my potato harvest was equally piddly, though in reading around the internet, it seems I wasn't alone. I suspected blight, but also considered other factors, which I pondered as I was out there digging. I've come up with several conclusions.

1. I'm planting in the traditional deep dig, hill as they grow method. The problem is that then they grow deep. That means is more work to both plant and dig, plus I'm missing quite a few as evidenced by all the volunteers I had this year. Next year I need to try a different, work smarter method.

2. Since reading Neal Kinsey's Hands-On Agronomy, I've come to understand that my soil is lacking nutrients and that compost and manure alone aren't going to fix it. They definitely help, but unless they are perfectly balanced in minerals, they cannot correct a mineral imbalance, nor can the correct pH. Plants grown on balanced soils are much more disease and insect resistant.

3. The first year we planted potatoes, I planted them with pots of horseradish as a companion. I didn't do that this year or last. I don't know if there's a harvest connection, but my first year's harvest was over 120 pounds to the nine I planted. next year I will definitely sink more pots of horseradish in my potato beds.

Of garlic, I was happier with the results.

I like to dry garlic & herbs on an old window screen for the air circulation.

I didn't get the yield I'd hoped for, but most of the bulbs are huge

Still dirty but gorgeous to me.

I planted it last fall, during the first week in October. I saved almost all of the bulbs I'd harvested the previous spring, in hopes of gradually increasing my yield until at last we can grow all we need for the year.

I was on the verge of being too late to harvest these; tops of some of the plants had dried away, making them difficult to find. They need to be pulled while the tops still have some green in them. It's also good to harvest in dry soil, but it seems like we've been getting just enough rain to keep the garden too wet to work in. That meant I had to go ahead and pull these in near mud. I pulled what I could find, and turned the soil to find a few more. I seem to recall planting 90 something cloves, and harvesting about 55 bulbs. Larger cloves will go farther however.

I still have one more potato bed yet to harvest, and of course, good harvest or bad, I'm thankful for whatever I get. Still, I need to consider how to do things differently next year. Garlic is a must have in our diet and potatoes are one of my top choices for easy, self-sustaining starches, or at least they ought to be easy. Hopefully the 2nd bed will do better and in the mean time, I have some research to do.