September 29, 2013

Sammy's Silly Sunday

Sam and Katy are about four months old now and recently had their spay and neuter. Because the procedures were part of their adoption package, I took them to the clinic at the shelter.

Neither kitten was too happy about it. Sam, in particular, reverted to his withdrawn, hissy self. I'm sure all the sounds and smells brought back memories of their being there. After I picked them up and brought them home, Sam was a different cat. As soon as he came out of the carrier and realized where he was, he grabbed on to my leg and gave me a huge hug. He purred and purred. He followed me around and wanted to be picked up and petted. He must have realized he was HOME, forever. He no longer cringes when we reach for him or pet him. In fact, he loves it.

They remain high energy tear-em-ups. One of Dan's (many) nicknames for them are The Hooligans. I told him that if I was still into cat blogging (Welcome To Rascal's World and Little Cat Zee), I'd make them a blog entitled The HooligaNation.

Riley remains completely unimpressed and unappreciative of their presence here. We decided his blog would be called CurmugeoNation. No, I'm not actually going to do it, but it's fun to think about.

Sammy's Silly Sunday © September 2013 

September 26, 2013

Good-Bye Old Oak Tree

When we first moved here we had three huge oak trees in the yard.

View from the north.  They really add a lot to the property.
Photo from summer 2009

They were mature and shade providing, but old. Our homeowners insurance company immediately demanded that the two closest to the house and outbuildings be trimmed back, or else.

We had several estimates done for trimming them. We thought they were beautiful and only wanted the necessary minimum done. The services that came out all said the same thing, that the one next to the house wouldn't last much longer and needed to come down.

We hoped we could revitalize it with the end of the drought and tree fertilizer, but last summer it was obvious that most of the outer limbs were dead. Once again arborists warned the tree was dying. We had the dead limbs taken down for firewood.

Photo taken after the trim, August 2012

This summer there was more evidence that the tree was dying.

Dead root. 

It put out very few leaves this year, and by earlier this month they, too, had died.

Dead, brown, leaves but the other 2 oaks are still green.

The sad truth was that it was time for it to come down.

Cutting the wedge

I do believe a "don't try this at home" disclaimer is appropriate here. Dan is not one to jump on any bandwagon, but I suppose the skills of establishing drop zones in the middle of nowhere, years ago, never abandon one entirely.

Tying it off to hopefully prevent it from falling the wrong way!

Trees are extremely unpredictable when they fall. Ropes and chains help assure they don't go the wrong way!

Wedges were driven into the cut opposite the wedge cut.

It fell where he aimed, although it did hit its neighbor oak. The limbs were weak and brittle, snapping like twigs. Any of these could have dropped at any time, so it was good that we got the tree down when we did.

The diameter of the trunk was 39 inches. I tried to count the rings. Some were large and easy to count; there was about 40 of those. The outermost rings were very tight and difficult to distinguish There are about 40 or 50 of those. Because of the way the tree was cut, I wasn't able to count rings all the way to the center.

It leaves a huge gap in the sky overhead! I will certainly miss the shade during summer and the woodpeckers will miss boring for insects. Happily, my replacement tree, a sassafras I transplanted a few years ago, escaped damage!

I fond this sassafras sapling elsewhere on the property and
transplanted it several years ago. I've pampered it along.

Next year's firewood waiting to be cut, split, and stacked.

I love trees so it is sad to see such a tree reach its end of life. I must remind myself that even in death, things have purpose. This tree, for example, will provide heating and cooking wood for winter 2014. By taking it down now and not letting it rot away to nothing, we not only protect our house and ourselves from damage, but utilize the wood before it was useless.

The key to stewardship and environmental responsibility is to not use up a thing, but to always make a way for it to perpetuate itself. We've planted more trees than we've taken down. It's all part of leaving the world a better place.

Good-Bye Old Oak Tree © September 2013 

September 24, 2013

Grub Bucket

Never go digging without one of these.

My grub bucket

I always keep one handy when I'm digging in garden beds or compost, because I usually find quite a few of these gourmet chicken treats

Grubs found in the compost pile.

I gathered these while filling the wheelbarrow with compost. They look pretty yucky to me, but the chickens love them.

Speaking of compost

Wheelbarrow of compost

Because of all the rain this summer, this has been my most productive year for compost. The rain didn't have anything to do with it directly, but because of the rain the goats stayed inside more, which meant I had more to muck out than before. That meant lots of compost. No complaints about that.

Grub Bucket © September 2013 

September 21, 2013

More Problems With Predators

We lost two more of our young chickens to predators, although I'm not entirely certain as to the culprit. I found the first new victim early one morning next to the coop, headless. Several of the young chickens had managed to spend the night in the cedar tree in the chicken yard. Something had plucked one out of the tree and killed it.

I found the second one several days later. This time in the pasture next to the farthest fenceline. It was midafternoon and I had just been out there a few hours before. This chick was also headless.

3 month old pullets and cockerels: Buff Orpingtons,
Speckled Sussex, and Silver Laced Wyandottes .

Quite a few chicken predators consume only the head and crop. Most of them, however, hunt either at night or during the day. Did that mean we had two different predators, a night hunter and a day hunter? Dan set out the live animal traps and I made sure all chickens were in the coop before closing up at night. I also changed the chickens free range area, directing them to the front pasture with the bucks.

We had already lost 7 young chicks to a rat and did not want to lose any more. Even though the chicks were now too big to be attacked by rats, we discovered that the "barn" was infested with them! I saw two in the coop when I did a night check, and Dan could hear them running in the walls.

Speckled Sussex pullets drinking whey from cheese making.

Our chicken coop/goat shed is an old building (as in about 85 years old) that has gone through several transformations. At some point, someone poured a concrete floor and put up paneling to turn it into a workshop. We turned it into a home for our critters and haven't had problems with rodents until this year. Now the rats had tunneled under the concrete floor and had a series of entries and exits into the walls and all around the building. Except for the chick killer we caught in a live animal trap, all the rest had deftly avoided all attempts to catch them. After searching YouTube, Dan build this.....

YouTube inspired rat trap. I don't have the video address for you, sorry.

A PVC pipe and elbow runs from a rat hole up to a tub of water. A strip of old towel in the pipe offers traction, and peanut better at the mouth of the elbow is the bait. The rats fall into the tub and drown. The fellow who invented this said he successfully disposes of rats on an ongoing basis.

The next morning we approached this contraption with anticipation. No joy. However, inside the chicken coop, I discovered this....

Snake skin

.... a newly shed snake skin.

This story is already long enough, so to shorten it up a bit, I can tell you that we never drowned a rat in the YouTube rat trap, but all the rats vacated thanks to that snake.

Dan did find the snake, a black snake, under the nest boxes. He removed it to the back of our property, and released it in the woods. If it would only catch and eat mice and rats we wouldn't have minded it being around, but they also eat eggs. He also ended up catching two possums, one in a live animal trap and one in the fig tree. They are gone now too.

Total loss from predation this year has been 9 out of 25 chicks. We're hoping that will be the end of it, but now we're entering autumn hawk migration. I reckon it all just comes with the territory.

More Problems With Predators © September 2013 

September 19, 2013

More Progress On The House (Back Porch)

Continued from Progress On The House.

After Dan finished installing the new bedroom windows and I primed and painted the new siding, we discussed the back porch.

The back porch is my laundry room plus summer and canning kitchen. Initially, we weren't planning on replacing the old jalousy windows. The problem, however, was that the cranks had been stripped out so that they neither opened nor closed. They were what they were. I favored replacing them, because it gets mighty hot and humid on the porch during summer canning. All the heat remains on the porch because there is no air conditioning, nor heating for that matter. That's not a problem, but ventilation from open windows would help.

Pulling the vinyl siding off revealed another problem.

When the porch was built, the framing for the windows jutted out farther than the siding. That's not particularly a problem but it meant our new barn board panels wouldn't lie flush.

Dan modified it by ripping off just enough so that our new siding would lie flush.

He also discovered some wood rot in the rim joist/sill.

Two side-by-side rim joists serve as the sill. It was planed to create
a slope in the porch floor. We leveled the porch floor in March 2011.

Replacing the sill and rebuilding the wall would be a huge undertaking. Perhaps someone else would have done it, but instead, Dan decided to treat it with 1 part polyurethane to 4 parts naphtha as a preservative.

Rather than purchase new porch windows, we decided to use the storm windows from the old bedroom windows. He modified the frame to incorporate those.

He used boards from the original siding as nailers for the barn board panels.

Notice anything unusual about this photo? The sky is BLUE!
In most of my photos this summer, the sky is overcast grey.

The siding went up before the windows went in.

Next: "House Exterior Done For Now"

September 16, 2013

The Guineas Big Day

Six weeks inside, no going out. That's what I read. This is what it was supposed to take for "home" to imprint on my guinea keets so that they would come in to roost at night, rather than find refuge in the trees.

The bravest Guinea (on the right) takes a peek at the big outside world.

This is important because we have so many predators, all willing to eat them.

It took several hours, but they finally all made it out the door.

They are the funniest things; cautious and always moving as a unit.

Out the door and looking around.

It took nearly three hours before they finally dared to venture out!

They finally worked their way around the posts and fence, and
into the sunshine. 

The first day I let them out in late afternoon, for just a few hours. They were uncertain about the fence in front of the door and had to be coaxed back inside at dinnertime. Fortunately they have learned the sound of the birdseed millet being shaken in the container. That got their immediate attention and they were ready to follow me anywhere!

The next day I let them out around noon and it didn't take long before they were out and exploring. They made their way to the front of the quarter acre buck pasture and discovered goats and chickens! Best of all, they made their way back to the buck barn all by themselves in the early evening. Food, water, and their beloved mirror are in the barn and, of course, that's where they get their "treat."

Day three I let them out earlier still, and they spent it in busy search and eat activity. I understand guinea fowl have quite a range and I'll gradually expand where they're allowed, unless they figure out now to jump fences before that. As long as they can find their way home at night, I'll be happy.

The Guineas Big Day © September 2013 

September 13, 2013

Ginger Fig Cake & Cinnamon Ice Cream

Fig season is just about over for us. Still, there are a few on the tree and I'd hoped to get enough to have another go at a fig bar recipe I'm working on. My last picking, however, only gave me half of what I needed so I had to try something else. These two recipes evolved together, and were a happy success.

Ginger Fig Cake

2 cups unbleached flour
1.5 cup sugar (I used unbleached)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup shortening (I used organic palm)
1 cup whey (to react with the baking soda)
1 tsp vanilla
3 egg whites, beaten fluffy
1 cup mashed fresh figs

Cream sugar and shortening. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Bake in greased bundt pan for about 40 to 45 minutes at 350° F. / 180° C. or until done.

Recipe Notes
  • Made a very tender, moist cake.
  • I use whey because I have lots of it from cheese making. Of course you can substitute buttermilk for the whey. Or milk, but if you don't use baking powder, an acid such as cream of tartar, will need to be added to work as leavening with the baking soda.
  • Thank you to Laura (Polymath Chronicles) for mentioning she liked ginger with figs. Tasty!

Cinnamon Ice Cream

2 cups whole goat milk
1 cup goat cream
1/2 cup sugar (I used unbleached)
pinch sea salt
3 egg yolks
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla

Heat milk, cream, sugar, and salt in a saucepan until barely a simmer. Remove from heat and slowly add to the egg yolks beaten with cinnamon and vanilla. Chill. Freeze in ice cream freezer.

Recipe Notes
  • I use goat milk because I have goats.
  • The amounts are small because I use a Cuisanart 2 quart ice cream freezer
  • Until recently, I had been using a no-cook ice cream recipe. Renee (Forgotten Blog) mentioned the cream seemed to become grainy with the no-cook recipes, so I tried a "custard style" cooked recipe. I think she's right. It's not necessarily harder to make, it just requires a little planning ahead.

September 8, 2013

Progress On The House: Exterior

Continued from New Bedroom Windows.

This is how the house looked in my last bedroom remodel post.

Once Dan got the new bedroom windows installed, he was anxious to cover and trim out the exterior to protect everything from rain. Happily, he had several rain-free days at home to do the job.

Under the vinyl siding is the original wood board siding.
It is in fair shape (here at least) and makes a good base to nail to.

For details on the octagonal stained glass bathroom window, click here.

Close-up of the exterior window trim.

The paint looks splotchy, but it really isn't. Something on the camera lens!

Dan is going to continue to the corner on the left and probably one more panel to the right. The horizontal white trim between the bathroom and bedroom windows covers the seam because one 8-foot panel can't cover the height of the wall. That trim will continue on both sides.

We chose the color scheme quite awhile ago - Choosing A House Color Scheme. We actually started with the new siding and paint when we put in a new kitchen window - Um, Replacing The Kitchen Window Means We Have To Paint The House. Right?

We're really happy with how it's turning out. It would be great to be able to finish out this entire side of the house, but that would mean replacing the front bedroom windows, which will have to wait. I can only have one room torn up and in total chaos at a time! Maybe this winter we can get to that.

Progress On The House: Exterior © September 2013 

September 5, 2013

Taking Stock

This is the time of year I find myself evaluating our progress, particularly on one important reason we decided to homestead - growing and raising our own food. The garden is mature and my days are (or should be) busy harvesting and preserving. Some years things thrive and produce well; other years they simply don't.

Homegrown meal: barbecue goat ribs, corn on the cob, and salad of
tomato, radish, cucumber, carrot, and a volunteer lettuce. The only
purchased items were the salad dressing, barbecue sauce, and salt.

When we first bought our homestead, I envisioned a garden full of the vegetables we love, an orchard producing our favorite fruits, bins of homegrown grains, jars of honey and homemade vinegar, a greenhouse for fresh, winter vegetables, and a pantry stocked with everything we love to eat. The fact of the matter is that some things don't grow well in our part of the world, not everything grows equally well every year, and some things are very time consuming and labor intensive to keep on hand. On top of that, this year's summer weather has made gardening a real challenge. I'm guessing most of you will agree. If you haven't had endless sunless days and rain like we have, then you've likely had horrific heat and drought. Neither extreme makes for good gardening.

All of this points to the often unspoken uncertainties of working toward a self-sustaining food supply. There simply are no guarantees, which is probably why folks were so willing to leave the farm when the industrial revolution swept through. Yet here we are and, if you're still reading, you likely have the same yearning to return to a closer relationship with the land, to know where your food comes from, and to be involved in the process of taking care of yourself.

As difficult as it has been to learn to kill our animals for meat, grains are the
thing that remain elusive in terms of success. Hand processing homegrown
wheat for one loaf of bread is labor intensive but doable. Threshing, winnowing
& grinding a quarter acre of wheat by hand is daunting. Corn is much easier.

I have come to realize that, for this endeavor to be successful, there are some things that I need to rethink. I need to relearn concepts I have about food and eating if I'm going to consider our lifestyle a success. I come from a grocery store background, where variety and picture-perfect produce are the norms. The time of year doesn't matter; everything is always available and always beautiful.

I've had to rethink our diet. While it is certainly possible to grow everything we like to eat, it isn't realistic. Perhaps if all we had was the garden I could do it, but our life is more than just the garden. It makes more sense to simplify our diet. This is the nitty-gritty of local and seasonal eating. We eat what we have and we preserve or store the extra. This means learning to live with less variety  ("What? Eggs again?") as well as many non-traditional meals ("Vegetable soup for breakfast?)

This year was our first real apple harvest. We sprayed last winter: dormant
oil for insects and sulfur for diseases, but the almost daily rains washed much
of that off. Even though every apple is blemished, they are ours. Our first apple
pie was fantastic! The worst ones became applesauce, the rest I'll process later.

I've had to rethink quality. It's interesting to read books such as Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle , or Growing a Farmer by Kurt Timmermeister. Both of these books point out that grocery store standards are not the norm in the natural world. In the real world foods taste different (usually better) and look different (usually worse). I've had to discard my standard of perfection. Nothing is thrown away simply because of a bad spot or a few bird pecks. Just cut that off and feed it to somebody else; chickens and goats are only too happy to fight over such tidbits.

I've had to rethink my expectations. I can't "count on" anything. Last year, breeding season was a failure and none of our does had kids. That meant no milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, kefir. This year, our blueberries and figs have produced bumper crops, but the garden has not. Some things were a no-show such as peppers and egg plants. Other things have produced, but not in huge quantities: cucumbers, tomatoes, and okra. Even my 9 laying hens are only giving me 2 or 3 eggs per day. I can say it is likely due to too much rain and too little sun, but my plans of bulging my pantry shelves with pizza sauce and pickled okra have dissolved into wondering how we'll make it without pizza every Friday night.

This year's carrot crop. I planted a bed but got just one, which I only
found when I was clearing the bed to plant fall beets and lettuce!

I've had to rethink food habits. This is actually a tough one because we get used to preparing and eating certain foods. Sometimes it's the convenience of grabbing a box out of the cupboard and simply adding water. Sometimes it's because these foods comfort us, our personal "soul" foods, the foods we grew up with (like macaroni and cheese made with velveeta.) These are the foods we tend to crave.

The biggest challenge is learning to be content with my life, just as it is right now. Learning not to be dissatisfied with what we have, learning not to fret when abundance isn't there, learning not to worry about what the future will be. The late Larry Burkett likened worry to paying interest on a debt one didn't owe.

Zed and Buster Brown, anxious for their bottles. Ziggy's triplets turned 3
months old on Aug. 27. The boys have been neutered and now live with the
bucks. They still get bottles of milk, increasingly diluted with water. 

Most things in the self-sufficient lifestyle, even when I'm doing my best, are beyond my control: weather, germination rate, animal death. Ultimately, it makes no sense to worry about them. Yet human nature likes things predictable and wants a guarantee on every outcome. God's natural world isn't that way; the point being, I think, so that we learn not rely too much on ourselves. True contentment implies trust.

Dissatisfaction, often disguised as ambition, is what keeps us unhappy. We assume contentment means complacency, but we humans want to make our mark upon the world! That may be a virtue in worldly society, but for the homesteader it is a liability. Yes, we need to be realistic about our goals and how we plan to achieve them, but we need to balance that with thankfulness for what we've already accomplished.

I wish I could say I've mastered all this, but I can't. I can say that these are things I am working on learning, new habits I am cultivating. I see them as being key in our quest for self-sufficiency, and truly, for all of life.

Taking Stock © September 2013