March 30, 2017

Shade Cloth & Thoughts on the Hoop House

With our recent bout of spring-like weather I switched the hoop house to shade cloth.

The setting sun comes in this side so I'll need one more piece to shade it.

Our chances of frost decrease to less than 50% by mid-April, so soon it will be time to plant warm weather veggies.

I've never used shade cloth before so this is something of an experiment for me.

Shade cloth is knitted (or woven) polyethylene fabric.
This one by Agfabric gives 60% blockage of the sun.

Because of that I didn't choose a particularly expensive brand. It's a 60% cloth with grommets to tie it to the structure. Of course I had help.

Meowy, log wrestling.

Hopefully I can extend the life of our salad garden so that we can enjoy fresh green salads for longer into the summer than we're usually able.

While I worked I reflected on the hoop house and it's usefulness. In the eight winters we've been here we've had two that were terribly cold and garden unfriendly. Then we've had a few that were extremely mild so that the winter garden was highly productive. Mostly the temperatures fluctuate from below freezing at night to above freezing during the day. This is tolerable for most cool weather vegetables, so a protected growing area is only occasionally necessary. It's just that I never know beforehand if any particular winter will need it.

This winter was unusual in that it was either mild or cold with less daily fluctuation than usual. The poly cover protected from frost but not freezing temperatures, although everything growing in the hoop house bounced back nicely. When we had our warm spells, however, the hoop house trapped the heat and was too hot to keep cool weather plants happy. I had to roll up the plastic and open the door to vent it. Even so, my arugula bolted in February!

My other concern was how quickly the raised beds dried out. Of course the poly cover kept out the rain, but with warm days and drying winds, it seemed like I had to water every day. I suppose the extra work ought to be worth all those salads we've gotten, but still, it's got me wondering if this was the best option and the best set-up for us.

No conclusions have been reached; I'm just recording my thoughts and observations. And I'm curious about your experiences with growing in a hoop house or poly tunnel. Has it gone well? Have you had problems? How have you solved them? What are your best tips? Care to share?

March 27, 2017

Home Canned Pork and Beans

I've been wanting to learn how to can dried beans for quite awhile now. I often have a pot of beans sitting on one of the wood stoves during winter, taking advantage of the wood heat for the long cooking time they require. But in summer, when I keep cooking to a  minimum, or when I need something quick and convenient, nothing beats simply opening a jar.

Canned black turtle beans from last year's garden.

This recipe comes from Daisy Luther's The Prepper's Canning Guide. (You can read my review of this book here.) My own recipe notes follow.

Basic Pork and Beans

5 lbs dried beans (any sort)
1 - 2 lbs ham, bacon, or salt pork (optional)
salt (optional)
6 small onions, halved
6 cups water or broth
12 bay leaves

Wash and sort dried beans. Soak in hot water at least 2 hours or overnight. Discard soaking water, add fresh water and bring to a boil. Drain the beans again, reserving the cooking water. Distribute the pork in the sterile jars. Add the soaked beans, filling the jar no more than 3/4 full.

Filling only 3/4 full allows room for the beans to
expand as they cook during the canning process.

Add salt, bay leaves, and onion. Ladle boiling water or broth over beans, leaving 1.5 inches of headspace. The broth must cover the beans and there must be enough room for the beans to expand during pressure canning.

Black beans make a dark broth, don't they? An inch &
a half is more headspace than I'm used to so I measured
and adjusted the liquid to see what it looked like.

Secure lids and process in pressure canner at 10 lbs pressure (adjusted for altitude): 75 minutes for pints, 90 minutes for quarts. Makes 7 quarts.

Recipe Notes
  • Soaking. I've read that some folks skip the soaking and put them in the jar dry, but this results in partially cooked canned beans. If that's what one is used to and willing to finish the cooking after opening the jar, no problem. I'd rather have something ready to heat and eat, so this was an important step for me. It didn't add any work, just time.
  • When I do a shorter soak (a couple of hours instead of overnight), I like to first bring the beans and water to a boil. I find this helps with the cooking time.
  • Soaking water. It's discarded because it contains the undigestible starches in the beans that give you gas! Use it to water plants or feed it to the pigs (who don't are about gas). Rinse the beans and cook in fresh water or broth. (Not being able to discard the soaking water would be another disadvantage to the no-soak method of canning beans. You'd end up with gassy beans!)
  • Salt is optional because some people like to salt after they open the jar. I add salt when I'm canning. This is a prepper thing for me; salt may not be readily available in a hard-times situation, so I like my canned foods with just enough salt to not need any more. 
  • Headspace. All of my jars' contents were low, like in the first photo, making me wonder if I could have done with less headspace. According to safety guidelines, 1 inch of headspace is usually left for starchy low acid pressure canned foods to allow for safe processing. In looking at recipes from other sources, I find one inch commonly recommended for dried beans. I didn't lose any liquid during processing, but I can't help but think a little extra broth wouldn't hurt and would ensure the beans remained completely covered in liquid during storage. 
  • Yield. I'm guessing this varies according to the type of bean. I only had about 3 pounds of dried turtle beans but still got 7 quarts.

One jar didn't seal so we had a chance to try them. They were perfect!

Scrambled eggs on a flour tortilla topped with black beans & sriracha sauce

I will mention that in terms of heating and serving, the amount of liquid in the jar was just right.

The whole process turned out to be much easier than I thought. Like bone broth, I think this makes for a good wintertime canning project! Now I'm ready to try some of the other canned bean recipes in Daisy's book!

Home Canned Pork and Beans © March 2017 

March 24, 2017

The Prepper's Canning Guide

I have a new favorite canning book! Ball Blue Book and Putting Food By have been my go-tos for years, but if I could only choose one, I think it would be Daisy Luther's The Prepper's Canning Guide: Affordably Stockpile a Livesaving Supply of Nutritious, Delicious, Shelf-Stable FoodsSeriously, it covers everything from beginner basics to advanced designer canning recipes, and all with a preparedness mindset.

Part 1: Canning Basics for the Prepper includes an introduction and covers canning how-to basics. One thing the author points out, is that many of the foods we commonly store as part of our preparedness plan take a long time to cook - grains and legumes for example. This can mean cutting into precious water and fuel stores just to prepare a meal. By including a variety of canned items in one's food storage, we can have quicker meals incorporating a larger variety of foods prepared the way we're accustomed to. Meat is another example. If the grid goes down and one doesn't have electricity, then the freezer is no longer a storage option. If you like to eat meat, consider learning to can it.

Part 1 also covers canning safety, tips for thrifty canning, off-grid canning, equipment, plus gives you step-by-step instructions for both water bath and pressure canning.

Part 2: Preserving the Basics covers just that, the basics: tomatoes, jams, pickles, condiments, fruits, vegetables, meat, and beans (as in dried beans). Some of the recipes on my "must try" list include Ginger Peach Jam, Spiced Fig Merlot Jam, Real Tomato Ketchup, Pleasantly Pickled Red Onions, Cranberry Apple Slices, Sweet and Sour Coleslaw, and Sloppy Joe Filling,  I've already tried the Basic Pork and Beans. 😀

Homegrown, home-canned black turtle beans.
I've been wanting to learn how to do this. Easy!

BBQ Beans are next on my to-try list.

Part 3: Dinner Is in the Jar. Now that's what I'm talkin' about - real convenience food. Preparedness aside, I have to admit that after a long day of working outdoors, nothing is nicer than a quick healthy home-cooked meal in a jar. Nothing to defrost, just heat and serve. First on my list to try are the Cajun Jambalaya and Apple-Spiced Pork Chops.

Also covered in part three are how to use leftovers for canning and a chapter on creative canning. This one gives you guidelines for canning your own recipes safely.

There are a number of really helpful charts throughout the book, but I very much like that these are also found in the appendix. That means I don't have to do a lot of page flipping to find what I'm looking for.

What more can I say except "Highly recommended."

March 21, 2017

Sprouting Grain for Goats

Sprouting grain for my goats was something I first experimented with when I was preparing to write How To Garden for Goats: gardening, foraging, small-scale grain and hay, & more. Sprouting their grain is a nutritious way to stretch the grain budget, whether one is purchasing grain or growing one's own. I continued until the weather got too hot and had trouble managing the project. My sprouts started to smell bad no matter how often I rinsed them.

Why go to the bother of sprouting grain for goats? Is it really better than feeding grain straight out of the bag? There is a lot of information out there on the benefit of sprouting grain. According to Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions, sprouting grain:
  • increases vitamins B2, B5, and B6, C, and carotene
  • neutralizes phytic acid, which inhibits absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc
  • neutralizes enzyme inhibitors 
  • produces digestive enzymes
  • breaks indigestible starches down into digestible sugars
  • inactivates aflatoxins (which are carcinogens)

This is my simple winter system. Each screened
bowl holds one days-worth of grain for my goats.

All that has proven great for monogastric humans, but what does it do for ruminants, i.e., multi-stomached goats? Especially the sugars. Goats' digestive systems are designed to extract nutrients from roughage. The longer digestion times allow for the breakdown of cellulose into simpler carbohydrates they can assimilate. Grains, which break down quickly, end sitting in their gut so long that they begin to ferment and become acidic - not healthy for the goat and why most goat owners offer free choice baking soda to their goats.

I do feed small amounts of grain, especially when there is little forage available, or for does in milk who need the extra calories. The does in milk get one pound of grain twice a day (with one quarter of that being wheat bran); dry does and bucks are currently get half that amount. I feed our homegrown grains as hay, i.e. it isn't threshed but still in the stalk. I think this is the healthiest way to feed grain, because the goat gets the long stem part of it as well which aids in digestion.

Chaffhaye, bran, sprouted grain, sunflower seeds, & chopped carrots.

Back to sprouting. I can't help but wonder how sprouted grains digest in the rumen, but can't find any answers. Most other blog posts or web pages on sprouting grain for goats say the same thing I've told you, but there doesn't seem to be any information out there specifically on that.

One thing sprouters do agree on, is that it only takes about half the sprouted grain as it does non-sprouted. I've found that to be true as well. So cutting down on that feed bill is a good reason to sprout. At least during winter when the temperature isn't too hot. I'll have to wait to see how it goes this summer. If we have too much heat and humidity to keep the sprouts fresh, I'll just save it for winter feed.

Sprouting Grain for Goats © March 2017 

March 19, 2017

Solar Cooking: Are You Interested?

Awhile back I did some blog posts about my Sun Oven solar oven. I have really enjoyed it plus learning new cooking techniques to utilize this free power source. I've been asked by the Sun Oven people if I would be interested in hosting an online solar oven cooking class on my blog, sometime in April or May? I've replied to get more details, because I think it would be something we'd all enjoy, but I thought I'd get an idea of how many of you might actually be interested. So...

Would you be interested in an online solar cooking class hosted by me?

Poll Maker

Thank you for taking the time to let me know!

March 16, 2017

Winter Round 2 and Baby Goat Coats

Lini with her bucklings Conner (purple coat) and Jack.

After January's snow our weather turned mild and with just enough rain to get things growing. Then came March. We've had a few nice days but also snow, hail, sleet, heavy winds, and icy temperatures. Looking on the bright side, it has meant all my knitting was not in vain. The only trouble is, the kids have almost outgrown their baby goat coats!

Beau at the mineral feeder. I keep a cinder block there
so the kids can reach the minerals as well as the adults.


Conner. Those "airplane" ears are a Kinder trademark. :)


Windy. She's managed to wiggle her way out of three coats!

Lini's triplets: Lady (front), Jack & Conner (ears)


Violet and Sky

Sky, Lady, and Jack

Beau and Sky

Beau and Windy

Other ways to stay warm:

Sleeping pile in the sun.

Cuddle up with your Maa (Windy and Violet).

At least they still fit, which is good because some of them are being separated at night so that I can milk their mothers in the morning. But I can also see where I'll need to make pattern adjustments in future coats.

March 13, 2017

More Winter Projects: Pasture and Grain

Last time I showed you my latest hedgerow project; this post I'll show you our other outdoor winter projects - pasture and grain-growing.

We live in a mild enough climate so that most winters we can have winter pasture as well as summer forage. Last summer was so hot and dry, however, that I was late in planting. I like to plant cool weather forage in September and October, but I postponed planting until the rains started to come.

You might recall this photo from a post at the end of last December.

We've had enough rainfall and mild days to get good growth.

Here it is just before I turn the girls and kids in there. Goats must be
introduced to fresh new pasture slowly to let their rumens to adjust.

I also planted two areas for the bucks.

This is a deer and turkey forage mix of wheat, oats,
and winter peas from the feed store, just starting to grow.

Do you see how the grass is growing in rows?

A closer view.

Dan disced, but it should have been leveled too, so that all the seed didn't roll into the little furrows.

If the soil is bare then I just toss the seed directly onto the ground. This is good for spot seeding and also larger areas. I plan the plantings for when I need to muck out the barn. We don't have a seed drill so I hand broadcast it and if I can, cover it with barn cleanings.

Deer forage mix seed broadcast and lightly mulched
 with straw, hay, & manure from the goat barns.

The straw and hay from the barn covers the seed and the manure helps it decompose plus adds nitrogen to the soil.

After a couple of rains these seeds are sprouting and grass is growing.

A picture like this always looks so pretty to me!

On to grain. Every year we try to plant about a quarter-acre of field corn. This year we're moving that location to a spot that is not prone to blackberries and morning glories. Dan prepped the soil and I planted with the same pasture seed as a green manure crop.

Sprouting wheat, peas, and oats will become green manure.

Green manure is a cover crop that is tilled into the soil while it is still young and green. It adds both nitrogen and organic matter to the soil.

Our winter wheat is coming along as well.

Right now it just looks like grass, but soon it will begin to grow.

It's called winter wheat because it's planted in the fall and harvested in spring. Summer wheat is planted in spring for a summer harvest. Once it's harvested I'll plant it back to pasture.

So those have been my outdoor projects this winter, and as a result the place is greening up nicely. No complaints about that. 😄

March 10, 2017

A Second Permaculture Hedgerow

Hedgerows are a really nice way to turn fencelines into productive areas. By planting them with various edibles, they provide food and shelter, plus look pretty. Eventually I'd like to establish edible hedgerows between all of our paddocks. Even though our first one has been slow to establish, it seemed like time to start on another one.

Detail from our Master Plan. (Blue is planned but not yet implemented).

This one will be a short one, between the two doe pastures. It's indicated in yellow above (see "Master Plan 2016" for the big picture).

I started with the existing fence and measured out three feet on either side from it. The finished hedgerow will be about six feet wide, which should allow for shrub growth plus access along it's entire length.

T-post pounder on top of one of the t-posts.

Dan usually sinks all the t-posts for our fencing with a manual t-post pounder. Since our fencing is four feet tall, the 6.5-foot t-posts are sunk about two and a half feet. He's 5' 9" and can just manage the height and weight required to do that. I'm 5' 5", and so needed a stepstool to get a little more height.

Because we've had plenty of rain, they were fairly easy to pound into the ground. Once they were all in, I wired cattle panels to the new posts. Cattle panels allow the goats to eat what's growing in the hedgerow without eating it all down. Chickens have access through cattle panels as well, for forage and shelter.

The last step was to remove the old fence which then ran down the middle.

It's a little hard to make out, but there are three rows of fence there.

After removing and rolling up the old welded wire fencing, I set about to remove the old t-posts. I assumed that would be relatively easy to do with our t-post puller.

Alphie is a typical goat, curious about everything!
These are old photos from an earlier post, but they let you
see how it works if you aren't familiar with these things.

positioning the t-post puller
Close up. (We got ours at Tractor Supply Co.)

The trouble was, after five years they were so stuck in our clay soil that I could only remove one with that puller. Then Dan gave it a try and concluded that we needed to pull out the big guns.

Tractor power and a good stout chain made a quick job of it!

Now I have to get it ready to plant. All of those holes where the posts used to be will be filled with organic matter and I will also put in a few mini-swales (similar to the one I put in the garden) to help retain rain run-off.

What I've been amazed at is how many earthworms are
in that clay soil with seemingly no organic matter.

I started by transplanting the hazelnut bushes from my original hedgerow. They weren't getting enough sun to be productive, so I moved them here.

Currently working on swales, berms, & transplanting.

The hazelnuts are still dormant so you probably can't see them in the above photo. I planted them in the swale berms. I still have to mulch the foremost swale, rake out the lumps of clay, and continue planting to get the soil covered.

The timing worked out well because it rained last night after transplanting them yesterday. Leaf buds are just forming so I hope they'll be happy here.

Hazelnut bush with just-forming leaf buds.

Time will tell.

March 7, 2017

A Quick Update on the Limed Eggs

Last December I told you about another egg preservation technique I was trying, liming (see "More on Egg Preservation: Liming"). This is said to be one of the most successful methods of egg preservation in terms of longevity. But I have also read that the eggs develop a "limey" taste which didn't appeal to me. Even so, I thought I'd give it a try and told you that from time to time I'd report on how they were doing.

Eggs stored in lime water get a light coating of lime.
It is easily rinsed off, but perhaps this contributes
to the "limey" flavor people complain about.

So the eggs have been in a crock in my pantry, submerged in lime water. I've used them twice, now, for omelets. I didn't mention to Dan that I was using them, but each time you'd never know I was using anything different than fresh or refrigerated eggs.

Like the waterglassed eggs, I find the whites get a bit thin, but the quality hasn't suffered so far.

Because I'm so far south, I don't really need to preserve a lot of eggs. We may only have several weeks to a month at the most when the chickens are molting and we get no eggs. This is probably just as well, because it also means my unheated pantry doesn't stay cold enough for true long-term storage. Even so I always seem to preserve way more eggs than I need (I've still got about four dozen in the freezer as well.) I figure the year I don't preserve many eggs will probably be the year I need them!

ANOTHER UPDATE: I found that after about four months the eggs developed a slightly metallic flavor. My pantry remains fairly warm, however, even in winter, so with a proper root cellar or unheated basement, shelf-life would likely be longer.

March 4, 2017

Sitting Duck

Correction - setting duck. Mama Duck started laying eggs again last month. She was laying in a corner of the goat shed, where there are too many goat feet for it to be safe for either eggs or ducklings. I kept collecting the eggs, so she started hiding them. When she didn't show up for scratch the other day we started looking around for her. I have to say she chose a good spot. She and her eggs were completely protected from a hail storm the other night.

Muscovies incubate their eggs about 35 days, so ducklings are expected sometime the first week of April.

Sitting Duck © March 2017 by Leigh