August 21, 2020

Around the Homestead

Lots of little odds and ends and tons of photos to catch up on. Here are my updates plus some random tidbits. Where shall I begin?

Garden. Like so many others, my garden has struggled this year. Nothing has died from our hot, dry weather, but it's all hunkered down into survival mode. That means slim pickings. Most of what I pick we eat fresh, which means I won't be breaking any preservation records this year. What has done well, has been my African keyhole garden.

Sweet basil and borage on the left, calendula (yellow flowers) & sweet potatoes.

Something that helped, was this...

Dan sank a perforated pipe into the center of the keyhole's compost bin for pouring water into. It delivers the water deep into the bed, whereas before, some of it was running off the surface of the compost instead of giving it a deep soaking. Compare the sweet potato vines in the above two photos to the sweet potatoes in the garden.

Slow growing sweet potatoes in the garden: Nancy Halls and Vardamans.

Granted, my sweet potato bed in not one of my hugelkultur swale beds, so it dries out more quickly. You can also see my inverted water bottles, which haven't been as helpful here as I'd hoped. 

Ollas. Everything planted with an olla has done well! These are my Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato plants (in need of being tied up again).

Lid to the olla is at the base of the tomato vine.

It's loaded with little green tomatoes, but they haven't ripened yet, I think because it doesn't get sun until afternoon. The ones in the garden are ripening well, however, which we've been eating in salads.

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes in the garden. Little mini-toms loaded with flavor!

Rain catchment. Next to my front porch tomato trellis there is now another rain tank. We've used so much rain water for the garden this summer that he wanted to add more.

It will be used for filling ollas and inverted water bottles, plus anything else in the front yard that needs watering.

Jam & Jelly Making. Although the veggies have struggled, we've done pretty well in the fruit department. At least we'll have plenty of jam, jelly, and applesauce this winter!

Measuring pectin.

Blueberry jam in the making.

Wheat processing is almost done. Dan continues to work on it in between his projects while I try to keep up with canning and dehydrating. Now, we'll have something to put our jam and jelly on!

Wheat berries for us.

Of the several years we've grown wheat, this crop is making the most delicious bread! I should have a final weight soon. The straw is being used for mulch and I feed the chaff to the goats.

Wheat chaff for the goats.

They love it!

Eggs. Our egg production is down to about one egg per day. We thought it might pick up again after Dan found a black snake coiled cozily in one of the nest boxes, but it hasn't. Our chickens are five years old, and have averaged four eggs per day until mid-summer. But they've never gone broody to replace themselves. We planned to replace them last spring, but then coronavirus. We're looking to replace the flock in the near future.

Milk. I'm currently getting close to half-a-gallon of milk every day. I make my cheeses by order of "importance." Mozzarella first, until I've frozen several dozen bags of shreds. Then feta; I like to have two or three gallon crocks of it stored in olive oil. Currently, it's halloumi.

Slab of halloumi after cooking in whey for half an hour. 

At first, I followed the traditional method of rubbing the slabs with herbs and folding in half. Now I skip all that and just pop them into the brine for three days. Like the mozzarella, I freeze these after they've brined. We like them either grilled over a hickory fire, or pan fried. They hold their shape very well and are mighty tasty.

Elderberries. Remember the net bags I used in hopes of saving some elderberries from the birds? They're working!

Usually I make jelly, but this year I may try elderberry syrup or tincture.

Silvopasture. I don't know if you remember we added silvopasture to our most recent master plan. The last time we had a forecast for rain, Dan seeded an area in hopes we could get something to grow there.

For years, this area has shown nothing but dirt! Lovely to see some grasses growing there.

Hornets. While working in the front pasture, Dan was attacked by hornets. They made a nest in the Leyland cypresses and began attacking the goats too. Drastic steps to eliminate the problem were required

It was either them or us!

5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel is in the print proof stage; the last step before hitting the "publish button!"

Checking the cover in the print previewer to make sure critical elements
won't be cut off when the books are printed. The final check is a print copy.

I'm getting close to having it done.

Ricotta pastry dough. I liked my dehydrated gnocchi squares so well, that I wondered if the dough could be used for pastry crust. So I experimented. I made a batch of gnocchi dough and rolled it out to make tarts.

The soup mug cut the perfect size crusts for my muffin pan.

Blueberry tarts. I used leftover pie filling from a canning project.

Dan liked them but I was hoping for a crispier crust. I think next time I'll cook the tart shells in a very slow oven to dry and crisp them more than bake them. I'm always up for an experiment.

Rare photo of two archenemies.

Meowy and Katie

These two absolutely refuse to get along! One of them is forever stalking and ambushing the other, and it's always claws-out serious, never play. I couldn't believe it when I saw them relaxing so close together. I thought I'd better get a picture to document the occasion!

That's my busy life these days! Tell me about yours!

Around the Homestead © Aug 2020 by Leigh


Michelle said...

That keyhole garden looks glorious during growing season!!! I have ONE tomato plant that seems to have mostly avoided the blight that looks like "herbicide carryover;" that's been our biggest disappointment of our veggie garden. I'll be interested to hear how your chick shipment fares; I've been hearing reports of major casualties because of the postal service slow-down. Both Rick's business and the one I work for part-time are experiencing problems because of that.

Leigh said...

Michelle, the keyhole has been a tremendous success. Dan's already planning a second one!

I think we'll skip mail order for chicks this time. The last two times I ordered from hatcheries, I'd get a call from the PO at 5 in the morning to come pick up my chicks, I'd be there by 5:30, but no one would answer the night door for me to get them! The last time there were two of us there to pick up chicks. We' could hear the chicks peeping their hearts out, could hear people talking and walking by, but no one would answer the door. So no more mail order chicks for me.

wyomingheart said...

Morning Leigh! Your keyhole looks as happy as mine. I am with Dan, in that I want more keyhole for next year. While the tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and corn, this year have done awesome, I can not figure out why all of my cruciferous veggies failed. I thought it could have been slugs, but I even lost the ones in my garden boxes. Like you say, some things do better than others, depending on the year... lol ! It does concern me however, because at some point I may be absolutely counting on that food to survive. Any suggestions? We are excited for that book to go to print! Have a terrific week!

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Glad to see the Keyhole garden seems so successful. I am definitely looking into doing something like this next year. Also, the pipe into the compost is a good idea as well and something worth trying.

Leigh said...

Wyomingheart, it is truly a mystery why some things do better some years than others. Weather? Soil? Pests? Bad seed? It's a concern of mine as well, but I honestly have no answers. (I know that's no help!)

TB, we're absolutely sold on the keyhole concept. And the pipe. I'm trying to figure out how to do something similar with my regular garden beds.

SmartAlex said...

Watering the roots sure makes a big difference. I have water reservoirs in my containers and once they fill up, they continue to take on water and wet the soil from the bottom up (until it comes to the surface if you persist). Deep water makes a big difference. We all know that happy tipping point when the plants become established well enough to fend for itself for more than a day. It really amazes me how little surface water some plants can get by on.

Retired Knitter said...

Hahaha on the arch-enemies taking a rest - cats are just such fickle creatures. Maybe the heat?? Just too warm to work up a sweat??

tpals said...

An abundance to talk about in your post! My neighbor works at our little post office and frequently hand delivers fragile packages to me. I'm blessed with oodles of chicks this year; wish I could share with you. I am so envious of your keyhole garden both because it's doing so well and it's a beautiful structure. My pumpkin with an olla is taking over the world. :)

Leigh said...

Alex, I agree. And this year's experiments really brought that home. Deep watering works better and requires less water. Deep watering = deeper root system, so a much better survival chance, don't you think?

RT, those two! Every now and, we think they might actually be starting to tolerate one another, but it never lasts long!

Tpals, glad to hear your olla pumpkin is doing well! Lucky you, to have an abundance of chicks. I'd much rather have raised our own, but our hens weren't all that interested.

Ann said...

Dumb question perhaps but here goes ... What is the thermometer in the blueberry jam for? I usually just cook it until it seems thick enough, maybe dripping some on a frozen plate to assess gel. I've never bothered with pectin in any of my jams either. Just wondering if there's a more sure fire, less guess way of making jam. Lots of fun stuff in this post. The keyhole garden is giving me ideas!

Barbara said...

What am I doing? Welllll, in no particular order. Working on deepening my pantry which is hard as the grocery store shelves are pretty bare. Canning garbanzo beans, black beans and thinking about onion jam. Missed apricot season which is a tragedy because apricot jam makes life worth living. I want a keyhole garden. We have deer. It would just be a All You Can Eat Buffet. I was totally going to do a planting bag garden on my deck this year, but then COVID. Can’t buy plants and seeds seemed a bridge too far during COVID. Auto spell all caps COVID. That’s weird. Bought two cans of Jackfruit. Not sure. Saw a pot roast recipe. That might be interesting? Trying to eat more vegs and fruit and less meat. I’m really behind in ironing. Still can’t watch much TV, too upsetting. Where The Crawdads Sing was a good read. Love reading your blog. Your calm voice makes me feel it’s all going to be ok. Thank you!

Mama Pea said...

Your keyhole garden has turned into a lovely landscaping sight! Now I'm really thinking about the deep watering methods you've used and I may give them a try. You've shown that the proof is in the pudding!

Your Matt's Wild Cherry plant certainly does look healthy. The last time I planted them, two plants overflowed one 4 x 8' raised bed.

Having your own wheat for bread! What an accomplishment.

Congratulations on the almost-published sequel of your book. I don't know where you find the time for such. My preserved stores for the winter are adding up, but it seems that's all I'm doing these days!

Leigh said...

Ann, never a dumb question! The thermometer is for the pectin. It's a new kind I got in bulk and the directions say to add it when the fruit/juice reach 140°F. Not sure how important that actually is, but the jam has been turning out very nice. :)

Barbara, what a lovely mix of thoughts and activities! I'm very interested in the onion jam. I think focusing on productive activities at home is the best course of action for now. Stress is never helpful. :)

Mama Pea, thank you! The days are non-stop busy! I'll be glad when things finally start to slow down, won't you?

Cockeyed Jo said...

Like you, my pantry is almost void of vegetables except for green beans. But the fruit side is filling in nicely. So far, strawberries, blackberries, cherries and figs are packing the shelves. No blueberries, raspberries, or grapes though. Lo( I'm having to resort to purchasing vegies from the wholesale house. sigh! But we do what we have to.

Leigh said...

Jo, I agree. We do what we have to do! Don't feel badly about the wholesale house - at least you have one! I've resorted to stocking up on ready-made spaghetti sauce for this winter's pizzas! lol.

Barbara, I've been thinking about your comment, especially your mentioning an appreciation of a calm voice. You couldn't have paid me a higher compliment. It seems we have two choices about circumstances, to either complain or look for positive actions we can take in spite of them. I think everyone will agree our country is having difficulties. Many people hope that if we just elect ---insert candidate of choice---, then everything will be okay. Many others understand that politics isn't going to save us because it's only a veneer. The social unrest and destruction we're witnessing won't stop no matter who's elected. This pattern has been repeated for centuries, there's nothing new under the sun. No nation lasts forever. For such a time as this, I think the wise will hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Barbara said...

It was a sincere comment/compliment. I have this Venn diagram of COVID, the well being of my beloved husband of 46 years and current polarizing politics. There I am in the middle thinking, for crying out loud, enough already. Agree with your political assessment. I amuse myself by reading the comments under my elected officials‘ Facebook posts. It’s like watching Meowy and Katie, lol. The hissing and caterwauling, oh my. You’re right, long view... think I can adapt Ollas for bag gardens? Gonna need bigger bags, lol. A long time ago I had a job proofreading sawdust dry documents. I “read“ for content and syntax. I then proofed backwards. Caught the typos and misspelled words that way. I’ll keep on, keeping on. You too. Thank you again.

Hill Top Post said...

A change in the seasons is definitely in the air. It's time to stock up. You have done well despite dealing with dry conditions. We have had ample rainfall this year, but didn't net a lot from our gardens. Just when we thought our sweet corn secured, ravenous fox squirrels took so much of it down. Now, I am in the mood for tarts. And, congratulations on the book!

Leigh said...

Barbara, how do you proof backwards??? Literally backwards, as in start at the last word? This sounds useful to know how to do!

I've never tried bag gardening, so I have no idea. There must be a way to water them -- tubes?

Mary, I'm sorry to hear your garden wasn't a huge producer even with rain! We finally got rain, and almost three inches in one night knocked over most of my field corn. The sweet corn is still standing, but it's long done. If it isn't chickens, it's feathers!

Fiona said...

Oh the keyhole garden is fabulous. I always enjoy your blogs so very much. A tip about the wheat. If you go through the stalks before you cut it you can select the best straws to cut for drinking straws. Trip at tbe growth joints and voila. My mother did this with winter wheat and then stored the "Straws" in a quart jar. If my brother and I were good we could have a straw to drink our milk. I made sone straws this year from our Fall rye a d they are okay but not as durable as wheat straw. God bless you a d keep you safe and well.

Leigh said...

Fiona, what a neat idea! Thank you for mentioning that. Sounds like fun thing to do with kids.

Barbara said...

Leigh, proofing backward is as you guessed. It goes fast because you are just looking for typos, missing punctuation, obvious goofs. All things easy to miss during the first pass through of a document. Hope you have a relaxing and peaceful Sunday. I’m still searching for an onion jam recipe to can. The only recipe I have found so far has ingredients I don’t want in the flavor profile. Maybe there isn’t one safe for canning. I’ll keep looking, and to that end, I have two books coming that may offer something. One book is from the Culinary Institute of America on preserving. The other is an updated classic French preserving book. I’m really looking forward to that one. A different perspective is refreshing.

Nancy In Boise said...

Keyhole looks great! I'm thinking of adding one around an existing bed, to add strawberries, will be a fall project. Creative watering, good job!

Rain said...

Hi Leigh :)) Lots to catch up on! I love the "archenemies" photo lol! Those blueberry tarts look AMAZING...Oh you have so much milk to make cheese!!! So jealous! ;) You guys have set up quite a nice homestead, I'm so happy for you. Your rain catching system is awesome. I love your keyhole garden too!

Leigh said...

Thanks, Barbara! I'll have to give the backwards proof reading a try.

I canned a purple onion chutney one year that was pretty good, but it was no where near a jam. You have some resources I'm not familiar with. I hope they give you some ideas!

Nancy, a keyhole garden is an excellent way to water efficiently. I'm definitely sold on the concept!

Rain, when you have dairy animals, the milk accumulates quickly! But it's fun to have all that dairy goodness. :)

Ed said...

Busy is right! I just got done canning 30 gallons of tomatoes yesterday and dropped the kids off for school this morning. Today is a decompression day and then it is back to work for me. Always something needing to be done.

Woolly Bits said...

ripe elderberries? ours are still grass green.... but then we haven't had a very warm summer! not many blueberries either - just a few to snack on, nothing more - I suspect vine weevils, the little blighters:( no hornets here either, but then we'd have to live with them, because they are protected and you have to pay hefty fines if you get caught destroying nests! though we can't complain, we didn't even have problems with wasps this year! I think they get more aggressive the hotter the weather is?
and my trial of growing sweetcorn, beans and pumpkins looks like an epic fail!:( the corn doesn't want to grow further, which means it was overtaken by beans - and the pumpkins are snaking around, making leaves, but not a single pumpkin in sight:( on the other hand - the beans are all looking pretty good, can't win them all:) and we're going to have crabapples to feed armies!

Leigh said...

Ed, that's a lot of tomatoes! Lucky you! Good idea to pace yourself; we should all do that!

Bettina, but then, we've had a summer with temps hanging around 97°F (36°C)!

Hornets are a protected species in Ireland? Yikes. We've left them alone some times, but when they start attacking, they've got to go!

I'm sorry your three sisters experiment didn't work, but you don't know unless you try. The beans and pumpkins in my corn didn't produce well either, but it may have been from too little rain and watering. Do you make pectin with your crabapples? My crab tree died this year, and I'm sad to lose it.

Woolly Bits said...

I think our highest temp. this summer was 25C in the shade... but only for a few hours, not over days! and we're talking once or twice a year - if at all. more than 20 degC is rare over here - which might account for the problems with my "three sisters"! water shouldn't be the problem, we've had enough rain. maybe I have to start everything earlier, but then I run into trouble with space inside, until it is warm enough for tunnel or even outside.
and yes, I had planned to try making pectin this year - we didn't have many crabapples the last few years - and used most of them to make "schnaps" (like sloe gin, just with crabapple and vodka:)- as gifts for parents and MIL:)
and hornets are protected here and in germany as well! they are quite rare here, so not really a problem. wasps have a lot of nests in the stonewalls here, but we never had any close to the house, where they would be in the way. and the numbers are going down even with wasps, I think - all insects are loosing numbers, not only bees and butterflies:(

Leigh said...

Bettina, are you going to try the three sisters again, maybe next year? Regional climate conditions can be so uncooperative, but I like to experiment too.

We've seen fewer insects too, or at least they were late in coming out. Except squash bugs! No shortage of those!

Woolly Bits said...

Leigh - yes, I'd like to try again, maybe with different varieties. we had unexpected problems in getting seeds this spring (covid - everybody seems to have discovered their garden:), but I hope I can find a variety more suitable to our climate. I'll try our seed savers in our neighbouring county - the seeds should be acclimatised by now. and I won't grow butternut squashes again - they need more warmth apparently than uchiki kuri and some other varieties!

and bugs are like weeds? the ones you hate the most always survive:(

Cockeyed Jo said...

Leigh, there's too much sugar in the commercial spaghetti sauce for good pizza sauce. BLEECH!

Leigh said...

Bettina, that's always the way it is! The things we want the least survive the best! I hope you find the seeds you're looking for. It can take time to find varieties that are best suited to an area. I'll be curious as to your success.

Jo, they put too much sugar in everything! lol The other thing is the thickeners. Many commercial spaghetti sauces have (to me) a starchy taste to them. That being said, if no sauce, no pizza! Of the options, I don't think Aldi's organic spaghetti sauce is too bad.

M.K. said...

You are light-years ahead of me in all respects :) But I will add a word about having broody hens. I've never successfully added a new hen to my flock -- they were too aggressive. I have a hen or two or three go broody every year, sometimes 2 or 3 times a year! The ones who go broody are early always the part-silkies. In fact, I think all my hens now are part silkie, because I got two half-silkie hens a few years ago, and all my hens have come from them. They go broody easily and they often make very good mamas. Just a thought. It's easy to get a new batch of babies from the store for sure. But having chicks born at home is fun too :)