December 5, 2022

Greenhouse Progress: A Side Project, Actually

Every big project seems to present at least one thing that isn't the project itself, but must be addressed in conjunction with the project. This time, it was removing a clump of crepe myrtle trees that we don't want shading the greenhouse. Crepe myrtles are deciduous, but the trees were pretty large and have no other purpose than ornamental. Dan decided to tackle it when it finally rained after a long dry spell. The root system of this clump of trees was likely to be extensive, so he wanted the soil moist and workable.

I didn't manage to take a before photo, but I found an old picture.

Photo from 2019. The crepe myrtle clump is circled in yellow.

People call crepe myrtles the 'lilac of the South,' but Dan calls it the 'chia bush of the South,' because it thrives on being cut back. It will send out numerous thick sprouts and spreads by runners. It's difficult to get rid of, so digging it out by the roots was the only option.

We trimmed it back first, reserving the branches and brush for wood chips. Then the digging started.

Hand digging revealed that the root system was
too extensive to remove the clump by hand.

Dan's PTO driven auger to the rescue.



Eventually, he was able to get a chain around it and pull it out.

He dragged it to the woods, and we wonder if it will reestablish itself.

Dan filled the hole back in and resumed actual work on the greenhouse. We talked about what to do with it, and we agree another African keyhole garden would be great there. Someday.

December 1, 2022

Our Agrarian Year: Season of the Hearth

Interesting reading
Or at least that's what Eric Sloane calls winter in his The Seasons of America Past. For those who live close to the land, it seems an appropriate nickname. Or, at least it sounds more charming than "the thankfully not-so-much-to-do season." Winter is the dormant season of most living things; often too cold, wet, and dismal with less to do outside. Staying inside near the woodstove just goes with the season. 

Of course, our southern winters aren't as cold as those in northern climes. People tease me about saying the 20s F is cold, to which I always respond, "but it's relative. 20°F (-6°C) is a 70-80 degree difference from our typical summer temps. Of course it feels cold to us Southerns!" And I get to tease them back when they complain about 80°F (26°C) being so unbearably sweltering. We're thrilled with summer temperatures that low!

So, what's on the winter project list? Seasonal chores revolve around keeping the critters watered, fed, and protected from drafts, and keeping the fire wood and kindling boxes full. But weather permitting, we still like to be outside.

Outdoor Projects

Indoor Projects
  • We still have two rooms to finish on the inside. While neither is specifically on our radar for finishing, both have become catch-all rooms and are in need of a good purge. That is something I plan to do this winter. 
  • Mending 
  • Freezer canning (jams, jellies, bone broth, etc.)
  • Personal learning. I'm not sure when Helen Atthowe's permaculture garden master course will be ready, but in the meantime, I want to resume where I left off in my photography course, which I set aside when the tomatoes, figs, and pears were overwhelming last summer.

Not a long list and nothing pressing, which is good. It's nice not to be so busy, plus it leaves room for whatever might pop up. 

November 27, 2022

Garden Notes: November 2022

Rainfall 

  • 5th-6th: 0.25"
  • 10th-11th: 1.8" (Nicole)
  • 15th: 0.7"
  • 25th: 0.05"
  • 27th: 0.75"
  • 30th: 2.3"
  • Total: 5.85 inches

Temperature
  • range of nighttime lows: 28-66°F (-2-19°C)
  • range of daytime high: 44-80°F (7-26.6°C)

Weather Notes:

  • It's flannel bed sheet weather!
  • My garden work schedule has changed, now, to doing indoor work in the morning and outdoor work in the afternoon. 

Harvesting and eating

Even though October's frost killed off the summer garden, the cherry tomatoes and pole beans growing on the porch trellis survived. I reckon that's because they are somewhat protected by the eaves of the front porch. They extended our summer harvest for about three more weeks and were very welcome!

summer garden remnants on the front porch trellis

cherry tomatoes, fresh pole beans, and some dry for seed

Of the fall garden, we're getting daikons and greens to go with the last of those cherry tomatoes. 

November salad: cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and greens
(kale, collards, chickweed, dandelion, turnip, and daikon)

Chopped fresh greens make a nice addition to my frozen leftovers soup.

Before our mid-November freeze I still got a few red raspberries every couple of days.

I added them to the others in the freezer. Sometime this winter I'll make raspberry jelly. After the hard freeze, I cut back the canes for better production next year.

The other thing I harvested was buckwheat.

Mostly seed, but leaves and stems too.

It grew as part of a cover crop mix Dan planted for soil building. Most of it will be for seed, but I'll see about processing some too, for groats and flour.

I'm still working on last summer's wheat.

Winnowing wheat with a box fan.

Last year we got the wheat done in July, but this year July was flooded with figs, pears, and tomatoes, so I didn't have time then. Dan got most of the threshing done, so I'm winnowing as we need flour.

Chicken winnowing clean-up crew

Of the green slicing tomatoes I picked before the frost, we ate the last one right before Thanksgiving.

There's nothing like homegrown tomatoes

Growing

Wheat patch

Garden bed with lettuce, kale, and garlic. The
cattle panel is to keep critters from digging!

Garden bed of daikons. 

African keyhole garden with various young greens.

Planting

It's really too late to plant, but I poked a bunch of fava beans into the garden swale berm and sprinkled the bare spots in the hugelkultur with turnip seeds. Likely, they'll be an early spring crop.

Parting Shot

Our blueberry bush in late autumn color.

I reckon that's it for my November 2022 garden notes. How about you? 

November 24, 2022

Thankfulness as a Choice

The internet is a wonderfully international place, with numerous glimpses into interesting cultural traditions all over the world. Because of that, American Thanksgiving is probably one of the more obscure global offerings, appreciated mostly by Americans, although I think even that is changing. Whether it's because of the rising costs of food and travel, substitution of family with political loyalties, or because of manipulative name-calling meant to shame Americans about their cultural traditions, it seems there is a lot to complain about regarding this holiday. And that brings me to my blog post title, "Thankfulness as a Choice."

I think this is an important topic because in general, it seems that more and more people are not happy. They are not content. The list of things to complain about seems to be ever growing: job, finances, physical appearance, politics, politicians, the government, spouses, gender, inflation, taxes, the weather, the environment, morality, ethics, equity, justice, product quality, social compliance, neighbors, the traffic, what so-and-so did or said, what they didn't do or say, and (heaven forbid) someone is wrong on the internet. And that's just the short list. 

Years ago, I heard a saying that stuck with me. "The poor are luckier than the rich because they don't know yet that money can't make them happy." Some people won't get that, but I think at some level or another, most people understand happiness based on circumstances is brief and fleeting. 

I spent many years of my life trying to make people happy because I thought it would make them like me. Eventually, I figured out this doesn't work. That if I change in the thing they don't like, they'll just find something else to complain about. Eventually, I figured out that complaining is a habit. And like all habits, it can be changed. If one is willing to do the work to change it.

What's this got to do with homesteading (the focus of my blog)? A lot, because I think our perception of our circumstances is key to homesteading success. Most of us making an attempt at it figure out pretty quickly that homesteading isn't about replicating our accustomed modern lifestyle in a more natural setting. If the stated goal is increased self-reliance, that necessitates lifestyle changes. Neither society at large, nor nature are very cooperative in this endeavor, which means it requires a fair amount of commitment and determination to succeed. It also requires accepting that some (many) things are beyond our control. And that leaves us with a choice: complain or look for some small something to be thankful for. 

Many of you tell me that while you appreciate my lifestyle, it's something you would never choose for yourselves. Which is okay. I agree it isn't for everybody. But the world is experiencing a time when many people are having to tighten their belts and look at ways to change. What Dan and I have done by choice, is being imposed on many of you through no choice of your own. I empathize deeply, and hope that my posts (both present and past), and books can offer some helpful and encouraging ideas. 

However, even useful changes will be sabotaged by negativity. And that's what complaining reinforces, a habit of negativity. It's a choice, however, and unfortunately, I think some people really like being negative. Or think that if they don't complain, nothing will change. The irony is that when we have no control over a thing, change is mostly a matter of attitude. 

So, to my fellow Americans who still celebrate this holiday, I wish you Happy Thanksgiving! To everyone else, I encourage you to focus on things you are happy for, rather than on what you are unhappy about. I encourage you to choose thankfulness.

Parting shot:


Thankfulness as a Choice
 © November 2022

November 20, 2022

Recipe: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake

This is not a combination I would have come up with by myself, but my daughter assured me it's a delicious combination. I always make a dessert for the weekend, so this weekend, we gave it a try.

I had a can of organic pumpkin in my pantry, and used that instead of winter squash (my usual substitute for pumpkin). I was surprised at how orange it made the batter!


Here's the recipe. It's an adaptation of several recipes I found online.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake

15-ounce can of pureed pumpkin
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup soft butter
2 cups flour
1/2 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup whey, buttermilk, yogurt, or kefir
1 and 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Blend pumpkin, sugar, eggs, and butter. Add flour, spices, soda, salt, and liquid. Mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and pour into a greased and floured bundt pan. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for 45 minutes or until done. Cool about 15 minutes and turn out of pan onto a cake plate.

Dan thought it was really good, but I thought it was just okay. I love chocolate chips, but I think pumpkin would go better with dried cranberries. Either way, I liked that it was definitely not just pumpkin spice!

Recipe Notes:
  • As mentioned above, I would try dried fruit as a substitute for the chocolate chips.
  • If I make it again, I'll use only one cup of chocolate chips.
  • Next time I'll try it with two eggs instead of three.

Is anyone else trying a new twist on traditional seasonal items? Care to share?

November 16, 2022

Greenhouse Progress: Not Much

Photo taken November 4, 2022.

There are a couple of reasons for the slow-down on greenhouse progress. One is the weather (rain), and the other is that Dan's sawmill needed repair. And while he was at it, he decided to re-level it. Between growing tree roots and the ground shifting as it expands and contracts with varying degrees of dryness and moisture, the mill wasn't level anymore. So that took some time. Fortunately, there's no deadline for this project.

I mentioned in my greenhouse planning post, that we had saved all the old wood windows we took out when we upgraded them. Those will become the greenhouse walls. What we didn't think about at the time, was the old jalousie windows we saved when Dan remodeled the back porch. He replaced two of them, and of course, we kept them. 

Jalousie crank windows. Photo from September 2013.

My idea was that they could be incorporated into the greenhouse roof, because roof vents would be very helpful. Dan nixed that idea, however, so we decided we'll use them on either end of the greenhouse walls. We plan to install a solar attic fan to vent the greenhouse during hot weather, and the jalousie windows would be great for helping to facilitate air flow. 

With the sawmill up and running again, Dan is back to working on posts and rafters for the roof. Weather permitting, of course. Hopefully, I'll have construction progress to show you soon.

Photo taken November 14, 2022.

November 13, 2022

Autumn's Last Hurrah

I'm cheating a bit with this post because it's a duplicate from my photography blog. But I traditionally seem to have an autumn color post every year on 5 Acres & A Dream The Blog, so I want to continue the tradition. Our autumn color starts in October and by the end of November the deciduous trees are bare. I took these pictures last weekend, when I took the goats for a walk in the woods. I'm glad I did because this weekend, the remnants of Hurricane Nicole have pretty much kept outdoor time to a needs-must status. 











Autumn's Last Hurrah © November 2022 by Leigh at http://www.5acresandadream.com

November 9, 2022

My New Sewing Toolbox

We've been working on our winter project list, and one of my line items is mending. I have a huge pile of it, but have been frustrated because my sewing tools are never in one spot. Part of the problem is that my studio became a storage area when we started working on the house. The same was true of the extra bedroom, and every time we start working on another part of the house, everything gets moved and shuffled about. So nothing has a home, and I can never find anything. Some of my sewing tools are in baskets, some are the sewing machine cabinet, some are in the mending box, and some are ??? It seems I'm always hunting for something before I can get started. 

Time to get organized! When I found this cute wooden box for $3 at a resale shop, I couldn't resist buying it.



It's the perfect size to keep everything I need for sewing. 


Several of the items in the box are special to me.

These little wood boxes were gifts from my granddaughters.


One is perfect for safety pins, the other is perfect for my tape measure.

These came from my great-grandparents

The thimble is 10k gold and belonged to my great-grandmother. She was a quilter. The steel container that I use as a needle case was my great-grandfather's. The embossed words say. "Colgate & Co. Shaving Stick New York U.S.A."

Buttons are handy to have so I made a button lid for a half-pint canning jar.


Besides scissors, thread, and a pin cushion, other useful items ...

Needle threaders, scissors sharpener, seam ripper, and darning egg.


Everything fits nicely in the box and there's still enough room for small projects I'm working on. And it's decorative enough that I'll be happy to keep it out and not be tempted to stuff it away somewhere where it's out of sight. I think this is a good step toward a productive winter!

November 5, 2022

Silicone Dehydrator Tray Liners

One of my learning projects this year has been learning how to make fruit and vegetable powders (like dried pear sauce and powdered tomatoes). The problem is that dehydrator trays are mesh. That works great for solid slices and pieces, but not so well for sauces and purees. I've tried both waxed and parchment paper, but they tend to stick to the food and need careful peeling off. This is a tedious extra step, so I finally decided to invest in some silicone tray liners for my dehydrator. The Excalibur brand is pretty expensive, but I bought some from Amazon for about $18 for a four-pack. 


They fit my Excalibur trays perfectly. I tested them out with more mashed potatoes for homemade instant mashed potatoes.


I really like that these have a rim on them. It made it easy to spread the pureed potatoes evenly.

When I checked on it after several hours, the top was dry but the underside was still wet. So I flipped the sheets of potatoes and dried them for several hours more.


The sheet of potatoes shrank, as dehydrated foods do, and the edges curled. But they didn't stick to the silicone tray liner! 

I broke them into chunks, powdered them in my blender, and transferred them to a storage jar.

I think this was a useful purchase for me because, unlike waxed or parchment paper, these are reusable, plus save frustration. I've slowly learned that not all purchases actually end up being useful, no matter how appealing the item was at the time. Learning to not succumb to impulse purchases has really helped in that department! A thoughtful purchase, on the other hand, is well worth it, even if the item is used only rarely. I don't mind putting time into any project, but being efficient with that time is important too.