December 27, 2023

Garden Notes: December 2023


  • 1st: 0.3"
  • 2nd: 0.4"
  • 3rd: 0.02"
  • 9th: 1.33"
  • 10th: 1.08"
  • 17th: 0.17"
  • 25th: 1.9"
  • 26th: 2.01"
  • 27th: 0.03"
  • Total: 7.24 inches
  • range of nighttime lows: 21 to 58°F (-6 to 14°C)
  • range of daytime highs: 45 to 67°F (7 to 19.5°C)
Garden Notes:
  • I have a few things growing in the garden: kale, daikons, turnips, and Swiss chard.
  • Continuing to finish up mulching the remaining beds.
  • Then I'll start on tidying up and re-mulching the aisles.
Greenhouse Notes
  • Everything is doing well so far, although slow to grow.
  • Our coldest night so far this month was 21°F (-6°C), but the greenhouse didn't get below 32°F (0°C). My cherry tomato plant is still alive and well. 
  • As are my transplanted green pepper plants.
  • Once the sun hits the greenhouse, it warms up quickly, so I have to keep an eye on the temp and turn on the vent fan if needed. 

cherry tomato vine with quite a few flowers

sweet pepper plant



Planted (in the greenhouse)

celery base (from Thanksgiving stuffing)

sprouting garden potatoes from the pantry

The potatoes are an experiment. Potatoes are typically planted around here in March, which doesn't make sense to me because a frost or freeze will kill the top growth. Depending on what the rest of the winter is like, these may do okay for a few early potatoes.

Parting Shot

December salad: daikon leaves, kale, Swiss chard, chickweed,
dandelion leaves, feta goat cheese, & greenhouse cherry tomatoes.

December 23, 2023

A Twist on a Christmas Tradition

Firstly, no matter what holiday you celebrate, I wish you a happy one! 

My holiday offering for my readers is a bit different this year. I first heard this a couple of weeks ago at my granddaughter's school Christmas program. She plays trombone in the junior high band, and this was one of their concert offerings. It intrigued me enough that I had to look it up on YouTube to find—shall we say—a less beginnerish rendition. This one was uploaded by the composer himself. I think you'll see why it would have great appeal to school bands, especially with the great percussion part.

I give you Santa the Barbarian: Snowpocalypse by Randall Standridge.


December 17, 2023

Status Quo Days

December, January, and February pretty much make up the winter season on our northern hemisphere agrarian calendar. In our part of the world, that means more indoor time with quite a few lovely afternoons to work outside. Having switched my creative pursuits from writing to weaving, I feel productive in a different sort of way, and it's nice not to spend so much time at the computer.

So while there's not much new news, I do have tidbits to share, such as, I got our Christmas tree up!

I get a live potted tree every year and then plant it afterward. Except that for the past several years I've gotten rosemary bushes that never seem to make it. So I decided to try something else. This is an arborvitae. 

With gift giving days coming up, I've been busy weaving Christmas presents.
twill table runner

crackle table runner

woven red plaid scarf

woven gray plaid scarf

The links go to technical details.

Dan spends his morning and evening indoor time woodburning.

The panel is from the bottom of one of the doors he bought off craigslist for the greenhouse. The top was glass panels, which he cut off to use for the upper center of the greenhouse roof

In the department of needful things, Dan built something we've been talking about for years; a headgate for the task of trimming the buck's hooves. 

Our bucks are all pretty friendly, but no goat likes having their hooves trimmed and tends to be uncooperative. This time of year they are still in rut, which means they are rambunctious and harder to handle. The bait, of course, is feed, but we have to have only one at a time in the pen. When we're working on one buck, the others want to take advantage of his restrained situation by butting him (and us, if we're not careful.) It's all goofy play, but they are rough and their play is not something the humans want to be caught in.

With feeder. They're always more cooperative if there's something to eat!

The headgate works very well. I just wish I'd remembered my camera the last time we tackled the job.

The chickens are moulting and so not laying at the moment. But the ducks are obliging us with eggs.

These are lovely for Christmas baking.

As you can see, not much exciting going on. We're just enjoying our season of rest. Hopefully, you'll enjoy these parting shots of Riley. 

He loves to play in the water dish, which gets water everywhere.

I hope you all are staying warm and dry.

Status Quo Days © December 2023

December 11, 2023

Greenhouse Ventilation

In case you missed it, here's the last greenhouse photo I shared.

Photo from Garden Notes: November 2023

At the top of the greenhouse roofline, a vent covers a solar attic ventilation fan.

We finally assembled all the pieces needed to hook it up to solar, and now have functional ventilation in the greenhouse.

It's powered by a 12-volt 100-watt solar panel on the roof above the greenhouse. No battery, so it runs when there's sun and doesn't when there isn't. Fan speed is regulated by the amount of sun hitting the panel. This is okay, because I need ventilation when the sun is bright and heating up the greenhouse more than I want! This is ultimately why my hoophouse failed for winter growing. It's not uncommon to get 60°F (16°C) days or warmer during winter here, which meant the hoophouse got too hot for cool weather plants. I had no means of ventilation other than opening the end flaps. This wan't effective, and everything bolted! I'm hoping the vent fan will help with that.

If it's cold out and we don't want to lose warmth, there's a switch to turn it off.

The solar panel is wired to the switch,
and the switch is wired to the fan.

The fan will be on during warm winter days and probably run all summer. Not because I plan on using the greenhouse for plants then, but to help vent hot air stacked up right next to the house and warming up my studio/sewing room!

The jalousie window on the backside of the greenhouse provides cooler outside air for the draft.

There's more shade and hence cooler air on this side of the greenhouse, so it makes sense to draw from this side and vent out on the hotter sunny side.

The big question was, will it work?!? The next day we had a chance to test it out. After lunch, the outside thermometer read 52°F (11°C). The greenhouse thermometer read 80°F (27°C). I turned on the fan and opened the jalousie window. Two hours later the outside temp was up to 55°F (13°C), but the greenhouse temp had dropped to 75°F (24°C). That's promising! The following day was another warm one in the greenhouse. When the temp got up to 80°F (27°C), I turned on the fan but left the door open instead of the window, to experiment. Two hours later it was down to 70°F (21°C). My conclusion is that the 80-watt fan has a good air draw.

Of our overnight lows, the coldest night we've had so far was 22°F (-5.5°C). The greenhouse got down to 32°F (0°C), with no frost or freeze damage to the cherry tomato (my only warm weather plant).

Summer cooling may be another story, but that remains to be seen. I'm not planning on growing anything in the greenhouse in summer anyway, but it would be nice to keep it as cool as possible to keep the heat from transferring to the house.

I'm calling this first year our test year. I'll keep track of temps and we'll experiment. Our coldest weather is yet to come, but we have a few ideas to try.  Hopefully, we'll learn some things about how to regulate greenhouse temperatures (both cold and hot).

December 6, 2023

Curds 'n Cream

Late autumn is the time of year when milk production drops. Milk production is seasonal, for the most part, and by now, the does are hopefully bred and apparently less interested in making milk. Although some does will "milk through" for more than a year. I've never had such a doe, so I plan my cheesemaking during our peak of production.

I experimented a lot in the past, and have pretty much settled on what could be classified as Mediterranean cheeses for home production. For cheesemaking and cheese storage, this type of cheese works the best in my climate.

  • mozzarella - fresh or frozen (shredded)
  • feta - aged and stored in olive oil
  • halloumi - fresh or frozen
  • paneer - fresh but can be frozen and crumbled into soups, eggs, enchiladas, etc.
  • farmers - fresh
  • ricotta - fresh or frozen
While I make others on occasion, those are my staple cheeses. 

The other day, Dan mentioned an old favorite of his, pineapple and cottage cheese. Years ago, I tried my hand at cottage cheese. It turned out well enough, but somehow never got eaten and ended up being a treat for the chickens. Even so, this sounded like a good idea for the smaller amounts of milk I'm now getting. And then I got to wondering if I could make it with vinegar like paneer and ricotta, rather than rennet. I gave it a try.

I started with 1/2 gallon of milk, from which I hand skimmed the cream first. Then I heated it to almost simmering and added one 1/4-cup of vinegar.

The curds and whey begin to separate immediately. 

Then the whey is drained off and saved for baking.

Plop curds into a bowl, add salt to taste, and stir in the cream

The result is something like a dry, small curd cottage cheese. The creaminess can be adjusted with the amount of cream added. Since it doesn't follow the traditional cottage cheese recipe, I decided to call it "curds and cream." It turned out to be a real treat, especially with pineapple.

Serve as desired, here with pineapple and pineapple juice.

Like my fig sap cheese, this is a good one for smaller amounts of milk. It makes a tasty change in our diet, so it looks like this is now officially on my "keeper" list.

Curds 'n Cream © December 2023

November 29, 2023

Garden Notes: November 2023


  • 10th: 0.01"
  • 11th: 0.2"
  • 12th: 0.02"
  • 17th: 0.09"
  • 21st: 0.7"
  • 26th: 0.01"
  • Total: 1.03 inches
  • range of nighttime lows: 22 to 58°F (-5.5 to 14°C)
  • range of daytime highs: 46 to 81°F (8 to 27°C)
Weather Notes:
  • 1st frost: Nov. 1

November has been garden clean-up month. Almost every day I work a bit on pulling frost-killed summer plants and covering each bed with a thick mulch of fallen leaves. This keeps winter weeds down for easier spring planting. 

Other winter projects will include bed border replacement where needed and aisle clean-up. Wire grass and other weeds eventually take over, so periodically need to be cleared out and new wood chips applied. My garden is protected from cold winter winds, so on sunny days it's a pleasant place to work. 

Of the two beds of cool weather veggies I planted, only one has done well. 

kale, daikons, carrots, turnips, and garlic

I think it was the timing of planting and rainfall. It's been a dry autumn. Even so, fresh greens and roots are a welcome addition to our diet. 

  • greens: kale, daikon, turnip, dandelion
  • roots: turnip and daikon
  • cherry tomatoes (greenhouse, see below)
  • and . . . 

surprise watermelon

It was hidden under a pile of dead cherry tomato vines! They seemed to have protected it from frost, even though the watermelon vine is long since dead. 

I mentioned harvesting cherry tomatoes from the greenhouse. I have one cherry tomato vine in a pot . . .

This cherry tomato plant is a volunteer that showed up in a pot. It's a good test plant.

. . . as well as a few other things . . .

As tempting as it is to fill the greenhouse with plants, I'm trying to keep it to a minimum as we'll be working on the interior soon. 

These are two green pepper plants I dug up from the garden and potted.

Everything in it is doing well. so far, but the real test will be January and February, which are typically our coldest months. Even though it's still a work in progress, the greenhouse holds promise as a winter garden. 

Progress on the exterior continues slowly . . .

I reckon this will be my new winter garden.

Dan finished the siding below the windows with cement board in a barn board pattern. What there is of it. Then I painted it. Currently, he's recaulking the old windows, and then we can finish up with their coats of paint. 

I showed you the cherry tomatoes, and we still have a few slicing tomatoes that I picked green before the frost.

These are truly survivor tomatoes. They made it despite common tomato disease and a long dry spell. Looks like we'll enjoy fresh garden tomatoes on into December. 

I thought this was going to be a short post, but it turned out a bit longer. Does anyone else have gardening news to share?

November 23, 2023

Things I'm Thankful For

Originally, I'd hoped to have a picture post, but I've run out of time, busy with family things. But I do want to take advantage of this traditional time of year to count my blessings. I know how easy it is to complain. Some default setting of human thought and emotion? I find that focusing on gratitude and contentment is so much happier! 

I'm thankful for:
  • My husband, who is truly a partner on all levels: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
  • My family. I'm proud of my adult children, their spouses, and their children.
  • Our little piece of land.
  • Our goats and the milk they provide. I'm thankful for their antics too!
  • Our poultry. Everybody seems to be getting along better now that we've thinned the flock.
  • Our four mousers (it takes that many around here).
  • Our garden and all its struggles to produce for us despite our often uncooperative southern weather.
  • The greenhouse (progress update soon!)
  • That so much of our Thanksgiving feast is homegrown: turkey, cornmeal for the cornbread stuffing, green beans for the green bean casserole, winter squash for the "pumpkin" pie, and goat cream for its whipped cream topping.
  • My new sewing room.
  • My table loom (thanks to my dear friend Terry) and the ability to weave again.
  • A cozy fire in the woodstove.
  • A warm lap cat on a chilly evening. 
  • My blogging community. I'm thankful for each of you who visit my blogs and take the time to comment. I'm thankful for the blogs you write, because you help keep my life interesting with your diversity of projects, personalities, interests, ideas, and opinions. 
I truly have a lot to be thankful for.

November 20, 2023

Product Review: Fresh Keeper by Luxear

I don't often do product reviews, but when I was contacted by Luxear, I was really interested in doing this one.  Luxear is the same company that makes those fantastic Arc-Chill cooling blankets that I love. So I already have confidence in their products and this one, Fresh Keeper Refrigerator Storage Containers, sounded like a must have. With a garden like mine, something to help keep things fresh would be a real bonus!

The box contained a set of five storage containers with lids.

These included a good range of sizes: 

196 oz, 129 oz, 78 oz, 46 oz, and 24 oz.

I like the lids, both the carrying handle and the way they snap on.

The removable colander is nice for rinsing produce before storage.

I'm going to confess here, that I wondered if the freshness wasn't due to some sort of chemical additive, but no. The fresh keeping is just simple common sense.

The inner colander lets moisture drip off
and allows for air flow to keep foods fresh.

These can be used for any fruit or vegetable, so for my test, I chose fresh picked garden greens. I washed them well, shook off the excess water,and divided them into thirds. One third went into the Fresh Keeper, one went into a ziplock bag, and the other will be wrapped in a paper towel to store.

Then I popped them all into the fridge. 

Day 1

I checked them daily. Of course, the greens on the paper towel wilted the quickest, so the real competition was between the greens in the plastic Ziploc bag and the Fresh Keeper. After 7 full days, the difference started to show.

Day 8

The greens in the ziploc were beginning to lose color and wilt. The greens in Fresh Keeper were just as fresh looking as the day I picked them.

Conclusion? Fresh Keeper is definitely a keeper! The Amazon link is here. And the good news is that Luxear has given me a 10% Amazon discount code to pass on to you. They're currently running a Black Friday Deal, so the discount will count on top of that!

Seller Rywell Direct:4QL428NE 
Expires 12/31/2028

(Not in the US? You can order directly from the Luxear website.)

With the discount, these would make great holiday gifts. 

November 15, 2023

A Return To Homemaking

I feel a need to preface this post by defining my terms. That is, after all, what Mortimer J. Adler says a good author does (How To Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading). To that end, I have several terms that I'd like to clarify as to how I personally use them, to establish context for my post title.

House: a structure built for people to live in, i.e., a human dwelling.

Home: one's personal house; where one lives, keeps their possessions, and maintains their lifestyle.

Household: the collection of items belonging to a house and the persons dwelling there.

Housework: the work of maintaining a home. Includes a collection of chores such as dusting, vacuuming, washing dishes, making beds, doing laundry, etc.

Housekeeping: the skill of overseeing and managing a household.

Homemaking: the art of creating and maintaining an ambiance, i.e. environment and atmosphere within the home that is conducive to the comfort and mental/emotional well being of the people who live there.

All of these are relevant to our life here as homesteaders, but I confess that there hasn't been much actual homemaking going on for quite awhile. Why is that? Well, we bought this place in 2009 as a fixer-upper. We made that choice for two reasons. The first was to have a lower mortgage payment. The second was make it suitable for our chosen lifestyle. And because we chose to do all the repairs, updates, and remodeling ourselves, our house has seemed more like a construction zone than a home these past years, with various rooms taking turns being storage units for whatever other room we are working on.

On the one hand, we've had the benefit of doing things exactly the way we want them. But it's taken a long time because we had so many outdoor projects as well: fence making, outbuilding construction, tree planting, garden establishing, critter keeping, etc. The problem with this is that one gets used to living conditions as they are, as though stacks of packed-up boxes in the dining room are actually a thing. 

This began to change, however, when I wanted to carve out a little space for my sewing machine and creative projects. I was willing to just shove boxes aside to do it, but Dan said "let's finish the room." (That adventure started here.) It was one of the last two rooms to do, and he wanted to take another step forward to finishing the house. So the smaller one finally became my studio/sewing room

The other day I finally got the last of the storage boxes out of the dining room. As I cleared off the hutch, table, chairs, and corners and began to dust and clean, I thought about the table runner on my loom and recalled another one that I made years ago, when I first started weaving. What's the point of pursuing creative arts, I thought, if it isn't reflected in my home? Maybe it's finally time to switch my brain from storage mode to homemaking mode.

When we bought the place, this was the only dining area in the house. It only became a "formal" dining room when we remodeled the kitchen and carved out a little space for a dining nook. Truth be told, I use the dining table a lot; previously for projects before I got my sewing and crafting table, now, for a place to cure produce or to dry and sort garden seeds for saving. So it rarely looks like that photo.

The table runner will forever be memorial in my mind because it was one of the very first projects I produced on my loom. I think someone gave me the yarn, a fuzzy singles (one-ply) hemp yarn that was  nearly impossible to work with because it stuck together and tangled so. Somehow I managed to win and for a beginning weaver's project, I think it turned out really well. And it's perfect for autumn decorating. 

It's amazing how this impacts the atmosphere of the entire house. And it's nice to think that when someone comes to the front door, it offers a backdrop of tidiness and care. At least I'd like to think so. Keeping it tidy is another story! It's amazing how much dust accumulates in a 100-year-old house with wood heat. But it's fun to think of myself as a homemaker again. It's been worth the wait.

November 10, 2023

I Finally Had to Replace My Excalibur

Dehydrator, that is. 

Photo from August 2009

I knew this was coming because in September I tried to dehydrate pear sauce and never could get it crispy enough to powder. Considering that I bought my Excalibur in the late 1990s, I can't complain about its service life! Even so, in the past couple of years the plastic trays had begun to crack.

But that's typical of plastic and they were still usable. Having the heating element go, however, pretty much meant the end. 

I spent some time looking at various makes and models of new dehydrators. Even though I have no complaints with the Excalibur, being all plastic plus having a higher price point caused me to exclude that brand from consideration. Lots of the new ones are stainless steel and less expensive. I compared prices and reviews and finally decided on one that had a promotional discount as well.

The brand is Ultrean. You can get the specifics at that link. I wasn't especially keen on a digital control interface, but they're all made that way now.

Except for the control panel and viewing window, the entire unit is stainless steel, including the trays. I much prefer that to plastic. It's definitely heavier than the Excalibur. Also, this one uses 600 watts as opposed to the Excalibur's 400 watts for the 5-tray model.

It included one mesh liner and one fruit leather tray.

These are plastic. Also noteworthy, the Ultrean's trays are smaller than the Excalibur's but there are eight of them instead of five.

I gave it a try with the last of the green peppers, harvested in anticipation of our first frost. Because the peppers didn't have time to grow and mature, my pieces were small.

The necessity for the finer mesh trays is immediately obvious!

Since I only had the one to start, I put it on the bottom rack to catch pieces that fell through. 

Choosing the settings and getting it started aren't as intuitive as turning a knob, but that's just something I'll get used to with use. Of the plastic mesh liners, I plan to cut down the old ones from my Excalibur. Those plus the one included will give me six. I'll need to get more fruit leather trays, however. The silicone  ones I recently bought for the Excalibur are too large. 

All in all, I'm satisfied with my purchase. A food dehydrator is a staple piece of equipment for me, so it gets a lot of use. The bonus is that in winter I dehydrate overnight in the kitchen, to capture the heat generated during the drying process. Every little bit helps. Hopefully, this one will last as long as my Excalibur did.