Category Archives: Gardening

Spring!

I must apologize for the lack of quality content this week, but I’ve decided it’s against my principles to blog when the weather is perfect for outdoor work.  I have also been a bit rebellious in regards to house work in favor of getting outside.  Last week we were sitting under seven inches of new snow.  Life felt busy but not much was happening.  This week, the snow has melted, and we are being very productive.

Who needs a playhouse?

Last fall we cut down a pair of crummy cherry trees.  Tuesday we dug, and pulled the first stump.  When I say “we” pulled it, I mean Nate did most of the work, with a very little help from me.  Our intent was to pull the stump, then temporarily fill the hole back in until we get a peach tree to put in it.  Plans change.  Our kids have been in the hole for nearly three days straight.  They are having a great time with that hole.  When we put in the peach tree, we’re going to have to find another place to dig a big hole.

The "big toy" stands utterly deserted, and Dad breaks up branches for the fire pit.

We’ve also been busy getting the garden cleaned up and ready to plant.  It’s still a few weeks off, but we’ll be very busy when the time comes, so we’re doing what we can now.  We’ve had more weeds than anything for the last couple years, so we’re hoping to get ahead of it now by burning the area with a propane torch, and laying down landscaping fabric.  We’ve pulled up our raised beds, burned weeds, turned the soil with a shovel, and raked rabbit manure over the surface.  Next we’ll rototill, lay down the weed barrier, and decide where the raised beds go.  We’ve also moved the rabbits out into the garden area, though the new hutch isn’t up yet.

Last fall we stored some clear plastic, tomato cages, and random garden junk in one of our raised beds, and when I cleaned it out to move, I discovered several lettuce and spinach plants which had over-wintered and look great.  I couldn’t bear to till them under, but couldn’t leave them in place since we are re-arranging this year.  I dug them up and transplanted them into peat pots, but I’ll get them back into the soil as soon as we’ve finished prepping the area. I plan to let them bolt when the weather turns hot, and plant the seeds out in the main garden again in early fall.  Any that over-winter again get the same treatment next year.  This way we can slowly build stock perfectly suited to our winters.

I found a potato planting sack at the home and garden store a few weeks ago.  It’s heavy plastic with a hatch on one side which opens from the bottom up, for easy harvesting.  I was planning to put a potato plant in it when we start the rest in rows to compare how it performs, but since we had a few potatoes setting eyes in the pantry I thought I’d see if we can’t get an early harvest.  I planted three eyes in it and now it is in the green house.  While I was in the green house, I brought some more lettuces out and let the chickens have them.  I planted them last winter, and they did survive, but they look sickly and never got large enough to harvest.  Nate started on a cold frame we can put near our back door for greens next fall and winter, but for now I’ll start some fresh plants and the volunteers in the main garden.

Since I’ve temporarily given up flour, the food around here has been pretty boring.  It doesn’t have to be, as there are plenty of good recipes out there, but we’ve been busy so I’m keeping it simple with soups,salads,beans, rice, oatmeal and eggs. Of course the kids are always glad to eat PB&J!  I really wanted a sandwich yesterday!  Last night I made a “quick and dirty” rice with some leftover brown rice, venison summer sausage, 1/2 a pack of onion soup mix, and a dry black bean soup cup.  I scoured the ingredients lists and the soup mixes checked out flour-free.  I mixed all of it in a 2 qt casserole, added enough water to just reach the top of the mixture and baked it at 375 for 40 minutes, then topped it with cheese and baked another ten minutes.  MMM.

Some neighbors drop in for an early morning visit, the cat is interested, but knows better!

It’s almost 9:30 am here in North Central Washington, and the sunshine is just getting warm on the Half Acre, so it’s time again to get outdoors and see what we can accomplish today!

Happy Farming!

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News From The Farm, and Homemade Yogurt

It feels like life on the farm has gotten busy, but I really can’t say we have accomplished much more than usual.

I joined the sub roster at my daughter’s school and have been called several times.  Monday and Tuesday I subbed for my daughter’s teacher, and my already healthy respect for her grew ten fold.  Honestly, she has a great bunch of students, and five year olds are just a lot of fun, but what a lot to keep up with!  I still wish we could homeschool, but we’re just not there, and this is almost as nice.

The new pup has settled in and is part of the family.  Don’t you just love the smell of a puppy?  She is a smart dog, but her body has outgrown her brain, as pup’s bodies do.  She has learned, with the help of our three year old, to go up the stairs.  Perhaps next she will learn to come back down.

The spring-like weather we were having last week ended Sunday afternoon.  Sunday morning we played at the park wearing only sweatshirts (okay, not only sweatshirts), and came home to a snow free yard.  We even tinkered in the garden area a bit.  By evening we had three fresh inches of snow and now it’s more like six or seven.  I am confident, though, that this is Winter’s last push and I’m standing by my prediction that I’ll have dirt between my toes in the second half of March.

The seedlings I started two weeks ago are up and doing well.  I think it’s funny that the “Early Jalopeno” peppers were the last to germinate.  My husband was right though, the broccoli and cabbage were already getting leggy, so we transplanted them into peat pots, burying them to just below the leaves.

Homemade Yogurt

Dang! If I had realized making yogurt was going to be so easy I’d have done it years ago. I actually did this project a couple weeks ago, but never got around to writing about it.  I followed the directions given in Storey’s Country Wisdom and Know How, but there are a lot of directions on the internet, and they are all basically the same.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Qt milk
  • 1/3 c instant dry milk (optional, adds protein and makes thicker yogurt)
  • 1 rounded tbsp plain active yogurt (or equivalent starter culture)

 

First make sure your cooking implements are sterile by scalding them.  I hold my sterilized jars in a warm oven until I need them.  Rogue bacteria can impart off flavors to your yogurt.  We only want the yogurt bacteria to grow.

 

 

 

My husband bought me this fancy thermometer, which will sound an alarm when the target temp is reached.

Next scald your milk by bringing it to 180 degrees over a medium burner.  After the milk has reached 180 remove it from the heat source and allow it to cool to approximately 110 degrees.  Add your yogurt and dried milk and stir thoroughly.  If you’d like you can pour the mixture into smaller containers for incubating. I used pint jars.

 

 

 

To incubate my yogurt I put an inch or so of warm water in a slow cooker, then added my containers of yogurt.  I set the cooker to “warm” then covered the whole works with a heavy towel.  I left a thermometer in the slow cooker and checked it every hour or so.  If the temp was creeping above 112 or so I’d turn it off, and when the temp dropped below 108 I’d turn it back on for a few minutes.  Temps closer to 120 yield a more tart yogurt, and temps too low won’t propogate the cultures.

After about five hours, test the set by gently tipping a jar of yogurt.  Keep the lid on in case it is still fairly liquid.  It should be set up by this point, but if not, continue to incubate it until it has thickened.  When your yogurt has reached the consistency you like you can refrigerate it for about a week, adding fruit or flavorings when you are ready to eat it.

Lacking cheese cloth, I used a coffee filter inside a strainer to drain my yogurt.

I added the step of straining my yogurt to make it “Greek”.  When you strain the yogurt, the whey takes much of the lactose with it, leaving you with a low carb, high protein end product.  It also makes a thicker, more decadent yogurt.  I use it as one would commonly see yogurt at the store, mixed with fruit, or vanilla, but I also use it plain in place of sour cream.

 

 

After I made this good yogurt, my friend, Amy, one-upped me by making the most delicious cream cheese I have ever tasted.  I’ll have to try that next and let you know how it goes!

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Friday Already?

Wow! This week has flown by, and I didn’t get as much finished as I had hoped.  Does that ever happen to you?

After the winter storm two weeks ago we had a cold spell, but it has been relatively warm and breezy this week.  It feels a bit like spring, but the groundhog has spoken, so I’m forcing myself to wait two more weeks before I start my seeds for the garden.  It seems like I always get antsy and start them too soon and the plants end up leggy before it’s warm enough to set them out.  We have some seeds left over from last year, but we’re making our seed catalog order today…just as soon as we can agree on what we’re getting.

Yesterday I quit dragging my feet and cleaned out the rabbit cages.  It was especially gross this time, since when I went out to do it early last week the pee and poo trays were pretty much frozen to the cages.  It was irresponsible of me, but instead of dealing with it at the time, I hoped for a warmer day soon, apologized to the bunnies, and added a fresh layer of hay.  They seemed cozy enough but it’s been nagging at me so I took care of it today while it was so nice outside.  It was gross, but our garden will be really happy for the primo fertilizer this growing season.  This spring I plan to build elevated hutches above one corner of the garden so we can just rake the poo out to where it can do some good.  We’ll have to insulate it well since they won’t be as protected as where they are now, but it will be so nice for them to enjoy the sunshine and nice for me to have them up off the shed floor.

Our rogue hen, who was recently broody is back up to her old tricks, laying eggs in weird places instead of in the nest boxes.  At least they’re in the coop now that the ground outside is covered in snow…er, I hope they are anyway!  We’ll have to make sure we don’t have the egg hunt at our house this Easter.  I’d hate to see some unsuspecting poor tyke get an unpleasant surprise in her basket.  I hope this hen has another broody spell this spring as it would be nice if she’d do the work and raise a batch of chicks for us!  Wishful thinking, probably.

We’re attending a Super Bowl party at a friend’s home this year and thank goodness, because this has not been a good week for keeping up on housework.  I don’t think we’ve reached anything like “health department dirty” but there are sure a few items refusing to reside in their homes.  We’ve recently been given some Lincoln Logs, and I’m happy to say they don’t hurt quite like Legos or dried play dough when you step on them, but it isn’t a picnic either.  Lots of fun to play with though!  The kids even like them.

I hope you all have a great weekend!  Enjoy the Super Bowl, funny ads, halftime and most importantly  to me, spending time with those you love…eating their snacks.  Don’t judge.  I’ll bring some good snacks too!

Who are you for?

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Here Come The Seed Catalogs!

 

It happens each year. Just as you begin to itch with cabin fever, you open the mail box to find the first harbingers of Spring. Seed Catalogs! Perhaps you spirit them away to enjoy them alone for a bit. Perhaps you fly into the house waving them for all to see. Either way, it is very likely you’ll thumb through time and again, dreaming of warm soil between your fingers and toes, imagining the culinary possibilities. If you’re like my husband you’ll make a long list of everything you’ll grow this year. If you’re like my husband it will be a too-long list.

We’ve been gardening on our farm for two years. Both of them our harvest was impeded by our scattered interests resulting in too much variety in too small a space, and needing too wide an array of conditions. We simply tried to do too much (and at our busiest time of year, professionally) to do any of it very well. We still got vegetables for our table and a few to share, but with a bit more narrowing we could have had much more. Since our goal is to have vegetables for the table, storage food for winter, and eventually a long term pantry, we need to tighten things up this year.

I’ve decided that this year we’ll keep exotics to a minimum. I’m not completely against trying new things, mind you. It’s just that if I’m going to spend time, energy and resources to grow something, I need to know my family will eat it. Therefore I’ll be taking a look in the cupboards and freezer to get an idea which veggies we already eat.

Another thing I’ll be considering is growing conditions. By minimizing the variety of growing conditions I need to provide, I can greatly streamline my efforts and make things easier during this busy time. It would be great if I can just water twenty minutes morning and evening, pull some weeds, and reap what I’ve sown. I’m not much of a dreamer am I?  I’ve realized that I need to grow plants that can tolerate a little…um, shall we call it independence? Yes, that sounds much better than neglect.

The last thing I’ll consider is storability. Since we are busy parents, and much of what we grow will need to be pressure canned or dehydrated, I’d like to grow some crops which do not require lengthy processing for storage. These are things such as potatoes and dried beans which, once properly cured, are pantry stable from several months up to many years.

Here is my list so far:
Green beans
Peas
Broccoli
Corn
Cucumbers
Mixed Greens
Sauce tomatoes
Potatoes
Squash, summer and winter
Drying beans

This list might look very different than my husband’s list, so we’ll probably meet somewhere in the middle.

What will you grow this season?