Saturday, October 9, 2010

It's Fall, Already?!?!

Where the heck did summer wander off to? Must've been good, because it sure went by fast!
Life here on the 3/4 Acre Farm has been busy as well. This time of year, I spend a lot of time getting the chicken coop and yard ready for the winter weather to come. The garden is pretty well harvested now, and since we've had a couple of hard frosts I believe that any new stuff is done growing. I still hope to gather up some late lettuces and radishes, and perhaps some last minute beets. Ahh, beets. How I love thee! And if you don't grow, the chickens will love to eat you as greens--before the snows come! Fall is also a great time to do some canning and freezing of fall fruits and vegetables. I just love stocking up for a long cold winter ahead, and knowing that I don't have to trek to the grocery store to get good things to eat. I only need to open the freezer or check the cupboard. Lately, I have been really into apples. Everything apples: Sauce, pie, chutney, pudding, you name it, I like it. For book club, I made a batch of Apple Sausage Bundles. They were a huge hit! Follow the recipe below if you want unadulterated adulation from family and friends:
Apple Sausage Bundles
You'll need the following (locally grown is best!):
1 package sausages, at least 4 inches long each
1 apple, sliced and cored
1 pound thick cut bacon
3 Tbsp. peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground mustard
1/4 cup lemon or orange juice
3 Tbsp. brown sugar

In a large bowl, whisk together peanut butter, soy sauce, ginger, mustard, juice and sugar. Cut sausages into thirds. Place sausage into marinade, cover with wrap, and refrigerate overnight or at least a couple of hours. When ready to make, take a piece of sausage, a slice of apple and wrap in a piece of bacon. Secure with toothpick and "dunk" in marinade. Place on a lined cookie sheet and broil four inches from burner. Broil each side about 3-5 minutes, turning often to prevent burning, until browned and crispy. Serve to non-vegetarian friends, warn them about the toothpicks, and prepare for the outpouring of love to commence. This recipe would be a good one to serve when you are "wanting" something in return! Or, just because you can never have enough pork products!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer Fun on the Deck

It is truly summer here. Not only was this past weekend noisy with the sounds of firecrackers and bottle rockets, but it was steamy, hot and humid. All in all, perfect for the Fourth of July.

Lucky for me, my handyman Jack finished work on the new cedar deck in the backyard. It's a little different from most decks, which are attached to peoples' houses, in that it is a lovely 10 x 10 platform near the firepit. I love the way the cedar decking looks, and smells! Maybe it will even help keep the bugs away...

Since the deck took pretty much all of my "summer fun" budget, I had to think creatively for new patio furniture. Even the cheap sets (which are seriously really really cheaply made & look super tacky) are at least $100! So, I went to the large box hardware store and found a 40 inch white plastic table on sale for $25. A stop in the paint department for 3 cans of Fusion brand spray paint for plastics ($4 per can), and I was out the door. I've had a stack of plastic chairs left over from a non-party for a couple of years, which were a very unfortunate old oatmeal color. But now, as you can see in the photo, they have been reincarnated in purple shades with a bright yellow table. Add some pots of flowers and homemade large lanterns, and it is a party waiting to happen!

Homemade Large Lanterns
You'll need the following:
  • Large "crystal" acrylic/plastic waste bin (sometimes found in the bathroom department, clear or colored)--costs about $3 new or less if found at Goodwill
  • Large pillar candle, scented or not but sized to fit easily into the bin--about a dollar
  • Sand, either from your yard or sold in bags for "play" areas--free, or about a dollar per bag
  • Drill with bit made for plastics--hopefully, you have this stuff already!

Using the drill, make 2-3 small holes in the bottom of the waste bin. This will allow water to drain out, if you decide to leave the lantern outside on your deck all summer & don't want to worry about rainfall. Fill the bin about 1/3 full with sand. Smooth top of sand as needed. Insert pillar candle into center of sand, pushing it in a couple of inches so it is sure to be anchored and well below the rim of the bin. This way, if it is windy the candle won't blow out as it will be sheltered--it also makes the lantern "glow" in the darkness. After placing your lantern where desired & lighting the candle, sit back with a favorite beverage and enjoy a peaceful evening!

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Day in the Life

Today was a lovely day. Rained a bit, got breezy and cool, and then the sun came out. In a matter of minutes, the whole day turned glorious, in the way only summer can. I woke up early, let the dogs out (Charlie made it out the door before springing a leak), pulled on some sweats and dealt with the chickens. Found another of the new meat chicks dead in the shavings, which was sad, but so far I've only lost three which leaves me with 22 happy, healthy, chirping fuzz balls. The hens were up and creaking, so I tossed in some kale and cracked corn. Later on, I had to force the broody hen out of the nest box so I could collect five warm eggs from under her feathery breast. I picked some 'neeps, beets, and greens from a friend's garden, which is one of the best payments for house sitting I have ever received. Dinner consisted of fresh mashed turnips, lettuce from the garden, and the remains of a beef roast raised by my friend up the road. The dogs played in the yard (Charlie chewed through my new watering hose), and now, here I am--enjoying the coolness of a late June evening. What a wonderful, wonderful day.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Everything's Coming Up Rhubarb!

Well, my squashes & melons may not be growing (no idea, they just stopped at the seedling stage and turned yellow & hard), my beans may be coming in, and the strawberries may be nearing the finish line, but my rhubarb is going gangbusters. When I moved in four years ago, I planted one little rhubarb plant. Two years ago, I split it and got two rhubarb plants. This year, I have rhubarb bushes.

In past years, I have made everything from Strawberry Rhubarb sauce, Raspberry Rhubarb jam, frozen it, baked it into various muffins, breads, and spongey, gooey desserts. However you shape it, rhubarb turns out great. I admit, I am a bit of a fan. But this year, it was time from something new.

After perusing my Ball Blue Book of Canning (which has so many pages stuck together from gloopy residue it isn't funny), I decided to make Victoria Sauce. It's kind of like a chunky, sweet & sour barbeque sauce. I think it will go great on everything from baked chicken to pork ribs done in the crock pot. Tried some last night on a beef roast and it was insanely good. I think I have found yet another way that rhubarb is indispensible!

Victoria Sauce

2 quarts finely chopped rhubarb (about 8 cups)

1 1/2 cups raisins

1/2 cup finely chopped onion (about 1/2 of a large one)

3 1/2 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup vinegar

1 teaspoon each allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and salt

Combine rhubarb, raisins, onion, brown sugar and vinegar in a large pot. Heat to boiling over medium heat. Simmer slowly until thick (about 1 hour). Mixture will darken as it cooks down. Be sure to stir often as it thickens to prevent burning. Once thick, add spices and salt and cook for five minutes more. Transfer to hot sterilized jars, put on lids, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Makes about 4 pints.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hiya, Charlie!

First, there was one little dog. And then, a few years later, there was a second dog. A little while after that, there were three dogs all together in a little cottage, surrounded by gardens and the sound of happy chickens. Sadly, the first little dog got old, sickened, and died. And the life in the little cottage was happy with two dogs, but still... a little lonely for the missing third. After a few months, a new little dog appeared and came to live in the little cottage. Once again, life in the little cottage seemed complete...
So the story of Charlie begins. Isn't he cute? I found him by way of a friend of a friend of a work acquaintance, whose 7 year old lab mix had an "oops" litter of puppies with the neighbor's mystery lab-mutt. He is about 12 weeks old, full of spunk, and really smart. He's pretty much housebroken in three days. Can't say I've ever had that happen, with any animal, before. Makes a nice change from the usual mopping up! He is teething like crazy, so everything goes in his mouth, and really likes his big dog friends. You can be sure that wherever Max the WonderDoodle is, Charlie is tagging along behind. So far, the big dogs seem to tolerate him & occasionally look like they like him. All in all, an auspicous beginning!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Movin' On...

So, I love my rooster George. He is quite friendly, both for a chicken and for a rooster. Since coming to join the flock in late February, he's been a nice addition.

But now it is summer, and windows are open and the days start early. And George, well...George likes to announce to the world that he is AWAKE. And it is EARLY. Augh. Granted, I am up around 7 AM, but seriously: crowing at 4 AM? Who likes that? Given that I live in the village (albeit on the last street to the east), and I like my neighbors, I don't want to become "that girl with the living alarm clock" that everyone grumbles about.

Turns out that there is someone up toward Cumberland who is in need of a rooster for her flock, and so George will head out that way in a day or so. It's a better alternative that I had been pondering, which involved a quick trip to Clear Lake with the other birds-who-become-dinner. As I said, I am rather partial to George...but he is a chicken. I am sure he would taste pretty darn good, if it came down to it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Everybody in the Pool, Kids!

Well, make that: Every chickie in the tractor! The silkies have been out by the garden for about a week now, and the mystery chicks (still a mystery!) are getting very weary of life in the rubbermaid bin. So, it is outdoors for all feathered creatures. I hoped the silkies and mystery girls would be able to cohabitate, at least for a little while, but...well, the silkies like their own space. How odd, right? This afternoon, I started work on another chicken tractor. It is good that I have a surplus of scrap wood to pull from! In any case, this tractor is square-ish, with a slanted roof. At least, it will have a slanted roof once it is roofed. I hope to finish it this weekend, so the mystery chicks can head into the great outdoors. As I said, every chick needs to GET OUT OF THE TUB.

My meat chickens have another couple of weeks to go, and are getting large and sassy. I have been more careful about the amount and time of feeding with this batch, and I have been really happy with their rate of growth. Last year, it seemed like they got to be monsters and got really aggressive. This batch has grown a little more slowly, and has been more...well, I wouldn't say pleasant, exactly, but less crabby for sure. I think having them in the shed, where they get to hang out and enjoy green stuff that I weed-whack and toss in, has been better than the sun porch. It certainly has been less dusty and smelly for me! I have sent in the order for the next batch of chicks to arrive via mail, and the scheduled butcher date is Friday June 18th. I have borrowed a friend's Food Saver vacumm sealer machine, which I hope will work. I like the idea of having cut-up chickens in the freezer, rather than every one being whole. There's nothing wrong with a whole chicken, but sometimes having it cut into eighths and ready for the crockpot is really nice, too.

The garden is growing, including the newly replanted tomatoes. I think the second batch will do better than the first. It was great fun starting my own plants, but they were so thin and spindly, the first rain crushed them. I think I will get to do some research on how to start seed and end up with fat, healthy stemmed plants before next season rolls around. The soaker hose is working well, after I figured out a couple of kinks, and I think it's going to help cut down on some of the blight issues that strike every summer. Tomatoes are so picky about wet leaves, the little green prima donas! I really excited about my row of sunflowers--they are three inches high already! I can't wait until they are 8 feet high with giant plate-sized blooms. Pictures to follow, of course!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Just Call Me the Turtle Whisperer.

So today, I took the roundabout way home. I cruised up and down some forgotten county highways, took little side roads and waved at some farmers working in the fields. And then, finally, I picked up good ol' County F and headed south to the Farm. It's a nice, dippy road. Curvy and windy, bordered by farms, forest and the lazy Hay River. And on one of those dips and winds, I saw something that made me stand up on the brake pedal. Scrreeeeeech!

A lonely, horny shelled snapping turtle was smack-dab in the middle of my lane. He was the size of a medium roaster pan, probably several years old, and determined that yes, he was going to cross that hot pavement and make to his pond on the opposite side. Unfortunately for him, it was a busy time of day to be on the road. School was out, the afternoon rush to town was on, folks coming back to the Farm from a day away working somewhere--basically, he was turtle tofu waiting to happen.

It was a lucky moment when I was the only car on the road. So I hopped out, went around back, popped the hatch and hauled out my portable, collaspable hand truck, guaranteed to haul 250 pounds without a wheeze. After setting it all up, I rolled it over to the stubborn, snappish creature and, sliding it under his bum, heaved him up into the air. I think he thought he was levitating. He didn't like it.

Avoiding his snappying jaws of doom, I started to wheel him over to the side of the road. Of course, it probably would have been better if I had managed to do this without witnesses--but, as luck would have it, a dude on a Harley came roaring up. He slowed down, raised his sunglasses, looked at me, to the handtruck, to the hissing turtle, back to me, lowered those shades and roared on.

I suppose a Harley dude has seen stranger things in his travels.

In any case, I managed to haul the turtle across the road and tip him into the ditch without him catching me by the leg or the finger. I like to think, once he calmed down, he viewed me as an annoyingly persistent turtle guardian angel. Perhaps he will share with his scaly decendants the tale of the fat girl with the levitation device, and advise them not to bite me should they see my toes above them in some river or pond on a hot summer day.

The legend of the Turtle Whisperer will live on for another day. Moral of the story: Don't leave home without your hand truck.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

So Much Garden, So Little Time!

One of my favorite movies is The Secret Garden. I have watched it a thousand times, and I could watch it a thousand more. My favorite line is "If you look the right way, the whole world is a garden." Around this time of year, when the dirt is warmed and the rains are soft and the whole yard cries out to be planted already, that sentiment rings so true.

This weekend, I put the veggie starts in the ground. Jalepenos, poblanos, rainbow cherry tomatoes, prudens purple, anna russian, in they all went. Lettuce seeds, sunflower seeds, cylindra beets and yellow scallop squash, all in the lovely ground. It only took me about two hours to wrestle the soaker hose into submission, and then another 20 minutes to figure out where all the kinks were that interrupted the water flow. I planted my straw bales in front, with squashes and pumpkins and watermelons. My square foot garden (a raised bed with 1 foot grid across it) is starting to sprout, and soon I will have radishes and tiny Parisian carrots. I can hardly wait for that first taste of spring, crispy crunchy spicy salad all from my garden!

The chickens are all doing well, with the fuzzy little silkies in their new tractor home and the meat birds growing into small feathered tanks. On warm days, I leave the shed door open and prop an old screen in the doorway to keep them inside & safe, but get more air into their home. My mystery chicks are growing feathers and the layers keep laying. Both little turkeys didn't make it, which is sad, but next year I may try again. Or maybe not...time will tell!

It feels like summer today, hot and muggy and a breeze that promises a thunderstorm when darkness falls. Bees are humming and buzzing about--I think I may have a nest of hornets somewhere, but so far no stings. I have a hummingbird who is in love with my pink petunias and trailing geraniums. My climbing roses are waking up, and my clematis is ready to burst into purple blooms. And the herb garden....oh, the herb garden! I love watering it, all the scents rise up and make sweet perfume. Who needs foreign travel?? What a wonderful way to spend a weekend, playing in the dirt and making things grow!!

Friday, May 14, 2010

What Are You Lookin' At, Turkey?

That's right: As if my little place didn't have enough livestock, I have added a couple of turkeys to the mix. They are a heritage breed called Midget White. "Heritage" doesn't mean that they were here when the Pilgrims landed (those guys were pretty much wild), but it refers to any breed of animal that (1) was bred for farming, (2) was really popular for a while and (3) has now fallen out of favor and is in danger of not sticking around in the farm catalogs. Midget White turkeys were primarily developed by the University of Wisconsin to meet the smaller sized table needs of most American families. These little lovelies grow to be about 10 pounds at most, and being white in color have a very appetite-pleasing appearance when cooked. They also happen to be the ONLY domesticated turkey developed solely for meat that can "do it" all on their own. Any other turkey, including those massive ones that come shrink-wrapped from Jenny-O or Butterball, need to be artificially inseminated in order to reproduce. Just think of the heights we have come on the food chain, everybody: We have made our meat supply so dependent on us that the poor creatures can't even screw like normal animals should. Wow, what a long way we've come!

(Sorry to sound preachy. Just watched Food, Inc. last weekend and I am completely grossed out by American food production. Ewwww, nasty.)

In any case, I am hoping that these two little poults survive the next few days and grow into luscious birds. They should be ready in time for the holiday season, and I will honor them with all the trimmings. Right now, they sure are cute and gawky. I don't think I have ever seen a little creature fall over their own feet so much! Of course, I've never been a turkey--I suppose those giant stalk-like feet are hard to coordinate. In addition to the poults, I came home with two mystery chicks. They were in a pen labeled "assorted pullets: $3.50 each" and were irresistable. Well, irresistable to me, that is. What's a couple more chickens, in any case?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

How many feathers are there on a duck?

Answer: Waaaaay too many!

Today was a cold, blustery day that belonged in March, not May. It didn't get much above 50 degrees, and sleeted off and on until about noon.

It was also butchering day for the ducks.

If you recall from past posts, I have brought my chickens a few towns over to be butchered, cleaned and packaged, ready for the freezer in a couple of hours. I had planned to do the same with my ducks. Less mess all around. But upon calling, I discovered that they do not butcher ducks--so I was on my own.

The ducks turned 8 weeks old this week, so it was either take care of business today or wait until they were 6 to 10 months old (after feathering out for the first time, ducks immediately begin molting and become un-pluckable for several months). Since I don't have the space or the inclination to keep ducks until December, I rounded up my canning pot, some loppers, some rope, and set to work.

I won't kid you: Killing an animal isn't pleasant. The goal is to accomplish that act quickly and humanely, and I think I did pretty well. It's a bloody, messy act, but it really connects you intimately with your animal, and the future meal that it will become. Plucking, on the other hand, is tedious, time-consuming, and frankly irritating. Ducks have four kinds of feathers, all of which are hard to pull out, stick to everything, and finally need to be singed off. Burning feathers is a very unpleasant smell! In the end, I had three not-neatly plugged ducks which are now aging in the refrigerator for the prescribed 36 hours. After this time, I will rewrap them and place them in the deep freeze to be enjoyed later. I am certain that they will taste absolutely delicious, and I can tell my guests: Yes, I knew this bird intimately, and boy howdy, does he taste wonderful!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Chasing Ducks

Today was one of those classic early May days: Started off lovely, albeit chilly, and turned into a messy, windy afternoon with sporadic rainshowers. I suppose the positive thing is that we are finally getting a bit of rain--Smokey the Bear is having heart palpitations when anyone goes for a drive in his woods right about now.

In any case, the wind was rather ferocious during my drive home from work. As I headed into town, I thought: Hmmm. Wonder if the ducks' yard is doing okay.... And turning the corner, I found my answer. The wind had, in fact, moved the side of the yard and the ducks had gotten out. Not that they went far, mind you. They had moved about six feet to the left and set up camp in the lee side of a straw bale, where they were peacefully enjoying the gentle spritzing of a rain shower. Once I pulled up, the peeping and quacking resumed, and six little webbed feet hit the dirt at a dead run.

Actually, I made an important discovery: Ducks do not run all that fast. In fact, they waddle rapidly for a little while, but then get out of breath and slow waaaay down. A half dozen laps around the new purple shed, and they were tired of this new fun game. I was as well. They decided to make a break for it running through the orchard, but miscalculated badly. Their new route of escape led them straight into the chicken coop, where they were swiftly caught (mostly because they can't waddle their way through plywood walls).

It was at this point I made another important discovery: Picking up three large ducks at once is not an easy manuever, but it is possible. Simply scoop up two of the birds under one arm, dodging windmilling webbed feet all the while, and grab the third under the other arm. Walk very quickly to the duck yard, as the bird to the inside of the first arm will begin gasping for air because he is getting squeezed between your arm and his pudgy ducky friend. Be very thankful it isn't a long walk to the duck yard, because those webbed feet have very sharp nails on them and three ducks happen to be fairly heavy. Gently drop all birds into duck yard, close the gate, and repound the stake holding the side in place. Go indoors and find a beer. After recovering and washing off stray poop, hop on the computer and research how to butcher a duck.

It's the only way to really duck-proof a yard, folks.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rainy Day & Baking

Finally, it has started to rain. I think the ducks were even happier than I was. My poor perenial beds and herb garden have been gasping and panting for days now. It is amazing how a scant inch of rain causes all sorts of green growth and sudden blossoms to appear! Unfortunately, the cool weather did not sit too well with the silkie chicks who have been moved out into the shed. But, a quick visit from my handyman Jack with his spare stash of insulation left-overs, and the eaves are now plugged which helps greatly with the draft. I have several quilts draped over their little habitat (I knew my quilt collection would be useful someday!), which is helping the heat lamp to keep their little area at 85 most of the time.

Breezy damp issue resolved, I headed indoors to take care of some baking. Friday night I felt the need to make a cake, and this afternoon I finally got around to frosting it. You can't go wrong with carrot cake smothered in home-made cream cheese frosting. Yum! In preparation for the upcoming 100 mile garage sale, 4th annual trip, I made some wonderfully easy peanut butter cookies, with miniature peanut butter cups in them. In case you are drooling over baked goods and fantasizing about making some of your own, here is the recipe:

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

1 3/4 c. flour
1/3 c. nonfat dry milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup peanut butter
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter
1 large egg
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup miniature peanut butter cups (in baking area)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, dry milk, and baking powder, set aside. Cream together butter and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add egg, sugar, and vanilla. Beat for three minutes, until very fluffy. With a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined. Fold in peanut butter cups. Use an ice cream scoop with spring release lever to scoop out large cookies onto greased baking sheets. Lightly flatten cookie mounds. Bake for 10 minutes until just lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheet for two minutes, then remove to rack until completely cooled. Store for 1 week in air-tight container or in freezer up to three months.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sun Porch, Reclaimed!

It took me close to four years, but I have finally carved out an "outdoor" space to call my own. The sun porch, which does take advantage of an open southern exposure to great success, has long been the hang out for assorted cats, bees, beetles galore, and other unwanted critters. Most memorably, the invasion of two grumpy raccoons that stuffed themselves through the cat flap in search of That was a night! In any case, the cat flap is no more and I now have a comfortable, relaxing space to while away an hour or two, reading a book and listening to the chickens cluck away in peace. As you can see from the pictures, it is an assortment of odds and ends--wicker chairs, repurposed and repainted plastic bench, old family heirloom rocker, a couple of nifty furniture finds--that works to make a contented space to relax in.

This sideboard is the marriage of an old mirror salvaged from the toss pile of an antique shop, and an ancient and decrepit kitchen cupboard that has lived on the porch for who knows how many years. A coat of paint, a few screws for reinforcement, and there you go: Perfect. I found little flower LED lights to wrap around the mirror, which really add a lot. Girly vibe!

This little hutch is a miniature version of the usual size. It's a one-of-a-kind that I found hidden at a local junk shop. Once I cleaned off the dust, bird droppings, and mouse poop, it is really something. I found assorted candles and lanterns at local thrift shops, which will make for nice ambience in the evenings. I can hardly wait for visitors to come and join me on the porch for iced tea & conversation!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sleepless in Spring-Time

You would think that after a long and busy day, I would be ready to drop. Not only did I wake up early and head out to the fun of my "real" job, but I came home and played in the garden, fed assorted livestock (those ducklings can eat, man!), moved the silkies to a bigger box, and then started to clean and arrange the sun porch. I am converting it from a cat/bee habitat to a more useful seasonal hang-out porch. It is a project, let me tell you--sweeping dust from everywhere (and I mean, everywhere!), moving furniture, setting up new shelves, figuring out how to make plastic storage bins disappear--and I am looking forward to its' completion. And then, I had to round up dinner for the dogs and myself and race to the computer to attend class. Now I am sitting here, full of mindless energy and wishing it wasn't quite so dark out at 10 PM, because I'd like to go outside and muck around with yard projects. Does this make sense? No. What is the cause? Stress, too much caffeine, anxiety, illicit drugs? No. It is simply spring-time madness, the urge to compulsively play outdoors with no attention paid to darkness, coldness, rainy-ness or buggy-ness. It's only cure is high summer, when weeds conquer the once-lovely garden beds and watering for the millionth evening/morning in a row becomes another pallid chore swamped with humidity. For now, I live for the long sunny afternoons where it is warm enough to toss aside the sweatshirt and revel in short sleeves. I have a mild sunburn on my arms and back of my neck! My freckles have reappeared after a long winter vacationing under my skin! Leaves are unfurling, bugs are awakening, the crocuses are sprouting. It is Spring! Spring! Glorious, heavenly, madness-inducing Spring!

And now, off to find the warm milk and head to bed...and dream of the garden, awakening and blooming. Spring!!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

New Chicklets!

Most mornings, I drag myself out of bed. It isn't because I didn't get enough sleep, or feel so tired I can't move--I just really like to lie in bed, smothered in quilts and a cat or two, pretending that the day hasn't started and I don't have anything pressing to accomplish before I can crawl back into my cozy nest.

But this morning, when the alarm went off and after my initial sleepy thought of "oh man, it is early...", I sprang out of bed!
(Okay, stumbled out of bed--but I got up!)

Today was chick delivery day #1! A box of 25 peeping, micro-sized silkie chicks was due to arrive, and I had things to do to get ready for them. Around 7:45 AM, the phone rang. Claire at the post office was calling, to say that he had a box full of chickens for me. A quick dash across town, and I had a cardboard box perforated with holes peeping away in the passenger seat.

As you can see, I have an assortment of colors of very tiny, fuzzy chicks. I think there are buff, white, black, and splash (a mix of colors in splotches)--it is a little hard to tell what colors they will be until their real feathers start to fill in. Out of the 25 ordered, 23 chicks made it and seem to be doing well in their new abode. For the next week or two, they will reside in style in a quilt-draped, extra large rubbermaid tub with a balmy heat lamp shining down upon them. As soon as the temperature gets settled and everyone seems to be comfortable, I will jet off to work and leave them to
eat, peep, drink, and sleep in peace. I do love baby chicks!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Look, It's A Quilt!

This was such a fun project to do! If you have a shed or barn or just want a really different "yard art" installation, you must try this.
I started with a design, which I transferred onto graph paper and played around with colors. The quilt block design is called "Hens and Chicks": The large blue triangles are the hens, smaller blue triangles are the chicks, both are heading to the turquoise 'feed' square at the center. Then, I found a 2 foot by 2 foot oak plywood square and gave it two coats of creamy, butter-yellow paint.

After transferring my grid onto the painted square with a yard stick, ruler and pencil, I used painters tape specifically made for delicate, already painted surfaces to mark out the shapes for painting. I was able to find the blues and turquoises of my color palette at the hardware store, in the small $2 each sample sizes. A set of foam brushes from the dollar store worked great to dab on a nice, thick layer of paint to fill in the spaces. A good trick for precise lines is to really press the tape down tightly, particularly on the edge that joins with another painted shape, and remember to peel off the tape while the paint is still damp. Works great every time!

After letting the first painted shapes dry for a couple of hours, I was able to lay down more tape to paint the other shapes--first the big triangles, then the small triangles. Here come the chickens!

After all the different shapes are painted, it really looks like a quilt block! In order to ensure that my lovely shed quilt will stand up to all the weather Wisconsin can throw at it, a couple coats of a good outdoor sealant, such as marine varnish, will keep the paint and the wood intact for years to come.

As you can see, the final product is mounted on the shed (a couple of 2x2 boards work to support it on the wall and allow for airflow behind the quilt, so it won't rot). Doesn't it look great?!? My new Hens and Chicks shed quilt--the perfect accessory for my backyard homestead!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Inspiration in Art

I am a fan of barns. I love them. Standing tall, round ones, falling down or with trees growing up through the hay loft, I love them all. I mean, hey, I live in one!

One of the most lovely things I have ever seen on a barn is a barn quilt. Made from 8 foot by 8 foot squares of plywood and painted too look like a quilt block, these lovely pieces of art are scattered across the Midwest. The largest concentration of them can be found in Sac County, Iowa (, but other counties throughout Iowa have started up barn quilt committees as well. In Sac City, Iowa, there is a "house quilt" committee--with sheds and homes and even mailboxes decorated with smaller-sized wooden quilt squares! Over Christmas, I drove south on US Highway 63 through Iowa and saw several of these beauties as I passed farms. I thought: Someday, I need to make one of those!

And so, the "shed quilt" project was born! Last weekend, I put three coats of creamy, butter yellow paint on a 2 foot by 2 foot oak plywood square. I researched traditional barn quilt blocks, and found a pattern called (aptly) Hens and Chicks. Today, in celebration of a four-day Easter weekend, I mapped out my quilt block pattern and started painting it in. The colors I chose are blues and turquoise--given the shed will be a vibrant purply-pink with light gray trim, I think my quilt will show off beautifully. Photos of the project are to follow soon, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Turning of the Heap

"It was a warm, blustery afternoon in late March. The air hummed with the distant drone of four-wheelers and baseball practice. In a backyard, the girl approached the overgrown heap with trepidation and a strange sense of eagerness: would it still be frozen solid? Had all the happy bacteria of the long-lost summer vanished in the wake of bad, slimy nasty bacteria cousins? She reached out with the long-handled fork and poked the seemingly sleeping pile of vegetative remains...."

And out jumped happy compost!

Yes, folks, that's right. My heap survived the winter. The done pile now looks and smells like dirt, which means I don't have to go out and buy a pallet of compost from the local nursery. Finally! My two year project has paid off. And, the working pile is well on it's way. I found my container of compost enhancer (which is a mixture of kelp and dried happy bacteria) under the pile of random gardening implements that I had wedged into a corner of the porch, and sprinkled away on the working side. (It looked a little like micro-grain kitty litter.)

Underneath a layer of winter-dried straw and old plants from last year's garden, the layers of straw, shavings, chicken poo, leaves and pulled weeds are slowly melting down in the working compost heap, into a lovely dark earth. I swear, nothing smells quite so lively as good compost. It fairly screams, "Plant something in me! I am ready to GROOOOOWWW!!! Yeehaw!"

Once I dig out the done pile, I'll start tossing this year's fresh manure and straw/plant wastes into that side of the composting area and in a couple of years, that one will be the "done" pile. I can't wait for next year: The current working pile is chock full of goodies and is HUGE so hopefully, if it doesn't burst into flames in the summer heat or succumb to anaerobic bacteria attacks, next year I will have loads more of happy compost at the end of the winter. A big pile of compost will come in handy, as I always seem to expand the garden each year. My goal is to eventually have no lawn, just the random grass patch in the midst of a lovely, large garden...and so, I need compost! Lucky for me, I seem to have an endless supply of brown and green wastes to put into untidy piles near the garden.

Now all I need is a local supplier of a half ton of bark mulch....

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ducklings: Fuzzy, Irresistable....and someday, Delicious!

So today, after realizing that I was once again out of Layena, I headed over to the feed store to lay in chicken groceries & visit my friend Julie. Walking in, I heard the distinctive peeping of young poultry. Lo and behold, there were ducklings available! I have been thinking for months about growing my own duck. It is such an under-rated meat here in the States, and while the time investment is only slightly longer than that to raise a standard dual-purpose chicken, the idea of buying a whole box of ducks was just...well, intimidating! And here they were, little Buff ducks ready to go home with me. I ended up with three--dubbed Christmas Dinner, Easter Dinner, and Special Occasion. Right now, they are residing in a handy rubbermaid tub under a heat lamp in the crafty/guest room. In a couple of weeks, I plan to set them outside in either a tractor or in the play-pen yard of the established coop. They just need feathers before being chucked out into the elements. And yes, they do like their water!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010

And Spring has come....

Today was the second day of Spring. It wasn't the warmest of days, maybe reaching 45 by mid afternoon, but it was lovely--all blue skies, soft breezes, and the scent of warming earth. It inspired me to get out and clean up some of the debris that has been hanging around all winter. You know, the usual frozen-in-the-ground-holiday-decor that finally can be pulled out and tucked away, desicated tomato plants and the twisted, nasty old frames that have outlived their purpose. It felt great to get out in the light and air, and bag up all that stuff. The chickens were happy too--clucking and rumbling and crowing into the sunshine. Neighbors were burning the remains of their garden debris, so the lazy scent of drifting smoke wafted around in tandem with the smell of emerging greens and defrosting compost heaps. Sundays like this one sure are wonderful!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Rain, rain, rain.

It was one of those gray, soggy days that can only be called "smarchy" weather. Foggy and drizzly all the live-long day! It made me wish I felt well enough to go out in a poncho and rainboots and splash in some puddles. As it was, I stayed in out of the damp and played in the dirt. My seed order from Pine Tree Seeds finally arrived, so I happily set about starting a few more future harvest items. Prudens Purple tomato, rainbow cherry tomato, Alma pepper, Calabrese broccolli, Anna Russian tomato, and dill--makes me wish I was a poet and could write a little line about the loveliness of vegetables. My little greenhouse is getting full. None of my peppers have sprouted yet, which is making me a little sad as I worry I have killed them already. There are lots and lots of roma tomatoes & tomatillos popping up though, so I will at least have something to make salsa with. The lake is back in the cornfield across the road. I think some of the teenagers were goofing around last night and pushed each other in which must have been rather cold and unpleasant. The dogs are having a great time eye-balling all the flocking geese and ducks that are taking advantage of the melted area. I'm sure they are finding some weeds left from last fall in the muck and mud. Sometimes I wish the flood lasted through the summer. It would be nice to live near a pond, I think. No peepers in the evening yet, but I bet some show up before the weekend is over. It is supposed to be in the high 40s all weekend! Too bad all I think I will manage to do is a little house cleaning and some napping. I really do have to get motivated to greet Spring properly!!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Weekend in Spring

After a ho-hum kind of week, it is always nice to wind up with a pleasant weekend. Of course, if I could shake this cold, things would be perfect. Still have no voice, but I'm hopeful that it will reappear tomorrow morning so I can head off to work as planned! On Saturday, it was a lovely lovely day here--warm, sunshine, blue skies, the works. Everything was melting and muddy, which is so lovely (although a bit hard on the indoor floors!). I found a local farmer with straw to spare, and received a delivery of 25 bales of lovely clean rye straw. As you can see from the photo, it is stacked and waiting in my "car hut". The cats are liking to climb the bale mountain, and I can still fit my SUV in with them. Just think--a few more weeks and I will start all sorts of vegetable projects in them. I have plans to put cucumbers, melons, watermelon, squash and such in little carved out niches at the top of the bales. If it works the way I hope, I will train the vines to grow along trellises made from hog panels bent over the bales. I can't wait! In other garden news, I have sprouts started in my tomatoes and peppers in the mini-greenhouse. It is so exciting!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Spring Fever

So I think all the creatures on my little 3/4 acre farm are going crazy. I came home to a kitty on the roof. Seriously, he was on the roof! And stuck to boot! I am not sure how he managed to scramble up there, although I think a neighbor dog may have encouraged him to climb the trellis. Poor Artie was crying for me the moment I pulled in, and it took me a little while to figure out where he was. Eventually, he let me catch hold of him and pull him off the roof--I didn't even get clawed!

The chickens are happy as well. Every morning George crows around 7 or 730 Am, and stops after surveying his domain. The ladies then wander out, cooing and preening--and then shrieks of joy emerge from the coop as eggs are laid in the nest box. I am back up to gathering 4-5 eggs per day. I have yet to hit the 6 eggs tally, but I think one hen may be laying on the floor of the coop, which leads to a broken (and rapidly devoured) egg. This afternoon I cleaned out the finally defrosting poop-cicle that was threatening to take over the coop. Ick, indeed. Unfortunately, my little garden cart is frozen in place so I now have a lovely little mound of straw and chicken poo behind the coop. Oh well. If the warm temperatures keep up, I'll be able to free the cart and haul the "remains" to where I am going to till the new garden bed. I like to think of it as my mini-version of spreading the spring layer of manure on the fields. All I need is a tiny John Deere or Alice Chambers to do my shit haulin' and then I'll be a real farm-girl.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spring is in the air....

Or at least, I hope it is. It has been a surprisingly warm weekend. Today, of course, it's cloudy with a chill wind, which is typical for the end of February. However, I prefer to think positively and see omens of spring time in the flooding sun porch and slightly receding snow pile. Hey, I can almost see the entire driveway now!

In the spirit of coming spring, I have started some seeds. It is so nice to play in the dirt, even though that dirt is in the form of little peat moss plugs that expand with water. I rigged up my new mini-greenhouse with a series of undercabinet lights from Walmart, each costing around $7.00, and now can start seeds with impunity even though natural light will only be coming from tiny, north facing windows. Taking a cue from Jenna, author of Made from Scratch (great book if you haven't checked it out yet), I made little plant starting habitats out of pop cans & water bottles. It is so easy!
To make little plant houses:
Gather up (1) clean and empty pop can; (1) clean and empty water bottle or soda bottle, at least 20 ounces; scissors; (1) expanded peat plug and (1) 2 inch peat pot.
Step 1: Cut top half of pop can off & keep the bottom half.
Step 2: Cut top half of bottle off & keep the bottom half.
Step 3: Put peat pot into the pop can.
Step 4: Put peat plug into peat pot.
Step 5: Loosen soil in plug, add seeds, cover and dampen with a bit of water.
Step 6: Cover all with the soda bottle. I recommend writing what is in the house on the bottle with a marker.

Tah-dah! See, so easy. I also recycled former chinese food containers & tomato plastic packs to start broadcast seeds in (for my onions & basil). As you can see from the photos, there is still plenty of room for the rest of my seeds to get started. Once they arrive, that is! So far, I have started Dr. Wyche's Yellow tomatillo; Green Sausage tomato; yellow onion; sweet basil; poblano pepper; red mercury pepper; and roma tomato (hybrid). It is so exciting to think I will have a lovely, full and happy garden this summer--and it all began here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The New Man in My Life....

And of course, he is a chicken. Meet George. Today was the annual Chicken Fly event in Ridgeland, WI--yes folks, this is when live chickens are thrown into the crowd and if you catch it, you keep it. It was absolute mayhem. Chickens flying, people cheering and screeching, diving for chickens. Feathers were flying everywhere. I had my fist around a wing or two, but didn't manage to catch a whole body. But lucky for me, a group of friends had much better luck and caught eleven birds. Three of the eleven were roosters, so I was able to talk them into giving me one. So far, George seems pretty peaceful. He's only crowed a couple of times, and seems to be interested in meeting the ladies. Hopefully all goes well tonight after dark and the meeting of the flock is successful.

Monday, February 15, 2010

So much yarn, so little time!

This past Saturday, I rounded up a couple of the girls and we took a little road trip to Roberts, Wisconsin. If you've never been to Roberts, folks, you should take the journey. It is very small, and I don't know what it's other tourist highlights might be, but it is home to one of the nicest yarn & fiber shops I have ever been lucky enough to find.

Color Crossing (aptly named for its closeness to the railroad tracks that cut through town) has a huge section of yarns, from fancy fringy beady numbers to sock yarn to tough & hard working wools that will keep you warm in all seasons. Plus, they sell spinning wheels, fleece, looms, rug yarns and such. On Saturday, it was a 'fiber fun day' sponsored by Northwest Passage--demonstrations of everything from crocheting, knitting, weaving & spinning were taking place. It was so inspiring, so much fun, and so overwhelming. I think I have resisted the urge to purchase a floor loom, but I may need to acquire a new, nifty modern spinning wheel....well. I'll have to think about that. I did manage to rein in my lust for yarn, and walked away with only $47 dollars worth of wools. Four large skeins of Lamb's Pride by Brown Sheep Company, and three little skeins of a ridiculously inexpensive wool from Norway called Hauck. My plan is (1) make wool felted clog slippers for the little people in my life for next Christmas and (2) make a series of felted coasters for my drinks and hot tea to rest upon. So you see, I really DID need the yarn. Really.

After a Reuben, fries and a coke, we were all ready to head home for a nap. But if you ever have the opportunity to go to a fiber arts demo day, don't pass it up! I am still inspired. And I think I may need more yarn....