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!