Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Busy busy busy...

"Spring is here, spring is here. Life is skittles and life is beer." - Tom Lehrer

Springtime brings all of the thoughts of the new garden, the upcoming summer projects, the summer chores, and of course, the new baby birds at the house. A week ago last Friday, the family had to stop at Tractor Supply Co. because we were not going to be able to stop at the actual feed shop the next day. Do you know what TSC has in the store come springtime? That's right, baby chicks. So of course, we had to pick up 6 of those little boogers. This doesn't count the order that had been placed with McMurray Hatchery the week before.

Since Peanut is participating in 4-H, she had decided that she wanted to do the duck project, so we had to order her the ducks she wanted to raise. We ordered her 10 Cayuga ducks. That's right 10 of those little buggers was cheaper than just buying 5 or 6 because of shipping costs. She will raise them for a bit and then pick out a few for her project. The rest will either go into the general population or be sold on craiglist/at auction.

Then for the family we got the Homsteaders Delight. This package is 16 birds total: 10 brown egg laying hens, 2 ducks, 2 turkeys, and 2 geese. We get no say in the breeds of any of these birds. Surprise! Unfortunately, we also get no say in the genders of the turkeys, ducks, or geese. Boy do I hope that we don't get Muscovy or Cayuga ducks. We already have the Muscovy and the Cayuga are the second part of that order.

These new birdies would overfill the current coop. I think I mentioned that a local company has what they call the "Backyard Barn". Well, that will hopefully be going up soon (Ok, within the next three weeks or so), and that will house all of these birds plus the birds in the current coop. I just have to get the Health Department out first so that they can verify that we are putting this up farther than 20 feet from the septic tank, there goes another 60 bucks. Woo...

This is all on top of the seedlings in the basement, and trying to wait till the ground gets dry enough to work, and getting a spot ready so the onions can go in ASAP, and and and... well, you get the idea. Hopefully I will be able to get some pictures up of the new birds when they arrive this week, plus a picture or two of the chickies already in the basement.

Well, I think that's enough for right now.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Oh and btw...

So, yeah... have kinda forgotten to let you know the biggest thing going on right now. We are in the process of adding two new members to the family. If you read the wife's blog over at DivaHick, you will know that we are adopting two girls into our family. Now my wife refers to the older girl as Delphinium and the younger as Sparrow. Yeah... the names kinda fit, but not for me. :-) In my head they are Peanut and Monkey, respectively.

Peanut is 13 years old. You know what that means? It means that we didn't get to know her before that "ARGH, Teenagers!" phase. But she does enjoy cooking, baking, crochet-ing, sewing, and general craftiness. She is participating in 4-H this year with a cooking project and a duck project. Of course, she didn't want to do the Muscovy ducks in the back yard, noooo, she wanted Cayuga ducks. All good though. She wants a goat as well so she can make goats milk fudge, but she doesn't want to drink the milk or do anything else with it though. heh, we will see how that goes.

Monkey is 6. She's a crazy little nut-nut that loves cooking and is learning to quilt. She is going to get a bird or two of her own. She wants a goat as well. Well, a goat, a sheep, a pig, a horse, a cow, and a donkey. Because she wants to ride them. Ha. Told you she is a little nut!

So along with all of the adventures that are coming our way with the garden and the animals and the homestead, we have these two new adventures on our plates as well. Who ever wanted a peaceful life? Apparently not us!

Stay tuned for the adventures yet to come!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Storey Books...

Storey is a company that publishes books that relate to the "country" or "homestead" life that so many people are looking to get back to. Their books are treasure troves of accumulated experience and knowledge on topics ranging from the household to raising livestock. Their mission statement is as follows:

To serve our customers by publishing practical
information that encourages personal independance
in harmony with the environment.

They published Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich (yes, that is Jenna from ColdAntlerFarm). They publish their series Storey's Guide to... that tell how to raise all the different types of livestock, and they are constantly on the lookout for new authors and ideas. I highly recommend checking out their line-up at http://www.storey.com/.

But that isn't what I want to talk about right now. Right now, I want to discuss their Country Wisdom Bulletins. These are little gems that sell for about four bucks apiece, new, and that cover the gamut of topics that Storey publishes. The nifty thing about them is that they are so focused they transfer a lot of information about something specific in just a few minute read. They are not exhaustive, but they are excellant introductions to different topics. If you want more in-depth information about a specific topic, guess what? Storey has a book about that.

Of course, Storey has been publishing these since 1973, so every once in a while you run across some information that is a little... dated. The bit that has started this post topic is in the bulletin Axes & Chainsaws: Use and Maintenance. This one in particular was Copywritten in 1977. The line that cracks me up is that it says steel-toed boots are not available in most stores, but that they can be special ordered. Now-a-days, every store seems to be carrying steel-toed boots. Heck, I am having trouble finding a cheap pair of black boots without a steel-toe! I used to be able to pick them up at any #-mart store for $20-$30. Now, they are all steel-toed. Don't get me wrong, all of the information regarding axes and chainsaws is still relavant and useful. This booklet was still well worth the money, but that little bit there just makes me chuckle.

What about you? Ever read any of these? How about another publisher that is similar?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In the mud and the blood and the beer...

I know, I know. Everyone makes a post about mud this time of year. So why shouldn't I go ahead and make one, too? Consider this my obligatory mud post of the year.

Its that time of the year where the dirt and the grass, the yards and the gardens are swampy muddy. The melting of all the snow and the coming rains... I dunno about you, but my ground just drowns. It can't handle the sheer amount of liquid that it is being asked handle.

We all know the season. Our boots get covered in the brown muck. Our animals, if we have any, come in brown and wet. Those gardens and lawns that will be green and vibrant, the bare trees that will soon spring forth their new and vibrant life. They are still brown and bare and muddy and lifeless.

There is hope on the horizon, though. There are seedlings started on a shelf in the basement. There are more seeds ready to germinate on another shelf. Pea plants and herbs on the counter in the kitchen. Flower seeds to start for each of the rooms. Soon we will be able to eat our own garden grown veggies. Soon there will be green and vibrant life around each corner and out every window.

Let us always remember, there are better, and dryer, days on the way!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Saint Patrick's Day

Happy Saint Patrick's day all! Today is the day to celebrate the life and times of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.

That's right folks and neighbors, SAINT Patrick's day started as a Holy day in the Christian religion. It was made an official feast day in Ireland long ago and the Irish brought this tradition to the rest of the world. It was not a holiday to drink. It was religious.. the pubs were closed! Can you believe it? Well, it's true.

As for the "traditional" meal of corned beef and cabbage? Ha! The Irish don't eat that for St. Patrick's day. Beef was precious and dearly expensive. It had to be imported from out of the country. So the traditional meal was mostly lamb, sometimes ham, and 'tatties (potatoes). There were some other root veggies involved, as well.

So where did the corned beef and cabbage come from, you might ask? Well, that's a good question. It came from the Jewish community. When Irish immigrants moved into America, they were typically not very wealthy (aka dirt poor) and worked long and grueling hours. When it came time for them to celebrate a holy day, they would go to the butchers in the Jewish ghetto and buy the cheapest piece of meat, corned beef brisket. Then they would buy the cheapest vegetables they could find (cabbage). After years of communities doing this, you now have a traditional Irish-American Saint Patrick's day meal. So it really is a traditional meal. Just don't try to tell me it is traditional all the way from Ireland.

*To "Corn" a piece of beef brisket, it needs to be packed with large kernel chunks of salt and seasoning to tenderize it.

Have any questions?


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I'm allowed to change my mind...

So after doing a bit more reading and thinking about the problem we had last year with a rat eating the duck eggs. I think I may now be leaning now towards having a full wood floor for the new barn/coop. This way I can brace it on concrete and stone pads so that it is raised up from the wetness. This will also allow a hose out of the floor if it gets necessary. If I wind up with a rotted floor, well, thats what they make saws and jacks and replacement boards for!

What do you think of that?

Monday, March 15, 2010

What type of animals...

So I talked about getting some new animals for the homestead, but we have a bit of a conundrum here. See, I like the idea of heritage breed animals... the more endangered, the better. I am not one of those greenie weenies that puts animals as more important than humans, or that thinks that anything and everything is excused if done in the name of "the environment". However, I do think that the forced breeding of modern livestock in order to ensure that every animal produces a consistant end product, is wrong.

What good is a chicken that reaches full weight in 7 weeks, but in that time, it is now not able to walk because it grew so fast and its breasts are disproportionately large? It is not good for foraging for bugs and greens. It is not good for pest control. It was developed solely for the meat industry and its existence ignores all of the tangents and side-effects of the traditional role of the chicken. Pigs, cows, turkeys, etc. So many breeds have been bred for specific purposes that they have lost their original capabilities and intents.

Heritage breed chickens tend to be dual-purpose birds. Bred for both meat and egg production. They do not produce eggs as well as commercial egg layers, and they do not grow as fast as commercial meat birds. But they can forage in the yard and control the pest population from eating your garden, and they can subsist on less grain/feed than other breeds.

Heritage hogs are able to forage and subsist majorily on pasture as well. They are able to roam the pasture and fields without becoming sunburnt. They do not nip and bite each others tails or ears the way pigs do when kept in a pen and not allowed to roam.

Each breen has their heritage breeds that are basically on or near the endangered list. These heritage breeds are important for us to remember where the modern small homesteads animals came from. Those of us looking for only one or two animals could go for one of the modern breeds.

Of course, I seem to make this sound as if heritage breeds are perfect. Part of the problem is that farmers and breeders are able to charge a lot more for these animals. Where you are most likely able to get a cross-breed goat or sheep for $50-$100 (if not less if you have an auction near you), you are most likely not going to be able to get a heritage breed for less than $200 at the minimum.

Another major problem with heritage breed animals... Availability. If you are looking at a breed that endangered, they are not going to be available around every corner. You may have to travel hours or even days if you are set on getting a specific breed that no one around you has. Whereas cross-breeds and commercial breeds are often available at a moments notice. Not only are the farmers not necessarily close to you, but with a small breeding population, there are less litters/kids/etc. each year. Where a goat or sheep may throw twins twice a year if you really push them, that is still only four kids a year. A swine may give a litter of 4-6-8, but still, that is not a lot to try to repopulate farms around the country.

Heck, when you are starting out, does it really matter what breed you get until you are sure you want to raise that type of animal. If you are getting birds, do you want to be responsible for letting them out in the morning and putting them back in at night, making sure that they have enough food and water. If you are looking at dairy goats, do you have the motivation to be up and out to make sure that they have food and water and shelter. Once or twice a day do you want to go out to milk them. Make sure they freshen and get bred properly.

These are questions that each individual and each farm and homestead must make for themselves. But if you are in the market for some new animals, why don't you take a look at some heritage breeds?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This year's garden...

So every year, those of us "crazies" that don't like paying the store for foods and things that we can grow for ourselves plan what we will be planting and how we will arrange them in the garden and whatnot. You always hear about the joy that we get reading through seed catalogues and picking our varieties for the next season.

Well, at some point, all those fantasies and dreams need to get started. Now, I will share a little secret with all of you. I have always had a lot of trouble getting anything to start from seed, but this year, here I go again. At this point, I have planted:

8 broccoli
8 kale
8 roma tomatoes
8 gr/rd sweet peppers
4 green zebra tomatoes
Sweet Basil
Sweet Marjoram

These have all been planted since last Friday. So far the Broccoli and the Kale have already started to germinate. One of the tomato seeds is starting as well, but only one, so far. There are more that need to be planted, especially some more cool weather seeds that I can hopefully get in the ground before the last frost... but for now, I am happy with the way things are starting this year.

The garden will also consist of cucumbers, corn, brussel sprouts, cabbage, lettuce, pumpkins, zuchini, beets, and various and sundry squashes. And I am sure the other in the family will put in some requests that I am not aware of yet. *grin*

How about it, any strange or unusual suggestions for what should go into the garden?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I still use mine...

So I was puttering about in the kitchen today making breadcrumbs and the thought occured to me that I was doing something that to me is just an obvious money and food saver. But I wonder if anyone else still does this? With the cost of food being so cheap at your local megamart, do people still keep the heels and scraps of bread to be used for something else just so they can save the couple bucks they would spend buying breadcrumbs.

Either way, here is what I do, let me know if you do something similar or if this is a new concept or you think I am nuts for doing this!

1) Save your scrap bread, bread ends, mis-cut pieces, stale or not, toss them in a paper bag. The staler you let them get, the better, but make sure it stays dry... wet bread will mold, dry bread will stale up nicely.

2) Once the bag is full (or you are cooking something that needs breadcrumbs), dig out the bag and your trusty meat grinder with the finest die that you have.

3) Clamp the grinder to your table or counter and start grinding up all the bread you have (or as much as you need).

4) I always do up all that I have and put the rest into a clean dry mason jar that goes right into the fridge or the freezer, depending on how fast I will be using it. I find that one brown paper lunch bag will fill up 3/4 to a full quart mason jar.

Spices, herbs, etc. can all be added to the bread crumbs when you go to use them. This means you don't need to buy bread crumbs and Italian bread crumbs and etc... It is pretty easy to make all the different flavors from whatever type of bread you have lying around!

5) Finally, time to clean it up. The grinder doesn't get very dirty, but I take it apart, run some hot water through and rub all the nooks and crannies with a stiff bristled brush, and then push a towel through. After that, I let it air dry on a drying mat.

* Just a trick that I learned a while ago. If you do use your grinder for meat (what a crazy idea), when you are done, run a few pieces of stale bread through. The bread and the crumbs will pull the meat out and bind up any oils and fats. It makes it easier to scrub and seems to help get all the pieces of meat out when you scrub it clean.

Write at ya soon!