Friday, November 25, 2011

First Farm Loss

Someone had an early morning Thanksgiving feast...and on the menu was one of our chickens...

For the past few months we have been letting the chickens roam free in our yard during the day. Our new fence gives us this freedom. Then at night the chickens go back to their coop and we lock the ramp for the night.

Yesterday morning Eric went outside to put the chickens in the coop so that we could let the dogs run around in the backyard. When Eric walked into the yard he watched a hawk fly away from the yard and into a nearby tree. He searched and searched for the chickens. One chicken was hiding in the coop and two more where covering behind some pine trees.

After no luck finding the other chickens, Eric came inside the house and told me what just happened. My heart sunk. "Are Sunny and Scrambles safe?" I asked. (We named three of the seven chickens due to their personalities). "Yes," he said. We ran back outside and Eric checked the garden shed. As I was walking to help Eric look in the garden shed, I saw it. I saw the heap of black and white feathers. My heart sunk even farther. I told Eric that I could never be a farmer. But here we were gathering the rest of the terrified chickens and putting them safe in their coop.

Losing a chicken was bound to happen. In fact, I'm not surprised it hadn't happened earlier. We have had the chickens outside for over a year. But the first death is always the hardest. Eric buried our Barred Plymouth Rock behind the garden shed and placed a rock on top. I guess I'm thankful that the chicken who died didn't have a name.

Now we are left with the question of whether we let the chickens roam free again. Now the hawk knows where dinner is. We plan to keep the chickens cooped up for a few weeks, and I guess from there we will make up our minds what to do next.

Who is watching who through the window?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Low Tunnels for Beginners

I apoligize in advance for the lack of posts this fall and the shortened information. We both are getting slammed at work and time with house projects. The "To-Do" List never ends. There are so many things I want to get done this fall, but just haven't had the time.

Cold weather is starting to creep in. We've had a beautiful, warm fall the past couple weeks, and now it is time to turn on the furnace and add an extra layer of clothing.  We are tucking in some of our garden plants for the Fall as well.

In August (or was it September) I planted a few seeds of plants that love cold weather. Carrots, green onion, radish, lettuces, pac choi, spinach, mache, and arugula. We could've also planted broccoli, but we are still waiting on this spring's plants to produce the maybe we will see broccoli this Fall. Most of these plants should still be protected when the temperatures dip.

After reading an inspiring article from Mother Earth News, we decided that low tunnels were a good choice for our small homestead. We drilled long screws into the wooden frame of the garden beds, with 4 inches of the screw still sticking up. Attached a PVC pipe and then covered the hoops with fabric. Each 12'x4' bed has four hoops, and we can add more if needed later.  To save some money, I repurposed bird seed bags to fill with rocks and hold the fabric to the ground.

Since the growing plants are protected, I was able to remove the garden fence and allow the chickens to stratch in the empty garden beds. Everyone wins!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wild Grape Jelly

I love this time of year when the landscape is dotted with all sorts of colors: yellows, reds, greens, and purples. I love the colors more if they guide me to free food. On our hike through a field the other day, we spotted many vines of ripe wild grapes.

Research needs to be done before harvesting wild edibles. It is very important to be 110% confident that you know what you are harvesting. We have learned about wild grapes over the past couple years, but this was the first time to gather the grapes. There are a few look-alike plants, so caution is needed.

There isn't much that one can do with wild grapes: juice, wine, or jelly. Don't let their tart flavor off the vine scare you away. Most recipes dilute the grape juice with water and sugar.

The grapes were on state land, and at first I didn't know if it was okay to harvest. I know for most people it is a "don't ask, don't tell" philosophy. But I was still nervous running into something while I was cutting off the grape clusters. Everytime I heard a car drive past, I ducked in the bushes. I'm still not sure what I would've done if someone actually saw me. My nerves were eased though when Eric called a local DNR office and found out that harvesting nuts and berries is legal at this spot.

Many pounds of grapes were needed for just a few pints of jelly. But it was worth it!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

And another addition to the homestead!

I just realized that I forgot to share the news of the latest addition to our homestead. Shadow, our second dog. We actually got him in April, but I completly forgot the news. Koda, our first dog, is a very kind and social dog, so we thought he needed a friend.

Our decision literally was last minute when we found ourselves driving to the Humane Society. While we were driving, I kept saying that just because we were looking at dogs, didn't mean we had to get one. Well, long story short...when we saw Shadow, he smushed himself against the viewing window and gave us those loving eyes.

Shadow and Koda have been the best of friends ever since.  Now that makes two dogs, seven chickens, and two rabbits on our homestead!

Camping with Koda and Shadow

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Canning Season

Well, I'm a little overwhelmed right now with all the things happening this season. There seems to be a surplus of produce everywhere I look. Recently the CSA farm was selling grade B organic heirloom tomatoes. So we bought 30 pounds worth and turned them into 21 colorful jars of diced tomatoes. Next on the list: salsa, tomato sauce, and pear for updates!

Heirloom tomatoes usually have cracked skins. But thankfully the outside imperfections are only skin deep and are removed when prepping the tomatoes for canning. Their insides are gorgeous. (Is there a lesson here?)

The chickens enjoy canning season too.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Homestead's Weekly Meal Plan

I've been wanting an old fashioned egg basket for a few months now. My aunt found out that I wanted a basket and mailed me one that can be traced as far back as my great, great grandma. I love household items that have a story behind them. The basket comes in very handy!

Our Meal Plan
Vegetable Pizza and Cherry Tomato Salad
Beef Stew
Roasted Chicken and Pasta Salad
Mac and Cheese with Chicken and Brocolli (Using leftover chicken)
Swiss Chard and Ravioli (Book: Serving up the Harvest)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rocket Stove for Beginners

Over the last year we have been entertaining the idea of some kind of permanent outdoor cooking appliance for our back yard. Our choices were between a masonry oven, earth oven, or a rocket stove. After researching all three and taking an earth oven building workshop, I decided the rocket stove would be the easiest place to start. The earth oven required a large base and I wasn't sure of the quality of our local clay. The masonry oven involves a lot of brick work and I had never held a trowel before so I chose the simpler rocket stove.

The Concept
A rocket stove uses a small combustion chamber to burn fuel efficiently. Unlike a campfire which can slowly draw air in from all around and gives off heat in every direction, the rocket stove creates a draft at the inlet that rapidly pulls fresh oxygen into the combustion chamber and exhausts through a small opening at the top so the energy is transferred only where the operator wants it. The setup burns the fuel efficiently so less is needed. Rocket stoves are popular in third world countries where fuel is scarce and expensive.

The Materials
I used:
-76 standard construction bricks
-6 pavers
-two and one half 60lb bags of mortar
-19" length of stainless steel vent pipe
-stainless steel angled pipe
-2 pieces of stainless steel plate
-7 gallons of wood ash

The construction bricks were 25 cents at the habitat restore. The mortar was about $8. The wood ash was free from the parents wood stove. The plate was donated but the pipe was a bit pricey at $85. I didn't want to use galvanized steel or aluminum around high heat and food.

As I said I had never picked up a trowel before this project, but after watching some master masons on you tube and consulting with both of the dads, I felt confident enough building a simple tower. I figured the worst that could happen would be some wasted time and maybe a ruined meal if it collapsed. At least it wouldn't be providing structural support for anything more than a frying pan.

After getting the hang of the mortar, it went quickly. I finished all but the last two courses (a course is one layer of bricks) in the first day. I left a hole for the fuel magazine/air inlet by leaving out one brick and trimming two down leave a space.

The second day I laid the last two courses, finishing with the pavers for a clean look on top. Next I installed the pipe and poured wood ash in the void between the brick and pipe. The ash served as insulation to both protect the bricks from cracking, and to concentrate the heat at the opening to increase efficiency. I mortared in one of the stainless steel plates below the top two courses to keep the ash from getting wet and blown around.

The finished stove sits 36" high to approximate the working height of our kitchen stove. The middle of the opening for the fuel magazine sits 14" off the ground so we don't have to bend down too far to start and feed the fire.

First Firing

I fired the stove up the next morning to boil water for coffee and try a bistro breakfast panini recipe Moriah found at Taste of Home.

The flames shot up over 20 in

The paninis were delicious, but this is not the recipe I would recommend for the first time using the stove. It takes some practice feeding the fire and adjusting the height of the grill. This type of stove can get up over 1200 degrees F. The heat can be controlled by how much fuel is added and how high the cooking surface is raised.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pickles for Beginners

I don't eat many pickles every year, but the thought of being able to make my own is intriguing. And I think that a picnic basket filled with homemade pickles, homemade ketsup, and homemade mustard would make a great Christmas gift for family. After reading a few websites, I figured that I could manage making pickles.

There are a few different kinds of pickles: refrigerator pickles, lacto-fermented pickles, and canned pickles. Each kind has its pros and cons. Refrigerator pickles stay crisp, but they of course take up space in the fridge. Lacto-fermented pickles have beneficial digestive properties. Canned pickles can easily be stored in a pantry, but they lose their crisp after several months.

Washed Pickling Cucumbers
I'd like to make all the different kinds of pickles. For starters I made the refrigerator pickles. I used a recipe from a farmer. Just add brine to pickling cucumbers...anyone can do that. After feeling good about the first patch of pickles, I canned some dill pickles. I really liked the recipe, but my pickles lost their brilliant green color. I also noticed that a couple jars have garlic sticking out of the brine, so those jars might end up in the fridge. I think the brine settled into gaps after I put the jars into the water bath, and I should have stirred the contents to remove air bubbles. Please visit this blog for good step by step instructions.

Canned Dill Pickles
My next goal is lacto-fermented pickles!

A Homestead's Weekly Meal Plan

We finally solved our chicken coop problem by fencing in the garden.  This keeps the chickens out when we aren't outside watching them. The added bonus of the fence is that the rabbits get to run around on the inside between the raised garden beds. The rabbits must be supervised though because they could still jump the fence if they wanted. Socks got out once and was hopping around by the chickens, and the chickens were terrified. We took a video, but I'd really like to get some pictures.

Rabbits hanging out by the tomatoes

Our Weekly Meal Plan
Zucchini Parmesan Crisps, steamed green beans, and grilled chicken
Grilled brats, cole slaw, and homemade pickles (and maybe sauerkraut if it is ready by then)
Red Wine Beef Stew with Potatoes and Green Beans
Vegetable Pizza
Sauteed Vegetables and slow-cooked chicken

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Homestead's Weekly Meal Plan

Our garden seems a little stunted right now. It's in an inbetween stage of ending spring plants and planting fall crops. Our summer tomatoes and peppers and squash aren't quite ready yet either.  For some reason our two front garden beds aren't doing well right now. The tomatoes stopped growing and the onions just finished growing and are still too small. At least we have our CSA basket to depend on!

Weekly Meal Plan
Baked Zucchini Cakes with Cucumbers and Tomatoes
Vegetable Pizza
French Onion Soup
Slow-baked Beans with Kale
Beef and Bean Chimichangas
Vegetarian Enchilada Bake
Marinated Venison Steaks served with any vegetables available still

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Homestead's Weekly Meal Plan

Everything is looking great in the garden this week...including the weeds.  We've had a steady supply of water and heat-- perfect for our 15 tomato plants.  The only problem we are facing is that our paste tomatoes are still the size of cherry tomatoes and we aren't sure if they will grow bigger...not good if we plan to make sauce again this year.

Speaking of problems...our laptop crashed and it had all my recipes here are the links I could remember and find.

Weekly Meal Plan
Braised Chard Pizza (didn't get to it last week)
Grilled Brats and a cabbage cole slaw (recipe provided with our CSA newsletter)
Zucchini Carpaccio (for lunches)
Pasta Primavera
Roasted Carrots and Beets and Baked Chicken
Baked Zucchini Cakes
Meatball Cabbage Rolls

I've never been a fan of beets. But for a few weeks, we have been getting them from our CSA box and now they are piling up in our fridge. Any ideas for a recipe that hides that "earthy" flavor?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Homestead's Weekly Meal Plan

Now, we are feeling the summer pressure of trying to get stuff done around the house! This weekend was full of family events and volunteering at a CSA farm.

Weekly Meal Plan
Kale and Cheese Spread (great on toast or crackers)
Penne with Kale and Onions
Swiss Chard and Ravioli (Book: Serving up the Harvest)
Braised Swiss Chard Pizza (Same book as above)
Two dinner provided through other events

This week's garlic harvest!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Chicken Coop Problem

When we first built our chicken coop, we envisioned the chickens grazing on a fresh patch of grass every day.  For the first few months last summer, the chickens really did eat fresh grass every day because we moved the coop every day.

But this year is different....

The coop is a two person job when it comes to moving it. Eric and I have varied work schedules and don't always see eachother every day...which means the coops stays in the same place for a few days at a time. Our varied work schedules is fine with us, but not fine for the chickens.  The seven of them can plow through a grass patch in a day.  The second day the chickens start to kill the grass.  And the third day there is nothing but dirt. So slowly our wonderful backyard lawn is shrinking. 

We thought about just leaving the chicken coop in the same spot and opening the coop door when we are home (our fence allows us to do so now). The chickens need to be supervised when they free range because of the garden. But this idea isn't working right now too. Sometimes the chickens can't free range for a few days. The chicken poop stays in the dirt under the coop and the smell is aweful on a windy day.

Do you have any ideas? How can we let our chickens graze, but let our yard stay green?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Homestead's Weekly Meal Plan

The intense summer heat ruins my appetite and motivation to cook. But seeing my CSA box was enough of an excitement to make me look at recipes for this week.

Weekly Meal Plan
Kohlrabi and Radish Salad (for potluck dinner)
Burgers and Root Vegetable Sticks with Roast Garlic Dip
Zucchini Patties and Kale Chips
Grilled Steak with Swiss Chard
Spinach Omelets
Vegetable Pizza
Pasta Primevera (we loved it so much last week!)
Lunches: Sandwiches, stir-fries, and leftovers

Silver Swiss Chard

Friday, July 15, 2011

Homestead Weekly Meal Plan

I thought that having a CSA basket on top of our huge garden would be too much.  But everything is working out great.  The farm has green houses and we are getting vegetables earlier than our garden. Right now we are getting lots of squash from the farm, but our garden hasn't even produced blossoms. Some plants we will get all season long due to both sources.  Yes!

Oregon Shelling Peas
Last week, I didn't get a chance to make all the recipes on the meal plan due to varied work schedules. Those recipes will be added to this week's meal.

Weekly Meal Plan
Baked Zucchini Cakes
Pasta Primavera
Stuffed Patty Pan Squash
Lettuce Salad (We can't get enough!) with Grilled Wild Turkey Breast
Marinated Venison and Summer Squash Casserole
Bean and Kale Salad

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer Love

This is why we love summer!

Backyard garden

Borage: Offers edible flowers

Calendula: Another edible flower

Peas, radishes, and carrots

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Summer is Here!

After a long, cold spring, summer is finally warming up.  Eric and I went on vacation just as things were getting crazy in the garden.  The project list never ends and the projects were still there when we got back from New York.  Before we even unpacked our CSA boxes, we checked the growing garden and CSA box.  I love surprises!

Everything took off in the garden, including peas, onions, tomatoes and yes...weeds!

Weekly Meal Plan
Roast Chicken with a side of Zucchini Parmesan
Egg Drop Soup with Spring Greens
Bean and Kale Salad
Marinated Venison with a Summer Squash Casserole
Vegetable Pizza
Leftover chicken with Spicy BBQ Mayo Sauce
Raspberry and Rhubarb Pie/Crisp

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Weekly CSA Box and Meal Plan #2

Another great week!  Here is what is in our CSA Box and the recipes I plan to use with the box contents and stuff from my own garden. We are going camping and then on a week long vacation, so I might end up freezing some things too.

Box Contents:
Asian Greens
Swiss Chard
Head of Lettuce

Weekly Meal Plan:
Pasta bake with a vegi salad with Sage Dressing
Potato Pancakes with Kale
Grilled Steak, garlic scapes, and swiss chard
Parmesan-Chive Popovers
Vegi Stir Fry
Spinach Omelets

Still looking for a Swiss Chard Recipe.  Any suggestions?  I'm not a fan of swiss chard, so I need something to cover up the "beet" flavor.  Also, my chives are spreading like weeds in my garden.  Any recipe ideas that use a lot chives?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Seasonal Meal Plan

Every week I create a meal plan and a grocery list.  Then I search for which stores have the best deals.  This helps us stay organized and save money and time.  Our weekly CSA basket has put a spin on my weekly routine.  Now I have to wait until Thursday evening to set the meal plan.  Our local farm store store opens on Friday and Saturday, so everything works out.  Thankfully I love looking for recipes.  This week is different then most due to a different work schedule and a camping trip.

Weekly Meal Plan (a little late)
Burgers and vegi salad (arugula, spinach, lettuce, mizuna, borage flowers, and chive blossoms)
Beef and Bean Chimichangas
Bok Choy Stir Fry (add in mizuna stems)
Kale and Cheese Spread (made into sandwiches)
Pizza topped with arugula, spinach, and chive blossoms
Basic pasta salad with arugula, tomato, onion and herbs
Dessert: Rhubarb Crumble (Will last us all week)

I'm thankful for our garden produce and HighCross Farm!

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Year of Strawberries

If I buy strawberries in the middle of winter, the berries taste horrible.  So does everything else that travels over 1,000 miles to the local grocery store.  I don't understand how our culture got to the point of transporting food from so far away, when that same food product can be grown in our backyards.

Goal: Eat food when in season.

Purchasing or eating food when it is in season might seem like a difficult task.  But people ate seasonal food for many years and lived without having to eat cardboard strawberries in winter.  How did people eat during winters?  They preserved their food!  I think food preservation is so important nowaday because it is one step closer to self sufficiency and sustainability.

Last year was our first year of canning strawberry jam...our first year of canning anything for that matter.  We just finished off our last jar of jam.  But we aren't too sad because our local U-Pick strawberry farm just opened yesterday!  And now we get to start the whole process over again.  Canning, freezing, and dehydrating- it makes a messy kitchen, but the results are delicious!


Sunday, June 19, 2011

CSA Workshare

Eric and I are members of a CSA farm. CSA= Community Supported Agriculture. Members will pay a one time fee for a weekly box of produce (usually for about 20 weeks).  We are participating in a work share.  We donate a certain amount hours per season and in return we receive a free box of produce every week.

Benefits of a work share include saving money, learning new things, meeting new people, and eating new foods.  Plus the added bonus is that the farm is next door to my parents house, so we can visit them too.  We also have a few things planted at my parents house that we can upkeep after working on the farm.

This week we received:
One head of lettuce
Arugula, with flowers
Bunch of Kale
Mizuna (Japanese salad green)
Baby Pac Choi
Tomato plant

Monday, June 13, 2011

Garden Treasures

Our first meal made entirely of ingredients from our yard!

Arugula, spinach, chives, and eggs.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dandelion Jelly

Wild edibles are very fascinating. I wish I knew more about which plants are edible, and I made it my goal to learn (and eat) at least 5 new wild plants or herbs each year.

I’m using Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer as a plant guide. I really like his book because his information is based off his own experience. I like to have a recipe set aside for when I actually harvest the plant. For recipes I am reading Abundantly Wild by Teresa Marrone and Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise by Susun S. Weed. Of course there are lots of other resources out there.

So far I’ve made Ramp Flatbread and Nettle, Ramp, and Potato Chowder. Both were very good! Then I heard about making Dandelion Jelly and I thought, “perfect!” The only thing mature enough to preserve in my garden right now are dandelions.

I have a few spots in my yard where dandelions grow strong and free of chemicals. I felt like I was a child on an Easter egg hunt with my basket in one hand and picking all the bright colors with another hand. I wonder what my neighbors thought if they saw me!

There are a few great recipes already online, but I use Pomona’s Pectin which uses different amounts of pectin and less sugar. Thankfully, I came across one recipe that already converted the different pectin. I added 2 cups sugar instead of the honey. Next time I will try less sugar or add honey and maybe a little less lemon juice. I can’t wait to make this again. Dandelion Jelly is unique and will make great gifts for friends and family.

P.S. Remember our dandelion wine creation? We were finally brave enough to taste the wine.  It didn't turn out, so we will try again another day.  I think that maybe we will try to make a wine with flavors we have had before.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ebay and Online Stores

I've been buying items on Ebay for a few years. This week was the first time I sold something.  It was quite the learning experience and now I'm glad a did it.  I got a rush when I saw that my item sold. (And I almost put it in my thrift store donation pile).  I'm glad that I made a little extra income and now I'm trying to figure out what else I can sell!  Do you have any tips for selling on Ebay?  My next goal is to sell homemade items on Etsy.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Edible Landscaping

Eric and I don't like all useless lawns that surround entire houses.  Why waste time every day or week watering, mowing, and fertilizing a lawn?  I could go on and on about how pointless a manicured lawn is, but for the sake of time I won't. 

Instead of a lawn at our house, our plan is to replace the sod with native and/or edible plants.  We have seen wonderful pictures of people who have already done so.  I think we got a good start on it last year by building ten raised beds and adding a chicken pasture.

On our property we have a steep hill that runs the length of our yard.  We are very eager to plant edible bushes on this hill so that we don't have to mow the grass.  Our plan is to add blueberries, currants, ground cherries, native roses, and other decorative edibles over the course of a couple years. 

We just recieved our first Northland Blueberry bushes and Black Currant bushes from St. Lawrence Nursery in Upstate New York.  We bought our three apples trees from that company last year.  Blueberries aren't usually grown around our neck of the woods, but we have a few pine trees near the steep hill that will make the soil more acidic.  And the currants Eric planted with hopes that we will actually like the berries (we haven't tasted black currants yet). 

Practicing patience before we see any fruit!
The month of May is giving us lots of projects.  In the background of the photo is the fence that Eric is building.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Extra Homestead Income

Making money from working at home would be a great addition to any homestead. Eric and I have some dreams of things we can sell in the future, but we also have some homemade items now.

But I wonder if we could start to sell items now. We are not experts in the items we make, so is it fair to sell those items that aren’t perfect yet? What do you think? We have thought about selling our deer tallow candles, upcycled plastic pouches, and maybe knitted or sewn items.

In this day and age there are many options to getting homemade stuff sold: craft fairs, artist stores, and online stores like Etsy. Where should we start?

Coin purse made with plastic cat food bag and scrap fabric.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Haircut for the Angora Rabbits

Our new Angora rabbits, Socks and Mittens, have a new look.  There are a few different ways to harvest the wool from angora rabbits.  One way is "plucking" the shedding hair.  Have you ever pulled tuffs of hair off your dog?  It is the same way for the rabbits and plucking doesn't hurt the rabbits.

This was my first time harvesting the wool, and I learned how from YouTube videos.  Plucking the hair leaves the hair longer and therefore higher quality for spinning.  I started plucking Socks, but he has a bit of an attitude.  I spent days trying to harvest his wool, but got frustrated each time.  I ended up skipping Socks and began plucking Mittens.  Mittens was soooo much different.  His hair came out easier and I could see where I plucked because his brown undercoat shown through.

Another way to harvest angora wool is cutting off the hair.  I decided to shear Socks to save a headache.  Shearing is a little more nerve-racking because one could possibly cut the skin.  I think Socks is half the size now that his hair is gone.  He doesn't look so tough now.

Mitten's brown undercoat is reveiled while plucking.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sprouting Greens

It has been a long cold spring.  Last year Eric and I had seeds outside by the end of March.  This year we are hoping to get the peas planted by next week...maybe.  But even during the cold, gloomy days we still have a green beauty in the basement.

Kale, brocolli, swiss chard
Roma Tomato
This is our second year starting seeds inside.  Some things we greatly improved on and some things we are still learning from.  We can't wait to plant these sprouts outside!


Saturday, April 2, 2011

More Wild Edibles

Last fall Eric and I harvest hickory nuts from a nearby park.  Hickory nuts taste amazing but the nuts are not sold in stores.  I was very excited when I spotted the nuts in a fallen tree, which provided perfect drying conditions and a safe spot away from squirrels.

In our area, Shagbark Hickory trees have the edible nuts.  Don't eat the Bitternut Hickory nuts.  I didn't realize at first that there was a hickory nut that wasn't tasty.  From experience your mouth will go dry if you eat a bitternut.  Thankfully it is easy to tell the two types of nuts apart.

Shagbark Hickory Nut
(photo credit)
I spent the past week cracking open the nuts.  It takes a lot of patience, but it is worth it.  I can't wait to put them into a recipe!


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Say Cheese!

Homemade cheese is a great addition to a homestead.  Last Fall I took a class at the Driftless Folk School about making soft cheeses.  Linda Conroy from Moonwise Herbs teaches these classes and others throughout Wisconsin.

Making soft cheeses is surprisingly simple.  If you can cook milk and add a few ingredients, then you can make paneer, mozzerela, and feta cheese!  Yogurt and kefir cheeses are even more simple.  I'm finding that there are more and more books about home cheesemaking.  Check out this Home Dairy book give away!
Feta cheese in the making
My goal is to make the cheese more often and learn how to cook with them.  I would also like to get in the habit of making cultured creams, butters, and ice cream.

Now all we need is a dairy goat!


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sharing my Homestead

I brought a few animals to a pioneer maple sugaring festival.  Hundreds of people attended the event and my animals loved the attention.  I wasn't able to be by their side, but I loved seeing all the people petting and feeding the chickens and rabbits.  Hopefully it sparks someone else to get a few homestead animals...

Looking for cracked corn.

A great furry coat on a cold day.

Homemade butter anyone?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Root Cellar Experiments

There is just something thrilling about walking to the backyard to collect your own homegrown food in the middle of winter. We weren’t sure if the root cellar would work. We stored apples in the refrigerator at the same time we placed apples in the root cellar. Within a month the apples stored in the fridge were mushy. We lost hope for any of the apples outside. If apples in a fridge couldn’t keep well, how could apples in a makeshift root cellar keep well?

On one warm winter day, I got a little cabin fever and decided to check the apples in the root cellar. The anxiety built as I removed the straw bales, then the trash can cover, and then the straw. Beautiful, ripe apples smiled back at me. I literally screamed with joy and bit into an apple right there. Even in winter, that day felt like autumn.

We bought two different types of apples: Spartans and McIntosh. The Spartans were intended for eating raw and they stored the best. The McIntosh apples were intended for apple pies and sauce, which is fine because some apples turned up with brown spots. During a few snowstorms, we spent the days staying warm by making ruby red applesauce.

In addition to apples, we also stored potatoes in a trash can and carrots in a trench. The carrots were gobbled up by the end of November, but they did last through freezing temperatures. The potatoes are storing well too, and we will soon be out of them. (If we lived during the pioneer days, we would have starved.) Note to Self: plant more potatoes and carrots for next year.