Monday, February 28, 2011

Weekend Recap

The temperature topped out over 80 yesterday, and should hit around 80 today as well.  I'm afraid of what the summer will bring!  After today, it's back to the 60s during the day though.  It's so nice to be outside on a beautiful day, but the pollen is starting to fly, so being outside is a double edged sword for me. 

Our Pearl has been molting, so we haven't received an egg from her in a while, but she's back on her game.  Yesterday she laid, and she rejoiced all through the yard, loudly and proudly I might add.  She's a Black Star and is a wonderful layer.  I was reading a publication on chickens that stated all chickens stop laying during the winter unless you put lights in their coops.  We don't have lights, and ours laid through the winter.  We didn't get as many eggs as we do during the summer, but we did get 1-2 eggs a day.  I know the breed contributes, and we have a RIR, a Buff Orpington, a Black Star, a Barred Rock and a cross breed Brahma.  What is your experience with winter eggs? 

In addition to routine chores around the place, yesterday we started our spring yard redo.  We seem to do this every year as we decide certain plants may do better in another area of the yard.  Yesterday we relocated two lantanas, a rosemary bush, a Japanese maple, a pomegranate, some perennials and we potted a fig tree.  This fig tree was a rooting from some friends, and it just hasn't prospered where we planted it, so in an effort to rescue it from certain death, I decided to pot it for a while.  It's pretty small, and I've read that figs really like their roots kept confined to produce fruit.  I don't know if that's necessarily true, because I'm certain the fig tree across the street has not been confined in any way.  It's huge.  Potting the fig tree will help me keep a closer eye on it and give it some extra attention. 

A few weeks ago, I had a few tree services come over and give me estimates on taking down some of the trees in my neighbor's yard.  I've been going back and forth about spending that money, but we can get it done alot cheaper if they just drop the trees and leave them for us to cut up and dispose of.  It's ALOT of work on our end, but think of the money we save on gym membership.  Plus, one of them is an oak, and we can save it for firewood.  So, this weekend we really watched the sun to see how taking down three trees would benefit us.  I've been complaining about those trees for years, and now given the opportunity to take them down, I think I need to step up to the plate or stop complaining.  Plus, I think it will open up enough yard to start a small espaliered orchard.  If we go this route, we will have to sacrifice our current peach tree, which is another dilemma.  It really is a great tree, but I can espalier so many more fruit trees in the area it takes up.     

We checked on our bee supplies to make sure they were in good shape for our nuc delivery in a week or two.  We didn't find any evidence of wax moths, so I think we're in good shape. 

My ginger ale didn't really carbonate, but I think it's because I had it in the wrong-sized container.  I really need to get a 2-liter bottle and try again.  Either way, it tastes pretty good.  A nice change up from tea and water, for sure.  I think next time I may add a little more sugar because it has a bite to it that we didn't find enjoyable.  A little honey in my glass seemed to take the bite out though.

What did you accomplish over the weekend?

Happy homesteading,



Friday, February 25, 2011

Ginger Ale and a Bread Bucket

One thing I miss about our change in lifestyle is a refreshing soda, or if you're southern like I am, coke, which is generic for any type of soda pop.  I do occasionally buy the organic versions, but they're pricey.  I've been wanting to try my hand at making ginger ale for some time, so I finally decided to take the plunge.  I basically followed Alton's recipe with the following exceptions:  Instead of 1.5 Tbl grated ginger, I sliced up 2 oz. of peeled ginger and threw it in the saucepan with the sugar water.  I didn't let it steep for an hour, but just threw everything in the container with the water, lemon juice and yeast.  I've seen other recipes that suggest leaving the ginger in, so I did.

Alton Brown's Ginger Ale 

It's supposed to ferment for 48 hours to produce carbonation, and then I'm supposed to place it in the refrigerator.  I have it in a plastic container now, but once it's ready, I plan to strain it into some pretty resealable soda pop bottles.  I wanted to ferment it in a gallon glass bottle, but I've read stories about exploding glass, so I decided to go first with plastic.  Most recipes recommend using a 2-liter bottle, but I don't have any since we don't buy soda anymore. 

This leads me to the bread bucket part of my post.  Buckets, what a great segway.  I have fallen in love with no knead bread, but didn't really have an appropriate container in which to house the dough in the refrigerator.  I tried keeping a plate over a ceramic bowl, but the dough would get hard on top, and I really try to avoid using plastic wrap.  I think it's just a waste.  Anyway, I went to the nearest restaurant supply store to pick up a food grade bucket and lid, and when I got down there, the price I was quoted over the phone was way less than the actual price.  I was pretty upset and wasn't going to spend that much on a bucket.  On the way home, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few items, and while I was there, I noticed the frosting buckets stacked up behind the bakery counter.  I asked the lady if she had an empty bucket with a lid, and she had three, so the hot pink icing, neon green icing, and doughnut glaze buckets came home with me.  They are probably about 2-3 gallons each.  It was a breeze mixing up the bread dough in the bucket, and the lid should keep the air out.  There's plenty of room to double the recipe if I want to.  I put the ginger ale in one of the other ones and closed the lid up tight.   

These buckets would also to great for self-watering container projects.  I think a pepper plant would do well in this size, maybe even an eggplant or okra.

I plan to hit the grocery store on a regular basis now to see if I can score some more free buckets.  

Have you ever made ginger ale?  How did it turn out?  Any learning experiences you can share?

Happy homesteading,


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Buzz, Buzz

Do you know where your honey comes from and in whose hands it has been?  Probably the worst thing you can do is buy honey from the grocery store.  That honey comes from all over the world, and even if it's marked with the countries of origin, that information is sometimes false.  Grocery store honey could be tainted with any number of banned antibiotics used to keep the bees alive and disease and pest free.     

Chinese Honey Dumping

So, local honey seems to be the answer.  Not necessarily.  At our beekeeper's meeting this week, we learned about a popular method for treating hive beetles, using Max Force roach bait or any other roach bait that contains fipronil.  If you don't know, hive beetles are a part of beekeeping.  It's almost impossible to keep them out of the hives, so the best strategy is keeping them in check.  There are several safe methods of keeping them in check, but we were shocked to learn this method at our meeting, Okay, who in their right mind would put this in their bee hive knowing it's going to migrate to the wax and/or honey and then sell that honey to the public?  We also learned that someone local who sells honey at our farmer's market uses this method for his bees.  No names were given, but I do know who it's not.  Until we start producing our own honey, I know my source.   

My point is, like with any food you buy, know your source.  Ask questions.  If you don't like the answers, find another source.  You may not be able to source everything you buy, but making an effort to source what you can is better than doing nothing.

On a brighter note, we should be getting a couple of nucs in a few weeks, thus starting our beekeeping experience again.  Last year was such a failure for us, and several factors contributed.  This year we are starting with nucs, rather than package bees.  We are getting our bees much earlier in the year.  The weather last year kept the bee farms from shipping bees in time for the spring nectar flow and pollen.  Our inexperience also contributed to our failure.  So, we try again, and hopefully will stack the odds in our favor this time. 

I'll leave you with a picture Nate took last year of our bees.  I love this picture!

Happy homesteading,

Monday, February 21, 2011

Spring and Rabbit Love

Spring is springing around here!  The daffodils and forsythia are blooming, and the day lilies are peeking their foliage up through the dirt.  I can see buds popping on everything from the peach tree to the blueberry bushes.  It has been a lovely 70ish degrees during the day and 40-50 degrees at night.  Not was much sun as I would like, but I'll take what I can get.  We always get another cold snap before April, so I'm hoping the buds won't pop and get damaged with a freeze.

The seedlings in the greenhouse are coming along nicely.  Due to my past failure at starting seeds, I over planted this year and am now overloaded with seedlings.  It's due to the greenhouse, I know.  I have over 30 tomato seedlings!  Yikes.  Although I would love to plant them all, I just don't have the room.  A co-worker is going to buy some from me, so if there is anyone else locally who wants to buy some heirloom tomato seedlings in about a month, let me know.  I may have some to sell, including Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Orange Banana, Black from Tula, Black Cherry, and Pink Ponderosa.  Ditto for huckleberries and maybe some other stuff.

We mated Blue Moon and Olivia last week, and let me tell you he didn't waste any time.  He was on her like a crack addict at a crack buffet.  Of course, he got on the wrong end, and then he approached from the side.  Then, Olivia got on him to show him which end was correct.  We finally had to place him on the correct end, and the deed was done.  Being a young buck and with Olivia being so furry all over, I'm sure he was confused and just needed some guidance.  Anyway, we may have some kits in about 30 days and some for sale in about 90.  I'm excited but nervous.  I've never owned an animal who was pregnant, but Olivia has done this before, so I'm relying on her expertise and maternal instinct. 

Monday, February 14, 2011


Yesterday was my local fiber guild's meeting and my second attendance.  I really enjoyed going and was pleased to meet a sweet girl who raises goats, sheep, chickens and pigs.  I spent most of my time at the meeting discussing her farm with her.  I aspire to having a farm one day, so discussing hers was right up my alley!  I also touched base with my spinning teacher, and he showed me how to card wool and sent me home with some practice wool to card and spin.  I'm excited to give it a try.  I also came home with a pillowcase full of raw wool, a freebie.  It is straight off the animal, so it will be a great learning tool to take fiber from its virgin state to hopefully some passable yarn.  Last night Nate called me into the bedroom, and we found our Boo Cat in the pillowcase enjoying the warmth and comfort of the wool.  She's such a sweetie.  Nate thought he was taking a picture, but the camera was on video, so you get to here us sound like idiots too; it's pretty funny!  Enjoy!

Happy homesteading,


Monday, February 7, 2011

Hello Old Friend

My house smells of cinnamon, and on such a rainy, dreary day, I can't think of anything better to do than make granola.  Okay, I could think of a few things better, but we have to eat, and the granola doesn't make itself, at least not my granola.  I love to tell Nate this when he is wolfing down a whole pan of brownies at once or eating 4 bowls of stew.  I try to make enough for two meals or even enough to last more than a day, but that doesn't always happen.  I say, "Chill, I didn't intend for you to eat the whole pan of brownies at once.  They didn't make themselves."  His response is, "The greenhouse didn't put itself together either, did it?"  Ha!  Ha!  If he weren't so witty, I could just smack him sometimes.  Honestly, I never smack him, but maybe I should start.

I digress.  After a long hiatus from granola making, and I'm not really sure why I got off track, it has come back into my life.  I thought I would share my recipe.  It's super simple and versatile.


-4 cups of old-fashioned oats, or any combination of nuts, seeds, or oats you want.  I always use at least 2-3 cups of oats and then whatever I have on hand, sunflower seeds, pecans, walnuts, flax seed.  Just make sure you don't go over 4 cups because this ratio works well with the honey coating.
-1 cup shredded coconut
-2 tsp of cinnamon, or in my case, a good sprinkle over the oat mixture
-dash of salt
Mix all of this together in a large bowl.

1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup honey
Heat this on medium, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Pour over the oat mixture and stir until evenly distributed.

Pour mixture into a single layer in a baking pan.  I use a 12x18 pan, which works perfectly, but if you don't have a pan that large, you cold divide it into two pans.  I also line my pan with parchment paper, which keeps it from sticking.

Bake at 325 for approximately 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until it takes on a light golden brown.  Occasionally stir as it cools and break apart any large chunks.  Once it's cooled, add any dried fruit you like.  Today, I used figs I dried this past summer.

Store it in a pretty glass container and enjoy!

It's just sweet enough and has a nice, almost crunchy coating.  Plus, it doesn't get soggy in milk, my pet peeve for granola.

Happy homesteading,


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Black(berry) History and Recipes

One of my favorite fruits is the blackberry.  We planted a few bushes along our driveway last year, and they managed to do okay and even produce a few berries.  Mostly, our supply comes from the wild though.  We have a few different spots we hit each year, but our favorite and most plentiful one was mowed down by the county last year, a terrible disappointment for sure.  I'm hoping they leave it alone this year, so we can once again forage to our hearts' content.

I was enjoying a dish of blackberry cobbler this afternoon and decided to look up the history of blackberries and share a few recipes with you.   

Did you know the vine-like growths are called brambles, and blackberries are not berries, but aggregate fruits composed of a cluster of drupelets?

From History of Blackberries:

Blackberries were perceived by the ancient cultures as being a wild plant, and historical accounts for a backyard culture of blackberry bushes are few. The Greeks used the blackberry as a remedy for Gout, and the Romans made a tea from the leaves of the blackberry plant to treat various illnesses.

John Bartram, the early American explorer, botanist, and writer founded the first United States Botanical Garden, in 1728. In the early American colonies, William Bartram in his book, Travels, noted that General Oglethorpe was sent to the colony of Georgia in 1733 to investigate the possibility of establishing various temperate and subtropical plants which might "prove valuable for Georgia farms and orchards." William Bartram noted further in his book, Travels, that he his father, John Bartram, were sent to explore the Southern colonies that included East Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Alabama to take an inventory of plants growing there after the Spanish were expelled by the English. Bartram reported that just outside of Mobile, Alabama, it "grows here five or six feet high, rambling like Brier vines over the fences and shrubs."

Blackberry plants, Rubus spp., can not be truthfully separated accurately by taxonomists into species, because the original species that existed centuries ago have intercrossed themselves in the natural state so completely, and the natural selections have reached a critical composition and complexity, that cannot be adequately recreated through backcrosses. Blackberry vines and bushes grow in the native state on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
Thorns are present in native blackberry plants and the thorns prevent grazing wildlife, animals and birds from eating the vines before the berry bushes flower and later when blackberries are produced. When the blackberries grow and ripen, they are not only consumed by wildlife animals and birds, but they have been enjoyed by humans for centuries. Luther Burbank wrote in his book, Fruit Improvement, in 1921 that many hybrids had been developed by his efforts and others to grow thornless blackberry bushes and vines. These thornless creations were at first inferior in taste and quality to the thorny species.  Older thornless blackberry releases are: Apache, Hull, Thornfree, Black Satin, Arapaho, Navaho, Chester, and Boysenberry. All these blackberries have overcome the sticky problems of the original thornless blackberry hybrids.

Blackberries please the taste of humans as well as that of animals and are believed by many wildlife conservationists to be the most important naturalized growing plant that provides food for wildlife.  Wildlife animals and birds eat blackberries as food or receive a thorny protective cover from blackberry bushes or vines that wind along fences.
Blackberries fresh from the vines are useful in many foods; they are delicious in frozen packs, canned, as blackberry wine, ice cream, fresh blackberry juice, blackberry pies, blackberry jelly, blackberry jam, and best of all when eaten as a fresh fruit. Many health benefits come from eating blackberries that are rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins along with being a good source of the minerals potassium, phosphorus, iron, and calcium.

Blackberry Recipes:

Fruit Cobbler

Berry Vinegar

Blackberry Syrup

Freezer Berry Jam:  This recipe calls for raspberries, but you could substitute blackberries easily.

I don't have it on hand, but one of my favorite canning recipes is the triple berry jam provided in the Sure-Jell No Sugar Needed Pectin box.

Do you have a favorite blackberry recipe?

Happy homesteading,