Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sun Baked Cookies

I have contemplated getting a Global Sun Oven for a few years now, but I tend to lean toward the frugal side of things, and I always thought I should just make a solar oven.  I recently decided, if I haven't made one by now, it's probably not going to happen.  My time is divided in many different directions as it is.  So, I ordered one.  And, while the initial investment seems steep, the savings over time from not having to turn on the oven and causing excessive running of the air conditioner will pay off. 

The beauty of a solar oven is you can use it like a slow cooker.  You simply point it in the direction where you expect the sun to hit it face on by midday.  Throughout the day, the reflectors catch the sun and direct the energy to the oven throughout the day.  Because the oven is not pointed directly at the sun the whole day, the oven temperature does not get as high or maintain as long.  Or you can speed up the process by rotating the oven to follow the sun throughout the day.  For the past few hours, I have been monitoring the temperature without moving the oven, and it has maintained approximately 250 degrees.  Most slow cookers range from 170-300 degrees roughly converted from the wattage they use.  Anything below 165 degrees opens up the danger of bacteria and food-borne illnesses.     

Today, after following the cleaning instructions, I decided to take it for a spin.  I pulled some frozen cookie dough balls out and let them sit on the cookie sheet for a few minutes to soften.  I really should have preheated the oven, but I didn't and put the cookies in at around 170 degrees.  The oven temperature steadily rose to about 300 degrees by the time the cookies were done.  It took them 40 minutes to bake, but I know I could have cut that time in half by preheating.  Also, I slightly overbaked them.  I like my cookies chewier and these came out crisper than I like.  I definitely need some practice using the oven.  Overall, they baked up beautifully, and I'm so pleased! 

Cookie anyone? 

I just put some carrots in to cook for supper to which I hope to eventually add some leftover chicken from last night to warm through.  The sun keeps going behind the clouds, so I will keep an eye on the thermometer and see what happens. 

Happy solar cooking,


P.S. Never buy anything from Mom's Green Earth.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chocolate, Cherry, Blackberries

Sassy, frassy, ummm, you so nasty!  Just joking!

We have been getting some beautiful blackberries this year.  As a matter of fact, the blackberries have been our biggest success for far this year.  The trellises Nate put up have worked wonderfully.  I posted about them here:  Blackberries and Raspberries and Bats, Oh My!.  Getting the canes off the ground has made a world of difference.  And, in anticipation of ripening berries, I bought two rubber snakes and weaved them amongst the canes.  I move them every few days, and they seem to be working.  I don't mind sharing, but I know given the chance, the birds won't think twice about us, and they will strip the canes clean.  We have a thornless variety, which makes them very easy to pick, and some of them are as big around as my thumb.  They are delicious!  What we haven't snacked on is being frozen, and I plan to freeze enough to make some jam down the road.  Now, if I can get my strawberries and raspberries producing, I will be a really happy camper!

Happy homesteading,


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Bit of Sweetness

We may, we may, we may have honey on the way! 

We are down to one hive now.  The other one that had all of the queen issues didn't make it.  While we were checking our remaining hive last week, we could not find our queen and we did not see the different stages of egg production we are supposed to look for.  We also found at least a dozen queen cells.  So, we had to make a decision.  We've found, at least in our experience, beekeeping is about making hard decisions.

Our queen may have been in the hive somewhere, and we just missed her.  She pretty easy to spot because she has a huge bright blue spot on her.  I was leaning to not having a queen because of the lack of egg laying.  If she was in the hive, cutting out all of the queen cells was the solution to prevent a swarm.  Or, we could split the hive and start a second one.  If she wasn't in the hive, we needed at least one of the queen cells to get a new queen.  This was our mistake last year.  We killed a viable necessary queen cell without knowing we had lost our queen.  So, we decided to leave two queen cells.  The first queen that hatches will seek out any other queen cells and destroy them.  Problem solved.  If our original queen is still in the hive, and the queen cells hatches, we have a swarm on our hands.  The mother queen will leave with a mass of bees.  She's clipped, so she won't go very high or very far.  We have not seen a swarm, but that doesn't mean it hasn't happened.  I suspect something happened to our queen and once a new one hatches, it will be business as usual.

So, we've been letting this drama play out, but in the meantime, we decided to check the progress of the honey super.  Almost every frame is drawn out with comb, and I peaked in and saw capped honey.  I really did!  I could smell it too!  We placed a second super over the first one so they could start drawing out comb on those frames.

I've placed a call to our beekeeping friend to find out what to do with the super of honey.  If it were closer to winter, I know we would leave it, but with it being only June, we may have the opportunity to at least harvest a frame or two.  Once, I hear from her, I'll let you know.

If we do get honey, it will be the most expensive honey we will ever eat!  Nate said we should put it in the bathtub and roll around in it.  He's weird that way.  Regardless, we may, we may, we may have honey on the way!

Happy homesteading,


Sunday, June 12, 2011


My little blog has received its first award from Leigh at 5 Acres and a Dream, and I am deeply thankful for her recognition.  I recently found her blog, and it has quickly become one of my favorites.  Its everything I think a blog should be, inspirational, fun, versatile, educational, well-written, and great pictures.  She makes it look so easy.  As I am a somewhat fledgling gardener and homesteader, I am also a fledgling blogger, so I have lots of work ahead of me.  Because I work outside the home, sometimes my blog falls to the bottom of the list, but I am so grateful for the readers I have and who share comments and encourage my progress!

For this award, first, I'm supposed to write seven things about myself that I haven't yet shared on the blog.  Second, I'm supposed to pay-it-forward to at least one blog I enjoy and think worthy of recognition.  I am a raindrop in an ocean of excellent blogs, so how does one choose?

Let's start with the seven things about me:

1.  Since I was a child and to this day, I hate to do dishes.  One of my chores growing up was to do the breakfast dishes, and during the summer, my mom would tell me no one can come through the door to play until ALL of my chores were done.  Since my mom worked, my brother and I were really left to our own devices during the summer.  No one watched us, but my aunt lived up the street.  Anyway, my best friend at the time would crawl through the window each day to wash the dishes for me so I could play.  Technically she wasn't coming through the door.  We finally got caught or maybe my brother told on me, but that ended my way away the rules for that scenerio.  I've always been a rule breaker though. 

2.  I'm sure I was a cat in a former life.  I possess every trait you associate with a cat.  I am also a Leo.  As a matter of fact, Nate's nickname for me is Pussy.  I love, love, love my cats, and I'm afraid of dogs.

3.  I'm part Native American (Cherokee), but only a small part.  I would love to be more.  I'm particularly excited about growing Cherokee Purple tomatoes this year!

4.  I met my husband, Nate, in 1994 at the bike shop where he stills works, but we didn't get married until 2004.  He says it was love at first sight.  He is the funniest person I know.

5.  I'm a Southern girl, born and bred with one small flaw.  I make excellent sweet mint tea, but for the life of me, I can't make a decent biscuit.  Making biscuits should be in my genetic code, but somehow it missed me.  Oh, and I love grits with plenty of butter and salt and pepper!   

6.  I got my cat, Lucy, around the same time Nate and I met.  She is 17 years old and is a one-person cat.  Nate gets so jealous.  He will take her from my lap and put her in his, but she gets up immediately and comes back to mine.

7.  My favorite TV shows are The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, The Vampire Diaries, Ghost Hunters, Dancing with the Stars and Glee.  We don't have cable, so I normally watch the modern shows on Hulu.  I have The Waltons on DVD, and I've just started buying LHOTP on DVD.  I only have season one so far. 

Now comes the hard part!  I really enjoy so many blogs for various reasons, but here are some I think stand out.  To me, these blogs have something unique about them that resonates with me:

To my roll call participants:  For some reason, blogger won't let me respond to my own posts, so thanks for participating. 

@ Jessica:  I am so envious of all of your chickens and roosters.  My neighborhood would probably kick me out if I had that many.  Maybe one day I'll have a farm of my own to expand my flock.
@Sharon:  Unidentified berries; I love it!  What kind of rabbit do you have?
@Illoura:  Everything counts!

Happy homesteading,



Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Roll Call

So, I'm stealing Jenna's idea at Cold Antler Farm for a roll call.  I hope she doesn't mind, but it's such a great idea, and it's a fun way to see and appreciate where you are on your journey.  Feel free to sound off.

1 girl
1 boy
3 cats
5 hens
1 bee hive
2 angora rabbits
Fruits:  blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, 2 fig trees, 1 meyer lemon, 1 orange tree, 4 blueberry bushes, 1 peach tree, 2 apple trees, 1 loquat tree, 1 banana tree
Garden:  spread all over my front and back yards:  eggplants, yellow squash, zucchini, garden huckleberries, ground cherries, peppers, swiss chard, cucumbers, pole beans, lima beans, mexican sour gherkins, winter squash, various annual and perennial herbs, beets, melons , carrots, , tomatoes
Happy homesteading,


Monday, June 6, 2011

My Quest

Even though I ranted about my chickens in my last post and sometimes want to strangle them, they really are a blessing, and I can't imagine not having them.  They have provided countless eggs for us and hours of entertainment. 

For example, a few weeks ago, a representative from the power company had to enter the backyard, and he asked if we had a dog.  I said, no, but we have chickens, so please make sure the gate is closed.  He asked if they would bite.  What!  I was joking and said, only if I tell them to.  He took my comment seriously, and as he came down the walkway, he was met face on by Thelma.  He stopped and looked at me and asked if I was sure they wouldn't bite.  I told him to keep walking and she would get out of the way.  He didn't quite believe me and took a few tentative steps and stopped again.  She stood her ground.  I just giggled and told him to keep walking.  I could tell he was scared out of his mind.  He finally took a few more steps and Thelma got out of his way.  He promptly did his business and hightailed it out of the backyard.  Yes, we have terrifying guard chickens.   
Since getting our first chicks over two years ago, I have been on a quest to find organic chicken feed close to home.  I started by calling all of my local feed and seed stores.  Here's a typical conversation:

"Hi, I'm calling to find out if you sell organic chicken feed."
"Are you talking about scratch?"
"No, I'm looking for organic chicken feed, either layer pellets or mash."
"Yeah, we got layer pellets and mash."
"Is is organic?"
"The bag says all natural, so I reckin it's organic."
"Nope, the bag would say organic on it."
"It don't say organic on it."
"Would you be able to order organic feed?"
"I don't think so."
"Well, thank you for your time."

I have begged the manager at TSC to talk to the higher ups about getting organic feed.  At one point he told me he would be able to order it for me, but then after several months of me harrassing him, he told me he couldn't.  I contacted TSC's corporate office to see if they had access to organic feed and was told no.  I know TSC was a long shot, but I have one locally and wanted to exhaust my efforts.  I have researched the feed companies and received quotes for shipping it to my house.  The shipping rates were more than the cost of the feed.  I have contacted buying co-ops to set up a drop point with the idea of setting up a co-op with friends.  No company I contacted delivers to GA.  I got word of a farm about 30 miles from my house that mixes its own chicken feed, but when I called about it, not only was the lady rude, but she laughed when I asked her if it was organic, and she asked me what organic was.  When I told her, she gave me a resounding no that their feed was not organic.  I did find a farm close to Atlanta that sells organic feed, but it's 120 miles from my house.  That's alot of mileage for chicken feed.  I could also travel to Atlanta to get feed, but it's even further than the farm.  I considered mixing my own feed, but the shipping costs for all the different grains were outrageous.

All of this failure did not daunt me as I'm a type A personality, and when I sink my teeth in something, I'm like a pitt bull; I don't let go.  I'm also a sore loser, and I hate to feel like I'm losing and I hate to be told no.  So, I try, try, try again.     

Last week, I did a search for feed and seed stores near Columbia, SC, which is about 60 miles from my house, and while still a distance, it's not as far as the farm outside of Atlanta.  The first couple of phone calls were the typical conversations from above.  Then, I hit the jackpot.  I found a store outside of Columbia that sells organic chicken feed.  And, my friend, N., lives in this town and commutes to Augusta for work.  I asked her if she could go by and pick up a bag of feed for me and bring it with her to work this week.  I met up with her yesterday and FINALLY got my feed.

If you live close to an organic feed supplier, thank them!

Oh, @ warm dirt and Leigh:  Thanks for the kind words on my last post.  Homesteading/farming definitely has a romantic quality to it and some people make it look so easy, but it's not.  Sitting outside in 100 degree weather picking borer eggs off squash plants because nothing else has worked is not romantic.  It's stinky and hot and not even guaranteed to work, but I do it because I want to eat my own homegrown squash, and like I said above, I'm type A.  ;-) 
Warm Dirt:  I abhor mosquitos, and I can't believe you are still getting freezing nights in June.  My heart goes out to you.  It's in the mid to upper 90s here in GA and humid as all get out.  Sometimes, in the summer, it's so humid, it's hard to breathe.  I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog.   
Leigh:  I've been enjoying your blog too! 

Happy homesteading,


Thursday, June 2, 2011

I'm a Negative Nellie

I am seriously trying not to be a negative Nellie, so I have literally sat down four times to write this post and have ditched every version so far.  But, I decided I just have to vent.  The garden pests are driving me to my limits, and the chickens aren't helping.  Not only have I been dealing with flea beetles and aphids and vine borers, but I've added grasshoppers to the list.

Something has been wreaking havoc on my pepper plants in the backyard.  I've come out in the mornings and found pepper plants lying on the ground, the stalk chewed through at the base.  And the ones that aren't chewed through have had the growing tips, leaves and developing peppers eaten.  Whatever it is has been eating my eggplant leaves as well.  Like I don't have enough trouble with flea beetles.  I suspected grasshoppers but haven't seen any.  I have been spraying them with neem oil, but that hasn't helped.  I have some pepper plants up front, which aren't getting the same damage, but they aren't the bells that I depend on daily for cooking.  All of those are in the backyard.  At the rate I was going in the backyard, I wasn't getting any bells anyway, so I decided to take my chances and  move the backyard peppers to the front yard in 100 degree heat.  They have been suffering some serious transplant shock the past several days, and I wouldn't be surprised to see every blossom fall off, which sets me back even more.  So far, so good though.  They haven't died, and I've been watering them like a maniac. 

So, I was hanging laundry this morning and looked down at one of my daylillies and found about 40 baby grasshoppers on one of the flower stalks.  Further investigation led me to my eggplants, where I found more.  I killed what I could but most of them hopped away.  Now I get to patrol the garden for grasshoppers.  Yipee!  I'm so excited!

Did I say something about the chickens?  Yes, I did.  Today, they went through the backyard and managed to destroy every green tomato they could reach, including breaking a good sized branch off one plant that had several tomatoes on it.  I swear I could have strangled each and every chicken, but I didn't.  Deep down, I know they are just being chickens, and I can't fault them for that.  Plus, it's my fault for letting them have free reign of the yard unsupervised.  I did lock them back in the run though. 

If you've read this far and haven't moved on to another blog, thanks for reading my vent.  I promise a more postive post next time.  I feel slightly better now.