Sunday, July 14, 2013

Poultry Post

Last year we took the leap from raising chickens to raising turkeys.  From shipping problems in the beginning to a pair of foxes decimating half of our tiny flock one night last summer, it's been a bumpy ride.  Even still it has been a great learning experience.  We've maybe crossed the line from homestead to farmstead.

Our hefty Bourbon Reds

This spring we brought in new laying hens to replace the chickens we've lost and traded away over the past four years. My uncles were in the market for new hens as well and were kind enough order eight more chicks for us.

We needed more room than our Eglu could provide so we had to make some choices around housing the new flock.  Inspired by the new line of Williams-Sonoma coops, I bought a $35 hand held jigsaw and started drawing up plans (I know, I know... but they look really cool).

Sidewalk chalk was the secret to planning the Gothic arch  

The Barred Rock pullets have been in their new home for a week and are taking to the overhead roosting like pros.

We built it over the 4th of July weekend,
hence the colonial color scheme

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Watermelon Sorbet

On a whim we picked up a watermelon plant while buying herbs from an Amish farm this spring.  It has taken up a large part of the garden and honestly makes a wonderful ground cover.

The first melon weighed in at an even 40 lbs! There's another beast of similar size still on the vine.

Gardener being serious about watermelon
So what do you do when there is not enough space in the fridge for a fruit that weighs more than our toddler? You make amazingly delicious watermelon sorbet and eat it, that's what you do.

We don't usually have watermelon around and I can't easily remember the last time we ate any.  I think that might change when it comes time for planning next year's garden.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Productive Project

The other weekend I finally got around to starting a new project.  I've been spending my spare time reading up on woodworking and I really wanted to try out making a few things around the house.  First on the list was a cooking spoon.  The catch is that I'm trying to do this only with hand tools.

I've picked up a modest assortment of starter tools but there was one missing piece. It's very hard to shape a block of wood without a good way to hold the blank steady.  The answer is a device called a shave horse.

I went into the garage where a stack of odd 2x4s and 2x6s have accumulated, and with the addition of a metal rod and a hinge, I created my first homemade tool.

I've been working with apple wood that fell from our oft mentioned apple tree. You can see that the finished product is rather rough and ugly but has been used and works perfectly.

The next one will be a bit prettier if I get around to picking up a much needed gooseneck scraper.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Late Summer Homestead Tour

As August 1st is considered a special time to celebrate the summer harvests in some traditions, we thought it would be fun to participate in Northwest Edible Life's nosy neighbor homestead tour today.

Our gardens and landscape are definitely going into the jungle-like state that they start to take on here in southeastern Pennsylvania in late summer. In fact, the past couple weeks have been pretty consistently in the high 90s to 100s with extreme humidity and almost no rain. Which means that very little weeding has been done, and I've been putting off planting fall-crop seeds. But that certainly doesn't mean that nothing is going on in the garden. Let's take a peek around!

Lettuce plants which are flowering and going to seed.

Swiss chard from this spring, which have come back and are ready to harvest again after being feasted on by deer.

Watermelon vines are taking over the entire bed and threatening to strangle everything in their path.

The one and only watermelon growing on all that vine.

Baby eggplant. Remind me to post my awesome Moroccan Eggplant Salad recipe sometime!

Pumpkins showing evidence of another night of munching deer. We planted five varieties of pumpkins this year, so I'm really hoping we manage to get at least a few for jack-o-lanterns and pies. We're already thinking about Halloween!

Tomatoes just starting to ripen. The kitchen will be overrun soon!


Jalapenos. Looks like we have some salsa in our near future.

In one of our perennial patches we have a few blackberries ripening on the canes we planted last summer.

And the mint is getting well established. These flowers are attracting all kinds of buzzing creatures. Can you spot the dragonfly?

Out back the corn patch is looking good.

The ladies are hoping we'll be sharing some of that corn with them.

My new herb patch has been handy in the kitchen. I'm not used to having access to so many fresh herbs, so this has been a real treat!

Hops just about ready to harvest. Next spring they're going to need to be divided, so our homebrewing buddies should be planning their hops patches now!

This spring's new additions: Niagara and Concord grape vines, and a bluebird house (which has already had its first nest of baby bluebirds hatch and take wing!)

Apple trees planted last fall, looking pretty happy, and outgrowing their protective cages.

Apples on our huge old apple tree starting to ripen. These guys are destined for cider.

The two peach trees up front were planted this spring, and have leafed out nicely. I enjoy imagining what our little orchard will look like in a few years' time.

Our recently improved rain barrel system.

Here's a view of the "pasture." We let the back half-acre go wild to let the grasses go to seed and fill in, in anticipation of future ruminants. We now need to invest in a scythe...

And here is a peaceful view of our acre of woods, where we get most of our firewood, a little maple syrup and a few nuts.

Now it's time to go back inside to finish making pickles with the last of the cucumber harvest and daydream about the cooler autumn days ahead! Thanks for joining us on our tour!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Our Pantry

Now that spring is here and fresh veggies are starting to show up, it's nice to be able to get away from the winter pantry a bit. We did, however, take some time recently to make a few upgrades. We used to keep everything on two small bookshelves, but now we've moved it all together onto some sturdy permanent shelving with a sheet to block our jarred goods from the little sunlight in our basement.

There are probably enough beans here to last us about 7 months if we ate them everyday. Beans are great because they're really nutritious, versatile, good for storage, and very cheap even when you buy organic. We've started buying bulk dried goods like these from Amazon because of their new "subscribe and save" feature that makes them even cheaper than buying from the local grocery store, plus they have organic products we just can't find around here.

We also keep sunflower and sesame seeds, olive oil, sardines, canned milk and tomatoes, salt, sugar, coffee, peanuts and peanut butter, vinegar, pickles, jams, water, juice, and some convenience items in our pantry. Along with the frozen meats, seafood, and produce in the freezer, the eggs from our hens, the fresh veggies from our garden, and our well-stocked spice cabinet, I really only have to buy dairy on a weekly basis and I never have to worry about being able to pull together a meal!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bread and Yogurt

I recently used a King Arthur Flour gift certificate to purchase a few splurges, including the yogurt maker and 6 quart dough bucket pictured below. Bread and yogurt are two staples around here, so I figured it would be worthwhile to make both a little easier.

Sprout was a bit late to the solid foods game, but yogurt was one of the first things he decided he liked and it's still one of his favorites. Making yogurt is pretty simple - all you really need to do is use some store-bought yogurt as a starter which you mix with heated milk and then this little machine holds it at a temperature of about 110 degrees for around 8 hours. Once you make the first batch, you just have to make sure that you save some as a starter for the next one. Those little YoBaby 4-packs were putting a pretty good dent in the grocery budget, so now I can make Sprout his favorite apple-cinnamon flavored breakfast with homemade apple butter for about 1/4 of the cost.

We've also recently realized that it's been more than a year since we last bought a loaf of bread from the store. Using the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day system works really well for me. What you see on the right in the picture above is a big batch of bread dough which I just mix together real quick, leave on the counter for two hours to rise and then I put it in the fridge until I'm ready to make a loaf. On baking day I pull out a 2 pound hunk which I shape into a loaf and then put it in a pan to rise again for about 2 hours before baking at 450 degrees for 45 minutes.

Here's a whole grain rye loaf, fresh from the oven. Peasant food can feel pretty luxurious sometimes!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day

I know it's a little bit late, but Happy Mother's Day to all of you wonderful mothers out there!  The Gardeness, Sprout and I celebrated by going into the city yesterday.  We walked the 5k Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Philadelphia.

Go Team Leigh!
We were proud to be there with my big sister, who walked this year as a survivor of breast cancer.  Joined by my mother, cousins and friends, it was a great way to spend time with the mothers in my life.  I was truly amazed to see all of the support given by the city, businesses and community members.

We walked with more than 40,000 people
Just to throw in a homesteading related note, we recently picked up a few bags of Purina's Pink 50 chicken feed.  It's all for such an important cause!