Monday, April 1, 2013

Changes & Time (Or the Lack Thereof)

I really thought we were all set with our decision to raise meat birds this year. We thought long and hard about it and debated pros and cons and discussed with the kids and all that stuff. We ordered 25 Rainbow Rangers from Meyer Hatchery. Right after I ordered, I had farmer's remorse. What the heck am I thinking?? We don't have time to take care of any more animals!! How much money is this all going to cost?? How much emotional turmoil  is there going to be when it's time to do the deed??

You know, that sort of thing.

 But I really and truly had reconciled myself to all of that and was pretty excited about it. Excited, but still a little stressed. Because even though meat chickens are a more temporary project than some others we've got going on here, it still involves a good 10 week commitment to the feeding, housing, and care of 25 more creatures. Still, I had placed the order, and I fully intended to go through with it.

Then our credit card got canceled due to a fraud incident and we had to get a new one issued. As I was making up the list of places to call that would need the  new number, I remembered the meat chickens. They were to be charged to our old card once they shipped. And when I realized I would have to go in to my account to update my order I thought: I could cancel it too.

And the thought made me feel very relieved. I have been feeling more than a little stressed lately about everything that needs to be done around here, just with our current chickens, goats, ducks, and garden, plus the house, not to mention the kids and the homeschooling...

So I did cancel our chick order, but I am sad about it.  I love doing all this stuff and I very much wish there was more time in a day so I could do everything. But there really just isn't! And I need to come to terms with the fact that I am not going to be superwoman, and I am not going to be Soule Mama- wow how she does everything she does I will never know! The truth is, there is only so much I can squeeze into a day without feeling overwhelmed and without more important things-like the kids & husband- suffering from neglect.

I hope to revisit this decision one day, maybe when the kids are older and don't want to spend an hour reading picture books on the porch, or having their nails painted like big girls, or playing Memory on the floor. For now, I very much want and need to focus on the kids and the fun learning we are doing together.  The animals and the garden can be part of that, but I need to keep things balanced. Sad as it may be, that  means accepting that some of the other goals I have- the meat chickens, the orchard, the turkeys, the sheep....will need to wait their turn, whenever that may be.

We will still be getting our six new layers in the spring. We will also be planting raspberries, rhubarb, horseradish, and potatoes in addition to our regular garden. We will hopefully get the goat house painted. We still have lots of fun things planned around the little backyard farm, we are just getting a bit more realistic.

Truly, my hat is off to those that can make this all work. So many of the awesome blogger mom homesteaders out there that do ever so many things...I am just in awe, really. I mean, I know no one can do it all. But some people sure seem to! I am finding though, that it is so easy to get in over your head with this stuff. Everywhere I look I see so many things I want to try!

But I can only do what I can do.  No more. It's tough to find that balance between going for your goals and being realistic about your time, but I think it is possible. I sure hope it is anyway!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Weekly Garden Journal Week 3

We finally have some exciting stuff going on in the garden! I have been gradually hardening off our kale and lettuce seedlings and they will get planted outside after Easter. The weather has been warming up a bit, which is SO nice!! The seedlings are looking pretty good.

I think they need out of those cups though;). I was originally going to put them in our cold frame, but today I really wanted to plant some seeds so I planted chard, lettuce, and carrot seeds in the cold frame.  There is a little space left for some of these guys, but most of them will go right out into the garden, in a raised bed with milk bottle cloches if needed. Hopefully I will not kill them!

But even more exciting, we have stuff coming up in the garden!

Rhubarb in the mud! This rhubarb is old, old, old. It was planted by the people who lived here before us. I have new rhubarb plants on order. When they come in, these guys and the new ones will move into a dedicated rhubarb bed. Because I really love rhubarb.

Also, we have garlic coming up! I have been pulling back the straw every few days to check.  Today there were a few little shoots!

At least, I am hoping this is the garlic. There are a few of these little shoots poking up. This is my first year growing garlic, so I really have no clue what it should look like!

That's the garden update for this week. I hope next week I will be able to say I have planted peas, but that will depend on how quickly the soil can dry out!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Canning, Again

It feels like it's been ages and ages since I've canned anything. I know pretty soon it will be summer and I will be up to my eyes in tomatoes and berries and all sorts of other lovely things, but I just couldn't wait until then. Sometimes you just need a little pick me up, you know? And maybe I am weird, but canning is a definite mood brightener around here.

So, I made marmalade.

This is a grapefruit, orange, lemon marmalade from the Ball Book of Home Preserving. It is the one called "Easiest Marmalade Ever", and I believe that is most likely true! You don't have to peel the fruit and it is not a three day process. All you do is dice up the fruit in the food processor-peel and all- and simmer it with sugar until it's ready. Oh, and you stir in some maraschino cherries at the end which darkens up the color nicely. If you have this book, it's worth a try, if you like marmalade. And the jars look super pretty when setting up, and even nicer on the pantry shelves. 

 I might be able to wait until rhubarb season now for my next canning project.  I need to stock up on some canning supplies so I'm on the hunt for an online place with good prices. If you have any suggestions, please comment!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Homemade Granola

We had a sick kid on the mend this past week, which meant more at-home & inside time than usual. I am looking forward to getting back into our normal routine this week~ and really hoping the rest of us will stay healthy~! With a little extra home-time I was able to fit in a couple of fun things I'd been meaning to try. Like this...

I made granola!  I have always wanted to try this and now I don't know what took me so long! It is easy and fun to make and most of the kids actually like it, though there have been some complaints about 'too many nuts', so I may have to tweak the recipe here and there.

Here's how I did it.

Homemade Granola Ingredients:

4 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup chopped dried fruit (I used currants and apricots)

Homemade Granola Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all but dried fruit in a large bowl and toss to combine. Spread mixture in a large baking pan or rimmed cookie sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from oven, mix in dried fruit. Let cool and store.

Making granola is going to become a regular thing around here, I think! And I think this recipe is up next.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Guineas: A pretty much failed experiment

We are still pretty much newbies to this whole backyard farming/homesteading thing, so we don't have too many regrets so far. This is one of our more major ones.


We live in New England. We have ticks. Guineas are supposed to eat ticks. Also, they are supposed to serve as extra guardians around the farm, giving an alarm call when something that shouldn't be around-like a coyote-appears. Also they are kind of neat looking. In a weird, kinda ugly way, I mean.

These are the things I told my husband and myself when we decided to get four guinea keats two years ago. The regret started pretty much right away. I had read Gardening with Guineas and was all psyched up about these little guys. Right away though, it seemed the opinions of the author of the book just did not mesh with our reality.


She says guineas do not smell as much as chickens, that their droppings are drier and less messy.

Our Reality: Oh wow. We brooded chicks with our guinea keats and the chicks were way less smelly and had much less frequent droppings than the keats. After awhile, the kids didn't even want to play with the keats  without large amounts of paper towels handy, because they were constantly pooping everywhere. Ick. But they were cute, so we still had hope.

She also says that the guineas can bond with  humans and that they will be friendly birds who may even want to sit on your shoulder!

Our Reality: The keats were much more nervous than the chicks. Also, as adults, the guineas were not nearly so friendly as our chickens. They turned out to be very anxious, nervous creatures who would sooner fling themselves into the side of the run repeatedly rather than walk past you to get in the gate. Also, as they got older they picked on the chickens relentlessly, eventually needing to be separated from them. Then the male guinea became very nasty and started charging us when we got too close for his comfort. After he pecked one of the kids and drew blood, he met his end! Coyotes picked off one of the females and we had to put another female down when she developed horrible sores on her legs and couldn't walk anymore. Fun right?

Now we are down to one guinea. And that's totally okay. Her name is "Frog" and she is living with the chickens again and gets along with them fine, but she still has that fatal guinea flaw that I haven't mentioned yet.

Guineas are so loud!! I mean it is "buckwheat this" and "buckwheat that" from sun-up to sun-down. She is louder than the rooster, I swear! She also has a rather annoying habit of getting up on the front porch and tapping at the glass with her beak, all the while loudly squawking. I have to go out probably once a week and chase her away so I can hear myself think! She also has an "alarm call" which is even more obnoxious and only rarely seems to have anything to do with real danger.

So yeah, the guineas were a failed experiment, but in all fairness lots of people love them so perhaps we were just victims of poor breeding?

Either way, you will not find any guinea keats in our brooder this spring!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Living Easter Baskets

I cannot believe it is almost Easter! And right now we have snow falling, adding to my disbelief. Over the weekend, the kids started their living Easter baskets, which we traditionally plant up two weeks before Easter.

We found these metal tubs at Target last year and, while not traditional baskets, they are the easiest to clean up after Easter. We just fill each pail with damp potting soil and sprinkle quick-growing grass seed on top.  I have found it is best to be pretty liberal with the grass seed in order to get a nice, lush basket.The Easter Bunny fits his gifts in around the growing grass. After Easter we transplant the grass outside, on top of a few of the bare patches that form every winter. Although last year, I must admit, the chickens dug it up and ate it.

Linking up with Down Home Blog Hop & Farm Girl Friday

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Maple Sugar Candy

The sap hasn't been running much the past week or so. Too cold, I guess! But I had enough last week to attempt a batch of maple sugar. After some research, I decided that I what I needed to do was to bring the sap up to 30 degrees F above the boiling point of water. I tested my thermometer in a tea kettle of boiling water to determine exactly what temperature our water boils at. Here, it is 209 degrees F. So I brought the sap up to about 240 degrees F. Then I let it cool until just below the boiling point of water. It is important not to stir it during this time, so say my sources.

After it cooled down, I stirred it briskly with a wooden spoon until my arm was about to fall off. By this time, it was thicker and lighter in color, but not really sugary. I think I should have brought the temperature up a bit higher. But I did end up with a few cute little maple candies by pouring some of the maple cream/sugary substance into mini cupcake liners. It was really good!

I tried to put the rest into the mixer because I had read that would help to release the moisture, but I ended up with this:

Doesn't exactly look like maple sugar does it? So I spread it into two glass dishes and let it set. Next day, it was mostly pretty hard but still had some moisture in it, so I spread it all out on a pan to dry. Then I threw it all in the food processer and pulsed it until it turned into nice dry sugar.

I am hoping it will keep for awhile, but I'm not totally sure, never having done this before. I have the little side-door of our downstairs freezer full of syrup but I am still hoping for one more good run!  Maybe the snow today will bring it on?

Linking up with The Homestead Barn Hop