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

Monday, March 18, 2013

Weekly Garden Journal Week 2

I really wish these flowers were from MY garden, but sadly they are not. They are in a wonderful little flower show that takes place every year and which we faithfully attend. We really need to see the flowers this time of year in New England because the weather and the outside scenery can be downright depressing! We are still dealing with cold, raw wind and temps are going down to 11 degrees F tonight....ugh. I am pretty well sick of it.

Over the weekend I had hoped against hope that I would be able to plant peas or put a few things out in the cold frame...nope. Too cold! And the soil is nowhere near workable yet. Instead, we thinned and transplanted some of our little seedlings.

Just one in each cup now! I am curious (and sort of nervous) to see how they will fare. We used a hint from Mother Earth News and used a plastic fork with the outer tines broken off to gently dig them up and transplant them to their own little paper cup full of damp potting soil. Digging them up was a bit tricky because they have some pretty strong roots and really didn't feel like being transplanted, but we managed! Then we carefully watered them and set them back under the lights.

The other garden news of note is our new cold frame, which is finished and ready to go! We built it out of Trex with a hinged lid made from a wooden frame surrounding a piece of Lexan (kind of a like a sheet of Plexiglass-we found ours at Home Depot). I do not think this is the cheapest way to build a cold-frame but we wanted to build it to last. Glass was our first thought, but due to the amount of snowfall we get, it didn't seem like a good option.

I think this week I will need to pick up some good soil to put inside (or I may try the suggestion in this article about mixing dog food with compost) and then I will try to plant lettuce seeds and perhaps a couple of the larger seedlings out there.

Of course, we are due to get another winter storm this Tuesday! One day before the first day of in New England, I guess!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Homeschooling: Our Curriculum

I will admit, before I post what we have been using this year, that I am a bit of an experimenter with our homeschool curriculum. We started out with classical education, moved to Charlotte Mason, used Sonlight for a number of years (and still do!),  had a brief stint with unschooling, and lately have been trying out Oak Meadow. Wow.

Homeschooling can be really overwhelming. Especially homeschooling AND backyard farming. I wish I was an expert and could post a great series of articles on how to make it all work, but I am still trying to find our way. Still, I am planning a series of posts that will share how we are currently homeschooling and attempting to make it all work.

Our Sixth Grade daughter is using:

Oak Meadow 6: This covers history/social studies, science, language arts, literature, and art
Math  Mammoth Grade 6
Life of Fred series
Latin for Children

Our Fourth Grade son is using:

Oak Meadow 4: This covers history/social studies, science, language arts, literature, and art

Our Second Grade son is using:

Sonlight Core C: This covers history/social studies, literature, and science

Our Four-Year-Old Daughter is: 

Excelling at distracting everyone, but she is super cute so we forgive her;) and listening to mom read-aloud most days. She also likes to play around on Starfall. Sometimes she will do a few pages of Developing the Early Learner. Otherwise, she just plays:).
All of us
Picture Study 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Favorite Homesteading Books

I really, really love to read. Especially about all things homesteading/farming.  This is a page of some of my favorites so far. I will definitely be adding to the list as I squeeze in more reading time!

The Encyclopedia of Country Living

So much information in this one! I have had it for years and still haven't looked at everything. A must have!

Storey's Basic Country Skills

A nice, basic introduction to lots of things. I find it most helpful as a starting point, before reading whole books on different topics.

The Backyard Homestead

Another very basic book, but great for a beginner starting out. The included plot plans are fun to look at and it's inspiring to see how much you can really do in a relatively small space! 

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener

Lots of great information about keeping a garden growing all year, especially great if you live in or near Zone 5, like me! 

Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener's Handbook

I love this one! This is a book that you write in, which is always fun. The handbook literally goes week-by-week. You start by filling in your last frost date, then you fill in the dates that come before and after. The result is a custom garden plan that tells you when to do what.  

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

My "canning bible". Mine is totally covered in strawberry jam stains, always a sign of a good cookbook:) 

Keep Chickens!

A very basic intro to chickens, but very inspiring and just plain fun if you are a newbie. This was one of the very first homesteading books I read. Great for kids too, because there are so many fun chicken facts and stories throughout.

Keeping Chickens with Ashley English

Another very fun chicken book, that goes into detail about how to care for your chickens. I found her daily/weekly checklists very helpful and the egg recipes are a nice bonus.  Gorgeous photographs too! I love all the Ashley English books.

Made From Scratch

This is a nice, light, quick read about a woman trying to become more self-sufficient. I really enjoyed this one!

Goats: Small-Scale Herding

There aren't nearly as many books about goats out there as there are about chickens! This and Raising Goats for Dummies are our go-to goat books.

Ducks: Tending a Small-Scale Flock

Same series as the goats book above. We enjoy these books. There are lots of photographs so the kids like to read them. And the little tips and stories from duck/goat owners throughout the book are a nice bonus. It's always helpful to read about how other people do things!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Egg Time Again!

I have really, really missed egg time this winter.  The first two winters that we had chickens, they laid pretty well right through the winter. That's the nice thing about those spring chicks- they don't start laying until the end of summer and they often don't take a winter break.  But when they get older, they think they deserve a winter off!

We could provide them with lighting of course, to trick them into laying during the darker days, but that would mean running electricity out to the coops....and we just haven't been inspired to do that. Or maybe we are just lazy! Also, maybe those chickens are right after all.  Maybe they do need a break, just like we do!

But now the eggs are rolling in again, I am happy to say. We are averaging 5-6 per day, from sixteen hens. Actually, when I type those numbers, it feels very unimpressive! I mean, what the heck were the other ten hens doing all day that they couldn't lay an egg??? Must make a note to have a little "chat" with them!

I think that number will go up though, if last year was any indication.  Last April, we were absolutely swamped with eggs. We were giving them away by the dozen to anyone who came by, and I really do mean anyone. Some people left with as many as 3 dozen (!) and we still had plenty left over for lots of egg breakfasts, angel food cakes and other egg-heavy recipes, and at least a dozen boiled eggs a week. A dozen hard-boiled eggs is so nice to have in the refrigerator! I boiled my first dozen of the season today.

These are great to have for quick breakfasts, snacks, sandwiches, chopping up in salads.... I love a salad this time of year with leafy greens, chopped hard-boiled egg, olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper. So good!

This year, I will probably still be handing a dozen eggs to anyone who comes by, but I also plan to freeze many more than we did last year. We had to buy eggs for most of the winter, which is a real drag when you have two coops full of idle chickens! Also, though, we have those spring chicks coming and I have my fingers crossed that they will lay all winter.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Weekly Garden Journal

I like the idea of keeping a weekly garden journal since so much changes in just a week! So even though there isn't very much to report yet, I'm going to start now...

 We got another four inches of snow the other day. Sigh. But the seeds we planted indoors are doing great! It's amazing how much they have grown just since last week!

We had awesome germination this year, compared to other years. I think it was because I used a heating pad underneath the seed tray for a few hours each day. Not one of those expensive heating mats made for seeds, mind you, just a normal everyday heating pad set on low. So far, I have only started lettuce and kale seeds and I am not yet sure if I will start anything else from seed. Starting tomatoes for this year is out unfortunately;  it just isn't going to work with our time away this spring. When we get back I may start pumpkin and squash seeds indoors, just to get them germinated and give them a little headstart.

The seedlings are easy to take care of and it is a lot of fun to have little green things growing inside when it is still too cold to do any gardening outside.

My Daily Seedling Care Routine

  •  Water the seedlings. I like to use a spray bottle because it is easy to control. I  used to use a watering can, but they tended to get swamped.

  • Rotate the seedlings. As I water, I rotate the cups around the tray so they are in a different place each day. The cups are fairly well centered under the lights, but I like to give them all a chance to be *right* in the middle.

  • Fertilize the seedlings. Once a week, instead of using the spray bottle, I feed them some  fish emulsion from a small watering can. This stuff is kind of pricey, even at the local farm store, but I find a little goes a long way. 

And that's it! The seedlings are under their light 14 hours a day. The lights are set on a simple timer so I don't have to worry about it.  Because believe me, if the seeds depended on me to remember to turn their lights off and on, they would either be totally fried or trying to walk across the room to the window.  I usually take care of my seeds first thing in the morning, right before breakfast. It's a nice start to the day:)

I was hoping it would warm up enough to melt the snow and dry the soil so I could plant my peas on St. Patrick's Day, but that isn't looking likely!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Bread: The Easy Way

You need to bake bread to be a proper backyard farmer/homesteader, right? I mean, it just seems like something a homesteading type should do, along with keeping chickens and having a vegetable garden. So these past few months I have doing my darnedest to make a homemade loaf of bread a regular occurrence around here.

The first few times I tried to bake bread entirely from scratch. By this I mean with no equipment, other than a bowl, wooden spoon, loaf pan, and oven. The results varied from completely terrible to pretty darn good. Apparently I am in inconsistent bread-maker. Also, I know that kneading is supposed to be all relaxing and Zen-like, but....I get bored and I'm not very good at it. Also, I never seem to remember that I want to make bread until four in the afternoon, when there isn't enough time to go through the whole process in time for dinner. Then there was that time when I thought I was so smart tucking my bowl of dough behind the woodstove to rise quicker. The dog ate the dough. Then he threw it up everywhere.

It seems bread-baking is not my thing.

But happily, I have found my groove with regular bread-baking though, to be honest, it involves a super easy method that feels like cheating.  

Artisan bread.

If you want to try this method, this is a good book to get.

This method is really, super easy. You mix together your boule ingredients-normally just salt, yeast, warm water, and flour, then let the mixture rise for two hours before refrigerating it for up to two weeks. I use a 6 quart lidded container for mixing and storing the dough. When you want to bake bread you pull off some of the dough, keeping the rest for another time. The dough gets shaped quickly, left to rise for a short time, then baked in the oven on a hot pizza stone. No kneading, no multiple rises, no punching down.

It is so easy! The result is a perfectly chewy, soft bread with a nice crisp crust. Did I mention how easy it is?

I have found that the artisan bread flavor is best when the bread has a chance to cool completely.  I tend to make a loaf for dinner in the morning and let it cool it's heels all day. At dinner time, I nuke a few slices to warm it up. Incidentally, the loaf in the picture looks a bit small, but it is plenty for the six of us and we usually have leftovers. Sometimes I make two little loaves.

I would still like to perfect the art of "regular" bread-baking. But for now, I am loving the artisan bread alternated with my good old-fashioned bread machine! It is still baking bread after all, even if it feels a little like "cheating".

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Meat Chicken Decision

Well, after much debate...really too much debate.....we have decided to go ahead and try raising chickens for meat this spring. Even typing that gives me the shivers.

I am terrified. I wish I could say the husband is fully confident, but he is not. He is also terrified.

I'm not sure why it's so scary. We eat chicken. Lots of chicken. I love having animals around and am always plotting ways and reasons to get more.  Still, it was a hard decision to make.

It boiled down to this:

We eat chicken.

We would rather eat chicken that has been raised humanely and well.

It feels like an important thing to try, this raising of food that is not a vegetable.

That's really all we needed to know to click the button.

So, with much trepidation, I placed the order.

25 Rainbow Rangers from Meyer Hatchery. Plus, it looks like they are throwing a freebie in. So 26:).

They are due to arrive in early May so there is lots to do before then. We need to set up housing, figure out feeding, and sort out the brooding supplies. They will be arriving the same week as our layer chicks, on purpose. This way the kids will get to play and bond with chicks that will never be eaten. I think the layer chicks will brood inside and the meaties will brood in the garage.

Oh, and incidentally, I had mentioned that one of my kiddos was not on board with this. I finally got him to say why he didn't want meat chickens.

He doesn't like chicken.

Okay, I can work with that. I'm still terrified though! Part of me wants to dash to the phone and cancel the order. Part of me fears I may do just that, even if it means I am being, well, chicken.

Another part of me thinks this is a good step for our little backyard farm.  The next, good logical step.

At least a decision has been made!

Linking up with Homestead Barn Hop!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Egg Layer Order

I needed a major distraction for the kids this past weekend. I think (hope!) the flu is finally clearing out after a nearly two week stay. Oh, it has been a looong two weeks! So the other day I got out the chick order form from our local farm supply store and the Meyer Hatchery catalog and handed them out. I told the older three kids to decide on six new laying chicks.

They were beyond ecstatic.

Nothing breaks up cabin fever and that sick, tired feeling quicker than paging through a catalog filled with pretty chicken pictures and debating breeds. They decided on this:

2 Jersey Giants
2 Buff Orpingtons
2 Araucanas

The Jersey Giants will be new to us this year. The Buffs are a fave, the kids LOVE them and we are down to one right now. Can't have that. I freak out if I can't find that ONE chicken because everyone loves her. So we need more. We have 2 Araucanas already too, but we need more. Love those green eggs!

The new gals are due to arrive in early May. Before then we will have to figure out how best to integrate them into our existing flock. We have two separate coops right now and I believe the new girls will eventually be housed with the younger flock, the one with the rooster. Hopefully his presence will ease the transition a bit. I will also be doing a ton of research on how best to add new chickens, because I research the heck out of everything. I am tiresome like that;) I do know that we will likely be constructing some sort of small-scale addition to the current coop. This will give the younger chickens their own outdoor space until they are ready to mingle.

If I can keep them from killing each other, I'll consider it a success.  It's important to have lofty goals, right?

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


The kale and red lettuce seeds we started indoors last week are up!

 I'm pretty happy with the germination. We planted three seeds per cup and every cup has at least one sprout.  Most have more. I put the seed cups in a plastic bin in the laundry room and covered the bin with loose plastic wrap.

This year, I tried placing a heating pad set on low underneath the bin for a few hours each day. This was easy to do since we have all been home fighting a nasty virus! The seeds seemed to germinate much faster this way, compared to my usual method of sticking the bin on top of the refrigerator.  In fact, one morning I noticed there were four cups that had not sprouted, so I moved them all to one side of the bin, stuck the heating pad under just that side, and left them  for a couple of hours. When I returned, there was a sprout or two in each cup!

So now I am just in spray-and-watch mode. The seedlings are as close to the light as I can get them and the lights are on for 14 hours per day. We use a timer to turn them on and off, because I can never remember. I raised the bin up on a shelf and stacked some books under the bin to get it as close to the light as possible. In another week or so, I plan to start watering them with some diluted fish emulsion.

 I thought about starting tomatoes from seed this year but we have a vacation coming up and I didn't want our animal sitter to have more to deal with. These guys will be out in the garden before then, so they shouldn't cause too much trouble.

I find myself sneaking down to see the sprouts first thing each morning and fuss over them a little before the day really starts. Seedlings are such happy little things:).