Wednesday, March 31, 2010


This is my basement.  The light pink parts of the carpet are floating.  After killing 2 pumps, we're getting the water out with a neighbor's pool pump.  We'll be fighting it for a few days though.  The water table is so high, the water is coming in through cracks in my foundation.  You can see it bubbling up. 
This is the back corner of my yard.  Even the neighbor's trampoline is under water, something that has never happened.  

I'll catch up in a few days.  I'm busy remembering that it could be much worse.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Independence Days Challenge week 2

I'm a day late and a dollar short this week.  After lots of rain, we had abundant sunshine and warmth.  We're now back to lots of rain.  My backyard never quite recovered from the flooding from last week.  The new rain has reestablished the lake in my back yard.  I wish I had a way to hold all of this water for later in the year for the garden.  That would be a huge holding tank, I'm afraid.

Plant something:  peas, 2 types of lettuce, swiss chard, carrots and beets

Harvest something:  lots of chicken eggs

Preserve something:  I canned up 3 quarts of chicken broth made from scraps.

Waste not:  All of the boxes that come from Hubby's business in the past 2 months got used.  They are now forming walkways between my garden beds.  I also used all of the feed bags from the chicken feed. 

Want not:  Hubby talked me out of buying a rototiller.  He reminded me that it only would be used once or twice a year and I could rent one.  He was right.

Eat the food:  Made pizza sauce from the last of the canned tomatoes.  Used some cabbage and the last of the green beans in egg rolls.

Build community food systems.  not so much

Friday, March 19, 2010

First day of planting

What a gorgeous week we've had!  After flooding rains, we've been rewarded with May weather.  It's been in the 60's all week with 70's predicted for tomorrow.  Normal for us is upper 40's for this time of year.  It's just what the doctor ordered for my winter weary soul.

I took full advantage, now that my brood is back to health.  The Cascadia sugar snap peas were planted along the fence.  In the lettuce box I planted Winter Density lettuce and Winter mix lettuce with some Bright Lights swiss chard as well.  There will be salads galore. 
In one of my new beds, I planted Detroit Dark Red beets and Nantes carrots.
The carrots were seeded with this seed tape.  I tried making my own seed tapes last year with miserable results.  I wanted to try again with less work involved.  There is a discount store near me that sells these for 40% off, so I gave them a try.  They are certainly easy to work with.  If they work out, I'll make some up with toilet paper this year.  Last year I used napkins and seeds that were of questionable age, so it was my own fault that I had a failure.  

We'll be getting more rain early next week, so I won't have to water these in.  The soil is still quite damp, but not soggy.  It's amazing, I was actually feeling a bit blah until I went out and played in the dirt.  

The chickens are liking it too.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Different than I imagined

It's been a crazy day.  The family has been sick.  I've been racing from one thing to the next.

At a certain point I stood in my doorway wearing an apron and holding a hammer and thinking that this was certainly not where I thought I would be.  My morning had consisted of laundry, cleaning bathrooms, making bagels and bread, feeding the chickens, the dog and whoever wasn't sick.  I had stripped beds and vacuumed.  I had emptied trash and washed out recyclables. 

In the middle of all of this, J came running over to tell me that the chickens had escaped.  We then spent the next few minutes catching rogue hens.  It turns out that I'm a pretty good chicken wrangler.  Don't be jealous of my talents, people. 

While we were at it, we took off the lights and removed the water heater.  Then moved the chickens to the front.  This is when I got the hammer to remove the plastic from their tractor.  Thus, I now had an apron on, bread in the oven and a hammer in my hand. 

The thing is, I'm having a blast.  I'm not a Nurse Practitioner working in an ICU, which is where I was headed.  I'm a Mom, teacher, head chef, chicken wrangler, housekeeper and kisser of booboos.  It's so much better.  The rewards of a happy,( usually) healthy family are so much more.  I love my life.  Even when it's crazy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hoop house

As promised, the finished hoop house.  It has the plastic on now, held on by heavy duty clips.  The ends are open to vent it, since we're having some warm weather this week. 

An inside shot of the pathetic lettuce.  I'm hoping to get the cole crops transplanted in here by the weekend.  I should only need the plastic for a few more weeks.  It will then move to another section of the same long bed to be used to warm things up for the peppers and tomatoes. 

Sunning seedlings

It's gorgeous out today.  I thought the seedlings would like to be outside in all this beauty.  These are my bok choy, cabbage, broccoli and a few flowers. 
The onions came out to join in the party as well.

This is the very sad and overgrown lettuce.  It was in really sad shape.  I ended up transplanting it into my new hoop house.  I think it will probably not make it, but that's ok.  You live and learn.  I planted it far too early.  Another set of seeds will be sown today outside in the same hoop house.  Next year I won't make the same mistake.  

The rest of the seedlings will get hardened off and transplanted in a week or so.  The onions will need to wait a bit longer.  
This is the frame of the new hoop house.  It's a hodge podge of ideas from J and I.  I got the PVC poles and he added the wood and wire supports.  These were then covered with some handy dandy duct tape to protect the plastic from sharp edges.  The plastic will go up in a few hours.  I'll take another picture then to show the final product.  I'm hoping to use this as a mini greenhouse as well, in the coming weeks.  If all works out, we'll be making a few more to use next fall.  You can see how pathetic the lettuce looks in the far end of the bed.  I do believe I'm a lettuce murderer.  

Next on the agenda will be pea planting.  

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

After the rain

We have had several days of rain in the northeast.  Flooding is everywhere, people being evacuated, basements ruined and cars stuck in water.  It was made worse by the fact that the ground was still partially frozen and didn't absorb the 8-10 inches of rain that we got as well. 

Luckily, I didn't get water in my basement.  We live on a hill and have never gotten anything but some drops of water by the bulkhead in the basement.  My backyard has an area that dips down.  It's great for sledding, but not so much for all this rain.

This is also where my blueberries live.  They have been sitting in several inches of water for a few days now.  We'll have to wait and see if they make it through.  I knew we got lots of water down there, but it has only flooded once before.  It's certainly my own fault if I lose the bushes.

You may also be able to see all the trash that collects here over the winter.  My yard seems to be the area that the wind deposits any trash that is flying around.  Every spring I have to clean it up again. 

The nice thing is that we're supposed to have temps in the 60s and possibly make a run for the 70s this week, with lots of sun.  All of my overgrown lettuces and cole crops will be hardened off and planted later this week.  That will free up space to start my tomatoes.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Independence Days Challenge week 1

Sharon Astyk has been having an Independence Days challenge for the past few years.  She even wrote a book on the subject.  I've been playing around with it at home since then, but have never posted my update on the blog before.  The whole idea of the challenge is to do small things everyday to increase our independence for food production.  It's amazing when you start to keep track, how much can be done just a little bit at a time. 

I'm going to list some of the things I've done in the past few weeks, not just this past week.  From here on out, it will be just weekly things done.

Plant something:  2 types of lettuce, 2 types of onions, several types of peppers, both sweet and hot, bok choy, cabbage, broccoli, dill, basil and eggplant

Harvest something:  just eggs from the chickens so far

Preserve something:  nothing yet

Waste not:  composted scraps, food scraps to dog and chickens, reused planting flats from last year and pots from last year

Want not:  got hoop house partially built before 6 inches of rain fell, will finish when it dries out a bit

Eat the food:  just made one of Hubby's favorites from childhood using stored potatoes and most of the rest of my canned tomatoes.  I also made butter from the raw milk we get from a local dairy.

Build community food systems:  spoke with the woman who heads up an eat local chapter in my area about the dairy that I get my raw milk from. Will be speaking to the farmer about possible attending a meeting on dairy in the area.

This will obviously get more involved as the year goes on, and that is the fun part. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Making butter

Ever since I read the Little House on the Prairie books, (we're on another run through Farmer Boy right now)  I've wanted to make my own butter.  When I read this post  I thought it may be time for me to try. 

We've been getting our raw milk from a local dairy of pasteured cows for a while now and I've been itching to try something with it other than drinking.  This morning Morgan and I were looking for something to do and decided to try it. 

We had gotten milk yesterday, so it had settled and separated.  The bottles I use are the old fashioned, half gallon type with a narrow opening.  I didn't have a great way to get the cream off the top.  With a little finagling, I was able to get about 1 cup of cream off the top.  We put it in a pint canning jar and started shaking.  Morgan got bored pretty quickly, so I sat and shook it for my arm workout for the day.

After about 20 minutes I could see it really getting thick and coating the jar quite well.  All of a sudden you could see it forming the butter.  The curds had formed and the sides of the glass cleared.  There was no mistaking the fact that we had created something here. 

I dumped it into a sieve and ran water through it to get the excess buttermilk off.  All the while I was kneading it and forming it.  We certainly don't have much, but there is potential.  I've been wanting to make cheese and now have an excuse to get more milk each week.  I can take the cream off the top for butter and use the rest for cheese and drinking.  I'm so excited!  Another goal reached for my yearly list.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Trying my hand at bagels

While my computer was being fixed, I had lots of extra time.  So, I decided to make bagels.  They were surprisingly easy.

They are a bit of a hodge podge of a recipe.  I started with my whole wheat bread dough.  After the first rise I used half the dough for a loaf of bread.  With the second half, I divided it into 8 pieces and formed them into bagels.  The dough got roughly formed into a ball.  I then poked my finger through and made a larger hole.  The bagels were placed on a cookie sheet with parchment paper. 

Next, I heated my electric skillet filled with water and 1 heaping tablespoon of brown sugar and brought it to a simmer.  Then the bagels were transferred 4 at a time (that's what fit in my pan) for 2 minutes on one side and 1 minute on the other.  They went back on the baking sheet and I finished the rest of the bagels. 

The bagels went into a 425 degree oven for 25 minutes.  If you want to add a topping, pull them out after 15 minutes, brush the bagels with water and sprinkle it on.  Then you can finish baking.  I used the Everything Bagel Topping from King Arthur Flour. 

They came out really well, although I will probably make them smaller next time.  I also had a few issues with the topping falling off more than I would like.  I may try using an egg wash to stick them next time.  These were far easier than I would have thought and I love that I was able to use my own bread recipe for them. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Seedling update

Things are getting a little crazy in here.  I went and got the plastic for my hoops, but was unable to get the right PVC piping to get them up today.  Hopefully, tomorrow, I'll be able to take Hubby's truck and get everything warming up. 

The lettuce is huge, as you can see.  The onions are ok, but I think I've lost a few.  I've never had good luck with onions.  They start out well and then I end up with them damping off, despite doing as much as possible to prevent it.  I can't plant them for a while yet, so I'll have to continue to baby them inside.

These are the brassicas and a few flowers in the background.  The plan is to erect the hoops and warm the soil, then plant them out in about 3 weeks.  We'll see how that goes.  The weather has warmed nicely and doesn't look like it will be cooling down too much in the foreseeable future.  Even the weatherman said that he thought that the worst was over.  Since we haven't had much in the way of spring here in New England for the past few years, it would be very welcome.  Yes, Kiwi, we do have spring every once in a while. 

I had a picture of my peppers, but they seem to have disappeared.  They are coming up slowly, as is expected.  The first came up within a week, but the rest are popping up here and there.  They are certainly doing better upstairs than they have in the basement. 

The chickens wanted to say hello again as well.  How are your seedlings doing these days?  Have you started anything yet?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What I do when it gets above 50 degrees

I clean out the chicken coop!

These are some seriously happy chickens.  They have new forage!  They're also in more sun than they have for the past few months.  

We had a gorgeous day yesterday as well.  Unfortunately, we had something going all day, so were unable to be out in the nice weather.  Today is just as wonderful.  It's 11 AM and already 52 degrees.  Since the ground is still far too frozen for me to do anything with, I decided to clean out and move the chickens.  

They had been moved a few times, until the snowy weather got the better of us and we could no longer budge the tractor.  We were using a deep composting system.  Lots of bedding composting down, mixed in with chicken poo, made for some great manure for the beds.

I got enough manure for 3 of my 4 x 12 beds.  The beds are still frozen solid, so I just spread it over the top.  In a few weeks, I'll be able to work it in a bit better.  The manure is still too hot to plant anyway.  It should be perfect by May, when I will do the majority of my planting.
This is where they were, under J's deck.  It was about 6 inches thick of chicken gold.  They were so excited when I moved them.  Pecking away at the new dirt, taking little dirt baths.  A few of them were a bit muddy, but for the most part, no worse for the wear of winter.  

We have had a good first year with them, thankfully.  We had a bout of what I called 'poopy butt', but some yogurt to eat and some apple cider vinegar for their water, cleared it up quickly.  I'm thrilled that we didn't lose any over the winter and we're talking about more for this year!  I did find that they have been wasting a large part of their food.  We'll be trying for a new feeder design to prevent them from scattering the food all over the ground.  

In the meantime, they will still be in the backyard.  They still need the water heater to prevent freezing.  Our nights are still in the low 20s.  I'm also in the process of weaning them off of their supplemental lighting.  By April, they should be pecking away in the front yard.  

For now, they're happily laying us eggs in their newly cleaned home. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Computer issues

I apologize for my inactivity this week.  My hard drive died and Hubby had some issues retrieving my data.  It will be another day or so before I am back to normalcy.  For now I'm using his laptop whenever I can.