Wednesday, October 26, 2011

They have a rough life

I love my chickens.  They are by no means pets, but they are quite spoiled nonetheless.  When we had just the Buff Orpingtons, they roamed the yard in their chicken tractor.  This past summer, we added some Rhode Island Reds to the mix.  As a result, the girls got a much larger coop and yard. 

They don't move around on the grass anymore, but they still get great treats.  The garden is finishing up and we're about to get our first frost and possible snow.  They always get weeds and yucky produce, but lately, it's been even more.  Today it's worm eaten chard, an over- ripe watermelon and some small, under-developed eggplants.  They get so excited when they see me.  They don't always get treats, but it's often enough.  The alarm goes out and all 7 pair of feet come running.

We own half a duplex and the other half is empty and for sale.  I've seen several people look at my chickens and make faces.  The other day I got to talk to one of the real estate agents.  She tells me that the first time someone said that the chickens were bad, she told them to go and look at the chickens close up.  "Look", she said, "They have fresh fruits and vegetables.  They eat better than we do.  Plus, they don't smell.  Someone takes very good care of these chickens."  
Today, they also got a layer of plastic over the run.  Chickens don't mind the rain, but snow does not make them particularly happy.  Their poor little toes get cold.  Since I want my chickens to be outside whenever possible, their run gets covered each year to keep the snow to a minimum.  Snow still gets in there, but not nearly as much.  These girls are valuable, hard working members of our little homestead.  They deserve to be treated well. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My latest obsession

When my friend Kerry emailed me about a soap class a few years ago, I was excited.  I thought it would be neat.  It seemed like something cool to learn how to do, but I wasn't sure, given my lack of interest in cosmetic things, if it would be something I would love.  The idea of making my own cheese seemed a bit more my speed.  The class was lots of fun and the soap turned out to be the best soap I had ever used.  My sensitive skin loved it.  My additive loathing self loved it.

So, Kerry and I made plans to make some more.  Last year we got together and made a whole bunch of soap for gifts and ourselves.  We ended up with a bunch of soap for gifts and personal use.  I'll admit to being a bit stingy with it, it's good stuff!

I still hadn't made any soap by myself.  We were getting low on soap and I didn't want to use the store bought stuff again.  It makes my skin feel funny.  The only solution was to bit the bullet and make it all by myself.  There is a surprising amount of stuff you need to make soap.  There are different oils, pots, blenders, additives if you like, and of course, the dreaded lye.  I got it all and even decided to get the fancy wooden mold.

It turned out to be even more fun when I got to pick out scents and additives.  My daughter and I picked out some neat scents and I was off.  We even got the supplies to make other nifty things like lip balm.  There are several batches curing in the kitchen right now.  The smell in my house is amazing.  

The only problem now is that I'm running out of racks to put all the soap on!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Today's Harvest

It's been a busy summer.  The garden has been neglected slightly more than usual, but it seems to be holding it's own.  I have lots on the agenda for the garden in the coming weeks.

The tomatoes were late to the party, but seem to be rolling in well now.  We had a big rain storm last week, so many of them split a bit.  Overall, they managed quite nicely.  It's that time of year when every day there are many pounds of tomatoes.  The canner has been getting a workout and the shelves are quickly filling with lots of yummy things for the winter.

Tomatillos are really coming in now as well.  I did one batch of tomatillo salsa last week and will be doing another this week.  It's indispensable in a lot of my recipes.  The plants produce like mad and as a result, it seems that I don't really need to plant them every year.  A good year of harvests can often last for 2 years.

Cucumbers are also doing well.  One that isn't pictured, is a monster that I found hanging behind the fence.  It was the enormous.  Hubby had to try it and was rewarded with a mouthful of very bitter cuke.  The chickens thought it was gourmet.

It's been a good year for watermelons.  I grew Sugar Babies this year.  After last year's disappointing harvest, I was ready to throw in the towel.  The kids begged and we gave it another try.  We were rewarded with several good sized melons and more to come.

It's also been a huge year for pumpkins and squash.  Zucchinis have thankfully, stopped coming in, but it was one of my biggest years for them.  The pumpkins did well and there is plenty more winter squash still in the garden.  I harvested several acorn squash a week or so ago.  And then there is the Hubbard squash.  I planted them in a 4x10 bed.  There were 2 hills and I planted another hill of another variety that I have since forgotten.  It's forgotten because it got over run by hubbards.  The vines were threatening world domination.  The squash pictured is larger than my food scale can handle, I'll have to get the bathroom scale out.  The problem is that there are 4 more (that I've found) out there and this one is far from being the largest.  I'm told that the taste is incredible, so we'll be having lots of fun with squash this year.  Since there are over 100 lbs of winter squashes yet to be harvested, I don't think we'll be needing to plant many next year.  There will be lots in the freezer for a while.

This post will be part of Harvest Monday over at Daphne's Dandelions.  Check out all the amazing produce being harvested around the country and even the world. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I'm still here

A friend just reminded me that I have completely neglected my blog.  Since becoming the market manager at my town's Farmer's Market, I've become very involved with that.  It's getting to the point that the market doesn't require me to think about it constantly, so I think that an update is in order. 

The garden is going well.  After a cool, wet spring, we're having a hot summer.  This week we're due for a nice break from the heat though.  It's forecast for upper 70s all week.  After a summer of 90s it's quite welcome. 

I overplanted winter squash this year.  This is my hubbards plotting world domination.  The picture is from several weeks ago and they are growing everywhere.  It's made mowing the lawn interesting.  Since they sit right next to the shed, even getting the mower out is a chore.  In addition to the hubbards, I'm innundated with acorn squash, butternuts, sugar pie pumpkins and of course the zucchini.  We'll be living large this winter with the orange veggies. 

My tomatoes are on the late side this year, with nothing ripe yet.  They were small going in and I got them in the ground about 2 weeks later than I usually do. 

I promise to get some updated photos soon and give a better overview of what is going on.  Canning season is about to go into full swing, so there will be lots to see and do. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Progress finally

After getting some snow on Friday, we're finally warming up a bit.  It's still far from normal temps, but better nonetheless.  I was able to go out and prep about half of the beds and got the peas planted.

It still looks so barren and depressing, but it won't be long.  Most of that fence will hopefully be coming down in the next week or so.  I'll be cutting it up and using it as portable trellising for peas and the like.  It's hard to see from here, but in the main garden the first 2 beds have peas now planted on the Western edge of the beds. 

The brassicas and greens got to spend a few hours sunning themselves today.  It's been pretty windy, so they didn't make it very long.  If the weather continues to warm up, they'll be planted out next week.  Since they're getting a bit leggy, it will be very good for them. 

Compared to last year, it seems like we're incredibly behind.  In reality, last year was much warmer than normal, so this year's colder than normal feels that much worse.  I'd say we're about 2 weeks behind schedule overall, but it will hopefully catch up to where we should be soon.  It isn't all that unusual for New England to kind of skip over Spring and go directly from Winter to Summer.  If that's the case we'll be all set in a few weeks. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Save your back and a few seeds along the way

It's been a busy few weeks here.  Plans for the Farmer's Market are coming along quite nicely and I'm feeling like it's going to be pretty great.

In between phone calls and helping Hubby with his computer business and being a mom and.... , I've been making seed tapes.  You can find tutorials for how to do them everywhere these days.  What it comes down to is some kind of flimsy, easily broken down paper, glue of some kind and seeds.  I prefer tp, elmers and just about any tiny seed.

You see, I'm not the most patient gardener in the world and I have a bad back.  Given the choice of carefully planting seeds or scattering them everywhere, I'll invariably choose the scatter method.  The problem is that it wastes a ridiculous number of seeds. Then they have to be thinned and I'm not a big fan of thinning either.  It makes me sad to pull out a perfectly good seedling, plus it means I have to get down and pull them.  Seed tapes solve all those problems.  You can buy them pre made, but I'm also cheap and I like to have a lot of variety.

I'm doing beets today.  There will be 3 different varieties this Spring.  Chiogga, Cylindra and Detroit Dark Red are my choices this year.  The carrots have already been done, there are 3 varieties of those as well.  You can't find that at the seed store.  Seed tapes are good for lettuce, parsnips and really any small seed that gets planted in quantity.  I thought about cabbage and broccoli, but that just seemed a bit much.

When they dry, just roll them up and store them away until planting time.

It's been unseasonably cold this March, so nothing much has been happening in the garden.  I'm really hoping that it warms up a bit soon, there are far too many seedlings in the basement.  The cabbage, broccoli, chard, kale and asian greens are all ready to go out.  Since I have no desire to pot them up, I'm hoping it will warm up instead.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Some of you may remember that I had a few things up in the air.  Well one has become official.  I am now the manager of the Bridgewater Farmers Market.  I'm very excited and overwhelmed all at the same time.  There is a ton to get done between now and our opening on June 18th.  We'll be operating from 10-2 on Saturdays.  Since the market manager fell through last year, the market ended after only a few weeks.  We've changed a lot, including the day, time and location.  That means I'm really starting from scratch in many respects.  It's very exciting. 

If you want to find us on Facebook, we're listed as the Bridgewater Mass Farmers Market.  There is also a webpage, but it is in desperate need of a facelift, so I'll wait on giving out that one.  If you're local, come on by!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fruit leathers

Hubby got me an Excalibur dehydrator a few years ago.  He's good like that.  I must admit though, that it has been grossly underused.  So, the other day I was going through my freezers and canned goods and realized I had a lot of strawberries in the freezer and peaches that I had canned.  Not wanting them to go to waste, I decided to make fruit leathers.

The kids love them.  Lets face it, they taste like candy.  They're also amazingly easy to make.  For the strawberry, I just defrosted them and pureed them in the food processor.  You could add more sugar if your strawberries aren't very sweet, or if you just like them that way, but ours were very sweet as is.  The peaches were dumped into a strainer and then pureed.

The dehydrator has special sheets for the leathers, but I'm sure you could get away with parchment paper if you had to.

Pour the mixture onto the trays and swirl around to a good thickness of about 1/8 to 1/4 inch.  Just set them at 135 degrees and walk away.  These took about 8 hours to finish.  Your times may vary, depending on humidity, fruit and thickness of the puree.
Then try not to do what I did.  I couldn't help myself.  It was so yummy.  If you can get through this without eating it all, just pull them off the mat and roll up.  I usually then cut them into serving sizes of 2-3 inch rolls.  The kids adore these and since they're pure fruit, I'm not so unhappy about serving them.

I've heard that you can also do this in your oven at the lowest setting, but I have no experience with that.  My oven doesn't go below 200 and that would just cook them.

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. 

Monday, March 7, 2011


We've had some amazingly warm weather over the weekend.  Both days reached to 60 or so.  By Sunday morning, so much had melted that all my beds were uncovered and even defrosted.  I was so excited to check the carrot beds.  They hadn't gotten covered properly and I was anxious to see how they did.

Some had gotten soft from all the freezing, but many of the carrots had made it through unscathed.  It was like digging for buried treasure.  Overall, about half of the carrots made it.  After our hard, cold, snowy winter, they were a welcome sight. 

I got them cleaned up and ended up with a good little crop.  The 2 on the left are huge.  There were quite a few that had forked.  That was surprising.  These beds are raised and have loam and compost in them.  There are really no rocks.  I'm not really sure why they forked. 

The strawberry plants were also starting to peak out.  I started to pull the shredded leaves away from them, but they were just too wet to get very much done.  It was nice to see that they had made it through quite nicely though.  What a mood booster to be able to spend a few hours outside and in the garden.  There is still a little bit of snow at the top of the driveway from the plow guy, but it should be gone very soon.  The weather is predicting highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s all week.  That's pretty typical March weather for us and its nice to see the progression in the temperatures.  Spring is almost here!

This post is part of Harvest Monday at Daphne's Dandelions.  I'm so excited to have a post finally!  Head on over and see what else is being harvested and what everyone is using from last year's harvests.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The remains of the day

The snow is melting very quickly now.  At one point there were 8 muddy children and 2 muddy dogs in my yard.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ready for the weekend

We must have plenty of time to play when the kids get home from school.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Garden Notebook

Gardening is something that I don't think you can ever truly master.  There are so many variables.  The seeds, heat, rain, sunlight and soil, just to name a few.

One thing I find very helpful to keep track of my gardening from year to year is my Garden Notebook.  It starts with the seeds.

I document what was planted, how many and when.  Then I document when they started to sprout.

After that, I write down when they were planted out and how they did.  You can see by last year's notes that the lettuce was a bust.  I had planted them too early and they just didn't take well to being planted out. 

Another biggie, is knowing where you planted everything.  It's good to know so that you can rotate your crops effectively.  I find that I can always draw up a beautiful plan, but rarely stick to it.  The solution for me was to draw up a final plan.

This shows me where things got planted in reality.  I can show what got rotated in during the summer as well.  At the end of the summer, I make a list of things to change for the next year.  What went well, what didn't.

Separately, I keep a tally of what got canned and preserved.  This lets me know if I need to grow more or less of an item depending on our usage.  For instance, we're not big green bean eaters.  I have 20 more qts of frozen beans in the freezer.  I'll only plant a few for fresh eating this summer.  Also, last year was an amazing summer for tomatoes.  I canned up so many that we'll be good for a while.  Now, I won't cut back on those.  They're temperamental and a big part of what we eat.  What I will do, is experiment a bit on what I'll do with them.  But that's a post for another day.

Do you keep a notebook?  What do you keep track of?

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


We've had some warmth off and on for the last few weeks.  The snow seems to be taking forever to melt.  We got so much this year without any melting in between.  There appears to be a layer of ice under it all preventing the melting. 

As you can see, there has been quite a bit of progress. The area pictured was under over 2 feet of snow for almost a month.   I was able to move the chickens to a better location.  They had been tearing up my front flower/herb bed.  It was supposed to be a temporary place to house them, but turned into a 2 month stint due to our horrible winter.  They dug up some of my irises and we'll see what else got destroyed.  I'm thinking I may have lost my chives and sage.  At least whatever gets planted there now will be very well fertilized. 

Today I started the broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, Asian greens, lettuces, kale, chard etc.  Despite the snow currently on the ground, I'm still hoping to get the peas planted in a few more weeks. 

My plans for the garden this year are numerous, as usual.  The now useless fence will be mostly removed.  I'll leave the back portion to keep the dogs and kids from tearing through it.  There will probably be raised beds made for the main part of the garden.  I'm just finding the raised beds easier to deal with overall than the sloped beds.  I just can't wait for the soil to thaw so that I can get out into the dirt.  There just isn't anything better for a gardener's soul.  Planting seeds is wonderful, but just not the same as getting into the dirt.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Out of control

Hi, my name is Heather and I have a seed problem. 

Does anyone else have a box like this?  It started out innocently enough.  I had a few seed packets.  They got organized a bit into groups.  It looked neat for a while.

Then I kept ordering seeds.  They're an addiction I think.  There is always something new and wonderful to try.  I really should go through my seeds each year and see what I truly need, but I don't.  Some of the seeds in there are quite a few years old.  Who knows if they will even sprout.  There are multiples of certain seeds, where I forgot that I had more left and went ahead and ordered more.  I can't bring myself to throw any away.  I also can't seem to bring myself to stop buying seeds.  Help!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

White Wine Vinegar

I'm not a big drinker. If there is an event happening, I may have a glass of something, but otherwise, I'm just not a big drinker.  As a result, there was a rather large bottle of white wine sitting on my counter for almost a year.  It had been opened at some point to use a small amount for a recipe, but it still just sat there.

Then I had an idea.  Why not make vinegar?  Vinegar can be expensive.  Good vinegar can be really expensive.  It seems a bit silly to spend that much money for something spoiled.  That is what I do though.  Until now.  I had an old bottle of real apple cider vinegar with the mother.  You can actually see that repurposed bottle in the background.  The mother, with a small amount of acv was poured into the bottle of wine.  Then I ignored it.  It sat on the counter for a few weeks.  Every so often I would taste it.  It still tasted like wine, so it sat some more.

Then the other day, it tasted like vinegar.  It tasted like really good vinegar!  I now had close to 2 quarts of live white wine vinegar.  Time invested in this, was under 5 minutes total.  Most of that was taking the pictures and writing the blog post.  It will probably go into a wonderful white wine vinaigrette for dinner tonight.  The rest can sit and wait to be used.  Simply wonderful!

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday.  Head on over and see what everyone is up to.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Can you Trademark a lifestyle?

If you are in any way connected to the gardening or green community, you've assuredly heard of the mess that the Dervaeses have caused.  They decided to trademark Urban Homesteading and multiple other common, everyday phrases.  Their reasoning was that it was to protect the wording from the big, bad agribusiness people.  If that had been their sole action, it wouldn't have been an issue.  What they instead did, was to send letters to bloggers, authors, libraries, coops and Facebook. 

These letters informed people that they now had no legal rights to continue calling themselves Urban Homesteaders.  If they did, they would need to give the Dervaeses full credit for the wording.  This is of course ridiculous.  The end result has been a massive backlash from the community that they count on to support them. 

There is an ever growing community on Facebook, that is bringing people together.  It seems to be the one good thing that has come out of this whole mess.  Everybody is coming together like they never had before. 

Those of us who are Urban Homesteaders tend to be non conformists anyway.  We tend to be the neighbors that get talked about.  We also tend to be the ones who are so passionate about what we do, we can't help telling everyone. 

Since I am that neighbor, I can tell you that it's exciting for people to see what we do in our little yard.  It also seems to spread rather quickly.  More and more neighbors and friends are gardening in their own yards.  They're asking questions about what it is that I do.  It's exciting to see Urban Homesteading grow.   

So, I'm am declaring that I am an Urban Homesteader.  Are you?

Friday, February 18, 2011

First plantings

It's been a wretched winter throughout much of the US this year.  New England has been no exception.  It seems that every winter I get a bit of seasonal affective disorder.  This year was a bit worse.  With my driveway a lost cause and everything becoming an effort as a result of the snow, I got a bit down.  Hence, the lack of writing on the blog. 

The past few days we've had a warm up.  A sneak peak to Spring.  Yesterday reached 55 and today is supposed to get to 60.  It's wonderful.  The snow isn't melting fast enough, but it is melting.  There are peaks of mud under trees and bushes, while the vast majority of the ground remains covered.  Even so, the weather has improved my mood. 

In a fit of optimism and downright defiance, I planted my first seeds. 

There are Quadrato d'Asti Rosso peppers, Anaheims, Red Hot Cherry peppers, French Thyme and Large Leaf Basil along with some Black Beauty Eggplants.  They all take such a long time to sprout, I tend to plant these every year around Valentine's day.  If we have a typical summer, most won't fruit until the last part of August.  If we have a summer like last year, I'll have peppers in late June.  What a difference that heat makes. 

Now I need to go spend some time catching up on everybody's blogs.    The gardening season has begun!

Friday, January 28, 2011

My happy place

Sometimes I just have to sit back and realize that it's all going to be just fine.  I have to go to that happy place.  The happy place changes from day to day and season to season.  Right now, it's the excitement of the coming gardening year. 

For all of us gardeners, the next garden is perfect.  The weather will be ideal, weeds will be minimal and timing will leave nothing to be desired.  The seeds will have excellent germination and I will of course document every little thing that happens, in order to keep a good record of the year.  In reality, of course, there will be weeds, crops will do poorly, there will be too little or too much rain, there will be weeds.  In short nothing will be perfect.  Except, it will be in many ways.  There will always be that one crop that did amazing.  There will be thing that keeps us all going. 

Seeds hold so much promise.  They hold the promise of joy and wonder.  These tiny little powerhouses will burst forth and amaze us yet again.

We will again be reminded of why we do something so crazy as growing our own food.  The more I see on the news about our food, the more I am glad that I am able to grow even a small portion of what we eat.  I can be a part of the history of our world, by growing and eating foods that have been nurtured for thousands of years. 

I know many who read my blog are gardeners.  Some are very experienced and I learn from them and some are new to this.  Every year it seems that there are more and more gardeners.  Some are here to be 'green', some because they want to save money, some are just doing it for the love of food.  Whatever your reason, the joy of seeds is a universal one of hope.  They don't have to be neatly cataloged, they don't need to be from the fancy garden catalogs, they just need to be.  Enjoy your seeds.  Dream of the perfect garden.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Can I call Uncle?

I'm sure you're sick of coming to my blog and seeing pictures of snow.  I'm sick of looking at it too.  We got another 14 inches or so last night, so there are lots of new pictures.  This was a particularly pretty snow.  It is laying on the branches perfectly. 

The back, lower part of the yard. 

The shed and part of the garden.  My carrots are buried under the snow there.  You can't even tell there is a bed anymore, nevermind carrots.

More of the garden. 

The kids won't be using these any time soon.

The chickens are hiding out in their house.  Their run is, of course covered in a small amount of snow, despite being covered largely by plastic. 

The kids are out playing in the snow now.  My little one is having a hard time walking in it at this point.  The side yard where they play, is the worst with drifting. 

I wish I could start a few seeds, but its still way too early.  At this rate we won't thaw until May.  As was mentioned in the comments, snow is great for the garden.  The old timers used to call it 'poor man's fertilizer'.  If that's the case, it should be a great garden next summer.

Boston usually gets about 48 inches of snow in a season.  In the past month alone they've gotten over 60 inches.  We're just south of Boston, between Boston and Cape Cod.  We've gotten more than that, but I'm not sure of the exact total.  I'd say we're closer to 70 inches in about 30 days.  That's why I want to call Uncle!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Weighing my options

I got an email today from the director of the new community gardens in my town.  They have 20x20 plots for $20.  The co-op will plow and till, as well as having water available.  It's really tempting to have some additional space to grow some of those big space hogs. 

I got another email from the same guy, who also heads up the farmer's market in my town.  He is a professor at the University in my town and a big proponent of the slow/local food movement.  The Farmer's Market started 2 years ago with a big success to start, followed by some major slowing.  That would be expected in my mind.  However, this same man became overwhelmed when the original market manager quit and there were significant issues with follow up managers.  Last year, in it's second season, the market had few vendors and even fewer customers.  He got fed up and cancelled it after a few weeks. I know that overwhelmed feeling well.

So, here I sit.  I now have more time than I've ever had to devote to the things that I love.  If you hadn't noticed, I'm a bit passionate about food.  Particularly local, organic, sustainable food.  It's been a few months since I put the kids into school and I'm starting to get a bit antsy.  Granted, I'll be knee deep in gardening in a few months, but will still have lots more time to devote to something.  I'm really wanting to get involved in the market.  I would love to see it become successful.  I would love to see more people have an interest in where their food comes from. 

My plan is to go to the meeting in 2 weeks and offer my help.  I'm really excited to see what will need doing.  It's so exciting to know that I can now become more active in my interests.  The future is a wonderful thing full of promise.  It is also full of work to be done.  Lets get to work!

Monday, January 24, 2011

You know it's cold when...

It's been a bit cold this winter.  This morning was the coldest it's been in 6 years.  I want my money back.  They said we were supposed to have a mild winter.  They lied. 

The chickens have been my biggest worry.  They're taking it all in stride though.  Their water is on a warming unit.  However, this morning, there was ice in the water anyway. 

How do people in the colder regions do it? 

I'm compensating by poring over garden books and seed catalogs.  All the seeds have been ordered and the plans have been made for the garden.  I'm just dreaming now.  Dreaming of a Spring that will eventually get here.  It does every year.  It just feels like it will never happen.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Canning potatoes

Some of my storage potatoes are starting to sprout.  Since they aren't stored in an ideal location, I'm not surprised.  These were the Kennebecs, which was a little surprising though.  They are supposed to be excellent keepers.

When I started going through the potatoes, I realized that many of the sprouts were coming from the smaller potatoes.  There were a few larger potatoes sprouting, but not as many.  I did not want to lose these wonderful potatoes, so something had to be done.  We're flying through them, but couldn't eat them quite fast enough.

Pressure canning potatoes is very easy.  Pick your own has a lovely little tutorial on it.  I must say that I simplified it a bit as I don't really see the point to pre-cooking them.  That's just me though.

I canned up 7 quarts, but there are tons more potatoes.  The plan is to continue to use the fresh as long as possible and can up whatever looks like it won't make it.

Canned potatoes are one of those things I never knew how to use until recently.  Hubby grew up with a mother who used commercially canned potatoes in many of her dishes.  I never liked the taste or texture, so I wasn't too excited to try it.  Then last year my sister in law grew too many potatoes and wanted to can them up.  I taught her how and she gave me a jar to say thank you.  It sat on the shelf for quite a while, until I worked up the nerve to use them.  To my surprise, they were actually quite good.  The potatoes stay quite firm, you could never use them for mashed potatoes, but they're great for soups, stews and braises.  I will still continue to use fresh potatoes whenever possible, but the canned aren't a terrible thing to have on hand.

This post is part of Daphne's Dandelion's Harvest Monday.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thoughts about home

I've been thinking quite a bit about the perfect home for my family.  Our present house is a duplex.  We bought is 8 years ago while housing was still rising, thinking we would be here for 4 or 5 years at most. 

Then the housing crisis hit.  We were lucky, we never went upside down on our mortgage, but we have several neighbors who bought after us, who are.  Prices had risen so quickly, that in the course of a year the value of our home had risen by almost a third.  It then dropped by as much the following year.  Hubby and I sat in our home and thanked our lucky stars that we still had equity, a job and an affordable mortgage.  We started to look at our home as a more permanent place to live.  I still continued to dream of more land and a single family house, but was content where we were. 

About a year ago we started to talk about moving again.  We've always had a quiet little neighborhood, but in the past year we've had several police incidents on our street.  We have several friends on the police department and they all encouraged us to look elsewhere.  When our adjacent neighbors announced their move out of state, we couldn't justify staying any longer. 

So, where to move?  I've always wanted a woodstove.  Last year we stayed at a friend's cabin with a woodstove and the rest of the family fell in love as well.  During Wednesday's blizzard we lost power for 10 hours.  All I could think, was that if we had the stove we'd be warm and I could cook.  Instead we just put on more layers and ate PB&J. 

Hubby and I have a few differing opinions on homes, but overall are in  agreement.  While I love older homes, they just wouldn't be practical for us.  We are certainly not the fixer upper types.  Hubby is good at a lot of things, home improvement is not one of them. 

So a newer home.  Not a McMansion thank you.  Our current house is relatively small and I'm not looking to get a much bigger house.  The fireplace is a must, so that we can get the woodstove.  Hubby wants central air, I couldn't care less about that, but will look for it.

Lastly is land.  We currently have about 1/3 an acre, with much of that shared.  Since a large portion is also unusable as a result of a septic tank, that doesn't leave too much.  I do all the outside work myself, so it has to be manageable for little old me.  A bigger garden is of course something on the wishlist.  I'd also like more chickens, with meat birds added to the mix as well.  Beyond that, I'm not sure.  Goats would be lovely, but I'm not real confident of my ability to care for them properly.  We'll have to see. 

All of this is just in the thinking stage.  We aren't in a perfect position to sell for another year.  In that time, my thinking could change drastically.  For now, I'm clearing out excess and trying not to think about dismantling my garden and packing up the 300+ canning jars in the basement. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blizzard # 2

Yesterday was blizzard # 2 for our area.  It's only Jan 13th, so that isn't a great sign.  The garden is completely buried.  It's so deep that you can hardly see the difference between the raised beds and the ground.  Behind the garden, our bushes are in bad shape under all the snow.  They bounced back from the last storm, but I'm not sure how much more they can take. 

The kids are loving it.  They've been making tunnels in snow banks today.  I'm sure the sledding will resume shortly.

They're very proud of their work.  My Noah is the very silly one at the top.

The chickens are doing well, considering how little the like the snow.  They're currently under my front window.  It isn't ideal, but was very necessary.   My neighbors that we were sharing the chickens with are moving.  They couldn't have the chickens there while selling the house, so here they are.  The tractor was moved between snow storms, so the girls couldn't be in a better place.  I would have had to lift the tractor over a snow bank.  It's working out well, they hardly got any snow in the run and are quite close to the electrical outlet. 

Toby is in heaven.  He loves this weather and has been playing in the snow quite a bit.  Here he's waiting for me to stop taking pictures and kick the ball for him.  How could I possibly resist that face?

It really is gorgeous out there today.  I'm not a big fan of snow, but it keeps the kids happy and active and the photos are great.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Winter projects: fingerless gloves

Tis the season for knitting.  The seeds for the garden have been ordered.  The garden has been planned.  It's still too early to start seeds, so what is a girl to do?  Make fingerless gloves, of course. 

I've been seeing these everywhere this year.  That must mean that I'm not the only one sitting in a chilly home all winter.  I was at a friend's a few weeks ago, watching her finish up a pair similar to these.  What was even better, was that they used sock yarn.  There is an absurd stash of sock yarn in my basement currently.  A few years ago, I went on a sock knitting bender.  When Knit Picks had a nice little sale on sock yarn, I went a little nuts.  Then I stopped knitting socks.  Please tell me I'm not the only one who does this.  So, now there is a large stash of sock yarn with no purpose.  In steps the fingerless glove. 

One of the wonderful things about the internet, is the vast array of free patterns.  As a member of Ravelry, a knitting and crocheting community, I was able to access hundreds of patterns almost immediately.  (my name is nandmsmom on the site, but I'm rarely on)  Now, don't get me wrong, I'll happily pay for things, but to get my feet wet, there isn't anything like a free pattern. 

I whipped up this pair pretty quickly.  When I posted a pic on Facebook, my niece, who just joined the military, promptly asked for a pair.  Since there are lots of birthdays coming up soon, guess what's on the agenda?  By the time Spring rolls around, I should be plenty tired of making these.  The stash of yarn should be nicely emptied as well.  That should be less to pack next year. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

It never gets old

I still get a thrill every time the girls lay eggs.  We've had them for a year and a half and they've been laying for well over a year.  It still makes me so happy to collect eggs.  There is something so satisfying about having chickens.  They're always happy to see me, especially if I have leftovers for them.  This time of year they are extra grateful for those treats since they aren't on pasture.

My plan had been to get some more layers in the spring.  That has been put off with the move.  The hens we have now will be with us until the fall and then they'll likely be butchered.  We'll get more hens when we get our new house.  I'll really miss those wonderful eggs, along with the hens that laid them. 

If you have the ability to have chickens, I would encourage you to do so.  They are so easy to care for.  Personally, I think they're easier than the dog.  He is cuter and snugglier though. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Getting my groove back

Vacation is over for the kids.  They went back to school yesterday.  After over a week of getting nothing at all accomplished, I'm trying to get back into my groove. 

It's always amazing to me how busy Christmas is.  Making gifts, shopping, wrapping, socializing and lots of cooking make for a very busy month.  When you add to that Hubby's computer business going into overdrive just before the holidays, it's quite exhausting.  This week is all about taking back my life.  There are still plenty of computers to be repaired, but not to the point that I can't get other things done. 

To that end I'm putting quick meals in the freezer and getting the house cleaned and organized.  I'm not the best housekeeper in the world, but I appreciate a nice neat house as much as the next gal.  I hate clutter and disorganization, so that is my usual incentive to clean.  We're purging lots of crud that has built up over the years.  It makes me so happy to see these things leave my house. 

While I purge, I think about what it would be like to pack up my house.  It's not a big house, but there are lots of things we've accumulated.  We're contemplating moving from our beloved neighborhood in the next year or so.  Who knows whether we'll actually do it, but getting rid of excess is never a bad thing in my book. 

Now it's time to move on with the never ending to-do list.