What a week! We started off and ended with some beautiful spring-like weather, which is fitting now that we have officially crossed over to spring. It wasn’t without a nice brisk few days inbetween though. Even so, my gardening fingers are itching!
Speaking of fingers, both my index finger and thumb seem to be healing up nicely from the pruning accident last weekend. The index finger in particular seems to be doing quite well. The thumb was cut deeper, and I still do not have full flexibility with it. It is improving day by day though.
The big homestead project this week was to create a portable chicken run, which I decided to make out of PVC and fencing. It wouldn’t hold a big dog, but it will hold chickens. 😀 This is light enough two people can move it, though four people would be able to handle it easier. The plan is to move it to a different place in the yard weekly, and then let the chickens have a considerable amount of time in it throughout the day, which should give them a nice addition of bugs and grass to their diet. I’ll show pictures of it in tomorrow’s post.
Oh, one other thing from this weekend is that I opened my winter sowing pots and let them breathe. It is really going so well. All plants haven’t sprouted up in hearty strength yet, but I think all of them have sprouted. The brassicas are looking really good though! It won’t be long until they have their first true leaves and are ready for transplanting!
Winter Sowing – Broccoli
Yes, they need thinned out – ALOT! I didn’t think I seeded that heavily, but obviously I did.
That reminds me of another task I need to complete. I need to stake the garden off so I can know exactly where the planting areas are according to my planting map. Yeah, yeah, yeah – that’s the nerd coming out in this gardener. 😀
It is often said here, as in other areas, if you don’t like the weather, wait a day. It will change. This week has been a real example of that. Within a one week time period we went from very low temperatures and greater than a foot of snow on the ground to a fantastically warm 72° F. Welcome to spring in Kentucky!
I was on the road for my job last week, and was anxious to get back home for a number of reasons, one of which being to check the winter sown vegetables. I am very excited to report that many of them have sprouted! Check these pictures out:
Calbrese Broccoli Sprouts
German Chamomile Sprouts
So far I see sprouts in the Romanesco Broccoli, Purple Broccoli, German Chamomile, Purple Cabbage, Calabrese Broccoli, Early Jersey Cabbage, Forage Kale, and Russian Kale winter sown containers. Woot! Now to see if they survive the coming cold spell, though I suspect they will.
One thing I am excited about this year is my Back to Eden garden. While I can’t speak to the success of the garden here yet, I can tell you that I will be able to get my garden out much sooner than I would if I were planting traditionally. Our ground is absolutely saturated. Even so, I can walk all over these woodchips and not feel as if I am sinking in at all. This is wonderful!
Despite the rain on Saturday, I decided to go ahead and plant some brassicas and lettuces:
Kale, Cabbage, and Broccoli
Lettuce in the Raised Bed
I also decided to spend some time pruning my fruit trees this weekend. I received some nice pruning equipment for Christmas, which I have been wanting to use, and I am several weeks behind the latest date I wanted to do this, but the weather has not been cooperating at all. Here are the tools:
Let me tell you – that saw is sharp! Don’t ask me how I know that. However, if you see me over the next few days, you will know how I know. 🙁 If you want to see what happened, you can check it out, but don’t click on the link if you can’t handle seeing pruning wounds. Seriously, it’s not that bad, but you still may not want to click on it.
I pruned two apple trees and a cherry tree, and I am extremely pleased with how it turned out. Here are a few before and after shots of the apple trees:
Apple Trees – Before Pruning
Pruned Apple Tree
Pruned Apple Tree
So the point in pruning back so much is to shape the tree as I want it to be shaped, and to limit the height to something usable/reachable for me. I also want to provide plenty of air flow and sunshine. While they look a little bare right now, I am expecting them to fill on out as the spring and summer move forward. If I have done the job right, we should see better apples this year off these trees.
As you can see, I still need to clean up the branches, but that can wait. I plan to cut up that wood to use for smoking food later in the year. There are also still a few branches on the second tree (the last picture) that need trimmed, but I need my pole pruner to reach them. I will hopefully get to that today.
Okay, I am officially sick of winter. 😀 This is the time of year I am beginning to prepare my garden, but as of now there is nothing but snow on the ground. Thankfully it is starting to melt. About every decade or so, we get substantial snow in our area, and the trend obviously continued this year. It wasn’t one storm this year either, it was two back to back storms with just enough time between them for the snow to melt off for a day or so. The second one packed a greater punch than the first, dumping over a foot of snow at my house. Did I already say I was sick of winter?
The biggest upcoming challenge is going to be the soggy ground, which is going to be very hard on farmers and gardeners in the area. Hopefully it will dry out before it is time for folks to till their garden. I’ll tell you this – there couldn’t have been a better year for me to start my Back to Eden garden!
It has been a very quiet week at the homestead due to the weather, though I do have a very interesting post tomorrow about the chickens. You aren’t going to want to miss it!
Will this winter ever end‽ The bitter cold temperatures have continued this week, though they have been sandwiched between some warmer days. That means we have had some rain, some melting, some freezing, some snow – sheesh. While some of the country is used to many days of snow-covered ground, we aren’t here in western Kentucky. What makes this worse is that it seems we are going to have a wet few weeks now, which will make the ground an absolute mess. Candidly, this makes me thankful I have went with the Back to Eden Garden type this year. Those wood chips are going to be a lot easier to work with than mud, that is for sure.
The two things I have worked on this week is finalizing what seeds and plants I need for the spring and making homemade yogurt for the first time. I’ll spend much of this post on the latter of the two. The seed ordering had to be done though – we are nearing time to start planting peas and other spring crops, yet with the snow on the ground it isn’t happening just yet. Perhaps this week I can get some seeds out. I could probably wait up to two weeks and still be okay, but it is time.
Now, on to yogurt making!
This is something I have wanted to try for a while, but I have just been a little intimidated by doing something new like this. However, I am eating clean again, which for me is very low carbohydrate. This means I am avoiding anything low fat, and most storebought yogurt is just that – low fat. So, I decided to make some of my own. Basically, the recipe that I used is as follows:
While some would say it is not required, it is advised that all utinsils you are using to make yogurt be boiled beforehand and allowed to air (or oven) dry. This is to reduce the chance that other bacteria will get into your yogurt mix, thereby ruining it.
1 quart of milk (or substitute – see below)
1/4 cup of a plain commercial yogurt that contains live cultures (I used Dannon)
Heat the 1 quart of milk to 185° F, constantly stirring. Once it reaches 185° F, remove it from the heat. Some folks say you can speed cool this by placing a container with the heated milk in cool water, but others say to let it cool on its own. Once it reaches 100° F, you can add the yogurt. I recommend two things though. Wait until it cools to room temperature. This leaves no room for error. If your milk it too hot, it kills the live cultures in the yogurt. Second, I mixed the yogurt in with some of the milk, 1/2 cup, before mixing it into all of it. It seems to help it mix better.
Once you have mixed the yogurt with a small amount of the room temperature milk you just heated, then mix it in with the rest of the pan. Stir well. Now, pour the mix into a container (I used 1 quart canning jars), cover the jars (I used plastic wrap and a rubber band to hold it on), and place them in a place to allow the cultures to grow. This could be in an oven with just the oven light on, or you could use a yogurt maker. I chose to put them in our Excalibur Dehydrator on 100° F. The key is keeping it between 95° F and 110° F. Outside of that range it may not work.
The yogurt is technically done after 8 hours, but you can let it continue to ferment for up to 24 hours. Going longer than 24 hours is playing with fire though, as the bacteria will run out of food (sugar) soon after that and begin to die. Why would you choose a shorter or a longer time? The longer it ferments, the more tart and thick it will be. It also will have less sugar left, as the bacteria continue to eat the sugar until it is all gone, at which time the bacteria die. Ideally, I am trying to achieve just this: as little sugar as possible. As such, I let mine cook for 24 hours.
Once you remove the yogurt, place it in the refrigerator to cool and thicken. It may or may not be as thick as what you get in the grocery store, as most of the grocery store yogurts have thickening agents added. You can do this too with pectin or another thickener. I chose to not do this.
Now, let’s share some pics and I will share what I did different than noted above.
First off, I made three batches. Now one thing to realize is that you can make yogurt with many things, it doesn’t have to be just milk. As long as it contains sugar, the bacteria will grow. The three mixes I chose are as follows:
three cups of coconut milk and one cup of heavy cream
two cups of coconut milk and two cups of heavy cream
one cup of heavy cream and three cups of 2% milk
Technically, if you just use heavy cream, you will end up with sour cream, but I wanted some of the thickening that the heavy cream would provide.
So, I started with these two ingredients for the first two batches:
Heavy Cream and Coconut Milk
Once mixed together, this stuff looked pretty nasty. 😀
Heavy Cream and Coconut Milk Mixed Together
While cooking, I used a candy thermometer along with constant stirring to be sure it didn’t stick and that the temperature stayed correct:
Once it was done, I place the jars into the dehydrator to ferment:
The milk and heavy cream ended up being the most thick – check this out!
Thick Yogurt (3 cups of 2% milk and 1 cup of heavy whipping cream)
That is not a table behind the yogurt – it is a door! That is being held sideways! It smelled somewhat of cream cheese.
The other two looked good too, though the one made with the most coconut milk is the most thin, and it could not be held sideways at all.
Coconut Milk (3 cups) and Heavy Cream (1 cup) Yogurt
Candidly, it was milkshake thick. Here is the one with half coconut milk and half heavy cream:
Half and Half – Heavy Cream and Coconut Milk Yogurt
Finally, here is a jar held normally:
Yogurt – Finished Product
Okay, I am sure you are all interested in how it tastes. I decided to do a taste testing video for you. Here goes:
Whew! What a week this has been! There isn’t much happening around the homestead, as we received a whopper of a snow this past week, which was followed by another snow, extreme cold temperatures, and then on Friday night into Saturday we had sleet, freezing rain, and rain. As I write this on Saturday morning, I suspect it is a terrible mess outside. There have been reports of folks roofs leaking, flooding due to drains on roads being clogged with snow and ice, and roads that are in treacherous shape. It doesn’t seem like it will get much better today, as I am expecting the temperature to hover right above freezing all day. By the time this post goes live, this will all be old news though, and we will be talking about the blustery cold temperatures Monday will bring us again. I am so ready for spring. 😀
I am sure many of you looked at the pictures I took, mostly of birds, last week. I also took a few around the house of some monster icicles:
Monster Icicles #1
Monster Icicles #2
Monster Icicles #3
I just went out to check on the chickens, and wow it is messy. The rain is melting some of the snow, and water is pooling everywhere. It remains to be seen how this will be at the end of the day.
Even with a slow week around here, it wasn’t without some homesteading excitement though. I received a packet of seeds from Slovenia! These are minerature blue popcorn kernels (seeds). Check out the seeds and the envelope:
Minerature Blue Popcorn Kernels from Slovenia
I know, I know. I am a bit weird to get so excited over popcorn kernels, but I am excited to incorporate this into my popcorn landrace. Aren’t those stamps cool too‽
One thing that has long caught my interest, but I have never really pursued is beekeeping. I have gone so far as to have a friend show me his hives, at which time I got stung. 😀 That is a story for another day though. Anyhow, I want bees. I have looked at several options, including top bar hives and traditional hives, but on Monday I came across what I think is a great option: Honey Flow! To be fair, this is not so much about the hive, but it is about the frames, which allow you to gather the honey without opening the hives. Awesome, right‽ This goes live on Kickstarter next Monday, and I plan on checking it out as soon as it goes live. If the price is reasonable, I expect to be making my first investment in beekeeping on Monday.
Every year about this time I fool myself into thinking spring is right around the corner. We get a few warm days, and for some reason I believe winter is over. Well, it is not! It hit yesterday afternoon (Saturday) with a vengeance, and the temperature dropped several degrees in just a very short period of time. This morning it is bitter cold outside, and they are saying we may get snow tonight! My favorite weather forecaster, Beau Dodson, is saying the snow is very likely, as are some bitter cold temperatures mid week.
We attempted to cover the chicken coop with the tarp yesterday, but the wind was so strong it was merely an exercise in futility.
UPDATE: as of 4:30 AM on Monday morning, we have just over 3″ of snow. We were also able to cover the chicken coop yesterday to keep it a little better insulated. The chickens sure are enjoying having the new extended run though, as it allows them to get out in the sun, even when the rest is covered. We’ll see how they like that today with a big snow. 😀
Speaking of snow, I have long said that we get a real whopper of a snow storm (don’t laugh my New England friends) about every decade. A local weather enthusiast, Jason Darnell, did some research that backs this up. We have only had four single day snowfalls of greater than 8 inches, but look at the spacing:
December 22, 2004: 14 inches
February 15, 1993: 7.9 inches (yes, I know this is just under 8 inches, but it was followed 11 days later with another 7.3 inches).
January 16, 1978: 11 inches
March 6, 1967: 8 inches
As you can see, other than a 15 year span one time, we get an 8″ or greater snowfall about every decade.
As an interesting addition to this, in 1984 there was a two day snowfall of 8.2 inches and a one day snowfall of 7.1 inches, so we didn’t really skip that decade, we just had a five year snow prior to that. Actually, it looks like prior to 1984 we had a span of bigger snowfalls every five years, with a few interspersed one to three year big snows:
1984: one day snow of 7.1 inches and a separate two day snowfall of 8.2 inches
1979: three day snowfall of 8 inches
1978: 11 inches
1975: one day snowfall of 5 inches
1970: two day snowfall of 7 inches
1967: 8 inches
1965: two day snowfall of 7 inches
This week I did get the first round of winter sowing done. Here let me share a little bit about that.
The principle is this: instead of using grow lights and having to harden of your plants, you begin by planting outside in mini-greenhouses. During the winter the varying weather causes the seeds to freeze and thaw, expand and contract, and eventually grow. The mini-greenhouse offers enough protection to keep the plants alive, and also keeps you from having to harden them off, as that happens naturally. It made sense to me, after all, this is more how it happens in nature, yet still might give me a jump on the summer.
So, you begin by collecting as many milk jugs and other plastic bottles as you can. This is a small group I am starting with:
Winter Sowing – The Milk Jugs
The first thing you have to do is drill some drainage holes in the bottom of the jugs. If not, too much water will stay in them and the seeds may rot before they grow.
Winter Sowing – Drilling Holes
Winter Sowing – Drainage Holes
Once that is done you need to cut the jugs in half.
Winter Sowing – Cutting the Jug
Then fill them with potting soil.
Winter Sowing – Filling with Potting Soil
Once that was done, I put the jugs back together and moved them outside. I wish I had just finished them on the day I started them, but time did not allow that.
Winter Sowing – Filled Jugs
Finally it was time to sow seeds. I just kind of scattered my seeds in the jugs, but I labeled them inside and outside, plus on the bottom, knowing that the sun will fade the labeling sticks.
Winter Sowing – Adding Seeds
I then taped the jugs shut with duct tape.
Winter Sowing – The Final Mini-Greenhouse
And finally I set them out by my raised garlic beds where they would get good morning sun. Notice all the lids are off. That is to allow the rain to get in the jugs. It also keeps the temperature from getting too high on warm days.
Winter Sowing – Round 1
If you want more details, Wintersown.org is the place to go, but this should be enough to give you the general idea. Now let’s watch and see if they grow!
It has been a busy weekend around the homestead, with the bulk of that time spent building the northern run extension for the chickens. Check back tomorrow for pics and details on that.
It seems that every weekend I have more on my to-do list than there is hours in the day, and this weekend was that way and then some! On Saturday I intended on finishing the run extension, then working on winter sowing (am I ever going to get to this!?), roasting coffee, and the normal weekend chores. I only finished the run extension and roasted coffee though.
It is funny, when I tell folks I roast coffee, the most often think I mean that I grind coffee. They don’t realize I actually roast my own beans. Not only that, I do it in a kind of old-fashioned way – in an iron skillet over a charcoal fire:
No, that is not me stirring the coffee. My lovely wife agreed to hold the pan and stir while I snapped a picture. This week I roasted mostly Brazilian coffee, but this batch happened to be a new one for me: Peruvian. I just finished a cup as I am writing this, and it is a definite keeper. I tend to enjoy the South American coffees best, and in my opinion this Peruvian coffee had that same flavor I enjoy.
Do you realize it is just three months until May? That means it is just three months until my garden will be fully planted, I hope! I know it seems so far out, but it won’t be long until the cooler weather crops are growing. That reminds me – I need to be getting some peas sown! Argh! Maybe next weekend! 😀 No boredom, that is for sure!
I am always trying to find a way to make my hobbies pay for themselves. Photography is just one example of that, where I began shooting with the intention of making a profit in order to help me afford more photography equipment. Believe it or not, that is true with gardening too.
The funny thing about gardening is that it already pays for itself, in my opinion, from the savings we have on food. We are also able to bless others with the excess crops we have. Even so, wouldn’t it be great to be paid to grow things? No, I am not referring to being a big-time commercial farmer, but there are some profitable specialty crops that seem to fit well into small operations. To be honest, I am particularly partial to #2 on the list.
Sanders Gourmet Garlic
No, I am probably not really seriously considering growing specialty crops for money, but it is fun to dream a bit, isn’t it?
This is the third week in a row that egg laying has increased. I wasn’t really expecting this until later in the winter, when the days are longer than they are now, but I am sure not complaining. This week the ladies laid 33 eggs: 20 from the Rhode Island Reds and 13 from the Easter Eggers.
Speaking of the ladies, they sure are enjoying the Back to Eden garden! They love getting in there and scratching it up, looking for bugs or worms underneath the covering. I am sure they won’t be very pleased here in a few weeks when I put a stop to that. I can’t have them digging up my plants come spring though.
I have always heard they are not smart animals, but you sure can’t tell that with these birds most of the time. In particular, we have at least one Rhode Island Red that will go up to Charity when she has let them out to run in the yard, letting her know she is ready for Charity to put a shovel in the ground and turn some dirt over. This bird will then eat all the worms, then look back up at Charity, as if it is asking her to please do that again. 😀 Some of the others join in, but most of the time it is just one who starts it.