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.
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:
I think I am probably like most every other gardener in the northern hemisphere right now, perusing through seed catalogs trying to decide what I am going to grow this year. There sure isn’t much going on around the homestead otherwise.
Wait! That is not really true. My middle son has been working hard all week getting all the leaves cleaned up from our yard. He has dumped many of them in my garden to supplement the wood chips that are already there, but he and his brothers started a fire last night with some of them, as well as some old wood we had in the yard. Besides making a great bonfire for roasting hotdogs and marshmallows, it should have left behind a considerable amount of ashes which will be tossed on the garden soon.
Did you know that wood ash is a great supplement for the garden? It is often considered so because it is a good source of potash, but it also contains minerals such as iron, manganese, zinc, copper, and more. In other words, wood ash helps add back the trace minerals into your soil that are so often depleted and ignored, which makes for healthier food.
The other big thing around here is the beginning of winter sowing. I had intended on completing the first round of winter sowing last week and getting a blog post up on it, but that didn’t happen. I am expecting to finish it today though, so if I find the time, there will be a post this week. I also have a few other posts I am working on that I cannot seem to find the time to finish. May this week allow time for that as well.
If you are like many Americans, you woke a little earlier this morning, at least according to the clock. Your body, like most, is not quite yet used to sleeping an hour later. It will take a few days, but by the time we spring forward again in March of 2015, you will be well settled, and not quite ready to lose an hour sleep. The cycle will go on though.
I, for one, am pretty indifferent about Daylight Savings Time, but I must admit, it hasn’t always seemed the most logical thing to me. It is a little nicer having the later sunset, but that comes at the expense of the later sunsrise. In the end, it seems to be a wash to me. Then I ran across this article on The Atlantic making the statement that Daylight Savings Time is America’s Greatest Shame. While that is probably a bit of an overstatement, the article was interesting to say the least. After reading it, I am wondering why we go through this song and dance twice a year.