Friday, August 26, 2011

Fledglings and Plant Predators

So as you may remember, Invisibird had two families "in the oven" so to speak, when we last checked in. Well, shortly after I posted, the first family stealthily vamoosed and then, a week ago, family number two silently fledged. Do you think I saw them, even though I checked in about every half hour? ( I mean, what could be cuter than the babies of a tiny bird?)
Even though the babies made a racket of disproportionate scale for their minuteness while in the nest, they could not just hang around outside it and sit on the fence for a minute or two while they practiced being birds. No, they took after their father and stayed invisible, right out the door and into the woods without a peep.

So I took a picture of the nest for you instead.
Click to Supersize

Remember the herb bed I put in? Well, it's doing great. The deer haven't bothered anything in it except the eggplant- I guess I know now that deer do like eggplants. The chickens on the other hand have decided that despite the fact that Rhubarb leaves are considered poisonous, they rather enjoy their crispy texture and tangy flavor.

And if I was suspecting that the deer weren't bothering the herb bed because they were just worried about of the close proximity of:
I was flat out wrong, because they stood IN my herb bed and ate the tops off of our grafted fruit trees that were inside the garden but leaning against the fence.

It's a good thing I'm not a lion tamer. Predicting the behavior of the mild and meek around here is hard enough.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Canned Ham Oasis

Buck and I were cruising Craig's List looking for a propane stove for our future outdoor kitchen, when I came upon a trailer,  a 1958 Oasis 15 footer. Buck called the next morning, but did not hear back.  We assumed it had been turned into a fancy food cart in Portland, were sad and bitter for a while, then got over it.

A week later, we heard back.  It was still available.  We raced off, looked at it in the dark with a flashlight, and bought it.  Now...it is our new guest house.  She needs some cleaning and some structural work but she is one very cool little vintage trailer. With an ice box...
 and the original round edged cabinetry

 a full size bed and a single bunk...
and a great place to sit and do a crossword puzzle over coffee.
The stove and ice box seem to be original, and the stove works great.
The paint is not original, so we will have to decide what to do about that. 
It was delivered today, and we spent the evening googling trailers.  It was sold to us as a 59, but our research is leading us to believe it is a 58.  It seems only 58's had the quilted doors.
It has a lot of its original details, but is so far from stock that we don't feel a need to restore it.  Instead, we will feel free to make it work well, rather than make it authentic.
We are very excited!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Harvest Basket

 There is an old saying that the best fertilizer for a garden is the gardener's shadow. That's generally very true. Unfortunately, no matter how much time you spend in your garden, you will not cast a shadow if the sun never comes out!
It's been a pretty cool summer and I decided to cut down my tomato plants so they will stop taking up valuable space and to get going on my winter garden plantings. This is the first time in 25 years of gardening that I have given up on my tomatoes before they produced anything. I have had a realization that tomatoes and peppers are a luxury that I cannot afford this year. I am finding that the higher altitude of the Homestead has been a real challenge for these last two cool summers.


Cilantro is a cool weather crop and it did really well. It likes to bolt before I can use it all though. A good friend gave me the idea to make Cilantro pesto. I picked what I had and whirred it up in the blender with some mild olive oil.
Now I can put it in my freezer in blobs and pull it out to put in Thai, Mexican and Indian dishes all winter. She's a genius!

 I also like to let a lot of Cilantro bloom for two reasons: the tiny native pollinators absolutely adore the little white blooms and I use the Coriander (Cilantro seed) for next years crop and for cooking.
It is looking like I will be getting a couple dozen yellow zucchini before the rain comes back. I've never been so anxious for zucchini before. I am usually begging people to take them off my hands by now.
There are greens galore and we have been eating gigantic salads and "Eggs in a Nest" for dinner. 

"Eggs in a Nest" is when you put a 1/2 inch of water in a sauce pan and then you put leaves of chard in layers (8 or 9 leaves) into a bowl shape in the pan and then crack a couple eggs into the bowl of leaves. Salt and pepper, a little mustard powder. Put a lid on it and cook over medium for as long as you like your eggs cooked. I like mine to be over easy style, June likes hers hard cooked. It takes about 5-8 minutes.

As far as beauty goes the big hands down winner in my garden was the Speckles Butter Head lettuce and the Lobelia I planted at the end of each row. I will definitely do this pairing on purpose next year.
My baby asparagus is doing pretty good. A few of the roots didn't take. 80% of them are doing good. I think it was because of the state they were in when I bought them. They had been displayed in an open box at the nursery and had been very dehydrated when I brought them home.

The plethora of basil seed I planted didn't come up in the cold soil and by the time I noticed it was too late to start any. Desperate for the smell and taste we associate with summer, Buck bought some Basil at the store but we didn't get around to finishing it all. I put it in a glass of water to make it last longer and it rooted. I planted it in the garden and it took off!
I started the seeds for my winter garden the end of July and I am now seeing my sprouts of several kinds of lettuce, chard, radishes, beets and peas.
I feel grateful for what I have. My harvest basket isn't full of tomatoes and melons, but it is full of turnips, Cilantro, three kinds of lettuce, Chioggia beets, Purple Viking potatoes and Five Color Silverbeet chard. These are some of the most nutritious and yummy foods from a garden.

Hay! And seeds a-poppin'

It has been a while since we had our act together enough to buy hay in the summer.  As a result, we get it a few bales at a time throughout the winter, one trip to the farm store after another. 

We did better this year.  Phoebe was inspired one day, got on Craig's List, and sent me a half dozen links.  It was going for $3-4 a bale, a much better deal than the $12-14 each at the feed store.  We narrowed it down to a couple, and gave one a try.  We hauled a ton of it and fed a bit to the horse.  He gave it a B.  Phoebe thought we could do better, so we tried a different place the next day.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Chicken Dinner

As you may remember I placed 10 Cornish Cross chicks under a hen on May 22nd.

Because I had been told that health problems occur in Cornish Cross chickens if you give them free choice food, heart attacks and failing legs among others, the Gigantachicks were fed only as much as they could eat in 10 minutes in the morning for the first 4 weeks. Then their mom would take them out for the rest of the day to forage for the rest of the days food.
Around four weeks, they were so hungry and their mother so tired I began giving them an additional couple of tuna cans of wheat and a little corn in the evenings.
All the rest of their food was gathered by them, lots of grass, bugs and worms.
They were very good at foraging, surprisingly so. They were eating machines. I actually watched them catch flies from the air.

Although they did tend to follow us around a bit. They put two and two together and realized that sometimes when a human came out with a dish or bucket, they got yummy food.
Then they decided to just come to the source.
That's when Mr. B's new found herding instincts came in handy.

All in all it was a happy eleven weeks for our free ranging chicks. We had no problems with their health and we did not lose a single one to a predator. They were happy on the farm in their own little chicken cosmos.
One did start to limp the day before we took them in, so it was definitely time.

We chose to make an appointment for our chickens to be butchered at a local, family run business that does poultry processing.
We were told not to feed them for 24 hours before we brought them in (bugs and grass were OK).

We decided it was best to keep them in the pen for the 24 hours so that we could feed the rest of the chickens outside.
I had several bags of lettuce I needed to clean up to take to the food bank, so I kept all the bugs and slugs and put any chewed on leaves into a big basket and gave the meaty chicks a nice last breakfast of salad and slugs. They were very appreciative and stampeded the door. They got out and I cussed, but then they ran in again when I threw the lettuce in. It was very exciting.

The next morning, Buck and I calmly caught them and took them to the processors in two dog crates. When we arrived we were very happy with the cleanliness of the facility and the humane and low stress way that they killed the chickens.

We left a cooler for them to be put in and filled out a card with our instructions- "Keep the feet, necks and giblets."

We left and did a little junk shopping and came back three hours later to pick up our transformed chickens. They all fit in our smaller cooler, which surprised us, and the feet were scalded and clean in a bag. They averaged 4.5 lbs. dressed and it cost $3.50 each to process.

Maybe it was a little short of "homesteading" to have someone else do the butchering, but with Buck on such a tight schedule and the turkey debacle hanging over my head, we decided to take baby steps this time. I do feel like we took a big step forward by raising the meat we eat in a way that was responsible, humane and fairly ecologically sound.
It is difficult to be exact on the costs of raising these birds since we were raising them with all of our Cuckoo Morans (10 adults and 7 growing + the 10 Cornish Cross) and the scraps and feed were scattered for all. We decided to do it this way, knowing that we were probably rounding-up on the costs:
Cost of day old chicks- 19.50
1/2 of total grain- 35.00
Butchering at 11 weeks- 35.00

As you can see the butchering nearly doubled our costs. Although having to set up and spend a day doing it ourselves right now would have indirectly cost more, time IS money sometimes.

We kept one chicken out of the freezer and the next night June came over for dinner and Buck cooked it on our big BBQ, Beer Butt style.

We have purchased and eaten many "organic, free range" chickens and not one tasted this good. It was the best chicken we have eaten, ever. I am not exaggerating. It was lean, tender and full of flavor.

While we enjoyed our fabulous dinner together we made a point to express our gratitude to the ones who made it possible, the chickens.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Road Work

This is not my usual homestead view.  But for the last several months, it has been as usual as home for me.

I work freelance, on a project by project basis, and this year has been delightfully, exceptionally busy.  So, the whole making money thing? Yep.  Happy homesteading? Not so much.

I am back now, and trying to get into the swing of things here.  I had been practicing a special zen vision technique; I see and appreciate the hard work Phoebe has been doing, and avoid seeing the things I wish I was doing.  Now I need to re-develop the ability to see projects, build some calluses onto my hands and get back to work.


Phoebe has the homestead looking great, with a fabulous garden, happy hives and horse, coffee a-roasting, grass a-mowing, chickens a-raising.  All of my stuff sits as I left it 4 months ago: Wood stacked, waiting to be split.  Pasture almost finished. Old fencing piled up waiting to be recycled.

And, fortunately, the phone continues to ring.

So I need to adopt an attitude of gratitude: to Phoebe for keeping the world spinning, and to the universe for making the phone ring. 

Thank you.