Saturday, February 25, 2012

Yummy Eggs In A Nest


For us, late winter is a time of stews and soups, root vegetables and canned green beans. Most of what we eat from the garden has been eaten, by us or the voles.

But then the younger hens begin to lay in earnest and the Silver Beet Chard is still standing strong and to every ones great joy it is "Eggs In a Nest" time!

My mom made this for me as a child and for a long time I suffered under the illusion that everyone ate this delicious combo for spring breakfasts. But after years of blank expressions from those listening to my exultation of Eggs in a Nest, I have come to realize it is not a universal childhood dish. But it should be.

Eggs in a Nest it the most simple, delicious, and nutritious meal I can think of. Kids love the name, it's fun to make and it takes two ingredients that are easy to have on hand.

Imagine my glee when Barbara Kingsolver wrote about this quintessential farm to table meal in her book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle". At last we were not the only family who looked forward to this amazing early spring meal.

Put a lid on and boil for about 6 minutes. Watch your eggs to get them to the hardness you like.

You don't have to serve them with scorched toast. Only if you have to toast your bread like us- with a fork over an open flame.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Chicken Foots

When we had our chickens processed, we asked for the feet. Our daughter June had told us that chicken feet make incredible soup stock. Phoebe finally remembered to get them out of the freezer, and I was the one to turn them into food.
This is not going to be a how-to, as I have never done it before, and there are good resources on the web. It is just what I did.

The feet had already had the membrane removed, which was nice. I did clip the toenails off. That was a little odd, as the looked kind like, well, fingernails. But I got over it.
Into the stock pot with some carrots, celery, salt and pepper.
I was working full days, so I cooked it over two evenings. Probably on the heat for about 6 hours. Set outside in the cold overnight to chill, the in the fridge for the day.
After consulting with Phoebe, I strained it into a Pyrex pan. It filled it about an inch deep.
Back into the fridge over night. It set up really solid. I cut it into squares and put them into the freezer. (BTW, this is how you freeze berries if you want them to be loose rather than a single frozen mass.)
A few hours late, voila, hard frozen chunks of yummy stock. Full of collagen for thickening, with micro-nutrients, and a layer of fat on top to use or not. A very rich flavor without adding much to it.
My thought was that we would add a chunk or two to soups, rather than use the whole lot at once. I am excited to try it out!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Get Started Starting Tomatoes

This is a post from our archive which I think will help now on two fronts: It reminds us that even though it is the cold of winter, it's time to get going on tomato and pepper plants for this coming summer and I am also hoping it will also inspire some of you to do it for the very first time.

What got me started, or rather, got me starting my own tomatoes was the deep longing I had for the tomatoes of my childhood. All the Big Boy and Roma tomatoes I had been growing, just didn't have the flavor I remembered from my grandmothers tomatoes. A good friend of mine, who had been gardening for 50 years assured me that it was a simple thing to start my own tomato plants
and he was right! I started searching around for the seed of that illusive juicy, sweet, tangy tomato and in my research I found so many new-to-me heirloom tomatoes that I couldn't stop at one or two...

And down into the rabbit hole I went.

I have now grown so many kinds of tomatoes over the years, it would be easier to tell you the ones I haven't grown.  But I can tell you about a few of my favorite ones.

Brandywine, of course, used to be on my list but they are a gamble for an Oregon garden. About every third summer is long and warm enough that I would get a decent crop. Now you can buy Brandywine tomatoes in the grocery store, so some years I don't use up the space. I'd rather gamble on something I can't buy.

My new favorite sauce tomato is a strange tale. 3 years ago I bought seeds from a gal in Pennsylvania for a sauce tomato called "Howard German", that same summer I bought a plant for a sauce tomato at my local Farmer's Market they called "Polish Linguisa". I planted both together in a bed. They were identical in every way. Hmmm. I saved seeds from both and the next year, they came out identical again. I guess I'm going to call it "Howard's Linguisa" or maybe just "German Sauce". It's very delicious and huge.

Because Oregon summers can be so fickle my "tomato insurance policy" in the past has been the small and dependable hybrid "Oregon Spring" but I am now on the lookout for a replacement since it seems my seed sources have been degrading in quality and I can't save my own (because it's a hybrid). I am trying Territorial Seeds "Legend" this year.

But my very favorite tomato is a large delicious, meaty... well, I shouldn't be mean. It's a tomato you can't have. I am growing my own special tomato that I have been developing from the open pollinated seed of a volunteer. I found it four years ago in the back of my garden. Someday I will name it.

I did a couple of earlier posts on seed saving, but here I would like to focus on starting your own tomatoes and peppers.

To start my tomatoes I begin with making a 2 gallon pot of chamomile tea. Yes, that's right, and this is why:
Moisten and stir up your potting soil before you use it or it will be very difficult to moisten in the pots.
On my very first effort to start toms I had several of my seedlings "damping-off". This can be caused by a few different fungi in soil, water or air and it is heart breaking to see your baby plants just fall over and die.

I asked everyone what to do. I got so many different answers I turned to the web to try to sort out what I could do. I ran across a recommendation to use chamomile tea to water the sprouts. What did I have to lose? I tried it and every sprout that had not fallen already, stayed healthy.

I used the tea the next year, only I didn't wait until disaster struck. I started with the tea. It worked again.

I don't need much more proof than the fact that I have been using this method for over twelve years and I have never had another episode of "damping-off".
I moisten the potting medium with the tea and water the babies with it for the first 4 weeks. It gets kind of fermented towards the end but the plants seem to like it.

Bottom heat is very helpful with starting tom seeds. Don't let people convince you that you need an expensive set up.

For years I have been very happy with my results (usually about 98% germination) by simply putting my trays (covered with plastic wrap) on a card table and putting a lamp with a 100 watt bulb in it, under the table (not closer than a foot). The mild heat from the bulb will be plenty of warmth. In a heated house it really works well.
You can also set the trays on your water heater or on top of the fridge (feel it... it's warm up there).

This year I am at a disadvantage because I do not have a heated space to start seeds in, so I am using a heated plant pad someone gave me.
After they have sprouted they don't need the bottom heat anymore.

Whatever method you use, check on them every day because when they do sprout you need to get them into some strong light the next day or they will get tall and lanky. Like mine did. Not the end of the world. They will be fine. It's not rocket science.

You can put them under grow lights or in a South facing window. Several plants take up very little room.This tray holds 72 plants. That's a lot of plants.

 Two important things to remember are that you do not want to have your plants root-bound (the pot is full of roots) or ever be stressed from lack of water. These two things will substantially decrease the productivity of the plant for the rest of its life. (this is routinely the problem with store bought toms). If you put your toms into large enough pots they will not have either of these problems. If the roots start to come out the bottom of the pots, it is time to re-pot.

After all danger of frost (April 15-May 10, in Oregon Willamette Valley) let your baby tomatoes spend a couple days out in the shade, bring them in at night.
Then let them stay out for a couple half a days of sun.
Then let them stay out all day in full sun.
Keep them safe from rabbits, birds and dogs, but especially SLUGS.

Start Watering them after 4 weeks with a diluted fish fertilizer.

Plant them when your night time temperature is 50 degrees F.

My friend who got me started also recommended just planting the tomato and pepper seeds straight into the ground (when it was warm enough). He assured me that they would do better and catch up to even the biggest hot house tomato start by the end of the summer. I tried the experiment one year and he was absolutely right! The seedling did just as well as the transplant.

The only problem is that if a slug eats it or a bird picks it (that really happened to me. I watched it happen out the kitchen window) then you have nothing. I like to start them indoors because then I have plenty of plants to cover any disaster that may come and some extra plants to give away.
I guess my point here is that you don't need to worry if you start your toms a little late in the season. A lot of the time the small tom plants do much better.

I will tell you that a cold frame sounds great, and many people love them, but I do not. They are one more building project and they heat up like an oven on a sunny day and one day when you are gone and all your baby plants are tucked away in your cold frame, the sun will come out and 4 hours later your plants are dead. It's much easier to just do the shuffle in the spring (in and out) for a few days and have a happy ending.
That's right, that is a quarter sitting on this tomato. I didn't grow the quarter, but I did grow the tomato.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mustangs on the Homestead

Today an old friend came to the Homestead to keep Rio company, Missy Chiq. Until this weekend Missy Chiq had been living at our old house under the care of my father, the Nice Man in the Plaid Coat.

Since we are making real headway in getting our Homestead fences and infrastructure built back up, Buck and I thought it was time to bring Chiq on up.

 Body language translation: Chiq "You think you're hot stuff? Come here and I'll kick the #%*& out of you, and then we'll see who's hot stuff." To which Rio says "Oh Gosh." but is secretly planning his strategy for trapping Chiq in a corner and showing HER who's boss, like he did last time they were together.

The minute she got here there was a lot of squealing and kicking, of course. Classic horse play. Horses are always very concerned with maintaining their standing in the herd, but since there is no herd really, Chiq just wants to be Ruler Of All She Surveys but Rio is pretty sure HE is the Ruler Of All.
They'll work it out in a couple of days. Hopefully they can rule peacefully together. They already have one good minion (me), and a couple of dogs for entertainment.

Both Rio and Chiq are Oregon Mustangs.
Rio is a Warm Springs Herd Mustang

 and Chiq is a Steens Mountain Kiger Mustang.

A brief history of Mustangs:
The American Mustang is not a wild native horse, but a tame horse gone feral.
Horses as a species died out on this continent during the ice age. From the ice age forward, horses did not exist here until the Spanish started sending ships over to explore and plunder. In order to get their horses from the ships to the shore they would throw the horses overboard and have them swim to the shore, where most of them would be caught and put into service.

Some of them however would not be caught and ran into the wilderness, where geographical isolation, and a couple hundred years, created unique herds with their own special traits. Some herds were manipulated by Native Americans, others were destroyed for dog and chicken food. During the Civil War and the First World War, Thoroughbred stallions were released in herds to sire battle horses for the Calvary.

Rio's Warm Springs herd was manipulated by the Native Americans and is known for their vast variety of coloration, intelligence, agility and pleasing conformation.

Other herds like Chiqs Kiger Herd are known for their striped "Mesteno" Dunn coloring, intelligence, calm and sturdy nature. The Kiger mustang is considered, by those who know such things, as one of the most genetically pure relations to the original Spanish horses in existence today. Because of the isolated environment of the Steens Mountain they remained unsullied by other breeds which were later introduced by a steady stream of explorers and settlers.

Until twelve years ago, when I adopted my first mustang at a BLM adoption, I really did not fully understand or appreciate what Mustangs were all about. I had been riding horses since I was literally a toddler and I thought I knew everything about horses. Mustangs taught me that I didn't.

I now know that Mustangs are whip smart and not to be dallied with. These are not horses you clop along on. They are very aware of their surroundings since their lives recently depended on that skill. They can also manipulate their environment in uncanny ways (opening locked gates and doors, untying ropes, chasing other horses by swinging and throwing buckets at them). Let's just say that if they had thumbs they would be dangerous.

When you earn their trust they can also be the very best of partners. They don't fly off the handle when spooked and they see their way through problems instead of making things worse, like holding still while you pull a strand of wire off of their legs, instead of freaking out and pulling the wire tight.

They are also "easy keepers" in that their hooves are strong, their health is excellent and they eat less. Since most Mustang herds evolved in mountainous and high desert areas they generally need less forage than a domestic horse to keep a healthy weight on. Missy Chiq, we joke, gets fat on air. She is in fact about 150 pounds overweight right now and has, much to her chagrin, been put on a diet STAT! Because of this ability to use food so efficiently, you cannot allow most mustangs to graze on lush irrigated pastures day and night or they will get sick.

Mustangs are darn good horses and if you know anything about training horses and are thinking of adding a horse to your Homestead, I highly recommend looking into adopting a Mustang.
Even if you are far from adopting a Mustang, I highly recommend learning about their history. It is fascinating and encompasses a great deal of our American story.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Wood Splittin'

This is my log splitter.
Phoebe suggested getting it a few years ago, when she saw it under the close-out table at a big box store. Her dad, who lives with us, was doing a lot of the wood splitting, and she thought he would appreciate not having to swing the maul through the 5 cord we put up every fall.
She was right, he was very happy with it. I was a bit dubious. It was a few years ago: I was younger then, and preferred to split my wood the old-fashioned way. That lasted a little while, then I got over it. I don't feel as woodsman-like, but I don't hurt nearly as much.

I do have a cautionary tale, though, involving a new concept to me, that of the 'shear bolt.' A shear bolt is a soft bolt designed to break before a more expensive part gets damaged. The push plate on the splitter has shear bolts holding it down.
This is a point of a lot of force, and the bolts break before the plate bends. That is, the bolts break if you replace them with shear bolts. When you think "hmm, that bolt broke awfully easily, so maybe I need a stronger bolt" you kinda defeat the whole idea. The bolt holds and the push plate bends and breaks. And instead of a quick trip to the hardware store, you are looking for a fabricator who can weld and bend it back into shape.
So, that lesson learned, and all stocked up on shear bolts, I was splitting away this fall. That was when I learned an other aspect of the shear bolt: When it breaks, like it is supposed to, the head of the bolt can leave the shaft with the velocity of a bullet.

Now, I am pretty good about wearing protective clothing.
I will even wear ear protection when using the splitter. But safety glasses? Not always on the top of my list. Fortunately this day, I was being good. Because the bolt head shot straight up, hit the top of my glasses, deflected into my forehead, then headed out into space. I don't think it would have hit my eye, but it may have split open my eyebrow. As it was, I got a little dent, a little dab of blood, and that was it. All in all, I got off pretty lucky.

I was thinking about this recently for two reasons. One, I just finished splitting this year's wood. I normally like to have it all in the shed by fall, but we had other things doing, and it was all under a tarp, so I figured I would do the rest when the weather was a bit cooler.
The other reason it was on my mind is that two of the other blogs we read have posts about wood. Neither are their most current post, but I was catching up and read them both on the same day. If you don't read EagerGridlessBeaver or Farm Folly, you should check them out. They have very different takes on the same basic idea as our blog and are great reads.