Pig time

Pigs are on the ground at Red Tail Hollow! Meet John Boy and Kleitos! If you’ve missed earlier entries, I should explain that we name the pigs alphabetically, and these two are J and K. This system lets us know how many pigs we have raised by what letter we are on at the time, just as is done with storm names. These two are adjusting well and digging things up at a rapid rate. Soon they will go out on pasture, we just wanted them to first get used to us in their smaller pen. It’s easier for them to get to know us in a smaller space than in a larger space. It’s been a bit tough weather wise since they got here, with either intense heat or intense rain, and not much in between that, but with two wallows and lots of water they seem to be doing well. We are starting to have some produce scraps from the garden and they have been enjoying crunching through the outer cabbage leaves I have been sharing with them.

The past few years my cabbage, broccoli, kale and collards have been eaten by bugs, but this year I have been managing them differntly and am happy to say that so far so good! We had coleslaw yesterday and fried cabbage with salt and pepper tonight. I’m already wishing I had planted more of it!

These are volunteer pumpkin plants that are growing in the Winter Chicken yard. I fed the chickens a locally made seed mix last Winter as treats, and there were large pumpkin seeds in the mix, and this is what happened. I wasn’t sure if it would actually flower and grow pumpkins or if it would just be foliage but sure enough there will be loads of pumpkins for the pigs this year! We already planted a pumpkin garden, so these are a bonus, and check out the size of these leaves…

WOW!

I planted Currants about three years ago, and was lucky to get one currant off of the bushes each year. The birds and critters were always getting them. This time though the bush has much more fruit on it! I guess it is enough fruit for the birds, the critters and me, this year!

These currants were dried, so that I could use them in a special recipe for a dinner party coming up soon. Wild rice, Currants and Walnuts.

The raspberries will be ripening soon!

This flower is on my blackberry bushes. They are absolutely huge berries and this year looks like I will get much more than last year!

Cherries! Cherry ice cream has been on the menu, as well as Sourdough Cherry muffins. After eating a bunch of them the rest got frozen for goodies later.

My tomato fence didn’t work quite as well as I hoped. I I thought I would be able to get all the branches to grow along the fence, but thankfully I left plenty of room around the tomatoes, so even if they go jungle on me, I can still get in there. Can’t wait for that first red tomato, and the first tomato sandwich of the year!

Shiitake mushrooms are so beautiful.

A tray of today’s treats.

Elderflower, Mint, Chamomile, Basil, Spearmint, Dill and Calendula.

The storms this Summer have been impressive. This one we watched for a long time. What a lightening show. In addition to the lightening show the fire flies were everywhere! It was quite an amazing display.

 

Babies and Mushrooms and Gardens, oh my!

     

Nope this isn’t a baby lamb! This is Casper our new bull calf. Our Mama who is a white Highland has had 3 white babies on our farm. Our bull is a very dark color but our Mama’s genetics are strong. Her calves look like little lambs to me. He has been a pretty friendly fella so far, which is good because his little bum has needed a lot of cleaning. It’s important to keep him clean so flies don’t lay eggs on him. This can lead to “fly strike” which actually can kill a calf, so it’s great that he has been cooperative with the cleanings he’s had to endure.

It was a week for babies on the farm! I got the very, very early call from the post office that these little ones had arrived. I headed over there to pick up my chirping box of chicks. They are doing really well so far. They have been here only 5 days and they are already much bigger. I was just out there bringing them fresh water and food, and they are already starting to flap their tiny wings and suddenly they think they are tough little tiny chicks, and have started sparring with each other, by running towards each other and bumping chests and flapping their wings at each other. It’s very amusing because when one thinks of tough, a tiny baby fluffy chick just doesn’t come to mind!

I am still trying to get used to this look. Many people are not proponents of garden fabric, however, when you have a back that needs to be treated kindly, you try garden fabric. Weeding can be tough on the back, and so I now have a weedless garden. It seems a bit sterile to me, but oh the hours and hours of weeding I am saving my back from. I could get used to this! Hopefully the experiment will be a successful one. This picture was a week ago and the plants in the middle, the cabbages, collards, and broccoli plants have doubled in size in the last week!

This is my tunnel garden that was wrapped in plastic all Winter. I finally pulled all the Spinach. I planted it last July and we had Spinach all the way through till a few weeks ago when it bolted and was pulled and given to some very happy chickens! Now I have 2 short rows of Dragon Tongue beans, in there along with 3 short rows of beets and carrots, as well, that just went in there. The peas, I didn’t think would even grow at all, because some little critter burrowed in and ate most of them, but somehow they missed just enough and they grew. At best the harvest is a handful at a time, but they are a delicious handful!

The Gardens are all doing well. Next post I will show the upper gardens. They are looking great! Up there we have garlic, pumpkins, squashes, potatoes and mangels. The mangels and extra pumpkins will be great for the pigs come Fall when they are very big and very hungry!

 

These foraged Morels were found by hubby a few weeks ago. It was not a great Morel mushroom year, but that never stops him from finding at least some. We enjoyed several Morel adorned meals and then dried some and sautéed the others in butter and froze them in packets to add to meals. Morels are like magic, they are surprising, unpredictable, and always leave you wondering. We are always thankful for the magic.

Another Spring treat! The Spruce tips this year were beautiful. The vibrant green tender tips, of new growth, were perfect to make some Spruce Syrup with, and it is great! Basically, a simple syrup infused with the spruce tips, which adds vitamin C and a bit of a bright citrus-y and slightly piney taste. Since I had my waffle success with my sourdough discard, I thought this syrup would go great with them.

Golden Oyster Mushrooms! We have never seen them on the farm. Hubby found them in the woods, and we have gone back 3 times now. We now have 4 quarts of dried Oysters and have enjoyed them in two meals so far. They are a very delicious mushroom. Hoping they keep on producing up there! They are so beautiful!

As long as I am on a roll with mushrooms, I thought I would add in this picture of our Shiitake bed. The lighting was so pretty that day, I had to get a picture of it.

Ready for the oven!

My bread recipes were finally becoming predictable and turning out well, and then I got my grain mill, which I love, and as I have mentioned it changed up everything. Suddenly all my recipes needed some re-working to get them right. This one was a very happy surprise, light and delicious inside, with a chewy crust. Success!

These whole grain, sourdough cherry muffins are one of my favorites for using up my sourdough discard. These I made the other day and today I made my other favorite sourdough discard recipe too, which resulted in 27 English muffins. The freezer is stocked!

It is the quiet lull now. Everything is planted and there is little to harvest yet. Things will get very busy soon with processing lots of garden veggies as they come in, I am enjoying the lull, and will use some of my time today to go on a camera walk, no, not a phone camera walk, a real camera walk. Looking forward to it.

 

 

Old Things, New Things

When we lived in town, years ago, Spring cleaning meant cleaning up around the house. Here on the farm though Spring cleaning is often times more about cleaning up outside after Winter has melted away.

We decided now that we built a much bigger coop last year, that we could part with this one. It was an insulated one with electric hook up that hubby built a couple of years ago, and it sold about the minute I put it on the Marketplace. It went to some people who were very happy to replace their patched together non-winterized coop. Nice to know it will have a nice life with another family producing food for themselves.

Next on the list were 2 tractors to sell. This one is in non-working condition, but that didn’t stop someone from buying it! People who know what they are doing, think nothing of a non-working tractor, other than, “I’ll get this running, no problem”. This tractor was of great use to us about 10 years ago, but after that we had little use for it, since we got a newer one that performed more of what we needed. This too, went quickly on the Marketplace, so quickly that I had 20 messages in my inbox within an hour! Tractors don’t stay with you forever, they keep getting new lives as they move on to someone else’s pasture.

This old blue Ford actually runs great and hasn’t sold yet. It’s an awesome little tractor and when we were first living here I logged a lot of hours mowing with it. This one will sell soon, I am sure, but it will be a little sad seeing it go, we really like this one, but don’t have use for it now. Again, old tractors get new lives.

We have a big event coming up. A family wedding! We will have people here for a brunch afterwards, and suddenly all the things we so easily “didn’t see” are staring at us! How did this deck get so bad?! Good thing events every few years make us clean up our act.

I truly had no idea how gratifying power washing things is, I couldn’t stop! The deck is looking much better! It’s a large deck and it took about a day and half to clean, but wow, what a difference it makes!

This is my new sourdough starter. I am excited about it, as I have failed it before. How nice would it be if didn’t have to use yeast in my breads some day, just the sourdough starter! Well, if all goes well, this new young starter hopefully someday, years from now, will be my old starter from 2018!

The wonderful world of discarded starter! I’m learning to manage my starter with out it multiplying me right out of my house. The waffles and the rye sourdough English muffins went great. I take half of the starter first and make products like these, then I take the rest of the starter and feed it flour to keep it happy till next time. Hubby was pretty happy about the prospect of breakfast sandwiches on English muffins!

These new young Spring forages are: garlic mustard, pheasant back mushrooms, ramps and dandelions. All were sauteed and then cooked into a scrambled egg breakfast. Although Spring is just getting started, it’s been a delicious season so far!

These will be the beginning of this year’s supply of mushrooms and chives. I always thought dried chives had no flavor. Usually, I cook with the fresh ones, and when it is getting toward the end of their run I take the rest and dry them, yielding very little flavor. This year I cut fresh early chives and they have a great flavor dried and will have even more flavor when hydrated in a dish.

These logs we just finished inoculating for next year’s logs. We tried three strains of shiitakes this year, not just one. Will be interesting to see if the varied strains extend the season on the early and late side.

These are very happy cattle, while it was just another day for them it was a big deal, to me, (but not to most farmers)! These guys were on hay in the paddock area while hubby was out of town for a week. They ate double the hay as usual, not sure if Spring weather instigates that or it’s our pregnant Mama’s eating more, but they were out, and literally licking the bits out of the feeder. There was only one option and that was to open the other pasture so they could get the emergency bale, just in case they ran out, which we both didn’t expect to happen. When they are out of food and they see you going for a gate, then it’s all critters on deck and they are ready to go! I had to think this one over for quite a while. I had other approaches to that gate but most of them were not ones that made me comfortable, while they are excited. After much thinking, (if I do this, they will do that), I decided to sneak up on the gate from the other side by rolling under a wide part in the fence. I was able to sneak up and by the time one saw me and got excited I was able to pick up the awkward gate and let them out into this pasture, while holding the gate in a way where it gave me a tool between them and me. They all did just as they should and ran down the alley to the next pasture. One thought he’d challenge the situation. By now I had found a place to put the gate and I just instinctively gave him some very uncomfortable body language and he ran with the others. Success! As happy as they were, I was happier! “There are no small victories, only victories!”

As I have mentioned before, I have been reading the Earth’s Children books, Clan of the Cave bear and the 5 other books after that one. The last year and a half we have been preparing for this family wedding and I found it so ironic that the lead characters in the book were doing the same thing. They were preparing for their Commitment Ceremony. It was so interesting that while this took place in time so very long ago in history, there is evidence that these Commitment Ceremonies really did happen. During my reading the young couple’s preparations culminated into a wonderful ceremony where they committed to each other before the community that supported them. As we prepare for this wedding it occurs to me what an age old cultural practice this is, and still is today. I saw this photo on a fermenting page where people were discussing Mead and it’s history. I found it timely and interesting. Now if only couples really got a lunar cycle of total privacy after their wedding. How nice would that be!

 

 

Taking Stock

We are getting to that time of year where I am taking stock in the freezers. What we used too quickly becomes a note for next year. What we have used slower is for one of two reasons, one being that I was worried we would use it too fast and I didn’t gauge it right, and the other reason because sometimes there are things that are less easy to come up with ideas for cooking. These are mostly cuts of meat I am unfamiliar with cooking, and for those items I get out cookbooks, or check in with some websites that are go to pages for me when needed.

This, freezer find, was our very last bag of whole tomatoes from last year, and with it I also brought in, from the freezer, a few pounds of ground beef, leaving us with just 2 lbs left! We will see ground beef again in the early Summer when our steer gets processed. We will be eating pork and chicken till then. These tomatoes became delicious pasta sauce, which now is in the freezer in containers and will become “convenience food”, for a quick dinner.

Also in the kitchen…

As I took stock on the freezer I found these turkey necks and of course put up a huge pot of them. In this case, taking stock, lead to making stock! They were given to me by a turkey farmer a couple miles away from here. I bought a turkey from him, last Fall, and apparently he doesn’t have enough customers for turkey necks because he sent me home with about 8-10 pounds of necks for free! These, as I mentioned in an earlier post, are like gold to me, just like my Mama taught me they were. This giant pot is filled about 2/3 of the way up with turkey necks, and then covered with water. They have been simmering since yesterday noon and will continue to do so till tonight or possibly tomorrow morning. Good thing I reorganized the freezers, I will be putting a lot of containers of broth in them.

My plant starts are going great! I made a bit of a rookie mistake by starting too many, but as it turns out, I will be able to sell/trade many of them. I started with 2-3 seeds in each compartment of the seed tray figuring that they wouldn’t all germinate, but they did! I pulled them out and separated them thinking that I would lose some while I pulled them apart. I tried hard to not tear their little roots up, when I divided them, and again they all made it! I will be able to sell many of these tomatoes starts, and the money made on them will pay for all my seeds. Can’t really beat that!

These are just the re-potted ones I separated, I have many more to separate today, as well as re-potting my red and green cabbages. Once again taking stock and trying to figure out what is enough for us and what is for sale.

Despite our crazy snowy weather, followed by nice weather, followed by snowy weather, these tenacious little Chives presented themselves in time for a plate of scrambled eggs and chives this morning. There is not much green out there yet, but little bits are appearing quickly. We should have Spring green colored grass by next week, it’s so close.

These were gathered on a walk yesterday. It was a beautiful warm day, and the Cottonwood buds are maybe not perfectly ready but very close, close enough to use, and I will gather more this week when they swell further, but before they show leaves. The buds are resinous, quite sticky and have an interesting, in a good way, smell to them. Cottonwood buds can be made into a salve to alleviate sore muscles. I have never made it before but it is said to be very effective, and can be bought commercially online. I am excited to make this and see how it works for me. It is also referred to as Balm of Gilead.

Here are the buds in Olive Oil, sitting in the sun, doing their thing. Once they have sat for enough time, I will strain it and mix it in the proper proportion with beeswax and coconut oil to make it a soft enough salve to rub on the skin. It might be nice after a long day of gardening or food processing this Summer.

Although I mostly write about farm and food, we are about more than that here. We are family, farm and food, although with much of our family spread out around the country, we don’t often have large groups around the table. Recently though, we had reason to celebrate a special occasion here. It was a warm and wonderful feeling seeing so many people around our table enjoying each other. The Currier and Ives dishes, I have enjoyed collecting from second hand stores, made the table quite pretty.

Between Seasons

Currently it is snowing and underneath the snow is a fine layer of ice. No April fool’s day, its the 3rd, this is just plain old Midwestern Springtime. A day ago I was collecting sap and it was running well, and today I was doing the winter thing, making soup and hot buns to have for dinner.

The cattle are happy in any weather and they have been mugging for the camera. This little fellow is Splash, and below is his Dad, Scotty, everyone has been soaking up the sunshine that we had so much of last week.

This time of year there is little green for the chickens to find to eat. We are looking forward to Spring and Summer, when the birds will start out on grass and we will have nice orange egg yolks again. This day though I got the lucky text from my neighbor who farms micro greens. Often he has trays of the them that are not usable, either because he cut what he needed or they got too tall etc. He filled the back of my car with trays for the birds, and I left him with eggs. The birds were thrilled, and my kind neighbor was happy with the eggs.

This picture goes under the category of…sometimes you need more help. You reach a point in life where you want to keep doing what you are doing but you find it getting harder to do. That is when it is time to upgrade tools so the machines can do the harder work. This new unit will make hubs jobs infinitely easier. Looking forward to my driving lessons when things warm up.

And speaking of getting older…we go through so much of this golden broth!! We are firm believers in the benefits of bone broth for the joints, and so I make this much about every couple of weeks. I make it mostly from our stewing birds we have in the freezer. It is such rich and delicious broth! I know I have mentioned this before but it’s become an integral part of our routines, and so it continues to pop up in my posts.

Each year we hope to learn a few new things to add to our list of homestead skills. This year we expanded into smoking meat. We have so far smoked delicious ribs a few times, brats, pork hocks, that were great in split pea soup, and even a side of salmon from a local who fishes in Alaska. This past weekend though we went for the biggie. We pulled out the two pork bellies we had been scratching our heads about how to properly prepare. We had great guidance from someone with experience, and he coached us well.

Ready for the cure….

I rubbed the cure on the bellies. Then they went into the fridge for 5 days.

Day 5 they got rinsed and then put in the fridge to dry for a couple of hours. It was then smoked for 2 hours.

… and here is our uncooked bacon after it’s been smoked. It turned out really well. We enjoyed every bite. We have some tweaks to do to lower the salt a bit in it, but we are very satisfied with it! A new skill learned!

As the season struggles to show off it’s true colors, I found myself poking in places just to see a sign! Here it was, a sign of encouragement from my Rhubarb, showing me it has full faith in the season! Looking forward to rhubarb crisp already!

This will all look so different in just a matter of weeks!

Alone Time

A while back hubs was out of town for 2 weeks. I have had a week out here myself, but this was probably the longest I’ve lived alone since I was just out of college and had my first apartment! I do well alone, so that was not any problem. It was warm when he left and we had no snow, much to my disappointment.

I developed my routines… start coffee perking on the stove, start a fire in the house, go out and check on the cattle, let the chickens out and then inside to my coffee. This all went pretty easily. The third day I woke up to a beautiful and wonderful snowstorm and it literally snowed some almost everyday of the rest of those two weeks. Some days 8 inches, some days 2 but it just kept snowing! It got cold enough for wind chills of -25 at night. I was thrilled with the snow and cold, but it definitely changed my routine up a few notches. What Hubs forgot when he told me, you probably won’t need to start a fire in the workshop, while I am gone, was that he is used to starting a small fire out there routinely to take the chill off the shop, enough so that it stays generally warmer in there since it gets a bit warmed each day. I quickly realized when the cold weather hit that I was going to have to be building fires everyday out there and would have to keep them going to protect the plumbing.  The wood he left me well set with, was behind the house and I had to get wood to the shop and the snow was deep. I was making 4 trips a day with an old metal sledding saucer to get it there. I surely could do it, but as the snow got deeper it got harder and it was time to ask for a hand from a friend. He came the next day, cheerful and ready to go, with two toboggans! It was beautiful out, the sky was brilliant blue, the sun was shining and he made the work more fun and oooooh so much faster and efficient. We enjoyed the weather, the company, and some fun on the job. He left with some “thank you pork” and I was left with a giant pile of wood in the shop, making the rest of my time alone much easier. Helping friends out, and trading skills and goods are things we both enjoy. It’s a pretty common way of doing things where we live.

Wood for the wood stove in the basement. I made things far easier by putting this basket on a dolly. I loaded at the back door and rolled it to the basement stairs. Always, always looking for a few back saving tricks!

I got a fair amount of work done on my blanket, for our bed, while he was gone. These are strips that I will put together when done. I am working on another wide strip now and then one more narrow one and it will be completed. My time while he was away was very precious, to be alone with myself for periods of time, is important. He gets his alone time too, when I go out of town. We both have our own things we like about it.

I worked on several craft projects, and finally watched the Nikon School DVDs and am armed with new knowledge for using my SLR camera. I’ve used it plenty, but sadly all on auto. It is time for turn off the auto feature and take pictures without training wheels! I tried out my, new to me, sewing machine, and I tried new recipes, read and planned for gardens, chickens, mushrooms, and learned about new things to try that I haven’t grown yet. I even got a cow unstuck from a feeder by myself. I studied more about Spring edibles that will come up soon, and I ate 2 meals a day, most days, about mid morning and late afternoon and that was a perfect schedule. I needed nothing from the store, I just ate from our stored foods, although I did buy plenty of milk and coffee before I settled into my hibernation on the farm. In fact I didn’t leave for 9 days, and even that was grudgingly done, being on the farm is such a happy place to be, it makes it hard to find good reasons to leave sometimes! All in all my alone time was restorative and fun. Having said all this, I sure was happy to see him come home, it’s a loooooong time to be apart!

I’ve discovered a good Rye bread recipe. It tastes great and it is the recipe I have been relying on a lot lately. It is a dough that can be refrigerated and so I make a large batch and then make small loaves every other day. It is fresher for us this way, and we don’t eat a lot of bread so a small loaf is just about right. These were gift loaves and so they were larger.

Meet Fidibus! Hubs gave me something for Christmas that I have really wanted! It took a lot of research. This is a grain mill, so I can now grind my own flour. I really looked at that beautiful Country Mill manual grain mill. If I were 20 years younger I would have picked that one, but I just don’t have the shoulders for it at this point, and sometimes you just have call it, and this was the mill for me. This, of course, was the gateway to other thoughts, and I am now researching small scale grain growing. In the meantime though, I got wheat berries from a local organic grain supplier and my store bought flour is just about gone, and so my journey with home milling local grain begins. It’s a German made mill and is beautifully made, it grinds fine pastry flour and course grains for other uses. I’m not sure why it is called Fidibus, I assume it is a German word or name, but I like it.

The tiny-but-mighty-greenhouse, keeps on trucking! It made it all through the Winter! A fresh spinach salad in the Winter is quite a treat!

This little bowl/cup is from a local artist. I fell in love with it’s simplicity, and I do love my coffee.

I end so many of my entries with a sunset, but they are always new ones and they never look the same. I look forward to the show each night.

Winter Broth

Winter took forever to show itself, and now it has, which is wonderful, the correlating flu season, is not wonderful and it seems to be hitting hard, so far still safe! Bone broth and Elderberry, and staying out of crowds is my game plan. This broth came from an amazingly delicious locally raised turkey. When I walked up with the farmer to get the turkeys out of his barn freezers, he said, “you want some turkey necks”? I guess many people say no to this, but to me he said do you want some gold? “How much”, I asked? He said, “just take them, I don’t know what to do with them all”. I walked away with my 2 local turkeys and a mammoth bag of turkey necks which, when raised by my Mama, means SOUP! I was very excited about the prospect of so much bone broth. These jars were turkey broth from our yummy bird. I still have oodles of broth to make from the turkey necks!

The drive into our farm has changed so much over the years. These trees, 21 years ago, were like sticks, they were so little, being a girl from the suburbs, I had no idea that those tiny “sticks” would fill in so nicely in just 21 years, totally changed the landscape and for the better! He has vision, that I just don’t have because he grew up in this life, and I learn so much from him.

This was taken prior to, what really was just our second good snow all year. Hubs left me well set with wood, to keep the house warm, before he went off to help his folks for a while.

So…I am doing a bit of flying solo, while Hubs is gone. Ironically we finally got a snowy month, and it started the day after he departed!  Since it wasn’t too windy, my flannel sheet covering the wood pile helped a lot, I just shake the snow off it when I go out to restock the supply for the fire in the house. Very nice to see dry wood underneath.

Then this happened. It takes just the right type of snow for this to happen, but the net over the chicken run filled with so much snow that it was hanging to about 4 feet off the ground. I needed a hat and two hoods for this job or else it would all go down my jacket, not what I wanted! I used our wide snow shovel upside down and just kept bouncing it till it all came off, I’m pretty sure I accumulated about 4 inches of snow on my hood, but the job was done, and I am hoping this next snow coming might be a different variety of snow flakes that don’t stick again! This goes in the category of, “sometimes when you wake up you just don’t know what you may be doing that day”. Jumping up and down with an upside down shovel dumping snow on my head, was not really on my radar when I woke up that morning.

This is our road, almost to our house, I couldn’t be happier to see Winter in all it’s finery, I thought it might never happen this year, however, seems that February is going to try and make up for our January lackluster snowfall. This makes me a pretty happy camper. Planning a garden, when it doesn’t even remotely look like Winter, is a big disappointment, but February pulled through and garden planning is happening. This year the garden plan is to focus on the fences, and grow all I can on the fences so I maximize actual garden space! Cucumbers, and Tomatoes, two things that really take up a lot of space will all be grown on the garden fences, which are made of cattle panels. We will just attach another panel higher up on the tomato side so we can adequately trellis them. I am now working on balance out there, last year there were things I had too much of, and things I couldn’t fit and wished I could, so garden planning is taking a new direction this year, more on this soon.

Today I am looking forward to a visit from my Sister. We are truly the story of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. I love visiting her condo, in the sky in Chicago, it is spectacular. She loves visiting our big farm and doing the country thing. It’s a special time for us when we have time together, just two Sisters together on a snowy weekend, of course I have plenty of soup for us:)

Enjoying Winter, every morsel!