Granola and good fortune

commute

As I took my drive to bake granola very early the other morning, I had to stop and get out of the car and marvel at the sunrise. I appreciate so much the life that this granola business has led me to, I feel fortunate everyday.

The need to knead…and a few catch up notes too.

It was time to make more jam, the Blackcap berries were perfect for the picking, and thanks to hubby who went out and picked I cooked up a batch. See I was feeling a bit under the weather, but not in the sick sense, I was literally exhausted from the weather, the heat and humidity had been pretty unbearable that day. So it was a collaborative effort, hubby and I, he picked and I jammed. So now the pantry has cherry jam, strawberry jam, strawberry rhubarb jam and now blackcap jam, so the question I get is…”do you eat a lot of jam?

black cap berries

black cap jam

The answer is not a lot, but I do enjoy the occasional toast and jam, as well as a well timed PB and J sandwich. So what’s with all the jam? Well it’s about not missing the bounty of the season, and having that bounty available throughout the year, like a taste of summer in winter, which really can’t be beat. It also is a great gift to bring someone when going to visit, or at holiday time, it’s a small gift, but a homemade gift of food off the farm is one people appreciate, and that I enjoy giving.

On another note, I learned something shockingly simple about bread baking the other day. I’ve had some frustration with my sandwich bread recipe I had found. It seemed as though it looked beautiful and tasted good warm, but the next day it seemed overly dense and by the second day seemed downright hard and dry, two words that don’t go well with bread! I did a bit of reading and then had a lightening bolt moment…was I kneading enough? The two pictures show the bread I was making before followed by the bread I made with more kneading. The first was brushed with egg which is why it is glossy, but they are same bread recipes.

bread pre kneading

I tried kneading the bread for about five minutes more than the average 2-3 minutes I was kneading it before. I was rewarded with a taller, lighter, more moist bread with much more staying power. Even on day three it was still soft and delicious. How did I not know this was the neediest part of the process?! Just another moment of learning by doing, and again that background of assessing, planning, implementing and evaluating. This evaluation was a delicious one.

bread

The tomatoes are coming in earnest…

tomatoes
The tomatoes have been beautiful this year! I was so lucky this year, I planted early, and was really on the edge of the danger zone as far as things possibly getting hit by frost. Fortunately, apart from the loss of my purple beans, I did well and because of the gamble I have the earliest tomatoes ever. Usually my tomatoes are still green at the end of September and by October I am thinking about green tomato relish, and fried green tomatoes with the ones that just won’t ripen before the frost. That won’t be the case this year, I have a feeling I will be done with all tomato processing by early September, maybe even the end of August? I have already started drying some of the little Juliets that are perfect for drying. I’m reading up on recipes for good tomato sauces, canned tomatoes with spices, tomato juice, catsup, and salsas.

When the weather finally broke and the dry air rolled in, Hubby and I decided it was time for a bit of recreational fun, and so we had a saturday night shoot out in the field. We both enjoy the target practice and so it was a beautiful night to be hanging out in the field.

pink clouds

violet clouds

These views were in slightly different directions and taken at different times, but both were from the same evening, and both were beautiful!

Looking back at the end result of a great idea I saw online…

So at one point I mentioned about changing the coop from pine shavings to sand, “like I learned online”. This is going back a week plus ago, when for one reason or another I decided to do this project late in the evening. Wanting to get things set up before they went into the coop for the night, I hurriedly, in the heat, scooped the pine shavings out of their coop and filled it with sand, bucket by bucket, and once it was all squared away and their new space was completely ready for them, I stood back and admired it, it looked perfect to me. As I stood there dripping with sweat feeling pretty good about my work, I opened the pop hole door to watch my chickens march into the coop with what I expected to be, pure chicken joy over their new Zen place. While I stood back and waited for their clucks of gratefulness, it became clear that they were not responding the way I thought. They were supposed to love it, but my chickens not having access to the internet were unaware it was supposed to be a good thing!  They walked in and freaked out completely! They did what scared chickens do and they piled up in the corner literally stacked on top of one another, and refused to move. This is not a good thing when you are the bottom chicken and it’s 90+ degrees. My readings were running through my head, “…at 95 degrees chickens can die”, so I was sure they were 5 degrees from death! There was no calming them at this point they were frozen (but not the cold kind for sure) in pure chicken panic! There was nothing else to do then but to shelve my feelings of pride and reward that I was expecting to feel from their reaction to their new digs, and run like hell to bring back the wheelbarrow of pine shavings. After scooping all the sand out I rushed to replace it with their old pine shaved bedding, in hopes of unstacking the chicken tower. They eventually settled down and stayed clustered for a bit but not stacked, thank goodness. Later, I had time to think about what transpired. I decided they needed new bedding, I decided to do it all at once, I decided to put it in right before they went in the coop an in so doing, I decided I made numerous mistakes from all these decisions. I made a sudden change that felt, smelled, and looked different to the only place they know as home. Hmmm guess I am not always right;) Who knew chickens had such strong opinions, not me that’s for sure. We may attempt this again but I will do it gradually adding sand to their coop and instead leaving the coop door open all day so they can come in and out and get more used to it, rather then springing it on them right before they retire. I am not sure I would be happy if I was tired and ready for bed and someone decided for me that I would sleep better on a bed made out of something completely different. Observing behavior is  everything, even us smart humans with all our words, convey more of our message by our behavior and posture when saying it! My two previous careers of teaching and nursing are all about assessing, planning, implementing and evaluating. These four skills apply to everything. I use it with the dog, the cattle, the pigs, and guess I didn’t think that the chickens would have a strong opinion and here I assessed incorrectly!

Challenging times for the chickens…

The weather seems to dictate all these days… this is something one might expect in farming but it also affects my business. Where I work is not yet climate controlled and humidity does no favors to granola! I watch the humidity forecast more then the temperature or precipitation forecast. Today we are down to a lovely 58% so it’s a great day to bake. Granola is in the oven, the dishes are done and it’s time for a lunch/blog break!

So far with the fan (for the bugs) and the constant cool water changes and cold slices of watermelon for hydration, the chickens seem to be doing ok. The bugs are starting to settle a bit which is also good. I have been offering the chicks water of course but additionally they have a waterer filled with “sav-a-chick” which is basically “chicken gatorade” and this helps with providing electrolytes during this time that is pretty stressful on their bodies.

chicks and watermelon

I have had comments that I am spoiling them with watermelon, fresh greens and cherry tomatoes to play keep away with… I would not say it is spoiling, I would just say “life is good” as a chicken here.

The pigs are handling things fairly well, they are clocking lots of wallow time and generally keeping themselves well coated with cool wet mud. Its a pig thing. They are really gaining weight and this has created some other changes, as they have become quite strong and perhaps a little stir crazy from the heat. I found their feeding trough in the wallow the other day.  Water buckets have become the pig version of kick the can, and I find them out in the yard or in the wallow, which of course leaves them with no water! We are trying to tether them better, but I really think that is just a short term fix, I am pretty sure I will need to get them a real waterer, but hubby is not on board yet and that’s fine, The pigs will let us know when it needs to be done. We will need it later anyhow since we plan on more pigs next year.

The garden has gotten to that moment… The moment when you start seeing cherry tomatoes showing up ripe 3-4 at a time the first day and 10-15 the second day and then look out! I have 15 tomato plants:)  Some were selected for drying, and some were selected for pizza/spaghetti sauce, some for canned tomatoes, and of course plenty for eating. I can imagine even with all I will can, I will have plenty to share with friends, especially one friend who has lost most of their garden to the early summer flooding we had.

My garden notes for next year are copious at this point! Ideas for new varieties, things I should have planted but didn’t, things I should have planted at different times than I did, things I should have planted more of, and finally things I should have planted in different places, for example so that when the early crops were done I would have a whole new space for planting later summer/early fall crops. Instead I have a small empty bed here and there but not all together. Not the end of the world but it makes for easier routines having things together. Having said all that, I am proud and pleased with the garden this year, and find it very fulfilling.

Summer days…

flowers

Everywhere I turn it seems that there is another beautiful summer scene. This was one of them.

When not baking or selling granola, or outside in the garden or caring for the animals I have been inside processing garden and foraged food. Yesterday I froze 3 pounds of broccoli, 6 jars of dilly beans, 7 jars of cherry jam, 1 jar of cherry syrup, 3 jars of cucumber pickles, and froze a huge tray of raspberries that I picked that morning with a friend.

dilly beans

Here are the dilly beans being assembled, and below is the beginning of what turned out to be amazing cherry jam…

cherries in the pot

One thing about canning though…

water bath

…it is a very hot thing to do in the summer, however, admiring the cans on the shelf is worth every bit of sweat equity that goes into it!

A garden explosion…

My garden amazes me. So much food! The picture below is from one trip to the garden. The yucky styrofoam box is not pretty but useful and since it housed a gift someone sent us, it may as well get re-purposed, but it admittedly doesn’t do wonders for the photo.

garden food

The cabbage goes under the live it learn it category. The cabbages, all 8 of them are ready. This would be fantastic if it were cold out and I was filling the root cellar, however that is not the case, it is hot as can be, so I have shared some, and made several different versions of coleslaw. Tomorrow I’m going to try some new recipes. Hubby and I are not huge sauerkraut fans so I will try some relish recipes that will use some of the cabbage up. I am grateful for this garden and feel lucky! Many people lost their gardens to flooding this year.

potatoes

My potatoes in buckets experiment seems to have worked just fine. I kicked over the bucket and this is what I found. Looks like a summer potato salad is in order! These little red potatoes are so pretty! I only tipped 2 out of the 8 buckets, so there are quite a few more.

cherries

In other areas on the farm there are raspberries starting, and cherries like crazy! I have made canned cherries, cherry jam, frozen cherries, and cherry syrup. All are delicious. I have been having cherries and homemade ice cream on these hot summer nights, but instead of having a few cherries on my ice cream, I actually have a little ice cream on top of my cherries:)

berries

A premeditated cherry picking trip, that became an accidental mulberry gather, followed by signs of the beginning of blackcap season. It is all so delicious!

Bugged!

So this is the buggiest year we have EVER had! The news opens up at night with reports on who may be getting now shipments of bug spray and interviewing people at Gander Mountain on the news asking for the best advice for the tenacious little buggers! Seems as though it’s biting gnats which according to Gail Damerow includes “midges”, “no-see-ums”, “punkies” and “sand flies”. I am not sure if these are regional terms or different varieties but we and my flock of 11 have been bugged! The intensity of the bugs caused the chickens to pile upon one another in the corner of their run and due to the heat the one at the bottom of the pile seemed to suffer a heat related illness, although I am not convinced it wasn’t also bug related, as some bugs can suck enough blood to make a chicken anemic! The anemia can cause the comb to become pale but this was a hen so no help there in diagnosing. We brought it to “sick bay”, a dog crate in the workshop, and put a small fan on it, and gave it cold water and food, as well as fed it a bit of yogurt off my finger. Apparently these gnats can clog their nostrils, uh huh yeah I hadn’t thought about a chicken having nostrils, lol! This girl turned around overnight though and so I think it was the heat. After 24 hours she went back with the flock and although she doesn’t look quite as robust as the others, she is doing fine keeping up and is eating and drinking plenty. Close call, she looked so bad when we found her!

In other chicken news, I am going with the idea I read on the chicken chick blog, http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/ she recommends using sand in the coop. The brilliance of this is that you can treat it just like a litter box that way! You can see the poop and scoop it out and done. Doing this daily, keeps the coop clean and less poop equals less flies. So I went off on my quest for “washed construction sand” which some people apparently call river rock or construction sand. Regardless of what it was called, I could not find it, and the one place that likely did have it was a “scoop it yourself” type, and the truck has got a bad bearing and the car is for granola transport. So I will try again. The other thing I was looking for was Diatomaceous Earth to add to the chicken’s dust bath. A website called rich soil.com defines it as…”an off white talc-like powder that is the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton. When sprinkled on a bug that has an exoskeleton (such as bed bugs, ants or fleas) it gets caught between their little exoskeleton joints. As they move, the diatomaceous earth acts like razor blades and cuts them up. But it doesn’t hurt mammals.” This would have been easier to find, I thought, but food grade DE was not super easy to find and even in the store some people were puzzled. I did score a bag though and some tubs to put a dust bath in their coop. Wood ash, dry soil and DE should rid them of any biting bugs they may be harboring from this buggy season. They are supposed to know how to dust bath but I’ve only seen one do it… they are also supposed to go nutty for strawberries and raspberries and they had no idea what to do with them. They did pick up the raspberries and play keep away, but didn’t seem to eat them. Oh well, these chickens didn’t read Gail D’s book!

I’m happy to report that with a large fan on their yard we have been keeping the bugs at bay and I have been keeping them busy with scattered food, and pieces of chard from the garden. They also shared a plateful of yogurt the other day and they did quick work on that!

We are hearing more and more and more about people dousing themselves with a spray bottle filled with vanilla and water. Both men and women are reporting around here that spraying themselves before taking to the outdoors is making a huge difference.

I’ll be buying a spray bottle tomorrow and I may smell like cake.