Saturday, April 17, 2010

simple supper- super salad and fry biscuits

During the warm months of the year we often  have very simple, quick suppers  and more often than not  they are  vegetarian . One of our favorite meals is a big old salad.  I forage what is in season and pick what is coming out of the gardens. If I have any left over meat bits or fruit and nuts I add them in and  then throw a few herbs, spices, cheese on there and some vinaigrette that I made and we have a great meal.

Generally we have either crackers or some sort of bread with the salad. Tonight I didn't have either so I made some fry biscuits to go along with and served them with  dandelion syrup. It made a nice  spring time meal that took about  a half hour to prepare and literally cost pennies.

To make the fry biscuits just make your favorite  drop biscuit recipe omitting any  fat or oil. Heat oil to 375 and drop biscuits in to oil. Cook until golden brown and turn once. Drain on paper towel. Serve warm

dandelion syrup

The other day I made dandelion syrup. Much to my surprise it is  quite  lovely and I think it will make a very suitable honey type replacement as well as pancake syrup. It is very sweet yet has an earthy, clover honey type flavoring to it.  We had an abundance of dandelions this year so I have made a half gallon of syrup with enough   to make  more if it is something I find we  are using enough of  to warrant more.

Dandelion syrup
Take one quart of dandelion flowers and four cups of water and boil gently for about an hour. Remove from heat, cover and let sit overnight. The following day strain and squeeze liquid out of flowers and throw the flowers to compost. Put the liquid back in the pan and add 1/2 of a chopped lemon and 2 cups  of sugar. Simmer until a thick honey like consistency.  Cool and place in tightly closed jars. Store in fridge.

new chicks

Our partner in homesteading crimes asked  us a couple weeks ago about raising him up some meat birds as he was sick of eating crap foods bought from the supermarket.  He is fairly new to rural living and is not quite ready to make the leap into raising his own just yet although  we have been helping  him to ready one heck of a garden area.

We have been  thinking about getting a few more hens and a new rooster so that we can begin brooding our own chicks again any way. Our own rooster suffered an  unfortunate incident last summer and we had not bothered to replace him but a few of our hens are getting older and it was time to start thinking  about building a small flock  back up.

After a few more emails and discussions we decided upon 15 birds for him and 9 for us. We will keep a few hens and one rooster so that we can begin incubating  a couple times a year to keep the both of us in  farm fresh chicken and eggs. We will  also keep all the chickens here for now  in hopes that maybe next spring  he will be ready for a few hens of his own and a fancy chicken tractor. Twice a year we will  have a butcher weekend and he can come help out with the deed. I  hate butchering chickens  and that is one of the reasons why  we  stopped  incubating our own chicks and just keeping enough hens to keep us in eggs year round and for fertilizer.

We were originally going to order from  a hatchery but after hanging out on  craigs list a bit  we found a couple local folks with  chicks for sale cheaper than what we could get them through any company. After several phone calls to the closest one with no response (It really irks me when people do that!)  I contacted the other  folks who unfortunately though technically in the same town it  is about 40 minutes away. It  is a beautiful ride though. Here are the pics from our ride out there and back if interested.

They had a few hundred chicks of various sizes for a buck fifty  a bird so  I just told the feller to snag me out 24 of the largest chicks he had.  Most are Rhode Island reds and black australorps  but there is a cute beige one and a furry footed one of one sort or another and a few other odd balls in the group. We decided to go with the older ones for a couple reasons.  As much as I like to watch peeps  they are messy, smelly, need lots of lighting and more overall care. I would have to keep tiny babies separate from the older hens longer and then integration is always a pain.  These older ones are  all but out of the light needing stage, are eating grower feed, and are much easier to spot   than itty bitties so they won't accidentally get killed. 

When we got home we decided to integrate the new kids in with the old girls. Only in my world does   bringing  new kids scare the old and  send them running to higher ground.
After quite some time  Ruby (on the right) hopped down and went to greet the  newbies and  all seemed  well.   We closed them all in the coop for the night and went to check them this morning and feed. All were doing well and the  hens were a bit miffed about missing their morning perch time, I swear they  watch the sunrise  from their perches each day.  The new babies still have not ventured out side to check things out and are still a bit  scared of their new surroundings  but I am sure by this afternoon they will be coming out of their shells.

They were a bit camera shy last evening but here are a few of them as we released them from the cage.

Friday, April 16, 2010

RIP "Willhe" be a good dog

He was a mostly, almost good, ol dog. This pic of him was  taken just two days ago as we knew he was coming to his final days. Yesterday his old man legs all but gave out so manthing went n  dug his grave. We were going to put him down this am but in the night he passed. He was somewhere between 17 and 18 yrs old so he had  a long life  for a big ol  hillbilly dog. Goodbye Willhe

Thursday, April 15, 2010

goats going out to pasture for the first time this spring

 Last fall we reseeded the goats pasture in hopes of it producing better for their grazing pleasure. We have been keeping the goats off of it in hopes of it getting better established, unfortunately it still is looking like it  it is not going to grow in as we had hoped for. Today however we were cleaning their little loafing shed  and it makes things much easier  if we   lock them in the pasture while we do our chores.

Here they are patiently waiting to go out into the pasture for the first time this spring.  Manthing was out walking the fence line making sure  things were all in check before springing them and I was doing other things when I saw them all lined  up  n ready to go so I took a picture. They weren't waiting as patiently as they  look though as you will see.

The half naked goat is the one that began  losing her fur as she shed. She is also the one that escaped for the night and had to have squeezed her self out a very tiny space in order to get out. We originally thought it was stress from her escapades that may have caused this.  Needless to say she, or they,  all were wormed and    given mite/louse treatment. None of the others experienced this whatsoever so I don't  exactly know what the cause was. She is regrowing the lost hair and never acted or exhibited any signs of illness nor does she now but she sure is ugly!

around the homestead-shed/coop cleaning

 Yesterday was spent cleaning the chicken coop  and today was the day for goat shed cleaning and maintenance.  I would normally break the two jobs up by at least a few days but since we are in a dry spell as well  as a break in planting chores we just decided to getter done and be through with  it until fall. My ol arms are a bit rubbery and oh my back is aching but we finished covering all the beds and got the compost  pile restarted with a fair amount of partially decomposed bedding.
 When we clean pens out we also check  for any repairs that may need  doing. The chicken coop yesterday was pretty much fine  since it was all  rebuilt in January  but the goat shed had  what could have been a very major issue. The front 4x4 beam holding the roof up had broke and was dipping way down and nothing was supporting the front portion of the roof.  The roof had also slid back several inches and had to be moved back into place after jacking up and bracing the broken beam in the front.  How this happened we have no clue, the only thing I could possible think of was the  minor earth quake  from a few months ago. I know that sounds far fetched but keep in mind this is just a loafing shed not a big old barn  type structure.  We also have a tree near the fence line that needs to come down as it is coming out of the ground by its roots and leaning. Before we let the goats out to pasture regularly for the summer months it will need to be taken care of.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

when the oak leaves are the size of a lambs ear

An old wive's tale that we actually use in planting our gardens is  "plant your garden when the leaves on the oak trees are the size of  a lambs ear." This picture was taken   yesterday so you know what I have been doing.

While we do use the oak leaves as a main indicator of planting time and it is pretty darn reliable, we also realize our last frost date is still well over two weeks away.  We  also looked at out 15 day outlook and there is no weather forecast under 43 degrees and we have not had a frost in about  5 weeks now so the chance of a hard frost that we would be unable to protect the few things I planted  is almost null.We have had temps in the mid to high 70s for over 2 weeks now and the weather really had me wanting to plant a bit and take a chance.

I only planted  a few things that are not frost hardy so if needed we could protect things. I planted 7 tomato plants and  a few dozen  corn seeds along with a couple zucchini, cucumber, summer squash  and a big ol pile of mixed beans in my woodland garden experiment. If something happens and the seeds don't germinate we only lost a few seeds that I had plenty of. If things go well we will be eating all those veggies a couple weeks  earlier than if  we had waited until our last frost date to plant. A chance I was certainly willing to  take.

around the homestead-lawn maintenance

Although we have near 15 acres here  we don't have much lawn area. A small patch out front that the dogs are intent upon digging holes all over in and a couple  small areas down near the greenhouse and chickens but even those areas are between beds and around things. The rest of our non wooded land is either garden beds, goat pasture, extreme hill or the sides of the driveway. The driveway and extreme hill areas only get taken care of about three times a year while the other small areas need tending every week or two depending on weather conditions.

While we do have a ragtag, old, no frills, push mower a few years ago we gave up using it because our flattest areas were no longer wide enough to get a mower through.  For the remainder of it, push mowing was more trouble than it was worth so we began using the weed eater for all our lawn maintenance needs.

I actually prefer the weed eater for a couple reasons.  It gets good gas mileage,  is much easier to control on  our terrain  and it has  a blade attachment that makes cutting  back the woods and briers much easier. 2 cups of gas or so will cut  the regular maintained parts of the land here, 3 cups will do all of it. Getting a mower into most of our mowed area is difficult if not down right dangerous or altogether impossible. A weed wacker allows us the ability to move about and pretend we are mountain goats with a bit more safety. It is much easier to run with a weed eater away from a yellow jacket nest than it is to run up hill pulling a mower.

The best reason for using the weed eater though is that it leaves the grasses in larger pieces. It makes raking it up and feeding it to the bunnies, chickens or goats much easier than trying to rake up the mulch like goo that comes from a lawn mower. All but the chickens seem to like the larger cuts better and for them  I tend to hand pick the greens so that I can make them smaller.  Over the course of the summer months when we have extras grasses, I have been known to rake it all up and  treat  it like a hay field, dry it and pack it away for the winter months for nest boxes or for the bunnies  to nibble on.

Of course when gas goes  to four bucks a gallon we will  cut back on the weed whacking and only use it for the worst places and only when it absolutely needs it. The rest will be allowed to grow and be cut with the sling blade or  be allowed to be wild and we will simply have paths  through out the property. One day that is  actually a goal of mine anyway is no upkeep. Care taking this property in my 70s is not  something  I exactly look forward too. It has enough obstacles for me in my 30s so  self maintaining is something we  do slowly work toward each year, it is just a long process

signs of spring-skinks n blueberries

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


yesterday while procrastinating,I got sidetracked and watched the bees do their work for a little while.. They certainly were busy little buggers.

Monday, April 12, 2010

around the homestead-fetchin greens

Since we can't free range the chickens nor the bunnies  and buying hay and feed are so expensive one of the things we do around the homestead is " fetchin greens. " The bunnies actually prefer  the fresh food over commercial store bought n  during the times of year that greens abound, they eat nearly no commercial food even though it is still given daily. The hens love vegetation as well and  I swear  the yolks are a deeper orange color  when they are fed  it daily and in copious amounts. During the winter months  the greens become more of a snack than the main course although this coming winter we are hoping to change that.  With us going and spending a few minutes a day to gather greens for them it saves us about 170 dollars a year between  just the chickens and bunnies. If we factor in what we gather for the goats over the course of the year instead of buying , this probably saves us several hundred dollars. To us it is just another why purchase something when nature freely provides it for us, all we have to do is go and gather.

Depending on the time of year it might just be heading to the gardens and chopping assorted greens,it may be the weeds from the gardens  or it may mean wandering about the land and literally fetchin them. I actually enjoy fetchin  greens. I am busy and doing something that saves us oodles of money but at the same time it is a leisurely job that  I can take my time doing and  I normally do a walk about of all the gardens while doing it so I always know how things are doing. 
Here are Rachel and Reba picking at their greens. I enjoy watching them  kick through it, toss it around and eat it. Sometimes I also gather them  worms and throw in their  pile of goodies, there truly is not much better entertainment on the homestead than watching them   fight over  them.

mondays mountain musings

Brrr, the nights are still so cool round these parts. Absolutely gorgeous days in the low 70s but nights still routinely below 40. I  must keep reminding my self that it is only the 12th of April, I guess because of the nice weather I  keep thinking it should be warmer nights. Then again when the warmer nights do get here I will most assuredly complain about that as well. I am a farmer, always have been n always will be so will always complain about the weather, its like a second job.

I have now kicked all  plants but the tobacco babies  and the indoor tomato out to the balcony to live  a while. If I can figure out how to get big momma mater out there she will also be set out there. This way if it gets too cold at night  I can slide them all back inside  without too much hassle.  Speaking of big momma mater, I will take cuttings from her this week and begin rooting them for transplant to the gardens.

On my garden walk about yesterday I noticed that  all but one plant of my taters are now up. Even my   experimental tiny  pieces that I cut from good potatoes are up and  honestly I am quite amazed. Those tiny pieces were shriveled down to all but nothing by the time I actually got them in the ground.It will be interesting to see how well they grow and produce. If this works, I will never  do potatoes like we have been taught to again as it is a giant waste of money on many levels. My taters I planted way back when  in the GH are also up now. I thought my little vole/ mouse had stolen them and presumed they were dead but I noticed them the other day while harvesting collards and they are about 4 inches tall.
The onions n peas are really starting to look pretty  in their growing beds or at least I think they are. I absolutely love seeing plants come alive and change my scenery  on a daily basis. Each day I walk out there something is a bit different and the more it greens up and starts producing the more I enjoy it.  We built the peas  a little tower to  climb on yesterday.  They are not a climbing variety and only grow to about 34 inches but I would like to keep them off the ground if I can as it makes my life much easier  for picking veg later on.. Trying to reach down into a bed that is on a hill can be dangerous work especially when you are like me n wobbly already. One good roll and I would be a 1/4 mile away.
The gutter garden is  sprouting nicely and so long as I  give it one  coffee  canister of water daily it stays moist enough to do well. I would really like to find a few more lengths  of gutter and make a wall of them  on the chicken run. Not only would it look  pretty  but it would block some of the summer sun from the chicken run  and I think the chooks would like it too, I know if I lived in there I would appreciate it.
                                               I found this  volunteer squash   too!

All of the over wintered plantings have now bolted.  When I notice them starting to  bolt, I generally take one more good harvest from the plant, remove as much greenery as I can  and allow the plant to concentrate on  making  seed. I do not know if it helps in any way but it doesn't seem to harm and I can usually get a meal or two out of the picking and critters get nice treats. I also top all  of my onions while they grow, leaving only about 4 inches of green above ground.   I generally cut them down two  or three times and then let them grow out until harvest time.  Again I do not know if it helps the onion to produce larger bulbs or not but I get a whole lot of green onions to dehydrate and use for the remainder of the year and still get my large onions.

We opened the living room area back up yesterday. I am thinking I will leave the shack arranged as is for now and use the LR as a project, craft, drying , seed saving, storage room and maybe make a window garden in the glass door area. We do not need the space in there to live in and it does make a handy "go to" room for all things homesteading.  Today however is being spent cleaning my winter messes up in there and organizing it. It should take me near all day, yuck!

A photo I enjoyed capturing yesterday. I think I followed this feller around for a good half hour before he landed where I could get a decent picture and for a  long enough time that I could fumble with the camera and snap this.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

dehydrating today

Yesterday we pulled the  dehydration station out, got her cleaned up and ready to go. Today we are dehydrating for the first time this year. I have some green onions and onion tops in the bottom two trays and a  mix of kale, spinach  and other  greens and a  mess of lemon balm in the top level.

 For those that have never seen our dehydrator the original post on it is  here.  The only difference in it now is that we have three trays to dehydrate with instead of just the one.

wild edibles-fiddlehead ferns

Another wild edible that we enjoy in the early spring are fiddlehead ferns. In all actuality they are ostrich ferns but the fiddleheads are the new shoots that come up in very early spring and resemble the end of a fiddle, thus the name.They are low in sodium and cholesterol and are a good source of protein. They provide a good source of antioxidants, Vitamin C and Vitamin A. They also supply valuable nutrients such as: Potassium, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, not too shabby for a free food. When prepared fiddleheads have an almost asparagus like flavor that is slightly nutty and with a little bite. It can be prepared in a myriad of ways, served hot or cold and can be preserved either through freezing or pickling.

Fiddleheads have a relatively short 2-3 week period in April or May to harvest. Once they get too big they become very bitter and no longer good to eat. Like most ferns their habitat tends to be moist and wooded areas and along streams and river banks. They are native to the eastern coast of the US and are easily found from Maine to Florida. Harvesting is done by hand so if you want to purchase them they are quite pricey when found in a retail outlet ($20 a pound or more) and are never as good in taste because of the age factor.

When growing in the wild, the fiddleheads generally grow in clusters of 3-12 fronds and look like the picture shown. They are tightly coiled, bright green and have a sort of hairy flaky chaff on the outside of them. It is light brown in color. Fiddleheads are picked by snapping or cutting of the top of the coiled head. They are best picked with a 2 inch stem or there about and should be no taller than 6 or so inches. At this stage in growth the stem is delicious. As the fern grows, the stem becomes tough and stringy. The earlier and younger the shoot, the more tender the morsels you collect. Fiddleheads that have just emerged are the most tender, but newly emerging fiddleheads are more difficult to clean. Picking these young ferns when they are dry and several inches from the ground greatly reduces the amount of cleaning time.

There are other species of fern out there that have chaff on them that is reddish-purple or white, these are not fiddle heads so avoid them. If ever in doubt with any wild edible, find someone knowledgeable and have them show you in person what to look for. I try and keep the wild edibles I share simple and basic because I myself am self taught and know how confusing learning wild edibles can be with out a hands on mentor.

After harvesting your ferns the chaff needs to be removed. I generally soak them in cold water for a few minutes and then scrape the chaff off with a small knife. With only two of us here this is a quick and simple process although if I was preparing a huge mess of them it would be quite a chore. Some folks just wait til they age a bit and the chaff dries and flakes off. I personally find that the fresher the produce the better tasting, even when it comes to wild edibles.

Fiddleheads must be fully cooked to maintain safety. Because of their habitat many have been flooded by water from the streams in early spring, there is a chance of bacteria or pollutants from the water. For safety and taste reasons after cleaning, cook your fiddle heads for10 minutes in boiling water. They should be firm and hold their shape, yet tender to the bite. From this point on the possibilities for them is endless.

Most of the time, I just add them to our stir fries and mixed veggie dishes. They make a nice addition to any dish when served in that way. They are also good when sauteed up with some onion , bacon, a touch of vinegar and spices. Tonight I am using them in a pasta dish with a very simple topping of bacon, onion, fresh tomatoes, creole spices and cheese.

Here are a few sites that have many recipes of all sorts for fiddleheads, so go on pick ya some, you are sure to find something that perks your taste buds up.