Monday, August 31, 2009

Helmet hair and a lump in my throat

I deliberately sent two of my always-homeschooled kids off to school today.

See if you can guess which one is the focus of this effort:

She didn't quite get what her brother was doing:

He's still homeschooling in his head, I think:

But it's an experiment he's willing to go along with:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Maybe I should stop now

In between regular life today, 27 half pints and two six ounce jars of jam got made. Almost two gallons of plum, plum with Ollalieberries, and Ollalieberries with plum, and much of my holiday gifting is taken care of.

Even so, I don't think I can eat enough toast before next year's jam season. Nor can I shove enough PB&Js off on my children. I'm going to have to deal with the siren call of the blackberries in some other way.

I wonder if I could can pie filling.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Warty magnificence

My Italian pumpkin foray came to a partial conclusion today, when I harvested the first "Marina di Chioggia" pumpkin. Eighteen pounds of warty loveliness. The 2" diameter stem tore some of the vine off, and I noticed that the vine had already started to put down roots, and was sad that it had been uprooted. I found some more likely spots -- one of which had already rooted -- and covered them with dirt. I'd like to save some seeds from this, which would require finding two flowers from the vine, and that might be a challenge.

I can hardly wait to hack it open and eat it!

Speaking of eating, this lovely (and not warty) melon was hiding in the foliage this morning.

Flipped over, the bottom half is quite yellow. How does one tell if it's ripe? I'm nearly certain that I'm growing a small variety, called "Picnic."

Selling winter squash to some of my family might be difficult. The watermelon, not so much.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Time in a bottle

There are moments in every life, surely, when one stops and thinks, "This is it." Moments where everything is right, and if you could only stop time and fully experience it, maybe you wouldn't have to do anything else. Some days I look at the kids and see them lit with a kind of penumbra, they're utterly beautiful. They embody beauty. Or joy, or action, or something that is normally a fleeting thing, held for just that memory, and by that, kept alive forever.

Canning is sort of like that. (How's that for a jarring transition?) Summer flavors, colors, scents, all captured and waiting. That's why I love it so. Even the tomatoes have heart.

Enough jokes. Anyhow, there are some fruits that are equally beautiful inside and out. Figs aren't. Outside, they're sort of, well, sort of anatomical, to me, just sort of yucky. But split open? Jewels.

I didn't know how I felt about their taste, but there are many many worse tastes out there, it turns out.Both Black Mission and Calmyra came home from the store and I was tired of eating them, even caramelized over ice cream.

So they joined the nine pints and three quarts of spaghetti sauce, and five pints of tomato juice that got made today. Four jars of figs in honey, and one jar of fig-infused honey.

To me, it sounds positively medieval. In a good way, though.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I saw this a few times today, because I canned most of 50 pounds of tomatoes I got at the farmer's market.

Tomorrow I'll tackle the rest. I just couldn't face another load finally, not with dinner prep still ahead. Maybe I'll make spaghetti sauce and can that instead. Might make a lovely change (and it would smell nice cooking, too). I learned a bit about adjusting the flame under my pressure canner to keep the pressure steady, so the final batch didn't have any unsealed jars, unlike the first two. That's all I can think of that was different. I canned 19 quarts and a pint, used a quart and a pint in dinner's chili, and three of the remaining didn't seal. Fourteen quarts to put away so far. I'm going to have to rearrange my pantry area. For those of you who can a lot, where do you store your goodies? How about the empty jars? Denise suggested I get a whiteboard to hang near the downstairs freezer, which also makes a lot of sense.

Last night I used the tomatillo harvest along with some hot peppers to make salsa verde.

Since I haven't tried it, I don't know how spicy it is, but I'm expanding my heat tolerance, so that might be an okay thing. Whether or not it tastes good -- I'll find out later.

The potatoes show no sign of slowing down. They were planted June 2, and I haven't tried to find any new potatoes. I'm just curious about the yield of mature keepers from them. We'll see.

The potato bin is right where two beds need to go, so I'm hoping that they come right on along.

Something is wrong with my plum tree. I had thought it was water stress, and it may be, or the late evidence of it, but a lot of it looks like this:

I'll do a prune later this month and then water a lot and hope the rain plus a better irrigation system next year helps it. I also think I'm going to investigate Bordeau mixture. Although, so many people grow plums like weeds around here that I am still leaning toward "poor soil/low water" as the culprits. I may ask the nursery folk.

Certainly not all is gloom and doom and exhaustion around here. The burgundy sunflowers are going out in a blaze of glory.

And the last zinnia works overtime to remind me why I grow such a "common" flower.

One of the exciting things I've tried lately is saving seed from the "True Siberian" kale. It's not supposed to cross with the other brassicas, as it's Brassica napus instead of B. oleracea. It wasn't until about two weeks ago that the seed was even completely dry. On Tuesday morning, I broadcast saved seed over half of one of the new beds.

When I went out this morning to do a shallow watering, I saw these:

It's working and they were up FAST. I'm looking forward to seeing how they do as well as getting even more fall crops planned and planted. Once the hardscape is all in, it's time to think compost and irrigation! I've learned a lot during this spring/summer season and plan to sit down and think about my lessons. Unfortunately, nothing slows down to wait, so I have to fit it in around the edges, just like everyone else.

Many paths, no destination

Well, at least none yet. Once that rainbow sweater was all done (except of course it's not all done because I have to reseam the arms. . .) I gleefully continued with other things.

Although I still have that lavender wool (about 75% spun up) hogging my wheel, a garden expansion required that I harvest all of the Japanese indigo I grew this summer. I'd tried once to dye with it, but it turned out a shade that didn't do it for me thanks to an equipment malfunction. This time?

I got blue. I can hardly wait to spin up "old blue jeans." The fiber is a Sheep Shed mill end, the kind with a bit of mohair in it. Should be fun to make and fun to use!

Mostly, it's been all summer work around here. Canning produce,

taking little ones out to do some fishing in the local lakes,

and doing the big honey harvest for the year. I may get some more in October, but 52 pounds was the haul this time. Not bad, not great, but maybe enough to see this honey-loving family through to next year.

Sarafina got her braces put on, and she's dealing with the not-fun parts of sore teeth and expanded hygiene requirements. My teeth moved quickly under my braces, so I'm hoping she'll have the same experience. Ellie is currently visiting grandparents out of town, and being celebrated in the ways only grandparents and aunts and uncles can do. I miss her and believe she's having a great time. Tor is reading more every day, and playing a lot with his little sister, who is currently sick. That's why she's leaning against my leg in the canning picture. She just feels rotten.

Ellie and I took a beginning crochet class. I can make at least one type of granny square and just need some practice and maybe I'll give a pattern a try after that. I'd like to make market bags as gifts, I think, and this seems a quick way to do it. No pictures -- maybe after I practice some more!

Through all of this, I am doing some knitting, though. From extreme left to right clockwise, a swatch in Mission Falls' Merino Superwas, for a baby due next month -- and a little bird tells me another one might be on the way in the neighborhood, so I'll have to get cracking on that, too -- then the Extremely Boring To Knit Yet Fun To Wear saddle shoulder sweater, up to the armpits. I'm actually having trouble figuring out how to make symmetrical armholes. That's when walking away seemed like a very good idea. Then another pair of Embossed Leaves socks, or at least the cuff, in Piedmont Yarn's kettle dyed sock yarn, then a quick hat in Brown Sheep's Bulky. I had actually finished the hat and realized that the decreases drew it above my ears -- a common hat experience for me -- and it's been picked out and set to go again.

I keep getting projects started and realizing that what I need is mindless knitting (hence the hat) for little bits of distracted time. But I do have to get that baby sweater moving, so perhaps it will draw the other projects along in its wake. Of course I promised Sarafina some wickedly complicated colorwork mittens for Christmas, and Cat has requested a Dale of Norway sweater, and I caved and bought the yarn, so who knows when anything will get finished?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Food all day long

Not that I ate all day long (although I made two trips to a new cafe in town, and enjoyed both thoroughly) but all day seemed to be about food and its preservation.

Esperanza and I picked berries -- so much fun! Then I made 6 half pints of peach jam with some freestone peaches a neighbor dropped off. While I was making, the girls were cutting Principe Borghese tomatoes to put in the oven to dry. After that, afternoon lessons and running around, and when I got home, Sarafina read aloud from a library book to her father and I. Boy, was that a treat. We laughed and laughed.

After a quick dinner, I got myself back into my increasingly-trashed kitchen, and made three jars of straight blackberry jam, four pints of peach salsa, and chopped and froze some hot peppers that were sitting around not doing anything. Sorry the picture is so sad; it's my bedtime.

I'm getting just the least bit tired of making jam, but I'm enjoying the rest of it. That's a good thing, as I have Saturday set aside to can tomatoes. Better make sure I have enough lids ready to go!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Got the Garden Blues

And reds, and greens!

The latest bed (number six! We're halfway there!) took over the section of yard with the indigo. I figured it was time to harvest. Last time I tried dyeing with it, it wasn't terribly successful.

Exactly the same procedure, but this time the leaves had soaked overnight in the water. I don't believe that made any difference, but they smelled terrible when I strained them out of the heated water.

By the time dyeing time actually came around -- had to build that bed, after all -- it was really late after a long, hot day, so I stuffed the fiber in there (no yarn this time, alas -- I'll have to spin it up) and after a bit, pulled it back out.

Whoopie! Real blue. I think the less-dyed spots will spin up so the yarn will look like old denim jeans. That should be a few bobbins full to remember! I'll have to wait for some of that spare time I keep hearing about to attempt it.

Since Denise and Kevin are out of town, I did some garden chores at their house. Pretty minimal, actually. I realized it's a good thing there is at least one hearty eater in the house -- they've got a ton of food coming out of that garden! When I came home it was like visiting Lilliput. I guess that's what lots of fertile soil and lots of water will do for you.

I wrote down all that I got, and the weights, and we gave a bit to neighbors and also to the local food bank. I just couldn't eat it all.

I could, however, do some kitchen magic. Nothing like some gardeners (cough*granny*cough), but enough to make me happy. All those tomatoes? I used Mr. Crockpot to cook them down to a rich tomato confit of sorts. I'll use it as a base for sauces and soups.

My Principe Borghese are drying tomatoes, and last night I figured I'd give that preparation a whirl. Overnight in a warm oven, they turned into perfect, leathery little gems. I can't wait to try them on pizza and pasta! I'm looking forward to growing them next year with more fertility. I like dried tomatoes.

Fortunately, Sven is going to do the next visit to their garden so I won't be overwhelmed with squash and tomatoes.

I'm actually going to plant lettuce and kale tonight -- christening the new beds, actually. Hooray!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Valuing honey

I just realized that if the honey is $13 a pound at the store, I harvested about $676 dollars' worth yesterday. (Not to mention what it does to my harvest poundage -- over the top!) It's all neatly in bottles now and nearly all cleaned up off of the kitchen surfaces. Looking back, the last harvest was in May, and I anticipate another light one in October. Not bad at all.

Only one and a half stings putting those frames back. Eric was right; the bees can sting right through thin pajama pants. Fortunately, by the time I dropped a box half full of brood upside down, I'd put on my thick suit and boots. The half sting was a stinger in my glove that I gripped against well after I'd left the hives. Hurt then, gone now. Topical Benadryl is my friend.

Sigh. No harm done in the long run, I hope. The bees are cleaning out the empty frames and I'll put the unused ones in the freezer until I need them. Having already-drawn frames put away makes me feel like a very rich beekeeper indeed.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Building the Chalet au Poulet

Get ready folks, this is a long one!

Our chicks have been in the coop for two months now; the chicken yard is finished, the nesting boxes are in place, the eggs are coming, and I’m finally getting around to posting Kevin’s description of the construction. And here he is.

The chicken coop is sturdy and a little stylish for two main reasons. First, as a carpenter I like to have fun with whatever project I’m working on and I’d be embarrassed if fellow carpenter friends saw shoddy or simplistic work.

Second, a lot of the coops I've seen look like they were thrown together by a hog farmer in Appalachia smoking a corncob pipe in between pluckin’ a banjo and huntin' Opossum. No offense to all our hog raising, banjo playing, Opossum hunting friends out there, but you know what I mean.

The underlying philosophy: With almost any project I work on, especially those for myself, I try to use reclaimed lumber. Procuring and prepping reclaimed lumber can take a lot more time, but it’s well worth the effort and can still look very good while saving trees and money.

The design: I built the coop against the fence to save materials. I thought setting the posts at an angle would look cool and reduce mud splash at the bottom of the coop. I didn’t think the lower roof line would be a problem, but it is proving to have a disturbing fondness for the top of my head even when I duck as I approach the door. Because of that and the limited light that reaches the coop, I am thinking of replacing the plywood roof with clear corrugated roofing panels. (If I do, I’ll use the old roof for the new wood storage shed/compost cover.)

We have a lot of raccoons around here; at night I hear them skittering under our window, and folks definitely lose chickens to them. The wire mesh on the coop actually goes down about 10" into the ground and is bent at an outward angle, so even if a raccoon were to try to dig under the frame, it wouldn't make it inside. The cement slabs are there for extra protection against digging predators.

So, as with many things, but especially carpentry, one choice affects the whole process. For example, the "cool"-looking wall that leans out combined with the fence that is far from plumb made for some pretty odd angles. Even so, the framing of the coop wasn’t that hard, but when I chose to have the reclaimed fence boards meet in the middle of the door at roughly a 45-degree angle, that proved a bit trickier. Fortunately I had spent the previous four months doing the finish carpentry for a new eco home with curved walls and an arched ceiling, so my brain was already stretched out and primed for atypical thinking.

And finally, moving day!

We realized the chicks weren't going to get much direct sunlight, and since we had some space to the side of the coop, we added a fenced-in yard. You can also see the nesting box door open in the coop itself; it's hinged now and allows us to reach in to get the eggs from the outside. The lower door lets the chicks go in and out of the yard, and at night we can lock them inside (though it's just a hole in this shot).

The yard door allows us to clean out the yard easily. The mesh isn't as fine on the yard as the coop because the girls are only outside during the day.

We use the hole to reach in and latch the door. The chicks use it to get a gander at the yard.

Some visitor did try to dig under, so we put the bricks there.

Here's Big Mouth checking out the new doorway.

The girls love love love the dirt, especially surrounded by kale. The stump is there for interest. Really.

Here's the interior early on, when the chicks still had their little food and water trays. They sleep huddled up on the perch. Here you can also see the non-planed side of the wood; I like the rustic look.

And here's the interior finished, with the nesting boxes (a repurposed fruit box) and ladder,

the big hanging food dispenser,

and below Dinky in the nesting box, you can see the automatic water dispenser.

The long and short of it is I spent about four times as long building this as a rectangular coop would’ve taken, but as you can see it was worth it. By the way, check out how nicely the 30-year-old redwood fence boards look after being run through the thickness planer.

Here’s what we used:

Redwood fence boards
4x4 redwood posts
2x6 redwood joists
2x4 redwood studs
2x4 wire (outdoor run)

Rolled roofing
Roofing tar
Hardware cloth (1/4" wire)
Door hardware
Simpson ties
Roofing felt

Here's the trench dug for the pipes to reach the coop. (We had to muscle the squash out of the way.)

And here, below the hinges on the door to the nesting box, is the spiggot with a forked hose bib; one permanently runs to the chicks' water and the other we can attach a hose to.

Here you can see the squash really making a run for the coop!

Altogether materials (not including the waterer) cost about $150. The labor, a lot more. The peace of mind knowing our chicks are safe and sound in their fancy, eco-poulet home? Priceless.