Monday, April 29, 2013

The Dewberries are Ripe!

I have been keeping an eye on the dewberries for a couple of months now. I have watched as they bloomed, leaving the fields covered with snow white blossoms, which fell away to reveal tiny little green clusters, which grew into larger white ones. They started reddening about a week ago, and are now finally turning a deep purplish-black. I have brought in a few to add to porridge and yogurt. Today I got the first good picking of them, resulting in about half a gallon. Not bad for the first batch!

I love living off of the land and it doesn't get much easier than foraging for nature's gifts. I spend all year cultivating the garden and taking care of the animals. Daily work to get things to grow. It is so nice to be able to harvest something with so little work! All I have to do is give the fields a final good mowing around October, and then leave them alone. The most difficult part is fighting with the briars to get to the berries. I admit, I look like I got in a fight with several angry cats! It keeps the chickens from stealing them all before I get to them, so I can't complain. My chickens are lazy and prefer easy meals. Any plants I put in pots are considered a delicacy, and their favorite treat is dog food, which they sneak through the back door to steal every chance they get. Briars are too much work for them. I wish they felt the same way about my strawberries... I wish I knew what they tasted like. I've never had one... The chickens get to them first every year. Another reason why I am so excited about the dewberries! I finally ended up going to the farmer's market and buying a flat of strawberries from a local farm. They were amazing!

Dewberries are basically blackberries. They grow along the ground rather than being bush-like. The berries are larger, but are usually not quite as sweet. After picking them, place them in a large bowl, fill it with cold water, and allow the berries to rest there for about 20 minutes. This brings the temperature of the berries down and cleans the dirt and any little bugs that were on them off. After that, pour them into a strainer and let them dry. Then they can then be eaten, used in a recipe, or frozen. To freeze, place in a single layer on a baking sheet and place sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, rake them into a freezer bag. That simple to have them to use year-round! They are wonderful in cobbler, porridge, yogurt, and over ice cream! I may end up making some wonderful jam and wine if I harvest enough this year. I am keeping a close eye on the bush blackberries too, which should be getting ripe in the next couple of weeks. The blueberries are getting close as well! It is the season for berries! MmMmM!!!!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Never Ending... I am Blessed

How is it that I can work so hard, for so long, and still keep falling behind?! So much to do, so much to do, and not enough time, or energy! My body is letting me know that it isn't as young as it once was... but when did I get old enough to have my joints and back hurt like this? How do I never get everything done and still keep having more things piled onto the "to-do" list? Do you know what the strangest part of it all is? I LOVE IT!

Five years ago I can remember grumbling about it being too darn ( I'm sure I used much more colorful words...) HOT to mow the yard. And it was such hard work! Why couldn't I just hire someone to mow?! Push mowing the whole yard was more than I could handle. Why did it have to be done so often? Did I mention that the yard was less than 1/4 an acre... including the driveway and where the actual house stood. Since then, I have moved to the deep south... now I know what hot REALLY is! Now one of my favorite jobs is push mowing about 2 acres of my yard. The rest is bush-hogged a few times a year.  It is killing me to have to wait to mow! The biggest part of my yard can't be bush-hogged until the dew-berries ripen. I will do that once they are picked. As for the rest of the yard, I am moving the baby chickens, who are about 10 weeks old now, around the yard in chicken tractors and I don't want to waste all the good grazing area. Moving the two chicken tractors is one of the first things I do in the morning, along with feeding and watering them. They are usually moved twice a day. I have ordered automatic waterers for both tractors. Now I need to remember to buy 5 gallon buckets with lids and fittings to connect them and build a spot on top of the tractor to hold the bucket. It will make the tractors heavier, but it will lesson the chance that they are ever out of water.

The raised bed garden is overgrown and hasn't been cleared yet, much less replanted. The tomatoes I and peppers I planted inside are getting HUGE and starting to fall over. They need replanting badly! I am, however, working on a much larger, new-and (hopefully) improved garden area! I am still going to use my 6x6 square above ground beds, but for things that spread (like pumpkins) and that I want a lot of (like tomatoes, corn, and bell peppers) those little beds just aren't working. I will write more in another post, but suffice it to say, I have spent hours and hours shoveling dirt, and pulling tree roots, and busting up dirt clods. Until my body hurts so badly I can hardly move and walk like something out of a zombie movie (slow zombies, not the ninja ones lol), and my hands are so stiff and in pain that I can hardly open and close them by the end of the day (this typing hurts!). I have been cutting down and moving brush and briars and have fire-ant bites and briar scratches up and down my arms and legs. But I keep waking up the next day, looking at how it is coming along, and am excited to start working on it again! Don't get me wrong... the pain isn't fun. I don't like feeling old... and don't feel like I am old enough to feel this old. But I love seeing all that I am accomplishing and I am so excited to be doing it!

 I love feeling physically tired at the end of the day. It feels like I have actually DONE something. I kept saying that I needed more exercise when I was sitting on my butt in an office. This is so much better than throwing away hours at a gym! I love looking around at all the things I have done and seeing how it has changed, and planning for what comes next. Nothing I do is perfect, but part of the fun is tweaking the design for the next one. I am on my 4th garden design and just finished my 6th chicken tractor. Each time, I think they get better but each time they are still lacking something. I could make a million of them and would never feel like it is perfect, but that just inspires me to make it even better next time!

I have heard the saying that 80% of running a farm is upkeep. Only 20% is progress. I wonder how they manage 20% progress! I feel, some days, like I spend all day running in place and still end up further behind than when I started that morning. Whoever called it the "simple life" is sadly mistaken! "Simple" it is not! It is hard work! It is backbreaking, heart breaking, and sweat breaking. Sometimes it is very frustrating. But most of the time I am enjoying everything I have too much to remember to be frustrated. I will never get caught up on all that there is to do around here. I will always be taking one step forward and two steps back. And you know what? I am blessed! I have learned that, by and large, some of the most "Zen" moments I have are when I am so exhausted that I have to sit down and take a break. I sit there, peacefully reflecting on what I have been doing and plan for what is to come after. It is a really beautiful feeling. I love taking moments to sit sit and watch the chickens clucking peacefully as they look for bugs, and the turkeys puffing up and strutting around to prove to me that each is the most handsome of all. I catch myself drifting off sometimes when I really need to be getting things done, but those moments are what I do it all for. I am sad to think of all the things that the me 5 years ago was missing out on. That me would never look at my life now and think that it was pleasant. I would have thought it miserable! Now, that's how I see my life back then. It amazes me how much I have changed. I wouldn't have it any other way. I love my life on Sunflower Hill!!!

Friday, April 19, 2013

1st Batch of Turkeys Hatched!

 The first batch of turkey eggs I had in the incubator hatched! I love sweet little baby turkey-heads! Out of 18 eggs, 4 of them weren't fertile (I'm thinking Tabby's first eggs. She has since started allowing the toms to do their thing), 1 quit around the time I added the 2nd batch (I'm thinking the temp flux was too much for it), and 1 quit a day or two ago (not sure what happened there). So 12 out of 18 isn't a great hatch rate but the 2nd batch appears to be turning out much better so far. Lets hope that this batch didn't shake them up too much! I knew that was going to be an issue when I started but I had a ton of turkey eggs and only 1 incubator!

Tallow's (Blue Slate hen) eggs had a perfect hatch rate and all of her eggs hatched first (a day early)! I believe that I ended up with 7 pure Bourbon Reds and 5 Bourbon/Slate mixes. Poor Yellow, my self blue tom, doesn't get mating privileges since he is toward the bottom of the pecking order so I didn't get any pure slates. I'm planning to work on a make shift breeding pen for them so I can get some slate babies this year. The coloring of the mixes surprised me! Two of them look like I would have expected. They look like slates with a little bit of a red tinge.
The other 3 are black tinged with red with a red belly and yellow around their eyes! I guess the slate (black) gene is stronger than I thought. They are so pretty and sweet!

 I have been planning to sell this batch since I set them but they make it so difficult! I get attached to them! The first batch of eggs that I sold hatched well! I heard from the new proud turkey-momma and she said that out of 12 eggs 9 pipped and 8 hatched. I'm not sure why the one pipped but didn't hatch but sometimes those things happen. That is a pretty darn good hatch rate for shipped eggs! She said she is already addicted to turkeys and was asking about buying more eggs already! I'm glad that she decided to wait for a little while and see how she does once they get bigger. She didn't get any black chicks. I need to look into the genetics. I'm really excited to see what these babies look like when they get bigger and feather out! I also sold 2 dozen more turkey eggs tonight so I hope that I can keep in touch with her and see how they turn out! I love keeping tabs on my grand-turkeys. I'm also a scientist at heart and like to know hatch rates and coloring. I will never make money raising and selling eggs, chicks, and poults, but it helps to pay for the feed and allows me to keep them and I REALLY enjoy it! I love sharing what I enjoy with other people! <3

Edited to add:
I had a second batch of turkey poults hatch out on 4-30-13 :)
14 total: 3 black, 3 blue, 7 bourbon reds.
All sold... I guess I need to start another batch in the incubator so I can have some! I really want some more blue slate hens! I need to start on a coop for Yellow and Tallow so I have a chance at getting some before the stop laying for the season.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Turkey Tee-Pee is a Success!

I am very happy that the ladies seem to have taken to the turkey tee-pee almost immediately! The day after I installed it they scratched all of the leaves out of it, and in front of the pallet was an egg. Whether the egg was laid in the tee-pee and scratched out with the leaves, or was laid out in the open, I don't know. I replaced the leaves, but they were scratched back out again. I have not found another egg laid out in the open though! Every day I find two or three eggs laid directly on the feed bag lined pallet. I have added more leaves several times but they just don't seem to have gotten the idea that they belong in the tee-pee! Either way, it is a success! I even saw two of the ladies (Tawny and Tallow) in the tee-pee at the same time. Most of the toms don't seem to be interested in going into the nesting area at all and every egg has been in perfect shape. I have, however, caught one of the toms in the tee-pee sitting on an egg! I have read that sometimes toms will sit on eggs, but I never expected to see it! Something even more unexpected than that happened when I let the turkeys out to range today. Einstein, my Easter Egger rooster, ran into the turkey coop after the turkeys left. Tabby was still in the tee-pee tending to the egg she had just laid. To my surprise, Einy hopped on Tabby's back and tried to have his way with her! Tabby hopped up and ran out of the coop, with Einstein riding on her back the entire way! Quite the adventure! He was taking advantage of the tee-pee working as well! I love when my frugal ideas work out this well! Who says you can't get something for nothing?!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Cabbage, Potato, and Carrot Soup

I am always trying to find new ways to use veggies when they are in season. I had a beautiful head of cabbage around St. Patrick's Day and had exhausted my other recipes so I found a new way to put it to use. In soup! I love soup when it is cool out but most soups are heavy in cream and I feel guilty eating too much. Not this one! And it is still so creamy and delicious, all while being good for you! I tend to mix things as I go rather than measuring things out so it is all an estimate. The best thing about this soup is that you really can't mess it up!

Cabbage, Potato, and Carrot Soup

- 1/2 of a medium sized head of cabbage, chopped
- 4-6 medium potatoes, chopped into 1-2 inch cubes
- 3-4 large carrots, thinly sliced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic (or to taste) diced
- 2 quarts chicken stock/broth

I raise and process my own chickens and turkeys so I make my own chicken/turkey stock. You needn't make it yourself, you can easily buy it. You can also make it yourself without having to process your own poultry using store bought chicken or turkey. When I process my chickens and turkeys I save the necks, and if I quarter them I save the backbone, stick them in the freezer, and when I need stock I just put them in a pot of water with some onions, garlic, and a little salt. Simmer for an hour or two, remove the solids, and voila! Homemade stock!

1. Saute the onions in a little bit of olive oil until translucent.

2. Add stock/broth and heat.

3. Add chopped veggies and garlic. They should be submerged in liquid. If they aren't simply add a bit more or add water.

4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5. Simmer until the veggies are tender (about 30 minutes). The carrots will probably take the longest.

6. Eat like it is for a stew-like soup or puree with a immersion blender or in batches using a regular blender for a thicker soup. I prefer mine pureed. The trick to using a regular blender is to do it in small batches and ALWAYS pulse it a few times to avoid very hot liquid exploding out of the top.

7. Enjoy! I like to top it with a little cheddar cheese, but it isn't necessary. The best side I have found for this soup is a beautiful piece of Irish brown soda bread with a couple of pads of real cream butter on top. MmMmMm!

Irish Brown Soda Bread... the REAL deal!

Last year Brad and I traveled to Ireland for a couple weeks on a study abroad trip with school. It was an amazing experience! If there was one thing I could tell every freshman starting college it would be to take advantage of any study abroad trips available to them! I wish I would have known to do it sooner, rather than as a graduation gift to myself. I would have went on far more trips! I can't imagine a more beautiful and captivating place than Ireland, though. I dream of going back and will always have a special place in my heart for it. When we first arrived I noticed that they served these little loaves of dense brown bread where we stopped to eat in Dublin. I really didn't care for it. Well, as it turned out, they served that bread with every meal, in every town we went to. It grew on me and I went from disliking it, to craving it! I got the recipe from a friend of mine there and have been working on translating it (they weigh everything instead of measuring it) and making it taste the same with the mediocre ingredients we can get in the US. One of the truly amazing things about Ireland is that everything is made with REAL ingredients. Fresh ingredients. It isn't a big place so everything is within a couple hours drive. Artificial sweeteners and margarine are not found in ANYTHING! The food tastes different. It is so much better! We just can't get those quality ingredients here. Everything is made in the cheapest way possible.... yes I know. Stepping off of my soapbox now.

Anyway, this is as close as I have been able to imitate the recipe with what I have available. It is pretty darn close! This isn't the typical Irish Soda Bread, most Americans think of. This is the real deal. What they really serve in Ireland. You might just get addicted! I make a couple of loaves every week now. The best part! You mix it and throw it in the oven. No yeast, no waiting for it to rise, and VERY little kneading!

Brown Soda Bread
Unbaked Soda Bread

- 3 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup white all purpose flour
- 1/8 cup wheat germ (gives it more of the nutty flavor Irish whole wheat flour has)
- 1/8 cup old fashioned rolled oats
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 - 1 pint buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

2. Mix dry ingredients

3. Make a hole in the middle of the dry ingredients and start mixing in the buttermilk. It should be a dense dough and you may not need the whole cup. I usually use the whole cup, though. Not all of the dry ingredients will be incorporated. That is normal. Don't over mix! Just mix until it is a consistent ball of is normally slightly dry.

4. Dump dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead approximately 10 times.

5. Shape into loaf. Cut a deep cross into the top of the loaf. Bake immediately because the chemical reaction caused by the baking soda has already begun.

6. Bake for approximately 40 minutes. The loaf should sound hollow if you flip it over and knock on the bottom of it.

7. When you take it out of the oven, wrap it in a clean towel, flip it on its side and lean it up against something at an angle to allow it to fully cool.

8. Enjoy! Best served warm with a couple of pads of real cream butter! Amazing!

 I store mine (for as long as it takes to get eaten... usually not long) wrapped in that towel on the counter. Another amazing thing I learned in Ireland: Not everything has to be stored in a cold, sealed environment all of the time. In fact, some things don't store as well like that. In the markets (grocery stores) there, all of the bread was baked in loaves and placed in baskets. Open baskets, without any packaging. If they trust that at a store full of people, I think in my own personal kitchen filled only with my family, things will be fine. Do you know that they store all of their eggs on unrefrigerated shelves too?!Oh, and you have to pay for plastic grocery bags! 23 EURO each in Dublin! And, everything is recycled! It is difficult to find a trash can sometimes! Smart smart people! I will leave that for another soap box moment. :)