Category Archives: Food

Saving Seeds…Finally

We always say we are going to save seeds.

We know it will save us money.

We know the plants grow well with our soil.

We know the saved seeds will be unique. They’ve adapted to our growing conditions and there will never be another seed quite like it.

Yet each year, time gets away from us. By the time we remember that we planned to save seeds…it’s too late. Or at least, we think it is.

But this year, we actually did save seeds.

Okra seeds.

Okra seeds, along with pea and bean seeds are some of the easiest seeds to save.

First, just let the pods dry on the plant. When they turn brown and start to split at the ridges, cut them off, open them up and shake the seeds out. Let them dry for a few days and, voila! They are ready to store.

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So far, we’ve saved seeds from three large pods and filled a small medicine bottle.

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Old prescription bottles are one of the best containers for seed saving. They are easy to label and easy to store in neat little rows.

Sunflowers are also good candidates for saving, although there are a few more steps involved.

Tomato seeds are a bit easier than sunflower seeds, and pepper seeds even easier…at least there are fewer steps involved.

Since we ate the three peppers that actually made it this year (slight exaggeration), and our tomatoes were devoured by the chickens, the okra seeds…and maybe marigolds…are the only ones we’ll save this year.

At least it’s a start!

What seeds do you save?

So easy to save
Okra and marigold seeds
Cut, shake, dry and save

Sprouts!

I love brussel sprouts…especially fresh.

For the past three years I’ve tried to grow them without success. The ones I started indoors never made it much past the seedling stage and the ones I direct sowed never sprouted.

But just look at them!

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I didn’t do anything different this year except get a really, really good seed starting mix. One of the plants survived my winter sowing experiment, one was started indoors and one was from a nursery.

They are all almost ready to harvest!

What are our plans for these gorgeous sprouts?

We are going to roast them with garlic and olive oil, mix in a bit of bacon and then sprinkle the whole thing with parmesan.

YUM!

The sprouts have grown tall
Each one large, green and gorgeous
Roast ’em and enjoy!

Unintentional Gardening

We discovered a strange squash in a spot where no squash should be.

We waited, wondering what on earth it was.

There is no way we would have ever planted anything there.

Really.

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It just appeared one day…twining out from under the trailer in our side yard.

We had no idea how it got there.

When we had the makeshift playpen up, the little chicks were in that spot, but we didn’t start to give them kitchen scraps until they were much older and in their permanent pen.

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It’s weird.

It’s big.

It’s…bumpy.

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We didn’t water it. We didn’t weed it. We didn’t fertilize it.

We. Did. Nothing.

And yet…it grew.

And grew.

And grew.

We could have mowed it.

We could have pulled it.

We could have destroyed it.

But…we didn’t.

We left it alone.

We let it grow into a pleasant, bumpy, yellow, orange and green surprise.

 

What is this strange thing?
So bumpy, orange green and weird.
Nature’s lovely gift

New Eggs

The new girls have started to lay!

We collected two eggs on Thursday before we left for Michigan.

Our chicken sitters collected few more on Friday, and on Saturday they collected 10 eggs between our 5 Red Stars and our 16 Leghorns. Way to go ladies!

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As a special treat, Joe and I took them a few large borage plants and some fresh clover this morning.

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Pecky strutted around, making sure all his ladies were getting plenty to eat before eating some himself.

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The eggs are pretty small now and, although they will not be as big as our Red Stars’ eggs, will get bigger as they grow. We are guessing that when they are at their peak, we’ll get at least a dozen a day from them.

Plenty to share!

Our girls are growing up
They lay more every day
They’re white and tiny now
The size is just ok

As these hens get bigger
The eggs will grow large too
They taste the same regardless
Of breed or size or hue

Fill ‘er Up!

The medicinal herb spiral is built and filled.

All materials used for the construction were free.

Cardboard and newspaper for weed control, landscaping bricks from our neighbor and good, black, worm filled soil from our pasture.

The labor was free too.

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The seeds that we will be planting were the only cost, and that was minimal…less than $15 for all.

  • Cilantro (saved from last year’s crop)
  • Sage
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Lemongrass
  • Lavender
  • Chives
  • Lemon balm
  • Bee balm
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Chamomile

We’ll also throw nasturtium and marigolds in for pest control and maybe some lettuce for filler.

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Our neighbor has more bricks for us, so we’ll build this up a little bit more before we start planting. If possible, I’d like the top to be flush with the stump.

I’d also like to plant some sort of ground cover over the whole thing to help with unwanted weeds, but for this year, we will mulch with straw.

We’ll top the whole thing off with a planter or some sort of garden statue on the top of the stump.

Let the growing begin!

Herbs in the spiral
Tempting butterflies and bees
A fragrant garden

Leghorns

We’ve ordered the chicks. Sadly, we were not able to find more Red Stars so we ended up ordering 25 Pearl White Leghorns from Murray McMurray Hatchery.

According to the box, this brand starts laying a few weeks earlier than most and continues laying 10-12 weeks longer. The folks at McMurray recommend this layer to farmers who want to maximize egg production.

Since the whole reason we started raising chickens is for eggs, and eventually meat, buying this brand seemed like a good idea.

They are more disease resistant and cold tolerant and they don’t need as much feed to keep up egg production, but…they can fly higher because they are so light and they are skittish around humans.

In just about every post I’ve read from my fellow backyard chicken bloggers, the flightiness is the biggest negative and the most annoying trait of this breed.

I’m not too worried about it though. We have the best pair of chicken catchers around living right on our property.

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Plus, the hatchery threw in a “free rare exotic chick“.

The chicks are on the way
They’ll be here any day
They’ll be white with red
With straw for their bed
If they’re all alive I’ll shout yay!

Here Chick, Chick, Chick

Chickens.

They are adorable when they’re little and fuzzy with their teeny tiny peeps and tweets.

So docile.

So cute.

So…innocent.

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Then, they grow into beautiful birds.

Their feathers are sleek and shiny and their combs are bright red. They no longer peep and cheep. They cluck and strut.

Beady eyes.

Mean glares.

Calculating minds.

Ok, not really calculating, but they are really mean.

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But…they are also useful.

They give us eggs for a healthy breakfast and meat for our freezer.

They create compost for the gardens and get rid of those pesky garden pests.

And…their antics make great blog posts.

Within the next month, we’ll be getting our new flock. This year, we won’t try to integrate them. Even if our Stars are still laying, we’ll most likely butcher them. The infighting was too stressful for both me and the birds.

The Red Stars we got last season have been great layers. Even in this cold weather we are getting, on average, 6 eggs a day from 7 birds. The Reds were good too, but there is something about the Stars that I like.

Maybe they aren’t so mean or maybe I’m still holding a grudge against the Reds for starting the Chicken Wars.

We’ll do a little research, but right now the plan is to get 15 new Red Stars.

We’ll keep them separate from the current flock, but once they start laying eggs…the 7 remaining hens will go from coop to freezer.

Here little chick, chick
So fluffy, fuzzy and cute
Time to get growing

Heirloom Salsa Round 2

I made some salsa last year with all of my heirloom tomatoes, but it didn’t turn out. At least not to my taste. It was too mild and too bland.

I decided that I would not make the same mistake this year.

The recipe I used is a mish mosh of many recipes I found on Pinterest. I took what I liked, ignored what I didn’t and used my own judgement for the rest.

I had been throwing my tomatoes in the freezer as I harvested them. I think I had around 20# of tomatoes in grocery sacks in the freezer.

I thawed them out, peeled (most) of the skins, chopped them up, threw some in the food processor and popped all into a stock pot.

I had a variety of tomatoes, most of them heirlooms: beefsteak, Aunt Ruby’s, Green Zebra, Black Prince and Mr. Stripey.

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Next, I chopped the peppers I had saved. Jalapeno, serrano, cherry, cayenne, pepperoncini and a few others I got from a friend’s garden.

I kept some seeds and ribs in the peppers to add some extra heat.

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I peeled three bulbs of garlic, chopped 3 large onions and threw it all, including the peppers, into a food processor and pulsed until they were finely chopped.

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All of this went into the pot with the tomatoes. I cooked it for 2 hours and then added white vinegar (for preservation) and cilantro, both fresh and from cubes I had frozen in oil earlier in the year.

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Then, I cooked it for the recommended 20 minutes, but it was still too thin and watery so I ended up cooking it for most of the afternoon. I added three cans of tomato paste to hurry the thickening process along.

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Finally, the consistency was right and it was time for a taste test.

It was spicy, ridiculously so…even for me. I knew it would just get spicier as it sat so I added more tomato paste to tone it down.

It was still hot after I cooked it down some more, but it was just how I like it.

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This process took most of the day so I opted to can it the next day.

The Ball Canning Book, the must-have guide for all canning endeavors, said to heat the water to 212* for acidic foods and boil the filled jars for 15 minutes at that heat.

Unfortunately, one of my jars popped as soon as it hit the water. I think I had it too hot. I had to pour the water out of the pot and start the boiling process all over again.

By the end of the day, I had 6 pint jars and 2 quart jars of spicy salsa.

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It’s delicious and I just know spicy food lovers will enjoy it.

I might give some of it away with a bag of chips and homemade taco seasoning as a Christmas gift.

Maybe.

Ridiculously Spice Salsa
(But you can tone it down.)
Around 20# of tomatoes
Peppers, as many as you can handle.
Onions to your taste. I used 3 big ones.
Garlic to your taste. I used 3 bulbs.
1 cup of white vinegar to preserve
Salt to your taste. I used a couple of heaping tablespoons.
Tomato paste to thicken to your liking.

Equipment
Water bath pot with canning rack
Thermometer
Canning jar lifter
Jars, rings and lids
Ball Blue Book Guide

Contract Violation

Room and board in exchange for eggs. That was the agreement when we brought these hens home. Sure, there’s no contract on file, but a verbal agreement should be honored.

We assume that it’s the older girls who’ve stopped producing, but the young gals could be shirking their duty. We have to be sure before winter sets in.

They know what’s coming.

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They sense it in the way I talk to them and look at them.

They think that I won’t be able to tell who is laying and who isn’t.

But they’re wrong.

I have a plan.

I’m going to identify which hens are laying by a simple process of elimination.

There are many chicken keepers who determine this in different ways, but they all seem to agree that one method is the most accurate.

This method is not appealing. At all.

This method is kind of gross.

This method is really our only choice if we want absolute accuracy.

Examining the pelvic bones.

In other words, checking out their butts.

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The Homesteading Hippy describes in detail how to examine the butt, legs, belly and comb.

Dull and floppy combs, bright yellow legs, hard and firm abdomens and dry and tight “vents” are all signs that the hen is no longer providing eggs.

Feed intake dramatically increases in the winter because they don’t have fresh weeds, grass and bugs to supplement their diet. The increase in consumption means an increase in expense for us.

So, it is time to cull the flock and fill the freezer.

We’ll have fewer eggs, but we’ll have homegrown organic chickens to roast, fry, bake and enjoy.

Fare the well ladies
You’ve worked so hard for us
Providing compost and eggs
The meat you’ll supply is a plus

Berry Pickin’

Blue skies. Sun shining. Slight breeze. Perfect.

We were outside today picking blackberries and grapes. I never tire of watching the boys pick berries and hearing them shout “found one!” when a ripe berry catches their eye.

It warms my heart to see such joy and pride in their eyes over finding and picking a few ripe berries.

We hadn’t been out for a few days so the blackberry vines were loaded with juicy, ripe fruit.

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Jacob, still not quite clear on how the ripening process works, likes to pick the red ones, hold them up to me and say, “Is this one ready?”

I say no and he throws it aside only to pick another not yet ripe blackberry and ask the same question.

In order to stop this cycle, I point him to the berries that are ready and he picks them saying, “I found one Mommy!”

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For once, we came in with a bowl that was almost full.

And yes, that is the cat’s tail. Boots was ‘helping’ by purring, twining around our legs and rolling around where we were working.

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We found a few ripe grapes over in the vineyard. The boys love to go out here for snacks now that the strawberries are done. Joe, for some reason, eats only the meat of the grape and takes great delight in slurping it out of the skin.

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Since the mint is now starting to flower, I am going to cut a bunch of it and make a kettle of tea. I’ve heard that chocolate mint tea is delicious and soothing right before bedtime.

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Chocolate mint tea
Sounds so very delicious
Or, a mojito