Saturday, August 31, 2013

This Long Weekend

For this long weekend I am taking some time to do some planning. We have had a wonderful, excitement filled summer full of family and fun. One son is off starting a teaching internship, another son is off to start his junior year of college and the third is starting his senior year of high school. Thursday was a very quite day here with the two girls and myself. We cleaned the house. It felt very good. Then we left Friday for a day long outing on the road with Dean. We had a blast and I will be posting about that soon.

We girls have some ideas on how we want our fall and winter to be and we are in the planning stages. I just need some time to look at the calendar and the budget and see what we will do. What we all want is to spend some time with each other and with friends, while having a balance of alone time as well.

So this is a work weekend for us. Some use it as a end of summer last hurrah. We are craving some routine here and that is just what I am going to attempt. It is a challenge to fit in everything and at the same time make it peaceful and calm. For me anyway. I want time with my husband, time with the girls, time to help my son with his future plans, time for me and all my loves. Time for some homeschooling, time for baking, time for planning ahead. We still need to work in the garden, tend to the chickens and get all that wood in! It doesn't ever end, and that is good.

Hopefully at the end of this weekend I will be organized and ready to take on the fall!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Deep Breaths

I am off today to be with my mother while my father is away. My mother can no longer be alone. I work with the elderly, but this is my mom. It is going to be different. She no longer can do the normal things we all take for granted. Deep breaths are needed today.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Beans and Buns

I am being over run by beans. Wax beans and Green beans. I put three bags of beans in the freezer for winter. After the garden is put to bed and we are remembering all the fresh veggies it will be so nice to pull these out and eat them!

I cut the tips off and blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling water. Then I quickly put them in ice water to stop them from cooking. Then I drain them and dry them on a towel on the counter. After that they go into a zip lock bag. I then put the freezer bag back in the water to push the air out of the bag. Zip it up and into the freezer it goes. I place the bags on a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer until they freeze. They keep their shape better that way.

Sorry for the dark pictures. Sometimes my camera does weird things. Well maybe it is the photographer.


I made bread this past weekend as well. I try to make a bunch to freeze as well so I am not making bread every other day. (Even though sometimes I still have to.)

I like to make my own hamburger buns.

I use Farmgirl Fare's Farmhouse Bread recipe. It makes three loaves of bread, or sometimes it makes two loaves and a batch of hamburger rolls. I like making my own, because I can size them according to the size of the people eating them. Bigger ones for the adults and smaller ones for the little girls. I don't like it when I buy store buns and then half gets thrown out because they are too big.

They cook up so nice. I put sesame seeds on mine as well as salt. I think I will skip the salt from now on because we didn't like it as much. Too salty.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Making and Storing Broth

A phone call from the beef man triggered the chore of cleaning out my freezer yesterday. I had chicken carcasses and parts from our last slaughter. I also had two beef soup bones from last year that needed to be used up. Time to make broth!

It is a long process, but not hard. Took me most of the day to boil down all the chicken. I slow cooked the beef bones in the crock pot for 24 hours.  All I do is put the meat in, add 2 onions and water to cover. I let it slow boil until the meat starts to come off the bones. I do not boil it until the bones are clean.

I then take out all the bones and meat. I hand pick all the bones for any meat that I can use. I will freeze that and use for pies or soups. It is hard to believe how much meat is left on a bone after you think you have taken it all off during processing.

After taking the bones and meat out I use a funnel and a strainer and pour ladles full into mason jars. I use the strainer because we like just the broth. I don't want any fat pieces or onions, or small pieces of meat in the broth.

I fill it an inch or more from the top because I freeze my broth and it will expand. Most sites I have looked up say you can store meat broth for up to 12 months in the freezer. At the end of this process which was this morning for the beef broth, I have 13 quarts of chicken broth and about 5 quarts of beef. Isn't it amazing that the fat at the top is so thin? That is one of the many benefits of grass fed, free range animals.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Growing Greens for the Chickens

Still only one chicken laying here. Soon, there will or should be 9 more. In attempts to have year round eggs there are 15 chicks due on Monday. The reason for ordering more chicks is that when the chickens I have now go through their molt I will have other chickens just starting to lay. I have never tried 'timing' the egg laying before so this is yet another homesteading experiment.

Over the years I have asked myself, "Why am I doing this?" For many years I have let the chickens free range. I love watching them move around the property in an almost a routine way. In the grass in the morning, then to the woods down the hill. After that over behind the house where the bird seed drops, and then up through the front woods to the driveway and back to the coop.

Along with predator problems there are other challenges with free ranging. All of a sudden the egg production would seem to let up. We would scratch our heads and wonder what was wrong. Then on a random walk in the woods we would find a clutch of eggs with 12 or more eggs in it. I have been raising chickens for over 15 years and have never been able to talk a chicken into laying in the coop once they have decided not to. One other problem we have encountered is having our lovely perfect chickens head over to the neighbor come spring when her strawberries are ready to pick. My neighbor is not that close by, but the chickens must smell those delicious little berries and run right over. The neighbor will stop by the house and let me know that she loves watching them and they are so beautiful, but they are destroying her crop.

As I have mentioned before we are planning a new coop for them. But for now I let them out in the old enclosure that has no top and unfortunately, no grass. They are pretty happy, since I see them pecking and pruning and taking dust baths. Over the last few weeks I have been collecting bunches of greens from the garden and yard and throwing it in to them. I have noticed in the one egg that I do get that there is a big difference in the color and shape when I offer greens.

A chicken that eats greens will lay a darker yolked egg. The egg stands up better in the pan as well. I think the inner membrane of the white is much stiffer. Now with making the decision to keep these birds cooped and caged I have also decided to plant them some greens and offer them a pile daily. I have several hoop houses in my garden and now a giant hoop house that I call a greenhouse. I have the room to grow them a garden of their own for the winter months. Some Kale, lettuce, rye grass, and maybe some beet greens. The garden and our yard is providing plenty for now, but come winter I will need fresh food for them. Soon my broccoli will be gone, and I will start the 'chicken's garden'.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Bounty of an August Garden

I tried my hand at an herb garden this year. I imagined the feeling of cooking a meal and just hopping out to the front garden to grab the herbs I need. I have been living this reality this summer and I love it. This is the parsley, which has exploded.

I am surprised by the dill. I knew nothing about herbs before this year. I picked all the heads off the dill to make Bread and Butter pickles a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday I went out to look at the herbs and there were many new heads of dill! Since I have a large amount of cucumbers I guess I will be making more pickles. Yes Dean, this time Kosher Dill.

At the beginning of summer one of my sons came home with 5 Eggplant plants for me. He was given them from his employer. I have never grew eggplant. I found spots in the garden for them and they are thriving. I am amazed at how pretty they are.

The girls picked carrots the other day. They just couldn't wait another day. We cooked them up with some butter and ate them for lunch. They were so sweet and delicious.

In these parts of Maine not many people have good luck with corn. The kind humans eat anyway. There are rows and rows of what we call cow corn. It is grown for feed. I gave sweet corn a go and we do have a few good ears. I just hope nothing happens from here on out. Corn is so sensitive to wind and heavy rain. We also have lots of raccoon waiting for the best time to raid it.

I took this picture last night. This is one days bounty from my garden, the CSA farm we belong to, and some donations from one of my son's employer. I will be very busy in the next few days I think.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Fabric Box

I have this friend. A long time friend. One of those friends that you can tell anything. We have been friends for about 18 years. Our kids grew up together. We have shared many good times and some bad.
We try to get together weekly to sew. Some sewing does get done, but mostly we eat, drink tea, and talk. It is one of the highlights in my week.

For the last few years we have been doing projects together. One time I taught her to paper piece. We have taken sewing and quilting classes and workshops together. This time she is teaching me how to make a fabric box. I have loved this 'class' she is teaching and hope I have been a good student.

I had some trouble with the free motion quilting, but I am happy with the way it came out.

Last night she wouldn't let me leave her house until I finished sewing the box together. I am glad I did it. It is so pretty!

This is the bottom. After I sew it on I have completed my box. I think I may have to make another one. We got the pattern from a book called Zakka Style. My friend (teacher) bought it for me. It has lots of really nice and fairly easy projects.

Thanks my friend!! I love you!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Morning With the Ducks

We all went camping this weekend. One morning Greta and I took a walk down to the lake. She found a lovely duck print, and a paddling of ducks in the water near shore.

Greta took most of these pictures. She has an eye for nature.

It was beautiful down there by the water. Quiet, peaceful. Just her, the ducks, and me.

A lot of people come to Maine in the summer. I get to live here year round. There is so much wildness and beauty still here. I hope it will always be this way.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Garden's Progress

 I can't remember a finer year in the garden. Hope I am not jinxing myself. There has been rain, sunshine, no pests, and so far most everything is thriving. I am not happy with the corn. It has been battered by storms and just isn't growing as well as the rows and rows I see on the roadsides. I am a bit worried about the tomatoes. They are there, growing, but smallish and taking their time. Other than that I am overjoyed with the rest of the garden.

 With multiple plantings I have had lettuce all year. The beets are doing well also. I have one whole bed of just beets!

The Rainbow chard is abundant as usual.

It has been the best year for broccoli. The heads are huge and I am getting plenty of off shoots.

The peppers are so beautiful!

Keeping the tomatoes and peppers under cover this year. We are just experimenting with this technique. So far no worms, which we always get, and so far no blight, which we have gotten for so many years. But, they are slower. My son, who has apprenticed on a farm this year said maybe they got too hot. The have flowered and there are tomatoes though, so I am hopeful that we will get enough tomatoes to make the award winning salsa.

The processing has begun around here. Plenty of beans and early cukes. I call it Pickle Fever!

Even though we are seeing signs of fall already here in Maine I think the growing season will continue for some time. We are already getting some red leaves on some of the trees and the nights are getting that cooling feel to them. I love it. Fall is my favorite season. Right now though, I am enjoying this season, Summer, to the fullest!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Block Placement

I have been (slowly) working on a queen sized quilt for our bed. I do a block or two then work on something else. To my credit it has been a very busy summer with a house of seven people!

I am trying to figure the placement. Should I sew the blocks all together. Or should I stagger them with a solid color of some kine?

The solid color need not be white. It is just what I had that day to work with.

I just can't decide. It is fine though, because I have about 12 to 14 more blocks to go until I have enough.

I put it up on my design wall the other day.

I like the colors. So does my husband. I didn't want the quilt to be too feminine, since it is his bedroom too. The fabrics are almost entirely of scraps. There were a few fabrics I did buy. Sometimes a fabric will call out to me, and I just have to buy it!

Now to decide how to place the blocks. Hmmmm.......

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fantastic Mr. Fox

As I mentioned in the past, I have a fox problem.
I love my chickens. Not a pet kind of love. I just really like raising chickens. I like raising chickens to lay eggs, and I like raising them so I can put meat in my refrigerator. I like watching them. I find chickens very interesting.
I want to raise my chickens in the best way that I can. I would love to let them roam free and eat bugs and grass and whatever else they find. I have lost so many chickens in the past to a fox and I just can't do it anymore.

So the new pullets are growing, just shy of 18 weeks old and I am feeling guilty for not letting them free range.
Sunday was a comical site.
We have a chicken tractor that we raised our meat birds in. They were slaughtered at 11 weeks and we didn't need to worry about them trying or wanting to lay eggs so we didn't have boxes in the tractor. On Sunday I decided I wanted to let my hens have some fresh grass and sunshine.
By myself, I captured 9 chickens that did not want to be captured. I was very proud of myself that I got them into the trailer with no problems. They were happy too. I could tell.
So then about an hour before we needed to leave to go to a dinner party,  (Dumb day to experiment with the chickens) I asked Dean to help me put them in their coop. I thought it would be as simple as lifting the tractor and grabbing the chickens. It was not. Laying hens are much smarter than meat birds. I ended up having to get into the tractor. It is only 1 1/2 ft. tall. Not easy to climb into and scrunch down and grab angry chickens (ha ha). They flapped their wings and pecked. While flapping any poop that was near them got splattered onto me. Nice. Eventually I did get them all, handed them to Dean who then transported them into their coop. That will not be happening again.
So after a taste of fresh grass and bugs the chickens decided they would fly the coop yesterday. One did get out and the others tried very hard. It was Princess (the last from the old flock) that got out and the 18 wk pullets looked longingly out at her.

So, we are planning to make a new coop or enclosure. I have seen several on the internet. I just cannot decide to have a movable one or a stationary one. We already have a coop. We have had an enclosure, but it is not fox proof and does not have a top on it. Our chickens could get out when they want to, but also they can get out when they are scared or stressed. I want my chickens to be relaxed and happy.
There is this one.
Or this one.
Maybe this one.

I cannot let my chickens out of the run even for a bit. For one thing I would have to be on fox patrol all day. That means never going inside the house. We live in the woods.
Even if I could sit outside for most of the day, there could be the possibility that I would have to go off the property. Like, drive into town for some reason or run to the corner store for milk or some silly reason like that. I would then have to try and gather up chickens that were not ready to be put to bed. The fox waits for me to screw up. Really! She, he, whatever, they wait for the most opportune moment to strike at my flock. This is why I need a really good coop and run. That, or I quit raising chickens. Which is not going to happen.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Limberlost of Our Own

I just finished reading this book out loud to my two girls. We loved it. This book was about a girl named Elnora and followed her trials and loves from her start of high school through graduation and a little beyond. I wouldn't want to say much more, since it may ruin this story for you.

It really touched on many aspects of a girl and her emotions. She is a sweet, loving girl, but also feels resentment towards her mother, who seemed cruel and unloving.
She isn't sugary, fake sweet. She does get angry and frustrated with her life circumstances. There is a bit of a love triangle in this book, but it has so many lessons on patience, love, selfishness and being humble. There are exciting and suspenseful parts. This book ends nicely and even though it was a book about a teenager I was very comfortable reading to my 9 and 6 year old. I felt it was wholesome but not in a way that was sickening.

Elnora collects moths and butterflies and is a lover of nature and music. Things we love as well. We will always think of Elnora and Freckles  (a prequel novel), when watching, catching and collecting wildlife. I feel so fortunate that we have woods and wetlands surrounding us. It is so nice for our children to be able to run free and discover nature by just walking out the front, or back door.

So pretty! So amazing.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

After the Rain

We have had a healthy dose of pouring rain here in Central Maine these last few days. This morning I got out to open the greenhouse, and feed the chickens and I noticed so much of the sun!!

I am sure the lady that made this was up much earlier than I was.

Everything is still very wet. It is so beautiful out there right now.

There is much work to be done though. Getting ready for a camping trip, picking all those beans, and zucchini, and broccoli.
Not all was wonderful in the garden today. The rain and wind has plowed down the corn. I think I can save it, by hilling and propping it up.

Poor corn.

The windows are open and the breeze is blowing. The sun is shining and it is time to get going!