Posts Tagged With: chickens

I’m Back! Updates and Strawberry Freezer Jam..

Phew!  Time sure flies when you’re having fun!  It also flies when you’re prioritizing differently, doesn’t it?

Let’s see:  Since January lots has happened!

1.  Most importantly, we found out we’re expecting another baby!  I alluded to a big surprise in my last post, and had meant to update way sooner, so for those of you who were waiting with baited breath (ha!), I’m sorry!  I’m due in early September, and I have a whole separate post about what gender this little one is coming up!

Big Sibling Book!

Big Sibling Book!

2.  I stopped babysitting.  That was a hard decision to make, but it all kind of unfolded very quickly and smoothly…kind of like what happens when you start listening to God and obeying Him.  I was watching three little ones in addition to raising my own two girls, and then all three of us mamas got pregnant, which meant by the time my baby came, I’d have one 6-year-old, three 3-year-olds, one 2-year-old, and three infants.  I was going to hire my mother-in-law to come help me several hours a day, but even if that would have worked out (which it wasn’t go to) I started realizing that the hours she wasn’t there was going to be extremely hard on me.  So I asked one family to find another sitter (that was a hard decision!) and shortly after that the other mama needed to quit her job for the health of her pregnancy and decided she was going to stay home when her third arrived.  So it was an abrupt end to babysitting for me, but it has worked out nicely, actually!  I decided not to get back into it, because I’ve been enjoying it just being me and my girls again… plus I’m not superwoman… I think having a newborn and starting homeschooling 1st grade in the fall is going to be enough for my brain to handle!

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This is what my house looked like all winter

A rare day "warm enough" to venture out

A rare day “warm enough” to venture out

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It was pretty fun to have our own sledding hill!

 

3.  I don’t know about you all, but this winter took a toll on me.  I think the combination of not being able to take all the kids outside hardly at all, nor being able to leave my house…nor really WANTING to leave in the frigid temps…has opened my eyes to just how amazing this era is that we live in. I have a whole new appreciation for Laura Ingalls Wilder and the rest of the pioneers.

Can you imagine experiencing a winter like ours without whole-house heating?  Can you imagine having to try to feed and water your livestock during a blizzard?  Just trekking out to give my poor chickens water twice a day was brutal enough!  Can you imagine not seeing another soul outside your family for an entire winter?  Seeing my daffodils push stubbornly through snow this spring brought tears of sublime joy to my eyes.  I imagine Mary and Laura Ingalls felt that way, too.  Sending my children outside to run and play and GET OUT OF MY HAIR and opening the kitchen window to feel the breeze while I did dishes for the first time this spring made me close my eyes in ecstasy.  I imagine Caroline Ingalls felt that way, too.  I think we can all stand united, from this century to the ones long past, and give a big cheer for SPRING!

Chickens

Kitty TV! Cider on the left, Toopweets, and Pancake on the right.

 

 

 

 

4.  My chickens.  My poor, poor chickens!  I had a big learning curve with poulty this horrid winter.  For starters, I realized that even though we had one day with a -40 windchill, and FEET of snow out there, the hens could survive.  It was totally unnecessary to bring them onto my back porch to dirty it up with a shocking amount of poo in 12 hours.  It helped me sleep better, anyway.  Despite all my babying, the poor girls were picked off one and two at a time over the winter.  Desperation drove predators to this easy meal, and one clever hunter even figured out how to get into the coop!  The last two were likely carried off by coyotes…after the coop raid they were too scared to go back to the coop, so they hunkered down in front of the house for about a week before they were taken.  So, sadly, I am chickenless right now.  I haven’t replaced them yet because I’d like to sell my coop and get a different style.  I’m also torn between getting hens or chicks…votes?

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“Looks like running, Feels like walking” ha ha!

My big brother, Zach, and me.  Typical shot of us.

My big brother, Zach, and me. Typical shot of us.

5.  Over the weekend I ran a half marathon!  And by ran, I mean walked. 🙂  But still, walking 13.1 miles whilst 21 weeks pregnant is something to be proud of, which is why it’s a bullet point here.  It took me nearly 4 hours, but I had a book on my iPod and I had a good time!

Where is the next porta-potty??  Baby on the bladder, people!!

Where is the next porta-potty?? Baby on the bladder, people!!

I’m still a little sore, which tells me I need to do more walking than I have been doing!  I’d been training for this half and had intended on running it, but I ran 10 miles at 19 weeks and between then there was a lot of growth happening with baby and it just was not comfortable to run anymore.  But I still got to cheese over the finish line and get lots of bragging rights!

 

 

6.  This morning my oldest, Cozy, saw something on TV about making “jelly” and asked if we could make some.  We hardly ever eat jelly or jam…like, seriously, one jar can last a whole year in my house.  Consequently, I never bother to make it because it would expire long before we got to it.  But when you have a love for cooking and preserving that has been ignored for months and your darling blue-eyed 6-year-old asks you to teach her how to preserve… “Sure!  Sounds like fun!”  So I found a recipe for a quick and easy strawberry freezer jam and we had a lot of fun making it!  The girls washed the berries for me and then helped me mash them:

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We added gelatin instead of pectin because I have loads of it:DSC03699

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letting it cool before sticking it in the freezer/refrigerator:

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(I stuck the jar intended for the fridge in the freezer so it would hurry up and set before lunchtime)

 

 

 

 

 

Taste-test time! DSC03701DSC03707  Yum!  It’s a little runnier than I’d like jam to be, but the flavor is really good!  I’m ok with the runny consistency because I’ll use this in my yogurt way sooner than we’ll eat it on toast, so it will actually be easier to mix in for me.  But if you want this to have a better spreading consistency, I would either switch to pectin, or double the gelatin amount.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strawberry Freezer Jam (Makes 4 half-pints)

  • 4 cups cut strawberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 envelopes (1 1/2 Tbsp) unflavored gelatin (double for thicker consistency)
  • 1/2 cup cold water

1. In medium saucepan heat strawberries, lemon juice and sugar, about 5 minutes.  Crush (I used an immersion blender after the girls finished having fun smooshing).  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, 3 minutes.

2. In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over cold water.  Let set 1 minute. Add to berry mixture and heat, stirring until gelatin is dissolved, about 3 minutes.

3.  Let jam stand 5 minutes.  Skim off foam, ladle into jars.  Let jars cool before freezing.

Jam will keep for one month in the refrigerator and 1+ years in the freezer.

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So, after I finished spreading the jam onto the toast, Cozy says in a disappointed tone, “I thought we were making jelly!”  This confused me, because while I know my kid is smart, there is NO WAY she knows the difference between jelly and jam, so I said, “Huh?  This is jelly!”  I half expected her to school me on what exactly constitutes jelly vs. jam, but she just said again, “No, I meant JELLY.  This is not jelly.”  And then it hit me:  she wanted to make Jell-O, not jelly!  Ha ha!  Poor kid!  Life is rough when your vocabulary is still young!

It’s good to be back!

 

Categories: Freezing, Journal | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A Very Lengthy Tour of My Garden

DSC01182(First of all, don’t those clouds look like something from The Simpsons? HA!)

My garden is mostly planted and I am just so pleased with it!  Last year, I tried Square Foot Gardening for the first time and loved it.  I learned a few valuable lessons regarding over-crowding last year, and I think I made the right adjustments this year.  This is the straight-on view of my entire garden.  On the very left up against the fence is a new addition, an asparagus patch!

DSC01185Nothing to see yet, really.  Asparagus takes three years before you can harvest it, and then it grows prolifically as a perennial, apparently.  I’ve  never had asparagus straight out of a garden before, so that will be a real treat!

DSC01183Right next to the asparagus patch is something else that is new to my garden and my experience:  Raspberry bushes!  I planted two red bushes and one golden, just for funsies.  I doubt I’ll get a harvest this year, but hopefully next year?  I’ve never grown raspberries before, so I’m really not sure when I can expect to harvest.  I know my girls are going to be all over them, though!  They are berry-crazy!  (Ha ha)

DSC01184It’s alive!  The other two bushes just look like expensive sticks that some crazy person planted, but this one actually has a few leaves!  (Doesn’t take much to excite me…)

DSC01181Behind the raspberry bushes is a raised bed.  Last year I grew pickles, basil, beets, cilantro and two kinds of heirloom tomatoes in this bed.  They all did fairly well here, so I didn’t change much.  I planted basil, cilantro and cucumbers this year.  I have room for more, but haven’t decided what to put there yet.  I will probably put cherry tomatoes in there once my seedlings are ready for transplant.  I decided not to grow beets this year, even though they were lots of fun, because I pickled and canned them up, and no one ever ate them.  I also decided not to grow pickles, because it was too frustrating to me that there was never a batch ready at the same time for pickling.  This year I’m just going to order pickles, and that way I’ll get all my pickling done at once.

I took these pictures the same day that I took the chicken pictures, as is evident by Dagny’s outfit.  See my big helper?  (There used to be basil seeds in that square…I’m guessing that they aren’t there anymore…)

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I did start my basil this year from direct-sow seed.  I’ve never done that (successfully) with basil, so it wasn’t too surprising to me that most of them didn’t come up.  I ended up buying a healthy-looking plant just to guarantee I would get some basil this year.

DSC01187It looks like at least one seed worked, though!  This is definitely not a weed!  Exciting!

DSC01188I also started cilantro from seed, and there are three seedlings that sprouted!  Aren’t they so cute?  I will probably still buy a larger plant though, because it’s getting to be salsa season and I need cilantro, dang it!  On a related note, you probably already knew this, but I’m still a beginner in the gardening world and this was new information to me.  Did you know that coriander is actually the seeds from cilantro?  I’ll definitely be learning more about harvesting coriander once my cilantro goes to seed later this year and posting about it.  Interesting, isn’t it?

DSC01199The next raised bed, which was all corn last year, now is my lettuce bed.  I decided not to grow corn because I tried it three years in a row, and although I did finally get good corn last year, I just decided it’s cheap enough in season that I don’t need to waste space worrying over it.  So this year I planted Romaine, spinach and arugula, just like last year.  I still want to plant kale, as well, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.  I might have missed the window… not sure.

DSC01200It is my opinion that arugula is the EASIEST vegetable to grow.  It is as talented as a weed and nearly as invasive!  Last year I used my arugula in my Italian Wedding Soup and also made arugula pecan pesto.  It was delicious, and I kicked myself all pesto-less winter for not making more! In fact, I went through a lazy streak in the crucial week before the arugula went to seed and didn’t preserve it at all!  (For shame!  Boo!  Hiss!)  I was definitely regretting that over the winter, because arugula isn’t something that shows up in my grocery stores.

DSC01201Spinach is so cute as a baby.  Aww, wook at da widdle spinach weaves! So sweet!  (I may need help.)

DSC01202Romaine is cute too!  The wood chips are about the size of my thumbnail, just for scale comparison.  Aren’t those leaves tiny?  Someday they are going to be crunchy chunks of deliciousness drenched in Caesar dressing.  Sniff.  They grow up so fast!

DSC01190In front of the lettuce box are the snap peas.  I’m not exactly proud of this contraption.  There are probably 10 different ways to encourage these climbers that are snazzier and more efficient.  But I’m saving my landscaping budget for more important things and this was made with things I already had.  Plus it’s WAY better than my original design, which involved a collapsible drying rack and was far more embarrassing.

DSC01192I think this will work.  This is the most promising batch of snap peas I’ve grown yet.  The first year I planted them too late and only got ONE pea.  The second year my garden was consumed by weeds and I was too scared to enter it.  Last year I foolishly planted the peas behind the tomatoes, which were foolishly planted behind the cucumber, which were foolishly planted to receive ALL the sun.  The tomatoes and cucumbers were amazing, the most amazing crop I’d ever grown.  But the peas?  Oh the peas.  Nary a one was able to even see the sun, and they were quickly completely consumed by the larger plants.  This year looks to finally provide me with all the peas I can consume!  Once the plants are happily climbing, I’m also going to interplant this box with red, Yukon, and sweet potatoes.  (This was the potato box last year.)

DSC01193I am, however, REALLY proud of this!  I saw this on Pinterest and had to do it.  These are just bamboo poles tied together so that pole green beans can grow up it.

DSC01194(Isn’t this a cool picture?)

As a little girl, I was always infatuated with fairies and tiny forts.  I would have loved something like this as a little girl – a “secret” hide-out in the garden where the fairies were sure to be spotted.

DSC01195My oldest girl was named Cosette, after a character in one of my favorite musicals.  (Name that show!) We nicknamed her “Cozy”, which completely epitomizes her personality.  She is a lot like me in the way that she loves to create forts and is more than happy to hunt for fairies in tiny spaces.  My plan is to try to train the beans up the poles in a weaving fashion, so that the fort will be completely covered.  If any grow higher than the 6-ft poles I will try to encourage them to hang over the “door”, to complete the entrance to the hide-out.  I’ve never grown pole beans before, so I’m not totally sure what to expect.

DSC01196This is the first year for pumpkins for us, too.  I tried to grow them my second year of gardening, but the weeds and the heat wave won that battle.  My plan is to just let the vines go across the right side of the yard.  Can you see the seedling in there?  It only took like 3 days to sprout like that!  It totally shocked me.  (I shock easily too, apparently) I’m not planning on leaving the tomato cage over it, I’m just a little distrusting of my chickens, so I’m leaving the cage there until the vines can fend for themselves.

DSC01206Likewise, on the back fence, is the watermelon.  I haven’t grown that successfully yet, either.

DSC01205I planted this the same day as the pumpkin, and look how wussy the seedling looks compared to the pumpkin!  It took longer to sprout, too.  I’m going to let these vines take over the back of the yard, too.  I tried to grow watermelon up that chain-link fence last year.  It did work, and I did get one melon – that I prematurely harvested because it was about to frost, anyway – but I have a big enough yard that it doesn’t really matter.  The back end of the yard is only used for compost and my husband will be grateful to not have to mow it anyway.

DSC01203The long back bed that was Romas and arugula last year now is the strawberry bed.  I planted both Ever-bearing and June-bearing berries.  The chickens have destroyed two of the June-bearing plants.  I’m not really sure what the method to their madness is… why only two?  Why both June-bearing?  It’s a puzzle.  I put a tomato cage in one end, hoping it would creep them out enough to stay out.

DSC01210This isn’t in my garden.  It’s actually on the back of my house.  This is from last year’s pitiful strawberry efforts.  (News flash, strawberries like FULL sun, duh!)  I was happy to see two plants return.  It kind of vindicated my salty feelings from last year.

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This is the view from the right side of the garden.  Stage left, for you theater majors out there.  The box closest to the camera is mostly empty still.  I have two banana pepper plants given to me by my generous in-laws.   They also gave me a jalapeno plant, but the chickens had their way with it.  More tomato cages to the rescue!  The rest of the box is going to be filled with beefsteak, Roma and cherry tomatoes.  I bought all the seeds for these, but only started the seeds a few weeks ago.  The seedlings are only about 4 inches tall, and I’m not sure that is far enough along.  I might just buy plants to get in the ground now, and plant the seedlings I started later when they are stronger.  That way if they don’t produce until late fall it won’t be a big deal and I will have already been able to can up some tomato products.

You can see that I have two big helpers, staying busy digging in the dirt for Mama!

Behind the chain-link fence to the right, on the other side of the strawberry patch I planted sunflowers.  I had started the seeds in decomposing pots and then planted the pots after the seedlings were about an inch tall.  I then took some practical precautions and protected their row with chicken wire.  A day later, the seedlings were all gone.  In some of the pots there was even a broken sunflower shell, just sitting on top of the dirt, mocking me.  Crafty birds.

So I replanted the seeds, but I don’t have much hope for their survival.

DSC01209The last thing I planted this year was a blueberry bush.  I planted it by itself in a very empty space where a tiny propane tank used to live behind our house.  It also just looks like a stick in the ground, but hopefully next year or in a few years we’ll have fresh blueberries!

I still have a few things to get in the ground, including a blackberry bush.  I’m not sure where I’m going to put that yet, though.

If you have any tips for some of the things that are new to me (berry bushes, asparagus, pole beans, sunflowers) I would greatly appreciate it!

Categories: Gardening, Journal, Vegetables | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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