Thursday, March 25, 2010

Up and up

Many things are on the up and up around here lately. First off, the temperature. The temps have been positively balmy these last two weeks, leading us to wonder whether spring has finally shown itself, or if this is just the mid-winter thaw come six weeks late. It is still March, you realize. This time last year we still had four inches of snow on the ground. Two years ago, we had twelve.

The rise in temps has led to a rise in floodwaters. Our county was declared a federal disaster area a few days ago. Lots of sandbagging going on. Luckily our house sits high on the prairie, and we are only troubled by some water in our basement.

The ice dams on the Minnesota River have broken through, helping the water to drain downstream. Sometimes the ice pushes its way across the land, and when it does it leaves a path of destruction in its wake. Lots of broken trees, signs, and landscaping. You can see a busted swingset in this picture, taken yesterday at a city park.

Another thing that's up this week -- my garlic! Hurrah! I covered the patch last fall with an old bale of wood shavings, and I estimate my germination rate (can you call it that with bulbs?) at near 100%. Last year only half of my garlic grew, so I am verily pleased.

I might be pushing the limits of warmer weather, but it felt so lovely outside working in the garden that I decided to plant a few things in the soil. I soaked some spinach, swiss chard and snap pea seeds in water for a few hours, and then popped them into the ground. I am hesitantly hopeful. Here in Minnesota, our spring season is so short-lived that anything extra we can wrestle away from mother nature is worthwhile.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bear sign

I like Louis L'Amour books. They are like Harlequin romances for guys, a quick easy read with most of the elements that make a good story. Yeah, all his main characters are basically the same, and the endings to his books are pretty abrupt, and towards the end of his career his writing quality gets a bit iffy, but all in all his stories are pretty entertaining in a don't-take-them-too-seriously kind of way.

Hubby made doughnuts the other day for the first time. After he was finished, he looked at them and realized why Louis' cowboys called them "bear sign". The name isn't particularly appetizing. But boy, are they tasty.

Eve is wondering what all that blue stuff in the sky is, and where that big yellow ball came from. My goats are very scraggly. And due to kid in about two weeks. Yesterday I dewormed and deloused them and trimmed their hooves. Later this week I will shear their udder areas. Gotta make it easier for the babes to find their food. From their belly sizes, I'd say Eve has a single kid and Dawn has twins. But we'll see what happens. I could be disappointed again, like last year. Fingers crossed for easy births and healthy kids.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The tapping of the trees

It has begun! Last Saturday morning I took my little helper along and began tapping boxelder trees at the park. It didn't go as smoothly this time as last, primarily because my hand drill refused to cooperate with me. The drill bit kept slipping, and for the life of me I couldn't get it tight enough. So we ended up only tapping fourteen trees, which is about half of what I had hoped for.

The sap was running slow, though, so I figured I could come back and do a few more by the end of the week. Wrong! Rains and wind kept me away Sunday and Monday, and then I had to go out of town Tuesday through Thursday. Of course those were the three warmest and driest days of the week. And today? Again, cold and windy and rainy. Tomorrow's forecast? The same. Maybe Monday will be better. I am definitely a fair-weather syruper.

I'll be watching the trees carefully this season, to see when the leaf buds open. Last year I read that sap collected after the buds open gives the syrup a bitter flavor, but I had a hard time believing it. Half way through my sap collection last year I noticed the buds opening. But the sap was still flowing strong, so I kept collecting. The syrup made from my first boiling, which was before the buds opened, is very sweet and yummy. The second boiling was done with later sap, and that syrup has a definite bitter tang to it. A flavor that is bitter and sweet, all at the same time.

I checked the buckets this morning and each tree has given about a gallon so far. It seems to have picked up a bit in the last day or two. Maybe by the end of next week I'll have enough for a boil.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Debbled eggs

Yesterday my little helper and I made deviled eggs. Graham calls them debbled eggs, and I don't correct him. My kids are growing up fast enough as it is.

It's late winter, and the hens are laying at their peak. At any given time we've got about three dozen eggs in the fridge, so deviled eggs, fried eggs, egg salad sandwiches, etc. are the order of the day. Right now we're behind -- six dozen in the fridge. A nice problem to have.

The yolks at this time of year are fairly yellow. The picture actually makes them look yellower than they are. In the summer, when the hens forage outside and eat grass and seeds and bugs, the yolks turn a lovely deep orange.

The recent rains we've had, plus several days in the 30s have finally melted enough snow to expose some bare patches of ground. And to make a huge lake in our yard, a lake hidden under snow and slush. This lake covers most of the yard between the house and the barn. On the way to do goat chores this afternoon, I had to cross the lake. Two days ago it was only a few inches deep. Today I couldn't see the bottom very well because of the slush. But I figured it couldn't be more than six inches or so. I soon realized, however, that I was wrong -- the water was about fifteen inches deep. But I trudged on, figuring that my winter boots were waterproof up to mid-calf. Wrong again.

You know, just-melted ice water is very very cold.

Finally, a sprinkling of paprika over each debbled egg. My kids could eat five of these at a time if I let them. Although with six dozen eggs in the fridge, maybe I should let them.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

This week in pictures

Number One Son participated in his very first Tae Kwon Do tournament last weekend. He was very excited. He won a fourth place trophy (out of four in his division). The tournaments, especially the ones for kids, are usually arranged so that everyone takes home something. Number Two Son has said that he wants to start Tae Kwon Do now, so next month I will have two little rugrats kicking and punching the air around my house.

The hens are giving me about eight or nine eggs a day. In cold weather like this, as long as the hens aren't eating their own I gather eggs and do chicken duties every other day. It takes about that long for them to clean out their feeder. Every four days they get fresh water. Some folks might object to this frequency, but I've been doing it for five winters now and my girls seem to do just fine.

I finally got around to rendering the tallow from our last quarter-beef. So now I've got two gallons of lovely white tallow. Back when I was making loads of soap for sale I would have used this up lickety-split. Now that I'm no longer in the soap-selling business I have a backlog of tallow in my freezer. Anybody cook with tallow? Anybody out there make tallow candles?

In root cellar news, we are finally reaching the end of our stored potatoes. It's quite sad, actually. They have stayed beautiful for so long. And have tasted so good. I cooked up the last of our winter squash a few weeks ago. Several of them had developed mushy spots and couldn't be used. I must keep a better eye on them next winter.

My apples are just starting to turn wrinkly and brown. I've got to do something with them, relatively soon. I've got six pecks left in the root cellar. So a few nights ago I made (yet another) batch of applesauce. Cortland apples add a nice pinkish color to the sauce.

I figure I've got about thirty quarts of applesauce in my basement. And twenty-five quarts of canned apples. That seems like a lot, but we go through it fairly frequently. Much more frequently than dried apple rings. Although a friend of mine suggested soaking the apples in a cinnamon syrup before drying. Maybe the kids would like the dried apples better that way. Something to think about for this week. But making sauce is a lot easier than making dried apple rings.

Hurrah! My onion seeds have sprouted! I have about a hundred of these little green onion fingers poking up through the soil. The 2010 growing season has officially begun! When the fingers get a little bigger I will carefully transplant them into bigger trays.

After reading so many positive reviews, I splurged and asked Hubby to order a book for me. "Gardening when it counts" by Steve Solomon. I've been reading it slowly over the past few days. Surprisingly, I really like it. I wasn't sure I would. Normally when I read a gardening book it tells me to do all these things that are next to impossible (for cost reasons, for time reasons, for lazy reasons) for me to do. A lot of the recommendations Mr. Solomon makes are actually pretty feasible. Even with my clay-loam soils. Although, I'm not about to give up the spring roto-tilling and do all of that digging by hand. Sorry, Steve.

Also, I have to admit that I am one of those idiots that never realized the importance of sharpening my tools. In fact, I've never sharpened them. I feel a little silly about it, now. This is what happens when you grow up without a gardening mentor--you don't learn all these important bits of wisdom. It's no wonder I hate weeding. I've been doing it by hand all these years, preferring to get down on the ground and pull rather than scrape them out with a dull hoe. Hubby bought me a file from the hardware store and we'll give this tool sharpening thing a whirl this spring. I hope it makes weeding a whole lot easier.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Independence Days?

I've been reading Sharon Astyk's blog for awhile now. Most times when I read her writing, I am inspired to add yet another project idea to my already-too-long list. She writes a lot, and she has a lot of ideas. Not that I need any help coming up with ideas, of course. My husband might argue the point that oftentimes I have too many ideas.

Other times when I read her writing, I just want to strangle the woman -- she seems too perfect. She can do no wrong. Either she doesn't ever make any mistakes ever in her homesteading endeavors, or she just doesn't write about them. Me, I make mistakes all the time. ALL the time. But I try to learn from them. Some times it works, other times it doesn't.

Anywho, one of the ideas that I've read about on Sharon's blog is Independence Days. It's a way of keeping track of the things you do each week to become less dependent upon general consumerism. I'm thinking of giving it a whirl this year. I can see myself getting off to a good start, and then getting weeks and months behind as the busy growing season gets underway. Hmm. We'll see.