Sunday, December 20, 2015

Family Christmas outing

Colorado has a lot of things to see and do.  So this month I decided to take advantage of our living here and have a year long staycation.  Every month we will do one outing.  I was inspired by a children's book The 12 days of Christmas in Colorado.  There are other versions for other states.

So this month was see the lights in Larimer Square in Denver.  We took the light rail and I think we all had a good time.
Jenn and Chris on the light rail

Indica and Rhiannon on the carousel at the Pavilion on the 16th St. Mall

Indica and Chris with one of the many cow statues in downtown Denver.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

DIY Vegetable stock

About $70 worth of stock if I bought it at my local grocery store.  

Yesterday Chris took 8 gallon bags of frozen vegetable odds and ends that would otherwise be trash/compost and put them in our huge stockpot and covered them with water where they simmered all day.

And I mean odds and ends.  Onion skins, carrot peels and ends, parsley stems, celery tops the paper from garlic, stems of mushrooms, apple cores the ends of tomatoes and the tops of leeks.  Some whole carrots and celery that were rubbery 'cause they hadn't been stored properly and mushrooms that were just this side of slimy.  Pretty much any vegetable that does not have a strong flavor (read cabbage, asparagus etc) went into Ziploc bags and into the freezer until we got tired of moving them when looking for ground beef.

When I got home from work I added a bottle of chardonnay (oaked - not our favorite to drink) a handful of mixed peppercorns and a few bay leaves.  We left it on low overnight - a bare simmer (if you have a pilot light on a gas stove that will be enough)  Like meat stock we don't boil, just simmer.

When I got home from taking the youngest to roller derby practice, Chris was ladeling strained stock into clean jars to pressure can. Each jar received a tsp of salt before going into the canner - just to enhance flavor.  All the directions say follow the times/pressure for meat stock - so 13lbs of pressure for 25 minutes for our altitude.  It took just under 2 hours (2 batches) to can 14 qts.

In the few years I have been canning stock I have had only one jar go bad and it was pretty obvious when I brought it upstairs from the pantry.  Mold floating on top told me to dump it.  Turned out that lid had never sealed so I tossed it also.

But stock is almost $5 a quart at the store so using a little common sense and some time is totally worth it. Oh and I will pay for 5 gallons of water from Denver Water.  Still a deal.

Friday, December 11, 2015

We named him Randy

This mule deer was bow hunted by our now 80 yr old neighbor.  

Flock troubles

I have been buying our chickens at the same feed store since we started a flock again in Colorado.  Up until this year we have had great success with breeds chosen - the breed, coloring, health and sex has been exactly what we ordered for any pullets purchased.

But this year 1/2 of our birds died before reaching maturity - for random and unknown causes.  With this mortality rate I decided against the expensive Black Copper Marans and Olive Eggers.

Our Americanas seem to be Easter Eggers (a hybrid w/ one blue egg laying parent breed) - the colors we received, although beautiful, are not colors of a true breed.  At least one of our Buckeyes looks like a Rhode Island red (their combs are different).

And our partridge cochin is a rooster.  He is beautiful, treats the hens well - herding and making sure they all get food.  And loud when he crows.

We suspected it when his feathers did not come in brown with a penciled pattern, but at 6 months he had yet to make any identifying calls.  Now at 8 months he proved to just be a late bloomer.  We are disappointed - more that we can't keep a male to guard the henhouse in city limits than anything else.  But although excessively barking dogs are allowed, crowing roosters are not.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Canning Bloody Mary Mix

One did break in the pressure canner.  Also, hot sauce fermenting on the right.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Thinking out loud (Rambling) about feed options

With the new flock of hens we had been purchasing whole grain feed from a friend that bought it by the pallet from a farmer just over the border in Nebraska.  It was organic with no corn or soy.  We fermented it in a 3 jar rotation, which smelled faintly funny (Chris and Indica would say bad), but the hens LOVED it.  During the hotter weeks of summer I didn't ferment, and the hens are quieter if we fed them 6 cups a day instead of the 4 fermented cups. (Read about why this is here)
Premixed whole grain means $$$

Alas our friends decided not to reorder feed, so we are back at pre-bagged pellets from the local feed store.

The price is way easier on the budget 22¢/lb vs 64¢/lb.  But as we know from our own food, cheaper does not mean quality.

In desperation I bought a bag of COB (corn oats barley) to ferment instead of 1/2 of the pelleted feed.  But even though the fermenting is nearly odorless, this is SOO not the answer.
It is geared towards horses for one. And as much as hens like it, it seems to decrease their egg laying. (for 2)

There is a feed company from Bellingham, WA called Scratch and Peck that would do the trick, but both distance (1,400 miles) and price ($1.36/lb) makes it less attractive.  Mixing it 1/2 & 1/2 would bring the price down (79¢/lb) or even 1/3 whole grain to 2/3 commercial. (60¢/lb).  But that doesn't address distance.  But if we mixed it and fermented the commercial pellets also (in in the basement instead of the kitchen counter), a possibility.  Scratch and Peck may be available in 50# bags locally according to the website, so I will check that out.

And should I be concerned about distance?  Sure Purina and Agland plants are in Colorado, but where do their grains come from to make the pellets?  Subsidised GMO corn and soy for sure.  But truly I have not done any research on this.
Info from the Elliot homestead blog

What about mixing our own?

The 2013 numbers from the Elliot Homestead blog were $1.07/lb for their organic feed mix.
The links for purchase of the grains were Amazon.  But this may be the best option until we can grow some of our own.

And really, why am I worrying about this anyway?  Maybe like everything else in the quest for more self sufficiently I should start small.  Say, for instance, planting sunflowers for seed along the fence both here and at the garden. Striving to keep the squirrels off of them may be all I can handle this year.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A different idea of date night

 Both of the girls were gone today.  So Chris and I took the time to spend together.

In the garden.

The weather is changing, so we need to get the garden to bed and prepped for spring.  We are determined to have an amazing garden next year.

Before we started weeding.  The front row next to my shadow has strawberries, I swear.
We did not get to this side though.

We have hauled all but one large piece of white carpet (Yea! Freecycle) to the garden.  All the paths are done and there will be enough to cover the beds until we need each one.  We are leaving the soaker hoses in the cornfield (one less thing to measure and lay in spring) figuring the carpet will protect them.
After on the North side.  
The Brandywine vines gave up and turned brown as soon as the first cooler overnight happened, but the various bell and chili peppers + the Hungarian Heart (two arches on the right) and San Marzano tomatoes are still giving it a valiant (and ultimately doomed) fight to ripen.
The strawberries and weed infested cornfield (with irrigation) after.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Finally, they may earn their keep

Found by child guest at our BBQ who HAD to see the chickens.

Hens usually start laying at 20 weeks.  Which would have been mid to late July for us.  But this year we started them on organic, non gmo, no corn, no soy feed that we purchased from a similarly minded friend.  Their hens started laying at 8 months they said. so at least we beat that.

Our friend ran out of feed early last month, so we introduced feed pellets to them.  The ladies didn't know what to do with them at first.  They were used to fermented whole grains.  So I soak these.  In water, leftover beef soup, almond milk (and hemp milk) that I found appalling, whatever.  So now they eat like we do - organic when possible, local when possible but we don't stress about it.

Party Prep

Starting coals @ 2am
Cleaning the grates @ 3am

Today is our annual last BBQ of Summer.  The invitations said 3pm, so we are already late getting the two 7 pound pork shoulders on the charcoal grill to smoke.  And there is another 9 pounds of beef brisket oven "smoking" since our grill is not large enough for all three hunks of meat.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

an unexpected intruder

In all my years as a neophyte gardener, I had never seen a tomato hornworm before.  It feels like a soft grub, it's skin dry.  We looked it up and it's moth is kinda cool looking.  Too bad.

Chris found this one, by our tomatoes. (go figure, right?)  It is only odd because the weather has changed, it is getting colder at night and the season in almost over.

I hope that it was not laying eggs. . .

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Girls in the garden

Adventures in stock making

Morning sun and nearly transparent chicken stock
 I am showing you the end product first.

This is the most beautiful stock I have made yet.

I learned to make stock while working as a sous chef (read glorified line/prep cook really) at a small French restaurant just north of downtown in Seattle.

However that was nearly 25 years ago and up until this particular batch I had forgotten some of the details of a good stock.

This is what I did.

I save chicken bones and parts I don't feel like using (turkey wings for example) along with onion and garlic skins, carrot skin, bell pepper and apple cores, celery tops and parsley stems in various gallon sized freezer bags in the freezers.  Usually when I need room in said freezers I will pull out all the bags and dump them into our 5 gallon stockpot.

I fill the pot with water, toss in some peppercorns or white wine if I feel like it and cook it long and low on the back burner.  I never let it boil as that leads to cloudy stock as the fat from the meat and the water glom together.  (Thank you internet)

I leave it covered overnight on the lowest setting (if you have a gas and a pilot light that will do).

In the morning I strain the stock and refrigerate it in a food grade bucket (or two) until the next day (or 2)  This is when I am especially glad to have an extra fridge downstairs.

Stock after 1st skimming
Day 3 (for those of you that are counting)  I remove the fat that has solidified on the surface and pour it back into the cleaned stockpot to cook slowly again for a few hours.  Again, no boiling.

This was the 2nd thing I had forgot until a Google search.  Skim the foam that has accumulated on the surface of the stock.  Riley likes it on his food.  I repeated this 3 or 4 times.

Jars staying warm
Meanwhile I washed quart jars along with lids and rings in hot soapy water and rinsed well.  I kept the jars warm in the oven set at its lowest temperature.  The lids and rings were in a saucepan of hot water.

A pressure canner is needed to can the stock safely.  The pressure and time needed is in the helpful manual that came with it.

Now they sit in the pantry along side some not so pretty rabbit stock.

And I don't need to buy any stock at the store and all it cost was unwanted odds and ends.

Yeah, I'm grinning.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Gold Medal tomatoes waiting for their turn in the water

Romas, Hungarian Hearts & Rutgers cooling in the sink.

Today we made prepped salsa.  The red salsa was made of 1/2 roasted and half raw tomatoes.  six 5 pints (one died in the pressure cooker) were mild and had cilantro.  The remainder was cilantro free and had extra chilis (mushroom, bishop's crown) from last year.  I expect there will be 6 - 8 half pints, but for now it is in the freezer until it cools down more before I fire up the pressure canner again.  Likewise the yellow tomatoes along with the alma paprika (white non bell peppers) have been diced and frozen for later although they may become soup.

Monday, August 24, 2015

I'm whining?

 This is the last 5# of rhubarb for the season.  I caught it just in time as a dozen or so stems were too spongy to do anything with. September has an R in it after all.   Indica wants to use it to make more crisp, but we have plenty in the freezer for that.  No this one is going to be wine.

Through Pintrest I found this recipe

So here is all the rhubarb, sliced thin and covered with sugar.

I hope this is successful, but I won't know for 7 months or so.

8/28/15 UPDATE:  Today the whole kit and caboodle was composted.  Chris showed me what he thought was white mold and in hindsight I think was (what?  wild yeast?  starch?).  Take two next year.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

She put out! And by she I mean the garden

 I feel like such a player right now.

I was off early so I decided the garden needed weeding before we put it to bed.

My relationship with our garden has consisted of me stopping by every couple weeks.  "Hey baby, do you have any jalapenos (cucumbers, basil whatever)  I find one and assure it I will stop by on my day off "We'll do some weeding, some watering,  it will be fun."

A couple weeks would pass.

"Hey baby, you got any potatoes?  Of course I'll see you this weekend."

I thought it stopped producing out of spite.  And really, who could blame it.

Armenian cucumbers, Homemade pickle cucumbers, Stupice, Gold Medal, Roma and Hungarian heart Tomatoes, Burgundy Okra, Red noodle beans

But today the tomatoes.  The tomatoes that have been hanging fully grown and green for the last 3 weeks ripened.  Enough red noodle beans for a side of vegetable.  2 okra off the one plant that made it. Cucumbers destined to be Tumeric Garlic Dill.

I'll go to the garden over the week.  I swear.

Friday, August 21, 2015

This is the end

So save for Cucumbers - I officially call the 2015 season closed.

If we had to survive on what we grew, we would starve.

It is our own fault, not going into weed in the early morning and late evening.

Skipping weeding, and watering.

Granted, Chris and I have both been under the weather for most of the summer.

But I'm glad we won't starve.

Sunday, August 2, 2015


I've been reading a lot of farm blogs lately, while the sun is hot and I can't bring myself to go outside.  There is one thing that frustrates me about these gems of information.

They end.

No warning,  I'm happily reading about how a family of four got into raising goats from 2011.  I move forward in the blog to learn more.

There is no more.

I would like to say I have been too busy doing to write about it, but I really haven't.  The 2 hailstorms in the beginning of this years growing season took the wind out of our sails, as did May's continuous rain.  We were thrilled to have so much moisture, but didn't feel like planting in it.

So this year there are no squash or melons.  But bush beans are producing and we got our first tomatoes (Rutgers)  And we have onions for the first time.

I will take pictures soon.

Friday, June 5, 2015


At Home

These poppies were in full bloom yesterday
1/2 melted hail still on the ground
Most of the tomatoes made it though

Down at the garden
Strawberry plants

Strawberries severed from the plant
2 of the five tomatoes may make it

None of the five in this row will

Snow Peas
Hollyhocks - I'm not sure if they will be able to flower

 This is the second hail storm we have had in two weeks.  I am not sure how much more they can take.  The rhubarb plants have to stems or leaves anymore.  1/2 of the onions are broken just above the bulb.  You really need to be an optimist to garden

Up all night

The weather forecast said "violent storms" this evening.  Chris said he saw the clouds to the north of us swirling and changing color before dusk had set.  We heard the patter of rain and the whistle of wind as we fell into sleep, comfortable in the knowledge that the storms seemed to miss our community.

About 1 am the hail was hitting the roof so loudly, it woke us up.  Rhiannon came running in scared.  The hail was pelting her west facing windows so hard I half expected to hear them crack.  They were about the size of a large marble, and the clear center of them were nearly as hard.  Standing on the back deck we heard the roof panels of the greenhouse break.

After checking on Indica (sound asleep in her basement room) we all went back to bed around 2.  Sleep was long in coming

Friday, February 27, 2015


Front yard after shoveling for the 4th day in a row
After glorying in our upper 60's weather while it seemed the rest of the country endured storm after storm, we finally got ours.  It hasn't been a lot, but it has been regular.  I haven't ridden my bike to work in over a week as the snow has never quite left the roads.
Chris shoveling paths so I could reach the rabbit hutchs
Chris and I shovel the cars out at night, then I finish my car before leaving for work at O'Dark-thirty.  He does the walks and the rest of the driveway before I get home.
Our water feature, barely recognizable 
The rabbits in the upper yard are covered with old comforter overnight, lifted to let the sun in during the day.  The lower yard rabbits in the chicken yard are protected, but in the shade.
Rustabelle and one of her young
Rustabelle's litter in the hutch
All seem to be doing fine.

But Chris and I - we are so over it.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Winter has arrived

(vintage filter used by mistake)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Summary of February so far

The weather app assures me that we are going to get a taste of what is like in New England.  An inch an hour the local news outlet predicts.  It is snowing now light but steady.  

Inside the house it is warm and smells like the sandwich bread I just took out of the oven.  French Bread is raising to eat with dinner.  

The garden is started. Onions and a little lettuce in the greenhouse window.  

Tomatoes under lights.

Rustabelle's litter are eating feed and hay and have discovered the water bottles.  She is an unusual mother for a rabbit, checking on her young regularly from birth.  Most does ignore their litter except for the twice daily feeding.

Chris says he has been hearing foxes at night after I am asleep.  The once frightening sounds are now a comfort.  The fox population was infested with mange a year ago and the rodent (wild rabbit, mice and rat) grew as the disease decimated the population.  We sold off all of our chickens last summer because of it.  But with the return of the predator, I am hopeful.

Good thing too, since I picked up the first batch of day old chicks in Elizabeth yesterday.

(Color is bad with the heat lamp)

2 of each Mottled Java, Dark Brahma, Araucana & Buckeye.  They are living in the unused shower in the basement.  They will move to the small chicken coop when they feather out in about 4 weeks, just in time for the next batch to arrive.   


Monday, January 26, 2015

Full circle

When I was in grade school my Mom usually packed me a lunch.  I had a red (orange?) Tupperware lunchbox with matching containers inside.  I distinctly remember homemade pumpkin bread and applesauce.  I would buy a small carton of milk and take out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. +

Therein was the problem.

Instead of Wonder bread, my sandwich was made of wheat bread.  Bread my Mom baked.  It didn't fit easily in the square container meant for sandwiches.  It was not soft and gummy when I chewed it.  It was not like everyone else's.

Throughout my youth Mom continued to make bread.  Although it was fantastic warm out of the oven slathered with butter and honey, I really just wished she'd get store bought bread.  She would buy English muffin and occasionally French bread (for Dad's French toast)  But no Wonder bread.
When I went to college I happily paid (25¢ on sale) for QFC's store brand bread and swore if I ever had kids I would buy bread.  White bread.

Fresh out of the oven
So here I am today, making that same recipe that my Mom made.  I mostly bought wheat or multi grain breads.  But a while back I realized these breads were sweet.  Like Hawaiian bread sweet.  Ugh! Even the organic breads had that soft and gummy texture of the youthfully coveted Wonder bread.
1/2 hour later
So excerpt for the occasional English muffin, French bread & sourdough I will try to do to my children what was done to me.

The difference is, they seem to appreciate it.