Friday, August 29, 2014

In Which I Show My Dirty Laundry

Recently, one of my favorite bloggers referred to August as "reckoning month". She, of course, meant it in the sense that one has to take stock of what they have and don't have, hay-wise, as we head into fall and winter. Once you know where you stand, you can make adjustments to ensure that everything is in order.

For me, even though I don't have to worry about maintaining huge feed stores (I bought a bale of hay for the rabbits to go along with their bagged food; it'll last at least 3 months- more, if I sell off two of the young does like I'm hoping to do) it is getting to that point in time where I have to take stock of the blog, and how things are working out.

One one hand, I really enjoy the work that I'm doing. I believe in what I'm writing about, and I get to practice what I preach by growing our own food, and doing my best to live a more simple life. I can't say it enough: for once, I'm actually living the life that I've been wanting for years. I'm not cramming some of it into my evenings and weekends or dreaming about it while reading someone else's blog. I get up every morning, whether I feel like it or not, and go feed the animals and tend to the food that I'm growing. It's tough work some days, and there are others where everything just falls into place like it's hardly any work at all.

On the other hand, it's far less rosy. I just checked my various earnings reports, and I've made $11.21 in four months. I know it takes time to build a blog that brings in money, but seriously? Eleven dollars?? I can't even bear to think about how that breaks down as an hourly wage. Realistically speaking, I can't afford to keep doing this the way it currently is- that's just basic math.

So what do I do? That's the question that's in my head these days, more often than not. Do I get a part-time job someplace else, where I can just punch a clock and hopefully save my brain cells for writing in the evenings? Maybe that's the short-term solution- since winter is coming, the outside chores will decrease a bit and I'll have some time on my hands, anyway- but it feels an awful lot like how things used to be. Maybe I should use that extra time to focus on making things, instead- I've successfully sold my handcrafted items before, so perhaps that's the route I should take?

I'm not giving up, though- I refuse to. As discouraged as I may sound in this moment, I'm just frustrated; questioning my decisions thus far and trying to make better ones going forward. I'm not used to being in a position where I don't have the answers. It's overwhelming, and that's not a state of mind that works well for me. I slip into "paralysis by analysis" territory pretty easily, when I'm in this sort of headspace.

What do you do, when you're uncertain about the future?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

It's Link Time!

The more I put these link lists together, the more I realize that I gravitate towards food blogs. Not like that's a bad thing, really, but still... I need to search out some other things to share, besides just recipes. How about you leave a comment, here or on Facebook, and tell me about a favorite website you visit regularly? I'm always looking for new stuff to read. 

  • C is for cookie... and these Peanut Butter Cup Oatmeal Cookie Sandwiches are for me!
  • MMMM! Porcini Mushroom Lasagna. I will have to stalk my farmer's market for fresh mushrooms. 
  • Kohlrabi is one of my favorite veggies, so I tend to forget that it's kind of uncommon. If you see some at your market- buy it, and make this salad. Can't find mustard greens? Sub in a spicy microgreen mix, instead. 
  • I have Potato Envy. There, I said it. After digging a couple of my bins up last week, I'm sad to say I'm  probably going to be disappointed again with our yield. I'm working on troubleshooting and coming up with a plan for next year- more on that to come. Until then, check out Susy's garden to see what potatoes are supposed to do. 
  • It's no secret that I love pickles. Did you know, though, that I love both kinds? Here's a great explanation by Amanda over at Phickle, about the difference between fermented and canned pickles. 
  • I really want to get into mushroom hunting. What's not to love about going for a hike and coming back with food?
  • Are you guys watching the Outlander series on Starz? I've been a huge fan of the books since the first one came out, so I was a little leery about TV adaptation. What do you think, so far? If you haven't read them yet, and are looking for something to keep you busy through the winter- I highly recommend checking them out!
  • Genius smartphone photo tips... it's well worth the three minutes to watch the video.
That about wraps it up for today! Have you had a chance to think about what you want to see more of here on Acorn and Thistle? Do let me know- I want to hear from you! 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Butchering Day, Part Two

Man, yesterday was tough.

First off, I have to hand it to the guys that came out with the mobile abbatoir (isn't that a nice sounding word?) from Del Fox Meats. They worked together so seamlessly that it was nearly a dance: beautifully orchestrated, every man having a job to do that overlapped with the others. It was really quite stunning to watch, all things considered. From start to finish, they were done with everything -clean up included- in under 45 minutes. (It takes me about that long to process one rabbit. One! Rabbit!!)

I took a lot of photos while they were working, and some of them are very graphic. The ones I've chosen to use today are still powerful images, but in many cases are more so in their perspective than they are in actual blood. Note that I said in many cases- it was butchering day, after all, so there are a few bloody ones. That being said, I'm relegating most of the photos and this post to "after the jump" status. This way, if you don't want to see and/or read about what happened yesterday, you totally don't have to. I get it. This is not for everyone.

If you want to continue, please click below.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dealing With Illness in the Coop

Barred Rock (not sick)
Now that a couple of the new girls have started laying eggs, we're seeing a bit of a shift in the pecking order of our flock. Flo's still in charge, make no mistake- she's the oldest bird we have and she's been on top for a very long time. The other ones -the Barred Rock and the two Americaunas- have been adjusting their behaviors ever so slightly in these past few weeks. I noticed last night that all of the birds were trying to roost over on the new girls' side of the coop, so things should be mellowing out soon.

Outwardly, besides a few pecks and a little chasing here and there, it appears as though this phase is going smoothly. However, if you add in our unusually hot weather and some kind of respiratory infection, it ends up being pretty stressful on the chickens. Today, I found two soft-shelled eggs under the roost; they must have been dropped during the night. In my experience with these birds, the soft shelled eggs are a sure indicator of stressed out chickens.

This brings us back to the respiratory infection. The morning after we came home from our quick trip, I heard two of the chickens "honking" when they were breathing: the light-beaked Americauna and one of the Rhode Island Reds. The Americauna has had issues on and off her whole life. I'd picked her up along with 2 others from a private seller, after losing some of the original chickens to that coyote or whatever. Both of the other two died due to respiratory issues along the way*, so I just resigned myself to the fact that she'd never be a super healthy bird. Aside from some laying issues (she's as inconsistent as they get!) she's been well enough for a couple of years.

The Rhode Island Red is quite possibly the friendliest bird we've ever had here, so it was particularly disappointing to have her start showing symptoms of being ill. I keep a bag of Duramycin 10 (D-10)- it's a tetracycline antibiotic- on hand for emergencies such as this, so as soon as I heard the honking I was able to mix up a  batch and dose the sick birds. I'm not going to get too preachy here, but if you're going to use antibiotics, please do so cautiously and in accordance with all labeling. Misuse of antibiotics has serious consequences that extend beyond just your own yard. (End of Rant)

The label on the D-10 gives instructions on how to put it in their drinking water, but since there were only 2 sick birds, there's really no reason for me to dose the other 8 at the same time. So, I did the math and scaled down my batch in order to target only the sick ones. Some folks recommend using a syringe to administer the medicine, much like one would with a baby. I have never had any success with getting a chicken to cooperate with that method, so instead of fighting the birds and stressing them out more, I mix in some oatmeal and feed that to the sick ones- a tablespoon at a time, a few times a day. They love it, and the hardest part is keeping the other birds away because they want some oatmeal, too.

By the next morning (and four doses later) both of the sick birds had stopped honking and were back to normal. Since the D-10 loses potency after 24 hours, I dosed them one more time to make sure I used it all up while it was still active. We have 21 days now where their eggs are not suitable for eating- another excellent reason not to dose your whole flock unless you absolutely need to. I also sanitized the coop, and will continue to do so weekly, for at least another month. Maybe longer, since we're coming up on the rainy season and they'll be inside more often.

So, for now, I need to keep an eye on the flock and watch for other birds who may be showing symptoms. Chickens, being low on the food chain, are experts at hiding illness- but since I spend the evenings outside supervising their last forage of the day, I'll have plenty of opportunities to observe any odd behaviors and act accordingly. I've also been adding some electrolyte and vitamin supplement powder into the main waterers, just to boost the overall health of the flock. I'll do that for a week or so, and then I'll switch to apple cider vinegar for a little probiotic boost. I will also feed the previously sick birds some plain yogurt, as a treat, to help rebalance their systems after the antibiotics.

Hopefully, this bump in the road isn't too disturbing for them, and they'll get everything settled before long. Have you ever had to deal with a sick flock? What did you do?

* This is a good time to say that you need to be careful when you're buying birds from a private seller. Since all three from this seller were/are ill, it's safe to assume that they all came here carrying whatever illness they have. New chickens should always be quarantined before being added to the flock so you can monitor their health. Respiratory infections can spread quickly from bird to bird, so bringing home a carrier can have devastating effects on your overall flock health. For more info and some tips, read this from Australia's Department of Environment and Primary Industries.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Link Love

Now that I've had some time to settle in and get caught up on the latest happenings online, I've found a handful of links for you to peruse this weekend. Enjoy!

Finally- a question for you, dear reader: What do you want to see more of? The gardening season is definitely starting to wind down; preserving will take over for a while, but even that is short-lived. Before we know it, Autumn and Winter will be here and with them comes "inside time". I want to make sure that this place stays relevant for you, so please, take a moment to leave me a comment here or on Facebook- I want to know how you pass the time during the winter! 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Friday Photos- Thursday Edition

Hey everyone! We're back from our quick getaway to Glacier National Park, and since I haven't been online at all this week, I don't have any links to share... but I do have some pics from the trip!

Mountain Goats at Logan Pass

The view from the far side of Hidden Lake

Alex on the boardwalk on the way to the trail.

Wildflower meadow at the lake.

Another mountain goat!

Indian Paintbrush

Rock. The geology at the park is stunning!

More meadows on the way up to the trail.

Even though it was a fast visit-only one day to hike in the park- it was totally worth it. We managed to fit in right around 10 miles of hiking anyway, and even got caught in a fantastic thunderstorm while we were on the far side of the lake: A thankfully short downpour, complete with high winds and hail! So glad we always carry our 10 essentials, regardless of how nice the weather seems or how short our hike is planned to be.

What have you been up to this week? Have you gone anywhere fun? Stop by Facebook and let me know!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Photos

What a week, folks...TGIF; I'm ready to put this one to bed! The rain started on Tuesday, and with it came a major fibro flare- a one-two punch combo that I really could do without. It'll pass soon; just need to ride it out for now. I did manage to get a few pictures taken, in between raindrops, though! Here's what it looked like:

Bee in Cucumber Flower... thank goodness it was sunny on Monday, at least!

Did you say... apples?

Nom, nom, nom,slobber. (I had no idea cattle were so... drooly.)

The tomato forest. So far, I've eaten three cherry tomatoes and
picked 2 full-sized ones. YAY!

The new yarn, on the loom. You can't see how shiny it is from this picture, but
it's going to be gorgeous when it's finished. More to come!

Glacier National Park, here we come!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Around the Web

It's Thursday already? Must be time to surf the internet, then!

  • Little known tidbit about me: I collect old science-related books- particularly botany and medicine... so this digitization project looks super cool to me! 
  • Alex has surprised me with a quick trip to my favorite place, for our anniversary: Glacier National Park, MT- how cool is that? Second best thing to actually going there is looking at this blog and his videos of the trails. 
  • Summer Squash and Corn Pancakes Oooh!
  • Who knew calves playing together in a field could be so cute? 
  • I've had this song stuck in my head for days, now... their harmonies are wonderful. If you like their sound, here's another one from them, too. (The second is a little more upbeat...)

What have you been checking out online this week? 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How Do You Store Potatoes?

The potato vines are all starting to die back now. This means that in another week or so, I'll finally get my answer as to if the bins did better this year over last year, or not. If the volunteers are any indication, it's been a good year for them in general; I've dug three of the random plants out already and have been pleased to see a good number of medium-sized tubers on each vine.

So, between the 7 bins, I'm anticipating at least 25 pounds of potatoes coming in. Seeing as how there's just the two of us, I need to come up with a way to make sure all of those spuds last through the cold months. Our main food storage area is in our basement, which stays around 55 degrees year 'round, and we have a dehumidifier to keep things from getting too damp. Unfortunately, 55 degrees is a bit warmer than is recommended for a root cellar (they should be around 40-45) so keeping the potatoes in there isn't a sure thing.

There are other options for storing potatoes that I think could work for us. I've been reading up on dehydrating and canning as possibilities, and I'm curious. I remember, vaguely, disliking store-bought canned potatoes as a kid, but I have never tried home-canned ones. Because they're a low-acid vegetable, I'll need to use the pressure canner versus a water bath, just to keep things safe. I happen to have some potatoes in the pantry that are starting to look a little rough, so I think I'll make up a test batch to see how they turn out. There's no real comparison between store-bought potatoes and home grown, but I think it'll be close enough to see if we like them canned or not.

To dry potatoes, it seems that they need to be cut thin and blanched, in order to take out some of the starch and prevent discoloration. That seems easy enough, so I'll definitely do a test batch of those, as well. I'd like to see how well they rehydrate before I invest too much time and energy into them.

I should probably look at freezing, too, while I'm coming up with ideas. We need to get a chest freezer anyway, with the beef coming in soon, so I think I'll have some extra cold storage space. I imagine it's really similar to drying, in that we'll need to blanch them first- so I could test freezing and drying out at the same time since the preparation is essentially the same.

Do you have any experience with canning, drying, or freezing potatoes? Or something I haven't thought of yet? Let me know over on Facebook; I'm always open for suggestions!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Pickle Verdict: WIN!

I'm really impressed with the Bread & Butter pickle recipe that I wrote about last week. Everyone who has tried them raves about how great they taste... and those zucchini pickles? Fabulous! The flavor of the zucchini still comes through, and they're a tiny bit milder since I skipped the onions & garlic. The only criticism I have of the zucchini test batch is that they're really squeaky when chewed! How funny is that? The cukes aren't noisy, so I'm not sure why these turned out that way.

Another thing I really like about this recipe is that my test batches were made as refrigerator pickles and not canned, but both the zucchini and cucumber batches picked up the flavor and were ready to eat in about a week. So, if you're not really into canning a whole batch (the recipe calls for 6 pounds of cucumbers!) it's worth making a little batch of brine and going the fridge route.

The original recipe is from The Big Book of Preserving The Harvest, by Carol Costenbader. The recipe I'm sharing today varies slightly from that, based on adjustments I made after trying the test batch.

6 pounds cucumbers, sliced 1/8th inch thick
1 large white onion, quartered and sliced 1/8th inch thick
4 cloves garlic, also sliced 1/8th inch thick
1/3 cup salt
Ice cubes

In a Very Large bowl (or two Large bowls), combine the sliced cukes, onion, garlic and salt. Mix well, and cover with ice cubes. Let stand for 3 hours. (In case you're wondering why: This step draws out some of the moisture from the cucumbers, as well as reducing any bitterness they may have. It also mellows the bite of the onion and garlic.)

For the brine:

4 cups white vinegar
3 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons celery seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 1/2 Tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 1/2 Tablespoons brown mustard seeds

In an 8 quart saucepan, combine the brine ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. While this mixture is coming up to temperature, drain and rinse the cucumbers, onion and garlic. Let them drip dry for a little bit, to get out any extra water.

Once the brine comes to a boil, add the drained veggies and reduce the heat. Simmer this together for 5 minutes. After the time is up, pack your pickles into sterilized pint jars and top off with brine, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Put on the lids and bands per the manuafacturer's directions. Oh, and the original recipe says it yields 7 pints... I got 7 pints (which I canned) and a quart (fridge). Your mileage may vary...

If you want to can your pints, it's a 10 minute waterbath at sea-level; be sure to adjust for altitude if needed. Otherwise, let them cool on the counter for an hour and then put them in your refrigerator. I let mine rest in the chill box for a week, to let all of the flavors meld. Since this is a new recipe for me, I have no idea how long they will last as refrigerator pickles- but I can tell you we'll eat all of them long before they can spoil. They're *that* good.

For the zucchini- I just subbed that in for the cucumbers, and because I wasn't sure about how the texture was going to turn out, I skipped the onion and garlic. Now that I know they'll hold up, I'll try another batch according to my adjusted recipe.

What's your favorite pickle recipe? Come share it over on Facebook!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday Photos

Good morning and Happy Friday! I just found out that there's a news crew coming to film at the farm this morning, so I need to hurry over to get things tidied up before they get there. The fund-raising goal wasn't met, but there's been some extra publicity in the local media lately, so perhaps that will help save the farm. Cross your fingers!

Apples, apples everywhere...

Tiny rabbit in the weeds

Reflections of a car show

First egg from one of the new girls! (The darker of the two)

One of my friends at the farm

Zucchini: Pickles in Progress
What did your week look like?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Around the Web

Peeping Chicken. One of the lesser-known
perils of having a home office. 
One of the (many) nice things about making apple butter is that it takes a long time to do it right. Cooking it slow and low, until all of the sugars and flavors condense down...not only does it make for good food, but having a pot on the stove means I can justify staying inside and surfing the internet for interesting stuff.
Plus, the house smells heavenly...

  • Some of the new girls should start laying eggs for us any day, now. Read this piece from The Chicken Chick to see how I can tell. 
  • I have big plans for the spring. (Seriously, I try to live in the moment, but... there's always a list!) This post from Chism Heritage Farm is going in my prep file for raising meat birds next year. 
  • Do you make your own yogurt? I do, and I've often wondered if heating the milk first was really necessary... check out NW Edible Life for the answer.  
  • I'm always on the lookout for new blogs to read... CraftyPod is my current rabbit hole. Check out her tutorial videos on English Paper Piecing!
  • It's peak blackberry time here. This scone recipe from Fat of the Land looks wonderful!
  • Here's another new-to-me blog, called Twill Power. Lots of great weaving info and inspiration! Speaking of weaving... I'm going to be warping my loom today, for a new project. You know, since I'm tethered to the stove and all. ;-)
Time to process some more apples. Oh! Speaking of apples... the cider is starting to ferment- there's foam building and I even saw my first bubble from the airlock today. The test batch is totally old school- wild yeast only. Cross your fingers!

Have you come across anything interesting this week? Share it with me over on Facebook!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ramping Up, Winding Down

The past few mornings have been cool and foggy, a sure sign that the seasons are getting ready to start changing. The afternoons, however, are still quite warm- and the produce coming in from the garden definitely reflects that.

I already have the first round of apples cooking in the crock pot, and a test growler of hard cider is bubbling away on the counter. I'm out under our apple trees several times a day with my bucket, gathering up the good ones to process, and the less desirable ones go to the animals. A friend has a cider press he's offered to lend us the use of; I'm looking forward to making arrangements to have a cider-making party here, very soon. We were going to do that last year, but most of the apples fell while we were out of town, unfortunately.

The garden continues in high gear: yesterday, in addition to my regular squash pickup, there were cucumbers, purple greenbeans, peas and kale all ready for the taking. Today, I need to harvest the seeds from the cilantro that bolted and let them dry. I haven't used coriander much as a seasoning, but I'm looking forward to trying it. So far, the seeds taste like a much milder version of the plant, so that's definitely something I can work with. Plus, I'll leave some seeds on the plant so I can have more next year.

The tomatoes are getting closer. They're almost to the top of the enclosure, so once they get that tall, I'm going to have to clip their main stems back, in order to force them to focus on ripening the fruit, instead of getting any taller. I'll give it another week, maybe two. There are some good flowers almost all the way up to the ends!

Blackberries are also on the agenda. They're starting to ripen quickly now, so it's just a matter of time before we're bringing those in and making jam. Last year's batch never quite set up (I think the pectin I used was past it's prime) so we've been using it as a syrup/sauce- but it will be nice to have an actual jam this year. Come hell or high water, that stuff is going to gel!

The pears are getting really close, too. We don't have nearly as many as last year, so it's important that we bring in the ones that we do have, when they're at their prime. Both Alex and I love dried pears, so I think that most of them will be processed that way. (Mental note: must take apart the dehydrator today and fix the weird noise it's making.) I still have a couple jars of pears in vanilla syrup from last year, so I don't need to worry about making more of those this time around. They're really good, but we just don't eat a lot of desserts.

Our potato bins are finally starting to slow down. I noticed over the weekend that some of the vines are starting to die back, which means they'll be ready to dig soon, too. If I had to guess, it'll be another two weeks, at the most. I dug up some of the volunteer potatoes the other day, and I have to say it looks like a good year for them, in general. We got 12 tennis-ball sized red potatoes from one small-ish looking plant!

The beef are finishing up their stint over in the neighbor's pasture. They've got 3 weeks left before the kill truck comes, then another 3 weeks of hanging after that- and then we'll have our third in the freezer. I have no idea what a third of a whole steer will look like, so this will be interesting. We're estimating a couple hundred pounds of meat... that reminds me, I still need to look into getting an additional freezer for storage.

This is how it will be, for the next 4 to 6 weeks: for every one thing we check off our lists, another two will get added. We'll be busy working to put up food and finish the fair-weather chores, before settling in for the cooler seasons. It's an exciting time, and it never ceases to amaze me at how fast the last little bit of summer always flies by. I think that's why it drives me bonkers that the back-to-school stuff and the Fall decorations show up in stores in July... it's going to go so fast as it is, why rush it?

What's on your to-do list for the end of summer?

Monday, August 4, 2014


I've kind of been chuckling at all of the photos of zucchini that people are posting on Facebook... it's that time of year when, if you turn your back for a moment, all of a sudden you're knee-deep in summer squash. I think there are worse problems to have, personally, but these plants can easily overwhelm you with food if you don't have a plan.

We eat as much of it as we can as it comes in. I think the easiest way to make them is to just cut them in half, brush them with some olive oil, sprinkle on a little salt and pepper, and then toss them on the grill. Cut side down first, and then flip them over... it takes maybe 5 minutes total to cook them, depending on how big they are. Take them off the grill when they're just tender, grate on a little parmesan (or hard cheese of your choice- I also like romano or asiago) and serve. Tasty!

It just keeps coming!

My go-to for dispatching large piles of zucchini is to break out the mandoline and the dehydrator. Slice the squash about 1/4 of an inch thick, and arrange them on they dehydrator tray so that they're just barely touching each other, but only one layer thick. Let them dry until they start to crisp up; it takes about 12 hours or so, depending on the humidity where you are. I usually dry mine unseasoned for cooking, but my mom likes to eat the chips as a snack, so this year I'm going to try a seasoned batch to see how they turn out. 

Today, I've decided to take a stab at pickling some. Last week, I made a test batch of bread and butter pickles with some cucumbers I'd picked, based on a recipe from The Big Book of Preserving The Harvest, by Carol Costenbader and they turned out to be fantastic. So good, in fact, that now I want to see what happens with zucchini. That's another great thing about summer squash- if you experiment and don't like it, it's no big loss. So, keep an eye out for the post on that, next week. (It'll go in a jar today, and I'll give it three or four days to rest in the fridge before I try it...)

What do you do with all of your incoming zucchini?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Photos

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you have a wonderful, relaxing weekend planned.

It's been another busy one here, so I'm just going to get right to the week in photos:



Psst... Maggie- it's finished!

Fledgling Robin. Saw it yesterday as Mom walked it farther away from the chickens.
 Looks to be doing well!


'Cause I'm Happy...

Potato farm up the road.

Tomato Jungle!

Volunteer potatoes. One plant... 12 tubers. Woo Hoo!

And since I wasn't able to post yesterday's usual collection of links (hello, migraine), here are a couple of links that I had set aside as interesting:

  • We don't have tomato hornworms here, but I understand they're quite the problem in some places. If you happen to be in one of those areas (Hi Karen!), you may find this article from Hobby Farms helpful.
  • Speaking of tomatoes... here's a handful of recipes from Gardener's Supply. That Bloody Mary mix sure looks good!
Is your garden starting to wind down or are you still running to keep up with harvesting your goodies? Pop on over to Facebook and let me know!