Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Our Shed Has Arrived!

And I'm very excited about it.
Knock, Knock.
Who's there?
Your new shed!

We're planning to make one end of it the chicken section, with room for about 20-30 hens, and nesting boxes that can be opened from the main area.  The rest will be for all the gardening supplies and such.

It's going to be so nice to have they chickens' food and water inside!  And they'll have so much room for roosting.  I won't have to feel bad for them on those icky weather days when they need to stay inside.

So awesome!

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Baby Surprise Jacket

Here is my latest finished knitting project. This is the Baby Surprise Jacket from The Knitting Workshop by Elizabeth Zimmerman. It was so fun to make!

The surprise, of course, is that it does some crazy ninja oragami and folds up from a knitted blob into a really adorable, practically seamless, reversible baby sweater.  There are buttonholes on both sides so the buttons can just be moved around as needed for boys or girls.

It's knit from Knitpicks Bare worsted wool, and the green is Cascade 220.

I'm thinking about picking up along the neck and knitting a hood. If I decide against the hood, I'll probably just do a couple of rows of garter stitch in green to finish the neck. Or just a simple crocheted border.

I haven't sewn up the seams yet. I want to show my mom before I sew it up, so she can see how it goes together.  This was fun and simple to make and might just be my go-to sweater pattern for baby gifts from now on.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

The Orchard

(I'm feeling proud of myself for not putting that in quotation marks.... it's just that they trees are so small still, it doesn't seem like the deserve the grown up moniker of "orchard".)
Well, I guess that "tomorrow" turned into "practically a week later". I just don't know where this week has gone! It's really zoomed past.

This is a mystery squash plant that the chickens planted for us not far from the orchard.  I've been mowing around it, instead of over it, even though it's in the middle of the lawn so that I can get to find out what kind it is.  And eat the squash, of course.

Here is the orchard area its self.  It was pretty hard to get a good picture of it, but I'll try to describe what you're seeing.  The medium sized tree in the mid-ground of the photo is a Black Tartan Cherry tree that we planted last summer.  There's another in line directly behind it, but it's died this year for some reason.  I don't know why, but I hope it's not catchy!

The rest of the trees in this section are a variety of fruit trees in dwarf varieties.  Most are the Postage Stamp Orchard collection from Burgess, but there are a couple of extra dwarf apple trees that we threw in for more apple variety.  And there are three flowering cherry shrubs along the front of this section.

The lawn in the area is mostly clover, but I do keep it mowed between all the mulch circles because big weeds (like poplar trees!) will come up here as well.

In line with this orchard area, and to the east are these four thornless blackberries we planted this past spring.  I think that slugs might be bothering them, because they're not really thriving as well as I'd expect.  I think I'll put out some dishes of beer and see if that helps.

A row over a bit more to the east we have these two clumps of red raspberries that we planted in spring 2009.  They outgrew their mulch this spring, and I end up with prickles stuck in my hands every time I try to weed out the grass and clover, so for now, they're fending for themselves.  They're doing really well with it too.  These are really more like weeds than more fruiting plants are, and that's earned them a place in my heart.

This photo was taken from the south end of the row, facing north.  The others, of course, were taken facing south.  The house is out of the frame on the upper left of this photo.

These six shrubs are Elders, so I can have elderberries for wine, syrup, jelly, and tinctures.  Also, they'll make a nice big hedge, which will be nice because this is the far side of our yard, where the neighbors' fence stops.

In the background to the left, you can see the very jungly section that has volunteer sunflowers, lots of different squashes and cucumbers.  This was an experiment to see if we could hide the squash from the squash bugs this year.  Of course, they'd have an even better chance of surviving if I weeded once in a while.  Anyone want to come weed for me?  I'll pay you in baking....

I'm afraid this picture also is proof that I walk like a drunken sailor in a storm at 5:30 in the morning.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Too Darn Hot!

It's burning hot here, so excepting an hour or so in the early morning gathering lavender and chamomile and weeding, and a half hour or so at midday taking care of hot chickens and tending the potted herbs, I have been staying cool inside the house.

I spent today cleaning and organizing some things that have been needing it. I sorted through my mail/bill divider. It always seems like those things are going to be such an organizational wonder, but then they just become a catchall.

I've been designing some fun patriotic crafts for upcoming Associated Content articles. It's been really pleasurable to works on some quick and simple things with a fun and easy material like felt.

So stay tuned for how to articles on the garland pictured above and some other 4th of July crafts.  Tomorrow, I'm planning to venture outside to take pictures of our "orchard". So stay tuned for that as well! :-)

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Making Homemade Yogurt

I have to preface this post by saying that making yogurt is not at all complicated, and if this makes it look like it might be, that's just because I like to take a lot of pictures.  And complicate things.

This is my method for making yogurt using my Excalibur Dehydrator.  You certainly don't need a dehydrator to make yogurt though, and I'll address other options later.

I made a quart of yogurt when I took these pictures.  Sometimes I also make two quarts at a time.  You can use regular milk from the grocery store.  We drink skim, so that's what I use for yogurt, and it works fine.  If you'd like it richer, just use a higher fat content milk.  Do make sure that the milk is not ultra heat pastuerized.  This is done a lot to organic milk, but some other milk UHP as well.  It's a high heat processing that changes the milk to the point where the yogurt culture won't be able to grow in it.
Whisk in 1/2 a cup of dry milk powder for each quart of milk.  This provides more protien and makes a thicker, less watery yogurt.
Bring this mixture to a boil, making sure to whisk often so the milk won't scald on the bottom of the pan.

I line my clean jars up, and pour boiling water into them while the milk comes up to a boil.  I also pour boiling water over all the utensils that I'll be using.  I have so many jars here because I was making indivual serving jars.  I've recently just started using quart jars, since it's much easier, and Ben wasn't actually using the jars for serving and eating.
After the milk has come to a boil, take it off the heat and let it rest, until it comes back down to 120 degrees.
When the milk is at 120 degrees, whisk a large spoonful of yogurt into a ladle full of the warm milk.  Then pour this into the remaining milk in the pot, and whisk this to combine well.  Dump out the hot water, and ladle the milk mixture into the jars, capping them finger tight. 
These then go somewhere where they can maintain a temperature of 115 degrees for 4-8 hours.  I use my dehydrator for this, but you could also use an oven with the pilot light lit, a cooler filled with hot water, or as Alton Brown does, a heating pad wrapped around a jar and insulated by towels.

These jars are filled halfway because I wanted to leave room for the toppings, considering I was going for an individual serving type of thing here.  I thought that was a pretty good idea, but Ben sometimes wanted more or less yogurt, so it was easier to go to big jars and just scoop from them.
But the individual serving jars all topped up did make for a pretty picture!

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Quick Tip

Here's something that I've figured out lately, clean the produce outside!

I'm sure you all, being smarter and more self-aware than I, realize that when you pull onions from the dirt, they come out, well, dirty. So, to keep the dirt outside where it belongs, I peel and trim onions right there by the garden.

This actually helps in two ways. One, I don't strew dirt from one end of my kitchen to the other.  And two, the root ends and tops go right back onto the mulch, into the compost, or right on the lawn to get mowed over later, saving them a trip inside and then back out again.

Of course, this bit of genius extends beyond onions.  I mean, carrot tops, radish tops, beet leaves... the possibilities are endless.

You're welcome. ;)

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Charity Knitting: Quick and Easy Baby Hat

I've been working my way through the random single balls of yarn that I've gotten at all the Stitch n Pitch events we've been to in the last year. I figure I'll do some hats and maybe some quick sweaters to donate a box at Christmas time.

This is a really simple pattern that I made up as I went along. The cast on edge is the bottom of the hat, and it's knit flat in garter stitch till it's as tall as a hat should be.  The two ends are sewn together, then the seam is sewn to the spot directly opposite, making two "loop" type shapes. Then the outside of each loop is tacked down on the same spot. These are super cute when worn, and great for beginning knitters. Especially in bulky yarn, since they go so quickly.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Flower Harvest

I'm making yogurt today, and since the dehydrator will be running for a while for that purpose, I thought it would be the perfect time to dry the chamomile blossoms that have opened so far.

While I was out in the herb bed, I cut lots of yarrow blossoms to use for an infused oil.  I'll use the yarrow infused oil mixed with plantain, lavendar, comfrey, and calendula infused oils to make a salve for the first aid kit.

The chamomile blossoms, I'm drying mostly for tea through the winter time, but I think I might like to make a tincture or glycerite with them too, if my plant produces enough for both uses.

Other things that have been going on:
-I planted the last of the King of the North bell peppers this morning. The garden is going in, slowly yet surely.
-Today is my Grandma's birthday. Cousins and siblings who read my blog, call Grandma. :)
-Tomorrow, we're having rock delivered to be a base for the shed we're going to have put in. I'm pretty excited about that! Well, the shed more than the rock, but getting the site ready is a pertinent first step.
-This evening, after Ben gets home, we're going to mark out the site for the man to spread the gravel. And after that, we're going to order our shed. Yay!

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

In the calm cool quiet of the early morning

Today is Tuesday, but it feels like my Monday, because we had a long weekend.  My parents in law came to visit and we had a fun time rambling around the country side exploring chicken coops.

On Saturday, I accidentally got sunburned and now have sore collarbones!  I suppose it's bound to happen at least once a summer, and I'd managed to avoid it until now.

Sunday we went to Carbondale for a coop tour. We saw four or five of the 14 or so coops on the tour; it was a good event!  One of the farms had goats, rabbits, doves, turkeys, and some fun dogs in addition to their chickens. That one was my favorite.

We managed to get a lot of yard work done as well as having company this weekend too. We are just a couple of busy beavers.  We've been mulching fools, and things are really starting to get into shape hereabouts.

Today, I'm feeling slightly ill. I've been running a low fever.  I'm not sure if it's related to the sunburn, or if it's just that I've caught a cold.  I'm thinking I might take it easy and knit or sew today instead of work outside.  I have to head next door and visit a bit, and I would like to make an apple something for breakfasts this week.  So it should be a nice quiet day for me. Just what I need to recover!

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Friday, June 04, 2010


I'm late this year, but late, I suppose, is better than not at all.  I've finally gotten most of my started seedlings planted in the ground! (Or a nice big pot, as in the case of this basil.)

Yesterday, into the garden went 30 spindly tomato starts and 4 bell peppers.  The tomatoes were tucked in right up to their leaves.  And, because I don't have proper seed starting lights set up, this meant between 4-5 inches of stem in each hole.  I'm hoping this is going to result in nice strong root systems, and not dead tomato starts.

I ran out of tilled garden before I ran out of plants, so I still have 3 watermelons, 6 bell peppers, and some various annual flowers to finish planting.  I started some marigolds this year to use for companion planting, but didn't have a great germination rate.  I think I'll try direct sewing some as well.

This weekend, Ben's parents are coming to visit (yay, company!), but I'm hoping he'll find time before they arrive to till up the rest of the garden and help me plant the rest of the seedlings.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Cinder Block Raised Bed

We've started construction on a number of cinder block raised beds for herbs and crops like strawberries and asparagus.

For us, this is a complicated process, because Ben doesn't like loading more than ten or so at a time in the car. I'm going to be looking in to having them delivered en masse to see if that's more affordable.  But, for now, whenever we're in town, we stop and load up some blocks to haul home.

This bed is the first I've put together out of the blocks so far.  You can see my high class weed barrier there around the bottom.  We hope that eventually, we'll have the whole area of the herb beds mulched and have stepping stone walkways.

The plant in the photo is comfrey. I expect that it'll eventually get big enough to fill out the whole bed on it's own. Comfrey is a good first aid herb since it promotes healing, so it's excellent as a poultice.  It also is a good plant for fertilizing other plants, as it's leaves break down into a very high nutrient sludge. So letting it rot in a bucket of water results in a good liquid fertilizer.

I think that we'll end up planting something like creeping thyme in the holes of the blocks, so it can hang down and soften the look of the gray bricks a bit. I probably wouldn't bother for my own sake, but I do try to keep the resalability of the place in mind when I'm doing crazy things to the yard.  We're definately not moving in the foreseeable future, but neither are we going to live here forever, so I want to be sure there's some generic attractivness possible as I turn the place into a homestead.

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