In the Garden: Kale

While the tomatoes all languish in the house (outgrowing their pots by leaps and bounds) waiting for it to warm the heck up, the cold – weather crops are all coming in like crazy.

The beans and peas are starting to climb the wire trellis and I hope soon we’ll see some actual pods.

The lettuces (Black Seeded Simpson and Red Romaine) are all just about ready to be picked for salads, and the spinach is not far behind.

The broccoli is getting nice and leafy and I am waiting impatiently to see the flowery part!

Then there is the kale.  It is screaming for attention and picking right now – growing head and shoulders above everything else.  I wasn’t planning on making anything kale – related for dinner tonight, and it’s not very tall yet – but it is very crowded so I decided the time was about right to pick some of the tender leaves for making kale chips.

Kale is one of those greens that is very at home in a potato or ham – based soup – it is very sturdy and flavorful without being too overpowering (it is actually a part of the cabbage family).  It is also very good for you – being high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C and even calcium!

Kale chips can be made with large, fully – grown kale leaves, but I like to make them with the more tender, smaller leaves.  If you use big kale leaves, you’ll need to remove the stems and the ribs to make the chips.  With the small, baby leaves it’s not really necessary.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and wash your kale.  I just give mine a quick rinse if I’ve just pulled it from the garden – really all I am worried about is that we don’t end up eating too many hidden little bugs or spiders!

Lay your kale in a single layer on a cookie sheet either coated with cooking spray or with foil.

Drizzle some olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  I also like to splash some vinegar on them – like salt & vinegar chips (malt vinegar is best, but just about any will work)!

Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until they are nice and dark and crispy.

They will come out like this – all nice and blurry!

Oona and I hogged all of these up before anyone else even got wind they were done.  They were yummy!

Neve’s – Eye View

We’ve been spending time on and off at Juniper Moon Farm all month to visit all the new babies, and last time we were there Neve took off with my camera.  She took almost 300 photos.

The following are the best ones (and for an 8 year old with no real camera knowledge they are pretty good!!!).

I think she’s ready for some formal lessons, don’t you???

Chicken Prison

The last couple of weeks have been rough for us, chicken – wise.  We lost 6 hens to either foxes and mysterious disappearances (also probably foxes).  We lost 3 rare breed hens which hurt the most, since, as you can imagine, they are tough to come by.

So I had a bit of a fit over it trying to figure out how to contain the free rangers who refuse to stay safely inside either chicken pen, because it’s the free rangers we keep losing.

That’s when Paul got brilliant.  And also I kind of wondered why the heck we haven’t done it this way before.

Voila.  Free ranger prison.  Maximum – security style.  (well, unless you’re a snake.  But they can get into anything, let me tell you).

The two weakest spots were at the top (Tevye flew right out before we were done) and along the bottom, where they kept trying to tunnel out.  So, the top has plastic mesh all around so there are no gaps to fly through, and the bottom has extra welded wire all around to prevent tunneling out.

Those chickens are not too pleased.

BUT. They are safe, and that is priority number one when you own animals.  Their safety.  I don’t care that they are happier free ranging, because clearly they are also tastier to foxes that way.

Believe it or not, this is still being looked at as a temporary solution.  We still have landscapers coming (any day now………seriously……any day) to clear the property and then we will see how things lay in terms of fencing and chicken territory.  It may be we end up putting a coop in this prison and let that be that, but we’ll see.  For now they are clucking around during the day, and sleeping either in the dog shed we put in there or roosting on the sticks I put in the corner.

As Paul said, if they break out of there, they deserve to get eaten.

In the Garden: Wool!

That’s right!  This year we have a wooly vegetable garden.

I was lucky enough to be able to grab a bag of skirting after the sheep were sheared at Juniper Moon Farm the other day, and I am thrilled to be using it in the garden.

“Skirting” is the icky bits of the fleece that are so soaked in urine and feces that they cannot be sent to the mill for processing into yarn or roving (such as the wool surrounding the animal’s back end).  It’s the waste bits and they are pretty much garbage.  Thankfully, they can be composted or used in the garden directly as mulch.

I’ve been using some straw to mulch the areas where I have sown seeds directly into the soil (beets, carrots, onions, chard) and the little sprouts are still fragile so I didn’t use wool there.  With some of the hardier squash transplants I have made a light circle of wool around the base and spread out enough to discourage weeds close to the plants.

But where the wool is making the biggest difference for me is at the borders of the beds where the weeds like to encroach and I can’t properly weed-whack them.

The best part is (actually, there are so many “best” parts it’s ridiculous) that the manure-y stuff stuck to the wool will help keep the soil and plants fertilized.  AND once the growing season is over you can till the wool mulch right into the soil.  See? It’s brilliant!

My garden looks pretty funny and  odd right about now – I’ve not completed the mulching process entirely.  I have only mulched around the edges a bit and around the current plants that are growing.  I have a lot more transplants waiting to go outside once it stays reliably warm enough (tomatoes are pretty delicate and we’re still getting down into the 40’s at night), and once they are in the ground they’ll be mulched with the wool as well.

For now it’s a patchwork of wool, mud and straw.  But it’s getting there.



Jerry Gets A Haircut

Well, it’s been nearly two years since Jerry got the hackjob of a shearing I did that first summer I owned him.  Since then his fleece hasn’t really grown out the way a fiber llama’s would.  Those llamas you see at ag fairs and fiber festivals have fleece that falls to their knees.  Jerry’s headed just south of his belly and then started to look more rasta than long and luxurious.  It looked like it was beginning to felt right on his back.

With summer coming (and I am predicting a hot and awful one) it was time to lose those matted locks.  So when the awesome Emily the Shearer came to Juniper Moon Farm to do a mini shearing this week, I took the chance to have Jerry done.

Emily’s not crazy about shearing llamas.  And to be honest, I don’t blame her.  As fiber animals go, they’re bratty and they don’t like to be touched  – AND they’re rather too large to be easily controlled without a restraining “chute”, which I don’t have.

Zac did wonderfully well keeping Jerry “calm”, but despite his best efforts, Emily, Caroline and I all got spit upon.  Now that’s saying something, because as llamas go, Jerry isn’t a spitter.

Thankfully Emily really knows her stuff, and she’s fast.  As well she should be, freshly back from her time in New Zealand at The Golden Shears.

She can knock out a sheep in no time flat – but that’s what comes of spending six weeks shearing 200 sheep a day!

Jerry was preeeetty pissed.

For as bad mannered and upset as he was, though, he did pretty well – though I think a lot of that come down to Zac and Emily being so good at handling him.

He looks like a hobby horse on a stick, no?

Although he looks rather sad and undignified without his fleece it will make a huge difference in his comfort level this summer – llamas are better suited to colder climates – they come from the Andes, after all!

For the finishing touch?  A much – needed pedicure.

I totally owe Emily big on this one.  Especially since in two years I’ll need to ask her to do it again.

Easter Omeletes

I’m the type of person that likes traditions.  The more the better!  And if there isn’t a tradition for something, you can be sure I’ll do my best to start one.

The last few years I’ve been making omelets for breakfast each Easter. We don’t really celebrate Easter beyond the bunny and an occasional family gathering, but with all that candy going on first thing in the morning, and with it being spring and the chickens swamping us with eggs……you can see where it was just a natural progression.

The thing is, and I don’t like to brag – especially about myself – I make a pretty mean omelet.

My grandmother – you know, the one who was the head chef at her own restaurant for over twenty years? She took me into the kitchen one day when I was young and taught me to make omelets.  I remember she and my grandfather even took me out and bought me my own omelet pan at the restaurant supply store once I’d mastered it.

I’ve been making omelets almost exactly as she taught me ever since. And now I am going to share it with you.

First, crack a few eggs into a large bowl.  The general rule is two to three eggs per person.  I personally like a two egger – if I am making it for Paul it’s a three.  If I am filling it with loads of extras, two is usually best.

To my eggs I like to add salt and pepper and some dill.  I’ll always add fresh chopped basil if I have it, or dried if I don’t.

Then whisk it up good.

Next you can decide what else to put in your omelet.

Cheese? Excellent.  Make sure you have some grated or shredded cheese at the ready.  I like to chop up mushrooms, tomatoes, green peppers and red onions as well.  Sometimes I like to be different and do sun dried tomatoes with marinated artichokes and goat cheese.  Be creative – meats are good, as are all kinds of cheeses and veg.  Whatever you want, prepare it ahead of time so it’s ready to toss in.  This Sunday I used shredded cheddar, green peppers, onions, sun – dried tomatoes and mushrooms.


Meanwhile prepare your pan.  I use a non – stick skillet generously coated with Pam.  This is where my technique differs from my grandmother, who uses a seasoned omelet-only pan with no spray. I like the ease of my eggs sliding right out when I want them to.

You want a medium-ish heat.  Not too hot; you don’t want the eggs to sizzle when they hit the pan.  You will need them to cook evenly and gently.

Pour your eggs in the pan.  After a minute or two the bottom will start to cook a bit.  You want to lift one side of the pan off the heat now and scrape everything down to the side on the heat.  Then, holding the cooked bits back with your spatula, rock the pan the other way so the fluidy bits of egg run down into the side you’ve just scraped.

Believe me it is hard to take pictures of yourself doing this!

Always let the runny parts pool down into the side of the pan touching the heat.

Scrape the cooked bits down just before you move that side back down onto the heat.

It’s not very tricky; you just want to maximize the amount of heat the runny parts get while minimizing the heat onto the cooked parts.  This way none of it gets overcooked and hopefully nothing gets undercooked either (it helps to use fresh-that-day eggs if you are worried about undercooking!).

You want to keep this up until about 60 to 70 percent of the eggs are cooked.  You need enough runny egg left to hold it all together when you lay the pan flat again.

Now’s the time to toss in your extras.

At this point, if I think the eggs look a bit too runny or if there is an awful lot of cheese to melt, I will put a lid on the pan and let it cook until almost completely firm.

But – here’s the trick – you don’t want it 100% cooked just yet, because you need it to remain a bit flexible to fold it.

You’ll carefully fit your spatula under one half of your omelet, lift it,  and gently fold it in half.

This is where you’ll let it finish cooking, if it isn’t already done.

Et voila!  Delectable omelet for you!


Oh, Lizzy!

Lately I have been on quite the sewing streak.  Ever since I went to the Lizzy House workshop at Susan’s, and Paul bought me a new machine for our anniversary, I’ve been remembering that sewing is fun – not frustrating (an older, not quite “right” machine can really make you dislike sewing).

I also was inspired by the fabrics that Lizzy has created and have been snatching them up as budgeting allows.

But what do you make with such treasured fabrics?  It’s kind of hard to decide, as it turns out – the more you like a fabric, the more you don’t want to mess up badly whatever you are making with it..  But, I’ve made two things so far that I am very pleased with (though I really want to buy more of the same fabric and make MORE things with it!!).

This is my new “Schoolhouse Tunic” by Sew Liberated (dress length) in Lizzy’s “Outfoxed”.  I love how it fits and it’s very comfortable and flattering.  But I just love this fabric so much I want to make MORE dresses, tunics and skirts with it.  I mean, just look at the little hedgehogs!

I think this calls for a skirt as well, don’t you?

These are my new Wide – Legged Lounge Pants from Amy Butler’s In Stitches. This fabric is also from Lizzy’s “Outfoxed” collection.

I have been wearing these nearly non -stop around the house since finishing them.

Right now I am working with another Lizzy Fabric from her new “Hello Pilgrim” collection – no sneak peeks today, but I am nearly finished with it so I’ll be showing it off soon enough.

March Catch – Up

If you’re a farmer (even a small – scale one) you’ll know that spring is the busiest time of the year.  Garden patches need tilling, seeds need to be started, coops and run – ins need to be cleaned and aired out for summer, and baby animals need to be prepared for.  This year I have felt the busy-ness and anxiety more acutely because we’ve had one of the warmest Marches on record.  The bugs have exploded in population and things are sprouting and blooming well in advance of normal.

One of the things keeping me busy (and exhausted) is my new vegetable garden project.  I’ve mentioned before I fenced in a plot out front that’s just under 1,000 square feet.  Since we have really terrible soil, and since I’ve had issues in the past with too much moisture pooling around the root systems of my plants, I’ve followed the example of Juniper Moon Farm and made raised bed rows to plant in this year.  They are raised and rounded so that excess moisture flows off.  I have 5 long raised beds to plant in now, thanks  to weeks of digging, a load of compost, and a day of tilling.

Right now there are three kinds of onions, Rainbow Chard, two kinds of beets and little finger carrots sprouting out there.

An onion peeking through the straw mulch.

Now that it is April things are getting a little more exciting because it means it is almost our safe window for planting the seedlings we started indoors, such as our tomatoes, squash and herbs.

They’ve had a nice sunny spot in the house waiting to be garden – ready.  Soon we’ll be receiving blueberry and raspberry plants that I ordered along with sweet potato and purple potato plants.

If all of this isn’t enough, we’ve got plans for a honeybee hive this spring to help pollinate our plants and increase our vegetable yields, and we have landscapers coming out next week to start clearing our woods for fencing. The goat shed is slowly being cleaned out to be ready for its once and future occupants.

The chickens are in full egg – laying mode and we are seeing about 2 dozen eggs a day now. I’ve been giving eggs away to anyone who’ll take them and even sending dozens off to two local restaurants, and I am still drowning in them.  I am thinking I will make a bunch of freezable quiches and cookie doughs one of these days to use up some of the surplus.

Unfortunately we won’t have fresh goat milk this summer – Milkshakes aborted her babies.  It turns out she had in fact been bred by the sheep in the fall and was therefore unable to carry the pregnancy.  They were tiny, amorphous blobby things that were never meant to live.  As I said, goat/sheep crosses aren’t viable.

Most likely I will try to breed her again this fall, for babies and milk next spring.

As you can see it is very busy outside right now in preparation for summer.  Once the hot weather hits I hope to be able to spend some time indoors fixing the wallpaper Oona destroyed and touching up paint and other things we’ve been neglecting.  But let’s hope the hot doesn’t come around too soon.