I May Have A Problem

A Weck Jar problem.  As in, I can’t stop collecting them.

I have shelves full of them, both empty:

and full:

There’s plenty more of them full of good things in the fridge as well.

I just think they are so much better than regular old Ball Jars.  Not only are they prettier, but they are made to be obvious if your food has been compromised:  the clips are removed after processing, and if there is any spoilage along the way, the pressure it causes will force the seal open, thereby letting you know the food is bad.  The screw – on lids of Ball Jars don’t have such a fail – safe.

If only I had more garden bounty to fill them with!

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In Praise of the Automatic Buttonhole

It’s only been recently that I’ve had a sewing machine with an automatic buttonhole feature.  If you’ll recall, Paul bought me a Janome for our anniversary this past March.  I’ve been working it hard, let me tell you.  And when I can manage not to get in its way, the automatic buttonhole feature works like a dream.

I just made a new outfit for Oona using two Oliver & S patterns: the “2+2 Blouse” and the “Puppet Show Bloomers“.

These patterns are always my favorite to sew – they go together beautifully and they are such classic designs.  If I could I’d dress my kids only in Oliver & S.

Tractor Vs. Tractor

Around here when we are talking about “tractors” chances are good we are talking about portable chicken pens.  It’s a way to keep chickens safe and give them access to fresh grass.

Since we are raising chickens for meat right now Paul has been busy building new tractors for them to live in.  We wanted to feed them a combined diet of standard chicken feed and pasture.  We also wanted them to have plenty of space to move around and stretch their wings and play.  In other words, we wanted happy chickens, since they are going to be feeding us.  We can at least return the favor by making sure they are happy and healthy leading up to freezer camp.

Originally Paul was going to build 3 of these triangle – shaped tractors.  They are very basic, very sturdy, and light-weight enough for either me or the kids to move around easily.

Problem was, I didn’t think that they’d be big enough for fifty birds to have room to roam around.

When they were still fairly small we put them all in this one tractor.  It was roomy enough for them, but it wouldn’t be for long.

So Paul stepped outside the box and built them a new tractor.

From an old trampoline.

They now have a ton of room to move around and not be on top of each other.

As they reach their peak size we won’t have to worry about overcrowding.  We move it every two days or so – and they do quite a job mowing down all the grass in there.  They have a waterer that Paul put a float valve in so that they are never without water.  They get fresh air and shade.

As for the original tractor, there is a new family living in there for now.

Fleur and her babies have taken up residence there.  They’ll stay until the babies are old enough to be introduced to the flock at large (in other words, big enough to defend themselves from the inevitable bullying of the newbies).

 

 

Finally Clear!

Today we have some cause to celebrate –  the loggers officially finished clearing out the remaining trees to be felled.  This means that all that is left is for us to clean up a bit and fence it all in!

Paul and I walked all the way back to the very back edge of our property – something we have never been able to do in the summer before – and marveled at just how much more land we have than we thought we did and how nice it will be for the animals.  There’s plenty of trees left in the back portion for shade, and plenty of wide open space in the middle.  The landscaper expressed concern with all the underbrush that is left out there but I told him to leave it – the goats will make very short work of it.

This is standing at the back edge, looking toward the house.  See the grey in the very center of the photo?  That’s our roof.

I love that there are still some big old trees to provide shade on these hot days we’ve been getting, but there’s still enough sun filtering through that grass shouldn’t have any trouble growing.

Gully had fun running around like a mad dog and flying off the tree stumps.

The next step will be fencing, and hopefully that will go smoother than the clearing did!

To celebrate I made some peach jam from Marisa McClellans’ Food in Jars.

It tastes like the filling of a peach pie.

In other words, divine!

In the Garden: Patty Pan Squash

I think I’ve mentioned we’re trying to be more responsible about the meat we are eating.  We’re making a major effort to only eat organic grass – fed beef, organic chicken, etc.  It’s majorly more expensive and not as easy to come by, so it’s forcing us to eat less meat, and this is, of course a good thing.  It also means that when we do eat meat, it tastes sooooo much better and we enjoy it that much more.

So a few days ago I bought some hamburger patties from Whole Foods Market that were grass – fed AND local, and was thrilled to grill them up and put them on some homemade buns.

Emily, on the other hand, was not enthused.  She is a vegetarian, and no amount of humane, environmentally responsible- ness will change her mind in that regard.  Occasionally I struggle to accommodate her.  Generally it is her responsibility to maker her own dinner if she chooses not to eat what we are having.  However, there are nights when I am cooking meat and I realize there is nothing that she can really cook for herself.  This recent hamburger night was one of those.

And that is when the garden came to the rescue.

We have a lot of over-sized pattypan squash right now begging to be useful.  It occurred to me that with it’s flat, round-ish shape, a sliced pattypan might fit nicely on a bun.

Emily was game for the experiment.  We sliced it thin – ish and brushed it with olive oil and A-1 sauce.

Next, we chucked it on the grill and let it brown for awhile.

Emily ate it with no condiments and pronounced it a success.  In the future, we are thinking we can grill it up, slather it with barbecue sauce, top it with coleslaw and eat it on a bun.  Healthy veggie alternative to meat, straight from the garden!

 

 

In the Garden: Cucumbers

Lately I am having a heck of a time keeping up with the tremendous output of cucumbers in the garden.  Somehow, despite the onslaught of squash bugs and cucumber beetles that have been plaguing us for weeks, the cukes have done pretty well.  Only now are they starting to show signs of the bacterial wilt transmitted by those pests, which all of my other squash plants have fallen prey to.

Growing an organic garden is a challenge. Even in a good year, when pests aren’t that awful, it is a chore.  Every evening you’ll find me out among the squash, smashing squash bug eggs and their adult counterparts in an effort to pare down the population.  Japanese beetles get collected in a mason jar every night, shaken well (to stun them so they don’t fly away) and fed to the chickens.

But this year.  This year has been something else.  I knew it would be bad; the warm winter we had meant that bugs would be numerous.  Even so, I was unprepared for the epidemic that we’ve suffered.

Basically, I’ve given up on the squash.  If I had known just how bad it was going to be I’d have invested in some Neem oil,
but I’ve had such success in past years by simply picking off eggs and bugs that I hadn’t bothered.  They are just so incredibly out of control, and it has been in the 100’s here for a few weeks so I was unable to spend as much time as I’d like to keeping them in check.

The good news is we’ve gotten quite a substantial crop of cucumbers despite the bugs.  We’ve also had a bumper crop of surprising little things called “Mexican Sour Gherkins”.  These are tiny sour – tasting cucumbers that look like mini watermelons.

They are terrific for snacking and for salads.  I may even pickle them, which is what I have been doing in mass batches with the bigger cukes.

My favorite pickles are refrigerator pickles, and my favorite recipe for them is adapted from Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it by Karen Solomon.

I slice up my cukes however I want them (I like to do some jars bread and butter style, some spears, some halves).  I stuff each jar with cukes, a spoonful of minced or crushed garlic, a dash of ground cinnamon (the recipe calls for one cinnamon stick per pint jar) , a teaspoon each of yellow mustard seeds and brown mustard seeds, a tablespoon or better of dill, a teaspoon or better of red pepper flakes (more if you like heat), a couple grinds of black pepper, and a few teaspoons of kosher salt.  Exact science, right?  You’ll get to know how to adjust these for taste after your first jar or two. Since you’re not canning it the recipe doesn’t have to be perfect.  It is more important that you end up with the taste you want.

 

Then I fill up half the jar with vinegar (generally you use white vinegar, but I’ve used apple cider vinegar to great success.  I imagine champagne vinegar works nicely as well) and the rest with water.  Then seal and let it sit in the fridge for 48 hours before eating.

They are supposed to last in the fridge for about a month – but let me tell you, we generally eat them all before that.  I’ve had a couple of stray jars hidden in the back of the fridge that go unnoticed for around three months and were still just fine.

 

Chicks!

Remember Fleur, the unfortunate hen I had to perform surgery on a few months ago?

Well, she’s doing great. Not only has she been back to scratching around and clucking about with her friends, she recently went broody (she began to sit on a nest of eggs).

This past week she has hatched three new chicks.  Emily has named them Widget, Butterbeer and Tsukiko.

Fleur is an excellent mama, and has proved herself to be more fierce when it comes to her babies than any previous mama hen we’ve had.  I am guessing her near death experience has something to do with it!

She’s more than ready to attack you if you try to grab those babies.

Fortunately Emily is pretty adept when it comes to chicken management, so we were able to check over all the babies and they are perfect!

Emily is pretty excited about the new babies she gets to care for.

I wasn’t actually planning on hatching out any more babies; the chances of getting more roosters is too high and we have far too many already.  But, I have 50 meat chicks I am currently caring for until they go to freezer camp in August and Emily hasn’t been too happy with me about it.  Having her own little babies to care for has been a nice distraction so she hasn’t been focused on the fate of the other chicks.  And with any luck they will all be hens, and help replenish the population of egg layers that we lost to predation in the spring.  And, since they were hatched out of blue eggs, hopefully they will lay fun – colored eggs as well.