Saturday, February 28, 2009

Around the Homestead - Choosing Chicken Breeds

I've been wanting my own clutch of chickens ever since we were married. We always said that we would get chickens when the children were old enough to help with them. With our daughter turning five soon, that day has arrived!

Last summer, our neighbor was downsizing her animals and sold us one of her small sheds. We moved it to our pasture and Ed put in some large windows and built nesting boxes. We attempted to hatch some eggs in an incubator last fall with no success. We decided to wait until spring and purchase some chicks.

As the first animals we are adding to our property, (besides the steers my dad brings over in the summer to clean up our pasture) we expect these chickens to be more pets then livestock. If we were just hoping for productive egg layers or fryers, we would have ordered chicks from Pinola Hatchery as they have a reputation for great chickens. But I was hoping for a unique chickens and began looking into some of the heritage breeds. I'm writing about it here, just in case someone else would benefit from our research.

We had numerous goals when choosing a chicken breed.

1. Broody – If possible, we would like our chicken flock to be self reproducing. Many of the heritage breeds are good mothers, unlike some of the modern crosses which are feminist and refuse to reproduce! We do realize that this will cut down on our egg production while the hen is sitting.

2. Dual Purpose – We wanted a breed that was not only good layers but also a good eating breed so that we could butcher the roosters. (Isn't it awful to be male!)

3. Cold Hardy – A breed that would survive our cold weather and continue to lay in the winter.

4. Gently Disposition – Since we want our children to enjoy our chickens, we wanted to avoid flighty breeds and aggressive roosters.

5. Large brown eggs – I love the little bantam hens but wanted a larger egg and prefer brown.
6. Free range – We hope to let the chickens out to forage for part of the day. We wanted a breed that would be adaptable to confinement and free range.

In researching chicken breeds, we found several helpful websites. Besides several hatcheries (who often send free catalogs), My Pet Chicken had helpful information. I'm sure you can find many more, though specific sites slip my memory right now.

Evaluating the numerous breeds with the above criteria in mind, we narrowed down the selection to Speckled Sussex, Delaware, Silver Laced and Golden Laced Wyandotte, Black Australorp, Buff Orpington, Dominiques, and Partridge Rocks. Each of these breeds are reported to fulfill our desired qualities for an ideal chicken.

We eventually further narrowed down the choices to three: Speckled Sussex, Black Australorp, and Partridge Rocks. Really we had no greater motivation in our final choice then that all three of these breeds are darker in color. Ed says that they would have greater camouflage, which may be important as we often see hawks in our area! Whether we chose the best breeds is yet to be known but we are excited about learning first hand about these chicken breeds and hopefully by next spring we will have a better informed first hand opinion!

I was a little nervous about mail ordering chicks but that was the only way we knew to get the breeds we desired. We looked into several hatcheries including Meyer's, McMurray's, and Hoffman's. We decided to place an order with the Murray McMurray Hatchery as they have the best prices for rarer breeds and seem to have a good reputation. Most hatcheries like to send at least 25 chicks in an order for warmth. Chicks do not need to eat for the first three days after hatching. Mail order hatcheries send chicks on the day they are hatched, to be picked up at your local post office. Since we didn't think we would need 25 laying hens, we ordered 15 hens and 10 roosters in a combination of the three breeds we had chosen. We plan to pick out our favorite rooster (by appearance, disposition, and crowing ability) and either sale or eat the remaining roosters, since we don't desire to add cock fighting to our homestead entertainment!

So that is our story of choosing a chicken breed, the first chapter in our chicken adventure! Our chicks are slated to arrive in two weeks, so stay tuned! If you have any tips on raising chicks, I would love to hear them!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Making My Home A Haven

Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands. Proverbs 14:1

Recently, I've been frequently reading about “making your home a haven.” Usually what follows is encouragement on cleaning, organizing and decorating your home to make it comfortable and attractive for your family.

I have been thinking about what truly makes our home a haven. Is it all about appearance, or is it something deeper?

I've been on a cleaning, organizing streak this winter with pregnancy nesting kicking into high gear! But I notice that the more focused I am on my projects and the looming “to do” list, the more frustrated I become at the little people, that typically are not sharing my cleaning drive! It isn't hard to begin thinking that the thing standing between me and an organized home is my children! Not really a good attitude for a Godly mother!

I recently read an article by a mom who experienced a severe health condition during her tenth pregnancy. She spent weeks on bed rest, knowing that she could be near the end of her life. Thankfully, she fully recovered, but she was writing about the experience and remembering the focus those weeks gave her. She had always thought, if she knew she was dying, she would spend time catching up in her children's scrapbooks and writing letters to her children to somehow leave something of herself for her children. But she did none of that. During her weeks in bed, not knowing the future, she spent most of her time just talking with her children and praying for her children. In reading the article, I wondered how my day's schedule would change if I thought it would be the last I would spend with my husband and children.

Certainly, a clean home is important! My husband greatly appreciates a home that is in decent order. I especially try to keep our bedroom free of clutter to form an oasis in the avalanche of “stuff” that seems to appear in a busy home. My goal is to have the children do a quick toy pick up before dad gets home so that he doesn't need to shovel a path just to get to the couch! A reasonably clean kitchen and bathroom is needed for proper health and hygiene. Having our drawers and closets in a semblance of order saves much frustration in searching for items. An important part of homemaking is making our home a comfortable place for our family.

But what really makes a home a haven? Is it polished floors and immaculate counters? Is it picture perfect decorations and meticulous organization? Is it gourmet meals and picturesque desserts? Or is it place of emotional comfort and safety? A home that oozes love and encouragement to those who enter?

My children recently got into asking, “Do you love me?” I think it is just a phase they are in right now and usually they ask the question in a fit of giggles. But when I hear the question, it pricks my heart. I wonder, do they really need to ask? Do they not know how dearly loved they are? Why else do they think that I'm spending my days changing diapers, potty training, and scraping gunk off the high chair? Do they feel unreservedly loved? Or in my busyness of serving their physical needs, am I neglecting to connect to their inner need to be loved?

With all these thoughts running through my mind these past weeks, it has made me evaluate my priorities. What is more important? The “to do” list or a game of Memory with a four year old. Trying a new recipe or reading yet another Richard Scary book to the one year old. My latest sewing project or a nap so that my husband doesn't come home to an exhausted cranky wife? I count it an incredible privilege to make a home for the family I dearly love. I want my attitude, especially when my plans are turned on end, to reflect the joy of the Lord.

How about you? I'd love to hear how you cultivate joy and peace in your home!

It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house. Proverbs 25:24

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith. Proverbs 15:17

Make It Yourself - Tartar Sauce

You may know by now that I hate extra trips to the grocery store. If I'm missing an ingredient, I attempt to substitute, make my own, or do without! We don't eat fish often, but when we do, Ed and I both like to have tartar sauce. Here is a simple version of tarter sauce that takes only minutes to whip up.

1 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing (whichever you prefer. It's mayo for me!)
2 T. pickle relish
4 T. sour cream (optional)
2 T. lemon juice
2 T finely chopped onion
¼ tsp salt

Mix. Chill 30 minutes to blend flavor. Serve. Store in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

No Fry Donuts

Today is known as Fausnaught Day in these parts! Traditionally, it was the day house wives made donuts to use up their fat before the start of Lent. My family makes donuts each winter, though often not on Fausnaught Day. I thought of sharing my mom's recipe. There isn't too many things better then a fresh hot homemade donut! But I figured you all probably have a good donut recipe. Besides, donut making isn't something I would attempt on my own. It really is a lot of work and by the end of the day I feel so grease sodden that I almost lose my appetite for donuts!

Last year on Fausnaught Day, I tried a recipe for baked donuts. The recipe was very simple to make and results surprisingly good! No, they are not as good as the traditional deep fat fried donuts. But, though opinions on nutrition vary widely, I think we would all agree that fried donuts can hardly be construed as health food! I'm looking forward to making this recipe again this year. Care to join me?

2 T yeast
¼ cup warm water

Dissolve yeast in warm water.

1 ½ cup warm milk
1/3 cup butter

Add milk and butter and stir for one minute.

½ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cinnamon

Add all ingredients together with above and beat on low speed until smooth.

4 ½ to 5 cups flour

Stir in flour to form a soft dough. Do not knead. Cover and let rise in a warm place for one hour. Punch down, turn onto a floured counter and roll ½ inch thick. Cut donuts and place on greased baking sheets.
Brush with melted butter, cover, let rise until double.
Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.
Glaze with powdered sugar icing or sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon while still warm.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A New Compost Bin

I love composting and the fun of recycling all those yucky scraps into black gold for the garden! We've always just used the "pile" method, heaping all our kitchen garbage and garden remnants in a pile at the edge of the garden by our tool shed. While it certainly is an effective way to make compost, on Saturday we built a compost bin!
Ed took old pallets and formed them into three bins, attaching the pallets with some old interlocking plastic ties. I just love a project which uses completely recycled materials and takes only a few minutes of time! The bins are also completely movable if we decide we don't like them after all.

In the first bin, Ed shoveled our finished compost. This was from our pile from last spring that is now ready to spread on the garden.
In the third bin, he layered the pile we are presently adding to. It is beginning to break down but you can still find recognizable chunks from old broccoli plants, dead houseplants, orange peelings and egg shells. In a few weeks, he plans to turn this pile into the middle bin. We then will begin a new pile in the third bin.
Some time in the future I'll write more about composting, and why you too need a compost pile!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fudge Nut Bars

A friend asked for this recipe, and while I was typing it out, I thought I'd just share it here as well. This recipe is from my mother-in-law and one Ed never gets tired of so I make them frequently. I usually let out the nuts and call them Fudge Oatmeal Bars!

1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar

Cream together until light and fluffy.

2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

Beat with butter and sugar.

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 cups quick oats

Mix well with above. Spread 2/3 of dough in greased jelly roll pan. (15 1/2 x 10 1/2)

Fudge Filling:

1 (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup sweetened condensed milk (I use the whole can)
2 T butter
1/2 tsp salt

Stir together in pan on low heat until melted.

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
2 tsp vanilla

Stir into fudge filling. Spread fudge over dough. Dot with remaining dough. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Cool. Cut into bars and enjoy!

Yogurt Update

I've enjoyed hearing that some of you have successfully made your own yogurt!

One reader shared with me a book on yogurt. I wasn't sure how anyone could fill over 300 pages on yogurt but I did learn some things from the book and gain some new ideas on yogurt's uses.

Here, in no particular order, is some answers to questions I have received and some of the new tips , information, and uses I've learned about yogurt! If you wish to read the original recipe I shared several months ago, go here.

If you've never tried making homemade yogurt, now is a great time! We all can use some extra probiotics during the winter!

  • The fresher your yogurt, the higher the population of good bacteria. Older yogurt may taste fine but will be much less effective therapeutically then fresh yogurt with all it's good bacteria “alive and hopping”. Check the expiration date on your yogurt container – or make your own!
  • When making yogurt regularly (about twice a week), begin with a new yogurt starter once a month. Even if your yogurt is stilling turning out well, it may not be fresh enough to be as healthy to the body.
  • Is commercial yogurt a “natural food”? Read the back of the container! Like other processed foods, the more ingredients that you don't understand or can't pronounce, the greater the chances that it can hardly be called “natural”. Many have numerous additives to thicken, stabilize, preserve, add flavor and color, and even to keep the fruit evenly mixed in the yogurt! Whole milk yogurt often needs less additives to give the thick rich flavor that low fat yogurt tries to imitate. It isn't a hard decision, at least for me, to make my own yogurt and then I know what is in it!
  • Yogurt helps to tenderize meat. Mix up a marinade of yogurt, lemon juice, salt, and other seasonings for a meat marinade.
  • If your homemade yogurt seems too tart, it may be that you are stirring to vigorously before incubation or incubating too long. For a mild yogurt, stir your starter into the milk gently and incubate for a shorter time.
  • If your homemade yogurt forms a “watery whey” on top, it may be that your incubation temperature was too high, or the incubation was too long, or used to much starter. Don't throw out the batch, either pour off the whey, or stir the whey in, and it will be fine to eat, though a little less thick. It can also be used as a starter for your next batch.
  • Rarely, can you actually completely botch a batch of yogurt. I've probably made every mistake imaginable and only once did it completely fail. If during incubation, the temperature drops too low, just heat it back up and continue with the incubation.

  • Use yogurt on baked potatoes instead of sour cream with a little chives.
  • Replace all or some of the mayonnaise in chicken salad with yogurt.
  • Replace sour cream, milk, or cream with yogurt in baked goods such as pancakes, biscuits, waffles, cakes, and muffins. You may need to thin the yogurt with a little milk, though I don't usually. Some people add ½ tsp of baking soda for each cup of yogurt used. Try it the next time you make chocolate cake and you may have your family wondering what was the secret ingredient to your awesome cake!
  • Add yogurt to scrambled eggs (½ T per egg) or quiche!
  • I've heard of yogurt being used to begin a sour dough starter but haven't attempted it.
  • Drain your yogurt in a cheese cloth or muslin to make “yogurt cheese”. Flavor with salt, herbs, and spices and use for a dip or spread. As the yogurt cheese ages it will become more tart.
  • Puree strawberries, mix with plain yogurt and a little sugar or honey for a yummy fruit dip!

One of the things I want to try next is to make frozen yogurt, but that might wait until summer! Have any of you tried it?

I've began making a new (for me) cultured dairy product this winter that is even more healthy and simpler to make then yogurt! I'll share about it sometime in the coming weeks, so check back!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Hoop House!

This week, my husband built me a raised bed hoop house! I could not have been more delighted! Not even if I had received a Valentine's dinner out and a box of chocolates! Ed knows me well!
He built the frame with some scrap lumber and placed it on the south side of our house in a sunny sheltered spot along our driveway. Hopefully, the heat from the house and stones will help keep it warm. If we were placing this frame in the garden, we would have made it bottomless. But since it is placed on stones and concrete, Ed made a bottom with some scraps of plywood, making sure there was enough gaps for drainage. It should be easily movable if we decide to change the location.
We basically followed the directions for a square foot garden in Mel Bartholomew's book by the same name. Because it would be along a wall and we would be only reaching in from one side, we made it only two feet wide and six feet long. Actually it is a little wider then two feet to allow us to sit some gallon jugs of water along the back. The idea is that the water jugs will absorb heat from the sun during the day and release heat at night to help warm the plants. Painting the jugs black would probably make them even more effective.
The Square Foot Gardening book recommends a planting mixture of 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 vermiculite. I was concerned that the peat would dry out but was willing to give it a try. I made several calls to local garden centers and no one was selling compost this early and I only found one small bag of vermiculite. Thankfully, the warm days this week thawed out our compost pile enough that we could use our own compost. Our mix contains about 2/3 homemade compost, 1/3 peat moss and one small bag of vermiculite. I should have sifted the compost as it does contain some stems and larger chunks but it appears to be a rich and fertile planting medium.
Ed used flexible tubing (1/2" PEX pipe) for the hoops. Several long screws along the edge of the raised bed hold the tubing in place. Mikroclima row cover was draped over the hoops and held with jumbo clamps. Later when we move the Mikroclima to the garden, we plan to hammer rebar into the ground and use larger tubing, but for this small bed, this seems to work well. In the few days since we've put this bed together, we've had some strong winds, and nothing has blown apart!
I plan to plant seeds directly into this bed to get some early vegetable plants started. I've already planted some lettuce seeds and plan to plant some spinach, broccoli, parsley and other greens. With the bed located next to the house, it should be convenient for picking fresh salads! Since the warm days last week seem to have ended and we are back to cold temperatures, I'm not sure that the soil is warm enough for seeds to germinate. But we will be ready for when it really does get warm.
When reading this, keep in mind that we have never had a cold frame, hoop house, or raised bed, so we are not speaking as a voice of experience! I am only saying WHAT we are doing and not the we are doing it RIGHT!

If you have any hints and tips for us, I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Russian Black Bread

For Valentine's Day, I just had to share my husband's favorite bread! Unlike most rye breads, this bread is mild, moist, and chewy with a depth of flavor all it's own. The bread is made with white and rye flours with cocoa powder added for a deep rich brown color. I usually shape the dough into large round loaves but you could use bread pans if you wish. I double this recipe in my large Bosch mixer to have plenty for the freezer!

2 ½ cup warm water
1/8 cup dark molasses
1/3 cup corn syrup or honey
¼ cup oil
¼ cup cocoa powder Or carob powder
¼ cup wheat gluten (optional but does help the rise)
1 T salt
3 cup rye flour
2 T yeast
Unbleached bread flour

Mix all ingredients but flour until combined. Allow to stand for 15 minutes. Begin adding flour, one cup at a time, until soft dough forms. Knead with kneading hook for six minutes or knead by hand for ten minutes. On oiled counter, shape dough into two large round loaves or place in loaf pans. Slash tops of loaves. Allow to rise for 45 minutes to one hour. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

Option: Mix 1 tsp cornstarch and ½ cup water in a small saucepan and cook on medium heat until thickened. Ten minutes before bread is finished baking, brush loaves with this cornstarch glaze. Continue to bake until finished. Glaze will give loaves a nice shiny crust.

Edited to add: Nola experimented with this recipe I shared several weeks ago. She replaced the rye flour with whole wheat flour resulting in a dark bread with a great texture without the rye flavor. If you don't care for the rye taste but enjoy a unique bread, try her variation!

Tips for Seed Starting

If you like a wider variety of plants then your local nursery offers, or if you'd like to lower your cost (a pack of seeds usually costs the same as six pack at a greenhouse), starting your own seeds may be a good option. Here is the steps to indoor seed starting with a few things I've learned. I don't start a lot of my own seeds but I do have fun with a few. You ladies with home greenhouses know tons more about this then I do – and I'd love to hear if you have any seed starting tips!

1. Containers

You can buy flats, peat pots, or cell packs at the store or recycle yogurt cups, egg cartons, milk jugs or paper cups. If you are using old pots, sterilize in water with a few drops of bleach added. Whatever containers you choose should have holes for drainage. If you place your pots in trays, you'll be able to water from the bottom and avoid flooding the seeds.

2. Soil

Buying a seed starting mix is the best course of action. Garden soil is too heavy for seed starting indoors. Mixing homemade compost with peat moss makes a good seed starting soil. But if you are like us, your compost pile is frozen solid! If you had the fore thought to bring in a bucket of compost in the fall, you have my congratulations! Before planting the seeds, moisten your soil.

3. Plant

The rule of thumb in planting seeds is to plant three times as deep as the seeds size.

The smaller seeds plant shallow,
The bigger seeds plant deeper,
If you forget these simple rules,
Your seeds will all be sleepers.

Be sure to label the pot. Most tiny green plants look alike and even if you think you will remember, you probably won't! Popsicle sticks work well.

Cover the pots with plastic. This will help hold in the moisture while the seeds germinate. Plastic wrap works well. You can also slide the pots into a plastic bag. Place them in a warm place. A window sill or the top of the refrigerator work well.

4. Light

Check on your seeds daily. As soon as the seeds germinate and you see the first green leaves sprouting out of the ground move to a well lit spot. A sunny window sill works well but the light will only be coming from one side, so turn your pots regularly. A fluorescent light bulb hung just inches from the top of the pot is a great light source. Keep the light on 24 hours a day as plants don't need darkness.

5. Water

Too much and too little water can be equally devastating to new plants. Check the moisture level daily. You want the soil to be moist but not saturated. Small plants have very little reserve and shouldn't be allowed to wilt. Too much water, on the other hand, can encourage disease. The best way I've found is to dip a finger in the soil about a half inch. If it feels dry, water. If the soil is still damp, wait a day.

6. Feed

Your new plants will use up the nutrients in their soil, but don't be too quick to dump on the Miracle Grow! Small plants only need a very weak dose of fertilizer about once a week.

7. Space

As your plants grow and form two or three sets of leaves, they will need more space. If you planted them in a tray, you may wish to move them to individual pots. Carefully, move the seedlings with the help of a spoon or popsicle stick. If you started the seeds small pots or cell packs and several plants are together, you can thin your plants by snipping off all the plants but the best one in each pot. It feels cruel, but it's for the best!

8. Harden

You've given your plants the best light, water, food and space. It is now warm outside and they are now ready to go to their summer home in your garden. Before you plunk your coddled plants out in the great outdoors to face the elements on their own, give them a chance to adjust. Choose a sheltered spot for them to spend a few hours then bring them back in for the night. The next day let them out longer and after a few days of hardening, your plants will be ready for a permanent life outside.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Bulgar Rolls Recipe

If there is one bread recipe that I could call my specialty, bulgar rolls would be the one! I've probably made thousands of these rolls through the years, including several hundred for our wedding. I've tried many other roll recipes and found some we've really enjoyed, but I keep coming back to this one. We love the slightly nutty taste and texture that the bulgar adds. Hope you enjoy this recipe as well!

Bulgar is a cracked wheat that you can find at a bulk foods store. If you don't have bulgar, substitute oatmeal or even brown rice!

2 cup water
1/2 cup bulgar
3 T butter

Boil until bulgar is soft. Cool until lukewarm.

1 T yeast
1 1/3 cup warm water

Dissolve yeast in water.

1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1 egg
4 cup flour

Mix sugar, salt, egg, flour, bulgar mixture and yeast mixture. Mix well. Add more flour (about 3 cups) until soft dough forms. (You will use 7-8 cups of flour total.) Knead for 5 to 10 minutes. Place in greased bowl and allow to rise for one hour or until double. Punch dough down. Rest for 10 minutes. Shape into rolls. Raise 45 minutes or until double. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Note: I always double this recipe in my large mixer and machine knead the dough. It makes quite a few rolls but they freeze well. I usually replace at least half of the flour with whole wheat flour and add 1/8 to 1/4 cup vital gluten.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sewing Project - Boo Boo Bags

At our house, “boo-boo bags” are almost a necessity. Many a bump, pain, or ache are cured with these cold or hot packs. A “boo-boo bag” is a simple cloth bag filled with wheat, rice, buckwheat, lentils, or dry beans. The bag is warmed in the microwave for a hot pack or stored in the freezer for a cold pack.

To make your own, cut out two pieces of fabric the same size. Use cotton fabric. You don't want the fabric to melt in the microwave! The shape can be square, rectangle or any other shape and any size you wish! With right sides together, sew up three sides of the bag. Turn the bag right side out and fill half way with the filling ingredient of your choice. Fold in the raw edges of the unsewn side and stitch the bag closed. Your boo-boo bag is now ready to use!

If you wish, you may make a second bag just slightly larger then your first, attach Velcro to one end and use it as a pillow case to keep your boo-boo bag clean.

I find these bags are easier then trying to hold ice on a bumped head. I've tucked the children into bed with a warm boo-boo bag when they complained of a tummy or ear ache. I have even carried one to bed myself when an achy back or stiff shoulders needed some heat. Spend a few minutes sewing one (or two or three) today and maybe you, too, will wonder what you did without it!

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Long Distance Package

Tonight, a package from Australia arrived at our door! The folks at Veggiecare had read of our experience with floating-row-cover. Noticing that our row cover was worn out beyond use, they generously gave us some of their Mikroclima row cover to try! The Microclima is a plastic woven fabric that appears to be longer lasting then the bonded fabric we've used formerly. I'm excited about doing some side by side tests this summer with the Mikroclima and our normal row cover. In fact, we are planning to make a raise bed and hoop house following the instructions at the Veggiecare website and try to get some early greens started. But seeing that snow is falling as I type, maybe I won't be putting seeds in the ground tomorrow! A roll of Mikroclima and ten jumbo clips! A close up of the Mikroclima.
We'll keep you updated on our row cover testing!


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