Thursday, September 26, 2013

A New Compost Bin

So we've had these two tiny compost bins. They're tidy, and they're cute, but they're small! They've  been full since the middle of summer, and we're just getting into the heart of the compost season.

And now we have chickens!

Chickens generate a really substantial amount of compost. We use pine shavings in the coop and the nest boxes themselves, and we put straw on the ground of the run underneath.

And chickens poop all over the place, so we change the pine shavings out weekly, and the straw out pretty consistently.

Our tidy, tiny, cute little compost bins have been completely overwhelmed by the amount of compost from the garden and the lawn and the chickens and the landscape trimmings and whatever else we've thrown at them.

So we have started another compost bin. You can see that it's not the least "cute" and while it's tiny by the standards of some farmers I have known, it's big enough to handle what we're going to throw at it.

Yep, it's just three pallets screwed together. I've been adding (and will continue to add) some better siding where it's kind of thin, but we're excited about the increased capacity.

And it will be so much easier to turn the compost as it ripens. That will be really nice.

As it fills up, we'll add something across the front if it turns out we need it: cedar fence boards are cheap and probably sufficient. Or a piece of another pallet. 

And we're expecting a whole lot more compost to be ready for the gardens come spring!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Adventures in Dehydrating

Apples (I like Fuji best), basil, garlic (to be roasted first), red onions, & bananas.

Basil, roasted garlic & red onions will be ground into spice (oh my goodness!).

Apples and bananas will be snacks.
Strawberries work pretty well, too, but they're not an exceptional dried snack: very tasty, but they feel funny in the mouth. Next time, I might mix them with rhubarb and dry the sauce into fruit leather. 
Apples. These are Honeycrisp. Some people spritz them with lemon juice to keep them from browning; I don't notice a flavor difference. Superb snack: crunchy and sweet.
I've never dried pitted fruit successfully before. Nectarines are way easier than cling peaches!). These are pretty good!
Dried a bunch of Thai chilies. Threw in some other red chilies, too. They aren't as hot, but that's actually a good thing.
And then we grind 'em. I have a couple of coffee grinders that I use for herbs & spices. One has a bowl that comes out and is dishwasher safe.
This is what the powder looks like. Looks pretty innocent, doesn't it? don't you believe it!

Really yummy. Rip-your-face-off hot!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Chicken Tractor Comes of Age

Early this spring, I posted about a chicken tractor I built, and then I introduced the three ladies who will live there, who eventually grew to five.

That proved to be a non-winning idea:
  • The tractor was built for 3 hens, and we discovered we could have 5. 
  • The tractor needed to be moved weekly, or actually, on a lawn, twice weekly, and still it chewed up the lawn where they were parked. 
  • It proved more difficult to move than planned for. That may come from my poropensity to over-build things.
  • We needed to lock them in every night, and sometimes we forgot to do that. 
  • Feeding and watering them was rather a lot of work. It always involved dirty knees. 
So we built a real chicken coop.  The ladies like it better, it's better protection, we don't need to lock them up every night (the entire coop is secure), and best of all, my lady likes it. She thinks it's pretty.

But the original tractor was still available.

It had been designed to fit inside one of the garden's raised beds.

The plan was to turn the chickens loose to both fertilize and weed the space, and we only need to pay them (literally) chicken feed.

So today, we installed the tractor into the garden, and installed the two leghorns in it.

We fenced in the rest of the raised bed, and put a lid on it (leghorns actually fly fairly well. So do chicken hawks, which can find a couple of leghorns really inviting. 
And they immediately got busy digging out the muchies. And cleaning up the garden at the same time.

Happy chickens.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Beauty in the Back Yard

My daughter took the picture. That's the Red Door Green House in the background. This is an Abyssinian Sword  Lily. Gladiolius Calianthus, Abyssinian, for those who think in Latin. . .

Monday, September 9, 2013

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I learned from a friend about how to make my own vanilla extract. Since she's a world class cook and hostess, I took her seriously: she makes yummy desserts with this!

The instructions are simple:
  1. Buy a fifth of vodka (cheap vodka will do; all it's doing is preserving and delivering the vanilla flavor. (I soaked the label off: it looks better.)
  2. Add four or five vanilla beans. 
  3. Wait three or four months. 
This is one month old, now. It should be ready around Thanksgiving. 750 ml of good real vanilla extract for $18.00 (if you get your vanilla beans at the Food Co-op in town).

I'm making lots of ice cream recently, and that's using a lot of vanilla. I like this!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fall Harvest Into the Dehydrators

I decided to dehydrate some of the root veggies.

These are our epic carrots. We grew yellow carrots this year. Decided to shred some & dehydrate 'em.

These are your basic potatoes.

The method: wash 'em, julienne them (thank you, Cuisinart!), blanch 'em (boil 'em for 2 minutes), spread 'em on paper towel in the dehydrator.

Note: I varied the paper towels: one had a vent hole in the middle; the next had vent space around the paper towel.

I grew a bunch of purple potatoes this year. They are making pretty interesting shreddies.


I did some sweet potatoes at the same time.

And I did one pumpkin (Japanese pumpkin, from German seeds).

These are going to make some awfully good soup!

All three dehydrators are full. It makes me happy.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Some Fall Harvesting.

I'd say that the carrots did better than we expected.

In addition, I dehydrated & ground the dill, tarragon, and a good bit of basil.Working on a double batch of peppers, which will be several kinds of pepper powder.
Made a boatload of pesto. I freeze it in ice cube rays. Have made with goat cheese for the cow-dairy-free people in my life.
We planted a good batch of wormwood today.

It's supposed to be a good insecticide, and it will be useful to a friend of mine who makes absinthe. 
And this is mugwort. First cousin to wormwood, it's medicinal, and it's also for a friend. But tea made from this herb is supposed to give you good dreams.