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Friday, December 28, 2007

Hats for Christmas

This year I wanted to give something to Ethan and the kids that would reflect our desire to do farming together as a family. Since I tend to lean to the practical side of life, I decided to get everyone hats to farm in and to keep the sun off. Ethan and Caleb got a straw hat, and Hannah got a little bonnet.

I grew up by an Amish settlement(a different one from where our cows are located), and had my mom pick up these hats from there. One thing that is interesting about the Amish, is that they use their hats to help distinguish which settlement they are from. Some of my father-in-law's Amish friends know some of the Buchanan county Amish. I wonder what they will think about our new hats. :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Baking

When I was a senior in high school, I made 20 different kinds of Christmas cookies to give out.

This year I have scaled it back a bit. All I have made so far is gingerbread cookies, although I think my husband will want to make some snickerdoodles together.

I was going to give out my gingerbread cookies to our neighbors and some friends. One problem . . . I ate them all. Yup. All of them. Ethan doesn't care for them. Caleb and Hannah maybe had 3. So I guess I consumed the rest.

Let's see . . . the gingerbread recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of shortening, 2 cups of sugar, and 1 cup of molasses. Thankfully, I only make these things at Christmas!

I do have a good excuse though. I have had multiple viruses the last month, including 3 separate cases of the flu. All of this has caused me to lose some weight that I was trying to keep on. Good thing for gingerbread.

So after I saw that all of my gifts were gone, I made another batch last night. I think I need to deliver them tomorrow, because they are quickly disappearing as well!(Just in case you were wondering - these aren't the ones I made!)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Lesson From Norm

If you come over to my house during meal prep time, you might notice something about my children. They will walk over to the kitchen and stop on the carpet, right at the line where the linoleum begins. The reason they do this . . . they are not allowed in the kitchen.

This is something that I am very strict about. I think some of my family think that I might be a little over the top on this rule. They have not watched me cook enough though. I am a disaster! My meals USUALLY turn out fine but quite often, I do not. It seems that I am always burning myself, cutting myself, or dropping sharp objects (like Cutco knives) dangerously close to my feet. As much as I would enjoy having the kids in the kitchen helping me cook, it is for their safety that they are not allowed to.

Here is a good example. Thursday night is our "Homestyle meal" night. It is Ethan's favorite supper of the week. This week's menu was ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, and corn casserole - which is my husband's absolute favorite meal in the world.

All was going well, and everything was done and ready to be eaten. Ethan pulled out the corn casserole, while drooling over it, and set it on top of the stove. I proceeded to turn on the pot of beans while the corn casserole cooled down a bit. While I was getting the plates out, I noticed something smelling like it was burning. I looked over at the corn casserole and noticed that it was smoking. And then I noticed that I had turned the wrong burner on for the beans. The burner under the corn casserole was on 9 - and it was smoking quite a bit. I panicked over the thought of our meal being burnt, so I pulled the pan off of the burner and set it on one that wasn't on.

As soon as I set it down - BOOM! The glass pan exploded. Without knowing what happened, I jumped back and found I had covered my face with the two potholders I was using. After a few seconds of paralysis, I moved them away and saw glass all over the place. I also saw my two kids standing on the line where the carpet meets the kitchen crying hysterically while Ethan tried to calm them down. I guess I had screamed pretty loud and scared them - although I don't remember screaming.

So there went our pan and half of our supper. We had cold beans that didn't have glass in them, and some ham in the oven yet. We added tortillas with cheese to the mix to round it out.

I am fortunate to have thrown the potholders over my face, but it made me think about when I was growing up. My dad and I used to watch The New Yankee Workshop on Saturdays. At the beginning of every show, Norm Abram would run through his shop safety tips. They were pretty scripted, and I was always prepared to quote his closing line along with him, "And remember, the most important safety rule is to wear these - safety glasses." I think that rule might need to be applied in my kitchen too.


mix: (or use a box of Jiffy Mix corn muffins)
3/4 c all purpose flour
3/4 c corn meal
1/6 c sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1 can cream corn
1 1/2 c frozen corn
1 egg
1/4 c butter

bake at 400 for 1 hour
remove from oven and place on a hot burner for 2 minutes then remove from hot burner and immediately place on cold surface to make pan explode

Bonus post: I am a disaster - case in point
Just now, as I was getting out my corn meal to check on part of the recipe, I knocked down my sugar from the top shelf in my kitchen. I'm glad my children weren't standing underneath or they would have a bit of a headache.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Tis the Season

Ahhh . . . Tis the Season. The season for making wish lists. The season for getting wish lists. The season for shopping.

When Ethan and I got married, we started the tradition of Black Friday - getting up super early the day after Thanksgiving to get the deals. We have continued this as much as possible if we are staying in the right area during Thanksgiving. Sometimes we go in shifts to let our two young children sleep, but we still try to get those deals.

This year, as I was trying to juggle my armload of great deals in Younkers and as I was watching the chaos of everyone around me trying to get to the "door busters" before they ran out, I was thinking about the reason we celebrate this time of year - God sending His Son into the chaos of this earth to bring peace for those who trust in Him. This is something that should be celebrated each and every day of the year!

I also was thinking about the whole point of fighting the crowds to get the good gits and that giving gifts to family and friends helps us to remember the gift of God's Son. I think that we need to be careful not to be swept away by consumerism while doing this though - something that we should really be careful about all year long as well.

Awhile ago my husband showed me a music video of a church who needed a new building due to lack of space. They decided that instead of building a new multi million dollar building, because of their location they could build an amphitheater instead. They could then use the money saved to help meet the needs of many more people in their community and around the world. The video doesn't really talk about their amphitheater or church, but talks more about what all our money is worth. I really encourage you to watch the video. It's a great song and a thought provoking message.

So back to Black Friday . . . As I was doing my shopping and reflecting on the Christmas season, this video kept running through my head. As I walked around, I considered how much we spend at Christmas, God's gift to a world in need, and the needs of this world that continue to remain today.

A few weeks earlier, a friend of ours told us about Gospel for Asia. They give 100% of donations received to the people they are serving - nothing being taken out for administrative cost. Among other things, they have a program where you can give animals to families who are are considered outcasts in their society and live in slums without much hope. Since our family has been thinking about farming and the usefulness of owning animals so much this year, I thought this was pretty cool.

I know this is a pretty random post, but I just wanted to throw a challenge out to everyone who reads this. While you are purchasing and giving all of your gifts this Christmas, remember those who have needs greater than we can imagine. See if you can find an organization that excites you, and give a gift to someone who will never know who it was that helped them out.

If you do this, I would love to hear what you did, but please leave your comment as anonymous. It would be so encouraging to see all of the different ways that needs are met by others not only this Christmas season but throughout the year.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Mighty Peas

This summer I decided to try a fall garden so late summer I planted another crop of vegetables. One of the things that I planted were fall peas. I knew I probably wouldn't get anything out of them since I got them in later than I had hoped, but I decided to plant them anyway for an experiment as long as I had extra seeds.

I have been amazed by these peas. They just won't quit! Late October we got our first frost so the first week of November I thought I would tell my garden goodnight. I pulled up everything but the flowers, lettuce and peas. I still didn't expect them to do much more, but I wanted to watch them anyway.

Well, after a few more frosts, we got our first big snow two weeks ago. We took the kids out to see the chicken in the snow, who we had moved to the garden for our clean up crew. While I was out there, I noticed that the peas were still going strong and had blossoms on them!
So I continued to watch the peas. Last week, however, Ethan and I decided it was time to put all of the garden fences and posts away before they were frozen into the ground. There stood my peas, still green. With December just a few days away, I decided it was time to pull their support so out came their fence.

Well, today I went out with Ethan as he moved the chickens to a new spot in the garden. Their lay my green peas on the ground. Boy were the chickens happy when they got moved on top of them!! So now my mighty peas are coming to an end . . . not because of the cold, but because of the chickens.

I think that what I learned from my experiment is that when it comes to fall peas, it maybe isn't as important to worry about the cold as much as it is worrying about timing the blossoms so that there are insects still around for pollination!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Canning Pinto Beans

This week I was able to can some pinto beans. In one of the comment sections, I mentioned I would post the directions so here they are.
This method doesn't take much time that you will actually be working, but you do have to do a little bit of planning since it requires some prep the night before you want to can them.

Make sure all of your jars are washed and ready to go. You also might want to count your lids since I didn't have enough when I was canning my green beans earlier!
After you have all of your supplies ready, it's time to get the pinto beans ready. Measure out 3/4 cup of beans for each pint jar you want to can. Then wash and sort the beans. I have never found rocks in my beans before, but as you can see, this time around I actually found 2 - so don't skip this step!
When your beans are washed and sorted, measure out 3/4 cup of beans into each jar. Fill the jars with water and then cover them with a towel over night.

In the morning, empty the water from the jars and refill with hot water to leave 1 inch of head space. You may need to adjust some beans. If you want, you can save and heat the water that was in the jars to use. This leaves more nutrients, however, it also leaves more bean gas. I use new water. Another option is to add 1/2 tsp of salt to each jar, but I skip this step. After the jars are filled, put a lid and ring on each jar according to the manufactures instructions.

Place the jars in the pressure canner, bring them to a high heat to adjust head space, and process at 10 lbs pressure for 75 minutes. (Remember, this time is only for pint jars.) Be sure to follow all of the directions that come with your canner. (Also, do not can beans with a water bath - see comments.)

After they have cooked and the pressure is gone, remove the jars from the canner to cool. When they are cool, wipe down the jars, label them, and put them in your cupboard. You are done!!

For those of you who like to watch the dollar, here are the numbers. I spent $2.38 on my bag of pinto beans. There are enough beans in the bag to make around 17 pints of beans. I'll say that's 14¢ per pint jar in beans. Lids are $1.29 for 12. I'll also say that is 11¢ per lid.

If you really want to be technical, you can figure in the electricity to heat the stove for the canner, but then you can argue that the heat from the stove heats your house and makes your furnace not work as hard. (A good reason to leave beans for winter canning - doesn't fight against your air conditioner or make your house too hot.) Although if you heat with wood, that changes things too. I'm not about to think that hard, so I'm leaving the heating cost out.

So my beans cost me 25¢ per pint. Keep in mind, that a pint of home canned beans is equal to at least two cans of store bought beans. You end up with a jar full of beans with little to no liquid - the store beans are a can of liquid with some beans floating around in it. If you want to make your beans even more economical and you eat them in large quantities, can them as quarts. (Sorry, I don't have the canning time for this. DON'T use 75 minutes!) That would have given me twice the amount of beans per jar for 39¢. We don't eat that many at a time though so I do pints.

So there you go. Canning pinto beans. I would love to find some recipes for canning pinto beans that include some spices making them even more ready to go. Anyone have any?

** To learn how to pressure can beans, you can check out my series on Beginning Pressure Canning. **

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Tools of My Trade
Beans must be pressure canned due to their low acidity in order to kill all bacteria that would cause dangerous food born illnesses. They can be safely canned by using the recommended times and pressures given for your altitude. I have a couple older Mirro pressure canners given to me that work wonderfully, and my mom has a newer one that she loves as well. If you do some asking around, you might find someone who has given up canning and has one available, or you can look for one like the one pictured below. It should hold around 9 pint jars or 7 quart jars.

This book is a wonderful book for beginning pressure canning.  It includes the science behind safe canning, tools needed for canning, the method of canning, and is filled with tons of recipes that will help you can anything from produce from your garden to meats and broths.  I still enjoy flipping through my book to find new recipes to try!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Canning Inventory

Here is a picture of one of my kitchen cupboards. The bottom shelf is all things I have canned: applesauce, green beans, spaghetti sauce, tomatoes, turkey and turkey broth, ham broth, beef broth, and dried beans. The middle shelf is just store bought noodles and dried beans from the store. I put them in jars because I thought it would look cool, and it gave me a useful way to store extra jars. The top shelf holds grape juice that my mom canned, egg noodles that I made and dried (using our chicken eggs), boy scout popcorn, some of my extra spaghetti sauce, and grape jelly - also from my mom. This is just a sampling of each thing I have. The overflow is stored elsewhere.

My summer canning has now been done for awhile. I didn't get much compared to what other people get. I hope next year to get more of a variety of produce canned and to also can larger quantities of things, however, I am very happy with what I do have from this year since it was my first year canning.

Here's what I ended up with:

  • Whole tomatoes: 10 quarts and 7 pints
  • Spaghetti sauce: 15 pints (Still looking for a different recipe, although Ethan really likes it.)
  • Green Beans: 3 quarts and 5 pints (all from my experimental fall planting)
  • Applesauce: 20 pints

    Now that the summer canning season is over, I am starting into the winter canning season. I recently cooked down 2 turkeys after they were picked clean of meat. What I ended up canning from that was 5 quarts and 10 pints of turkey and turkey broth for soup. (We just used our last jar from the last time I canned turkey broth - good timing!) I also got 5 pints of just turkey broth to add when cooking rice or other recipes.
    Last spring I also canned some dried beans for chili, enchiladas, and other meals. I only have one can of those left, and I plan on doing more. It was very handy.

    I want to try some soups among other things, but I'm not sure what yet. I would love to hear some ideas and get some recipes from all of you seasoned canners!

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    Wednesday, November 21, 2007

    New Chicken Feed

    Today Ethan and I were excited to get some new chicken feed.

    Before you start thinking that we must not get out much if we get excited about buying chicken feed, it is because of the potential for savings that we are excited - not because of the actual feed.

    After we talked to Ethan's uncle, we learned that he does some of the mixing of his chicken feed himself. We thought we would give that a try. I called around to some of the feed supply stores, and we were able to get 100 lbs of chicken food today for $13.50 - about the same price we had previously been paying for 50 lbs of food.

    We will be mixing a laying mix with cracked corn. Hopefully this will end up similar to what Ethan's uncle gave us. They didn't go through it as fast, and they had the best egg production so far while on that feed. So with feed expense hopefully cut in half and hopefully better egg production too, we might be able to keep chickens producing in the black through the winter months.

    I'd love to hear any suggestions/favorite feed mixes from others who keep chickens.

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    Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    Chickens, You May Stay

    I have been keeping careful records to see which of the things we are doing are profitable and which aren't. This month, I am happy to report, our chickens made it into the black. They had a bit of catching up to do since we had to spend some money on making their pen, but they have now laid their way into our pocketbook.

    Here are some figures from our chicken endeavor up until the beginning of October.

    Chickens and Eggs
  • 6 old hens = free from Ethan's uncle. One died. Replaced it but new one didn't blend in. Gave it away. We now have 5 old hens.
  • Eggs laid = 798
  • Eggs given away to friends, family, and people who helped us in some way = 13 1/2 dozen
  • Eggs we kept and ate = 53 dozen

  • Given by friends, family and businesses = waterer, feeder, grit feeder, old boards and tin, old wire, nesting bedding, nesting buckets
  • bought = remaining wire, hardware and wood $42.25

  • bought 100 lbs chicken feed(2 different mixes) = $20.32 of feed
  • chicken feed given by Ethan's uncle = about 150 lbs
  • free = kitchen scraps and leftovers (no poultry products to avoid disease)
  • provided by God's creation while we moved the pen daily = fresh grass and bugs (about 30% of diet)

    So here is how I figured that the chickens have now made it into the black. We spent $62.57 on them by the end of October. We kept 53 dozen eggs for ourselves by the end of October. When we first started keeping chickens, eggs were selling for $1.25/doz at the grocery store. 53 dozen eggs would be worth $66.25, more than what we have in them. I feel that I am being conservative though, since I didn't count the 13 1/2 dozen eggs we gave away, nor did I adjust the price of eggs according to what they are selling at now. Last time I was in the grocery store, medium eggs were going for $1.87/doz and large eggs over $2.00/doz. (I think I need to keep a better eye on prices to help our records be more accurate - this time it was in our favor.)

    Keep in mind too, that this is comparing our chicken eggs to the price of store eggs. I don't believe that store eggs should be able to be considered as equal due to the vast nutritional differences in the eggs, but I did for the sake are argument. I also didn't add in the services the chickens provide of thatching the lawn, fertilizing the lawn (and garden), pest control, and being conversation starters.

    You might notice that we were given a lot of things and might argue that I should add those into expenses. Well, the way we view farming is to keep your inputs low to make your profits high. If you are able to do that by being innovative and by asking around for scrap materials and unused equipment from people you know (or don't know!), then it will have an effect on your profits. I believe that should be shown and not hidden.

    We are now trying to get them ready to winter over. It will be interesting to see if they are worth keeping over the winter when they don't have grass and bugs available to eat and when egg production slows down. We are also continuing to experiment with different feeds. We have noticed a difference in egg production and rate of feed consumed with the 3 different feeds we have tried. The feed Ethan's uncle gave us is by far the best. Another thing we might do is get a new batch of younger birds in the spring.

    So there you go. Now we are in the black with our chickens. We celebrated by eating omelets for supper and plan on having chickens again next year.

    Next to get in the black, the cows . . .
  • Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Bringing in the Crew

    Tonight Ethan opened up the garden to let the clean up crew in. They found the fallen tomatoes right away and started scratching around looking for critters too. We'll let them work awhile, do some fertilizing, and see what happens . . .

    Wednesday, November 7, 2007

    Still Iowans

    If you have been following my husband's blog at all (The Beginning Farmer), you will notice that the type of farming that interests our family is quite unconventional when it comes to Iowa farming.

    There are a couple of reasons for this. I think the first reason we started down this path of farming is that it is really the only way that we see that our family could do any type of farming. We really don't have anyone that we can farm with to get started, and there is no way that we have the ability to invest in land, equipment, and everything else that comes with conventional Iowa farming. Since we were really interested in doing some type of farming though, we started looking at other ways to go about it.

    As we were looking at farming in a way that doesn't require a huge amount of inputs, we started to see how that kind of farming just made since in so many ways. One of the things that we are interested in is raising a variety of animals on pasture, without the need for grains to be brought in. This type of farming benefits the environment, the farm land, the animals, the consumers, and the farmer. (You can check out the many posts on my husbands blog to see various explanations for all of those.)

    When you talk to us about farming, you might get the feeling that small scale, unconventional farming is what we believe to be the only way to go.

    If you would have see us today, however, you would have seen that we are still Iowans. We took a trip out to a friend's farm from our church to let our kids have some combine rides. Ethan and I both have family members that farm the conventional way, and we are proud to have our friends and family farming and want to support them in what they do.

    So out we went for combine rides, although I guess we were still a little unconventional. Our farming friend suggested we all ride together in his cab with seating room for 2. How could we turn that down? So if you were driving by you would have seen 3 adults and 2 kids riding in the cab of a John Deere combine harvesting corn!

    Friday, November 2, 2007

    Goodnight Garden

    Wow! It's been awhile! Between a trip to the Twin Cities to visit friends (and to reaffirm that I am not a city girl, although I like to hang out with city friends) and everyone in our family having colds, I haven't gotten around to posting much. Sorry.

    I have had a hard time getting our house back into a routine since I was struck with poison ivy and blood poisoning. The poison ivy actually threw me off the worst though since I only had one hand to work with. We also have another fiasco that we are dealing with that I might post about later. So yesterday was the first day I have made bread in over a month. It was strange to have store bought bread again - which I noticed really doesn't have much substance to it, and it was nice to finally have home made again - although I wouldn't mind a lesson from an expert on it.

    Just as my bread making had gone by the wayside, so has my garden. I have managed to pick beans for our suppers, but that is about it. We have had frost now, so the tomatoes are done. I was sad to see that I missed a lot of red ones, but I was able to preserve a lot still. The bean leaves also took a hit from the frost, but the beans that are on them are still good. I think I can pull enough off for one more supper. We have some fall lettuce going strong yet too which I can add in to our menu. The only other plants, besides flowers, that looked like they still had some life left in them were my carrots and my fall planting of peas. The peas are beautiful and have blossoms on them, but they probably won't hang on long enough to give me any peas. I'm not disappointed though. As I mentioned in an earlier post,Fall Plantings, these fall peas were mainly an experiment, and I wasn't banking on getting anything from them.

    I could have let my carrots go a bit longer I think, but the kids and I needed some fresh air, and it was a beautiful day for digging carrots. We went out this afternoon before supper and worked together on the project - most of the time at least. The kids came back and forth between their outdoor toys. I would dig and pull up the carrots and then toss them over the fence. Caleb and Hannah would then gather them up and put them in the box. After they were all dug, we snapped off the stems, threw the greens in the garden, and put the carrots back in the box. It was fun seeing how much Caleb and Hannah enjoyed the whole process. They felt pretty important as they helped - just click on the picture and look at their faces. :) The carrot that Caleb is holding isn't really that good of an example of our carrots, but it was about all that was left at the time. I ended up with a nice box of carrots considering our garden gets a lot of shade and is hindered by "toxins" that our walnut tree roots give off.

    Also, tonight I dug up my yams. I wasn't really expecting to get anything from them - another experiment. I started yam vines off of a store bought yam this spring and transplanted them/it to the garden. I should have started my shoots earlier than I did, however I was excited to find enough yams tonight to give everyone a scoop at a meal. I think next year I will be able to get a good crop of them.

    So now my garden looks quite bare. There are my peas that I will just keep watching, some lettuce to make salads with, and my frost bit beans that still hold enough beans for one more meal. Besides those and the flowers, I have pulled everything else up. I have also given Ethan the go-ahead to move the chickens through. Hopefully they will find some yummy pests to eat up in between the scattered remains of our vegetables and do some fertilizing while they are at it.

    Monday, October 22, 2007

    A Challenge For You . . .

    Ethan and I are getting to the point where we would like to take a step and move from our house in town to a spot in the country. The last couple of years we have been watching the housing market in the area and crunching numbers. We have figured out that at best, we can afford a place that has has a nice amount of land but a small house or a place with not very much land but a little larger house. We haven't really seen anything come around in our price range with a nice amount of land and a large house.

    So the question that has been bouncing around is how much land will we need to do some farming and what size of house will we want for comfortable living. Right now I feel like we are outgrowing the house we are in. We have 3 tiny bedrooms (one is serving as an office, one is our bedroom, and one is for Caleb and Hannah), a small living room/dining room area that has room for 2 chairs, a couch, and our table, and then the kitchen and bathroom of course. There is no garage, but there is a dungeon basement only used for storage although I really don't like to use it for that since mold grows well down there.

    I have come to realize, however, that maybe the reason we feel like we are outgrowing our house is not so much because of us, but because of our stuff. Just so you know, I am far from a pack rat. I have often been accused of not having enough stuff and the house looking bare, yet the closets continue to fill to the brim with tubs of things to be stored.

    With Christmas coming up, I am getting a bit worried about the inflow of gifts from gracious givers and how we will be able to work our new gifts into our house. So I am starting a project that seems to happen every year. I guess you could say I am rampaging through the house. During this time I purge the house of anything I can give away, throw away, or sell in order to make more room in our house for the boxes of new things that will appear come December.

    So here is my challenge to you . . . a declutter challenge. To get started, just think about the older farm families (like my dad's) who lived in a 3 bedroom house with 11 kids and no basement. Consider the cost of all of that stuff that you really don't need - the stuff that takes up precious space causing so many people to think they need bigger houses and garages when really they just need less stuff. Think about the time wasted juggling worthless stuff around. Then think about what you can give away, throw away, or sell (we love e-bay!).

    Here are the rules:

    Set up three boxes/bags/containers in an out of the way spot. Label them give, throw, and sell. (Throw away things do not include day to day trash. It is things that you have actually been storing that can be thrown away.) Until Christmas, whenever you come across anything that fits in one of those categories, put it in it's appropriate container. Keep your eyes open as you walk around and every time you open a closet, drawer, or box. If you have time, start digging through storage areas too.

    Here are some questions you can ask yourself that will help you find things to sort out of your house:

  • Would getting rid of this be more beneficial to me than keeping it? (Rather than selling it, is it tying up money that I need or could use elsewhere or is it taking up too much of my time shuffling it/dusting it?)
  • Was I surprised to see it or realize I had it?
  • Have I used it in the last year, or do I have specific plans to use it again? (Preferably within the next year, but there are exceptions.)
  • Can this be replaced easily for close to the amount I can sell it for or for very little if I give or throw it away?
  • Would this be more of a blessing to someone else than it is to me?

    Once you get going, do not look in the containers after you start putting things in them. In other words, don't second guess yourself. If you put it in, leave it in. After just a little while of doing this, I think you will be amazed at the sheer volume of stuff that you actually have in your house that you do not really need. I am every time I do this, and I do it at least once a year. I will warn you, however, that you might find many things that you have boughten and realize that maybe you shouldn't have. If they fall under the "clutter" category, still get rid of them even if it means you wasted money. I guarantee that if you do this activity often enough and after you toss enough of those kind of things, you will start to become wiser in how you spend your money.

    I will try to remember to post around Christmas time and let you know how much stuff I came up with, hopefully having a picture to show too. I would love it if you join me in the challenge and drop comments on how your boxes/bags/containers are filling up.

    My whole reason for doing this is to keep our house from being overcrowded with stuff that we don't need, and hopefully when the time comes for us to buy a place to do some farming in the country we will be able to look for a house to fit needs according to our family and not according to our stuff.

    (authors note: To see my results, click here.)

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  •  Tools of My Trade
    This kit is one we have used and is worth every penny you will spend on it! Even if you have a good grip on your finances, there will be things you can take away from this study that will be a blessing to you.  As Mr. Ramsey says in his radio show when it comes to figuring out how big of a mortgage you should take out on a house, "You want your house to be a blessing, not a curse."  I believe that this advice fits with all purchase that are made.  In addition to not having them be a curse by needing to make payments, we also need to keep them from becoming curses down the road by using up money that could have instead been set away for emergencies or more important purchases.  This plan helps you figure out how to budget your money in a way that you will move more and more from finances becoming a curse in your life to more and more of them becoming a blessing.

    If you just want a very helpful, but not as in depth version of Mr. Ramsey's financial advice, the Total Money Makeover is another wonderful resource. We have a large number of friends who have used this book to help turn their finances around. You may be able to find a used copy of the book through e-bay or You can also pick up a new copy from the link below.

    Monday, October 15, 2007

    Let's Talk Oatmeal

    Last winter my husband and I finally got around to getting a life insurance plan. We had been putting it off but decided that it might be a good idea now that we have kids. I think that the best thing that came about through the process was that we found out my husband's cholesterol is AWFUL. At 27 years old, his cholesterol was 267 (Under 200 is desirable. Over 240 is high risk), and his LDL was 192 (Under 100 is optimal. 190 is very high risk). Ethan is not overweight, but his cholesterol is too high.

    If he would go on meds at this point in his life, his liver would take quite a beating. And so we began the quest for ways to lower his cholesterol. Since we had an interest in farming, we started doing more research on grass fed beef and pastured chickens (and eggs), which has helped lead us to where we are so far in our farming pursuits.

    Another thing that seemed like it would help is oatmeal. A couple of the 6 major health benefits of oatmeal is that it helps lower LDL - the bad cholesterol, and it also helps reduce the risk of heart disease.

    In my last post I received a question about oatmeal in my comment section so I thought I'd make a new post on oatmeal. I'll share what I know, and I'd love to hear what you know.

    Since my husband has very particular taste buds, I tried to make an oatmeal he would enjoy eating. He is able to choke down the maple and brown sugar prepackaged oatmeal, so I tried to make a copy cat. This is what I came up with:

    1/2 c oats
    2 tsp maple syrup
    1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
    1/8 tsp salt

    2/3 c water

    Microwave 1 minute 30 seconds

    While I was experimenting, I learned a lot about oatmeal. First of all, I learned that the texture can be completely different depending on how it is made. You can leave it as it is in the box or chop it up in the blender. Microwaving or boiling it will change its consistency, along with the amount of water you put in it. Also, you can change the texture by how you boil it. You can add the oatmeal in the water before you put in on heat, after it is boiling, or somewhere in between. And all this makes a difference in how it turns out. Quite complicated when you are trying to please a choosy eater.

    I also learned something when my parents were visiting once. They eat oatmeal. For some reason I never knew that growing up. But also, I saw them eat it like you would cold cereal. They cook it and then pour milk all over it until it is floating. I was quite confused when I saw this, but maybe it is not that uncommon. I guess you can also cook it in milk too instead of water.

    And for add ins - the sky is the limit. We like to add bananas, applesauce, raisins, berries, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spices, etc.

    If you just can't bring yourself to eat it at breakfast, you can always try to work it into your baking. I like to substitute 3/4 cups of oatmeal for 1/2 cup of flour in my baked goods.

    I would love to hear any oatmeal suggestions or favorites you might have. Please leave some comments if you have any!

    I guess the point is that oatmeal is really good for you, and it isn't terribly expensive. With a bit of tinkering around, hopefully it can be worked into diets a bit more - including our family's.

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    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Start Your Morning Right

    I am a big believer that breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day. It gives you energy for the morning and gets your metabolism jump started for the day as well. It also helps ward off the desire for extra evening snacks, which sometimes take the place of the third meal when breakfast isn't included in the morning - and these snacks aren't nearly as nutritious as breakfast probably would have been.

    When I was growing up I always had Cheerios for breakfast. If I don't fry up a pan of eggs from our chickens, I continue to have my Cheerios at breakfast time. Actually, we have Toastios or Tasty-o's. They are close enough but also get to be expensive. I would like to be able to eat oatmeal to still get my whole grains, but I never had it growing up and find it hard to enjoy now. Thankfully, both of my kids eat it.

    In addition to the oatmeal providing whole grains for them, I also take the opportunity to fill some of their fruit requirements for the day. As I boil the water, I drop some raisins in. After I cook the oatmeal, I stir in some applesauce. Fruit and whole grains are something that I think is left out of a lot of diets, so I feel like this is a good breakfast for them, and they love it.

    Adding the raisins and applesauce, however, raises the price of their breakfast. I don't want to sacrifice their nutrition for money so I set my mind on canning some applesauce this year.

    We were visiting my parents on Tuesday, and they have been saving apples for me from their tree. My mom and I worked through the evening canning applesauce. We sliced the apples, cut out the bad spots, cooked them down, blended them up, and canned them.

    I left the skins on the apples for added nutrients and flavor. They cooked down nicely. I chose not to add any acid to stop oxidation, but with leaving the skins on, the jars have a nice red blush to them - although the photo below doesn't catch it well.

    This is the first time I have canned apples, and I am really happy with what we ended up with. The taste is incredible! Much better than store bought. Although we won't have enough for the year, the 20 pints we canned will last quite awhile. I am excited to do more next year, and I just might start eating oatmeal for breakfast myself now.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    Keeping Hands Busy

    Last week the house kind of fell apart as my poison ivy blisters got somewhat out of control. My left hand became useless. It was so blistered and swollen that I couldn't even move my fingers. I wrapped it in towels to keep it from being painfully bumped against something. I just did the basics as the week went on - making food and changing diapers. I even switched from cloth diapers to disposable so I wouldn't have to mess with laundry.

    Because the house was starting to become quite a mess, I sought ways to keep the kids busy. They are great at picking up their toys, but I was afraid the toys would get lost in the rest of the mess.

    One of the things that I came up with to keep them busy was to have them help me with my compost. Our tub outside the door was needing some carbon (browns). I had been adding quite a bit of nitrogen (greens) with our kitchen scraps and things were becoming a bit off balance. I could tell by the fruit flies that had turned the compost tub into the neighborhood hangout. So I pulled out our old newspapers and let the kids shred away as I got supper ready. They had a blast, and now our fruit fly problems are taken care of.

    As for my poison ivy, I finally got some steroid pills to take for my blisters and swelling from the emergency room over the weekend. I know what you are thinking. "You went to the emergency room for poison ivy blisters?" Well, I actually went in for the blood poisoning I got through my poison ivy blisters - revealed by the 18 inch red streak that was crawling and branching up my arm. After I got an antibiotic shot and antibiotic pills for that, they decided maybe I should have something for my poison ivy too. I am much relieved to say that all the meds seem to be working and, now both of my hands can be busy again.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2007

    Canning Beans

    Two summers now I have planted green beans for canning, only to have my crop destroyed by insects. This week I was finally able to can some, thanks to my fall planting.

    I went out to the garden earlier this week and picked an overflowing bucket full. I know that it isn't nearly the amount that other people get, but I was excited. I was mainly doing an experiment to see if beans planted for fall would be better than my summer crop, without using chemicals still. Being able to can some would just be a bonus to my experiment.

    As it turned out, the gallon of beans that I picked were clean and without insect damage, so I was able to can 3 quarts. I had wanted to put them in pints, which would have given me 6 jars, but I forgot that I was needing to by more lids for my jars and only had 3 left. Thankfully I was able to fit all of my beans into the quart jars, and we will just save them for when we have guests over. I still have lots of beans on my plants too so I will probably still be able to can more as pints.

    I now plan on doing fall beans again in hopes that every fall will produce this nice of a crop. I don't know if this year, with its higher than normal day temperatures, is an exceptional year for fall plantings, but I do know that the cool nights stopped my insect problems. I have now had my first opportunity to can some beans.
    Tools of My Trade

    Beans must be pressure canned due to their low acidity in order to kill all bacteria that would cause dangerous food born illnesses. They can be safely canned by using the recommended times and pressures given for your altitude. I have a couple older Mirro pressure canners given to me that work wonderfully, and my mom has a newer one that she loves as well. If you do some asking around, you might find someone who has given up canning and has one available, or you can look for one like the one pictured below. It should hold around 9 pint jars or 7 quart jars.

    I also have some canning tools that are invaluable. The wide funnel helps keep messes to a minimum when filling jars. When I heat my lids, I just drop them into the hot water of my canner and then lift them out with the magnetic wand. The jar lifters are great for getting those hot jars out of the canner as well. You can buy these tools separately at many stores, or you can purchase them in a kit which contains other useful canning tools, such as the one pictured below.

    Monday, October 1, 2007

    Poison Ivy Tree

    Last year I saw what I thought to be a poison ivy tree. I always thought that poison ivy was a ground cover, but I was certain that I discovered a poison ivy tree and discovered it growing adjacent to our yard in the railroad ditch. I had a hunter I knew check it out, along with some other people, but they all said they were pretty sure poison ivy didn't grow that way.

    As I sit typing this though, my fingers on my left hand are so swollen that I can't put them together. I have blisters and oozing bumps (yeah, I look kinda gross right now) not only covering my fingers, but also on my hands, wrists, forearms, neck, face, around my eye, on my lips, and even some in my mouth. There is also a spot on my ankle and maybe one or two showing up on my back. Yup. Poison ivy trees do exist.

    Okay, so I may be stretching the story a bit. Not with my poison ivy rash - I really do have all of that, but with the tree. It is actually a big, dying tree covered with massive poison ivy vines which pretty much cover up the tree. Here's a picture of it. If you click on the picture you can see the leaves of 3 and the way they turn color before most other plants. Also, take note that the tree itself is wide enough that I couldn't put my arms around it if I tried (which I didn't, and I won't!). That will give you somewhat of an idea of how massive this vine is.

    How did I get the poison ivy if I didn't hug the tree? Well, that is my own fault. I was cleaning out our overgrown railroad ditch again at our walnut dumping spot - this time quite a ways away from our raspberries, but about 10-15 feet from our poison ivy tree. Even though others disagreed, I had a suspicion that the tree had poison ivy on it so I should have been watching out for it on the ground too. It turns out that whole part of the ditch has poison ivy on the ground. And I found it. Before I saw it.

    I thought I would share some of the things that have worked for me to keep the itch bearable. My favorite is to run as hot of water as I can stand on the spots as long as I can stand. I guess it overloads nerve receptors and turns them off for awhile. This lasts around 4 hours. (edited 5 '08 to add: Although this feels REALLY, REALLY!!! good, it might actually make the poison ivy worse - opening up pores and causing it to go deeper.) For the spots that I can't burn with water, vinegar helps take the itch away a bit. Also, a paste of oatmeal left on until it dries feels nice. I also have heard that rubbing the inside of a banana peel on the spot helps. Feel free to share your favorite home remedy. Also, I would love to hear how to get rid of this stuff.

    So now I guess that I am going to have to find another spot in our yard where I can play. I'm starting to run out of options of cheap outdoor things to work on with our lot in town. Thankfully though, our yard has 5 or 6 really large walnut trees on it so I can comb the yard for walnuts for awhile if I can't think of anything better. I will just have to watch out where I dump them.

    Here are Caleb and Hannah helping me pick up walnuts. I am so glad they didn't get into the poison ivy as we were dumping them.

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    Sunday, September 30, 2007

    Why Farm?

    I remember often as I was growing up being at the farm when my grandpa and uncles were farming. I also remember many times where they were quite unhappy with the equipment as it was broken and deadlines were needing to be met.

    Yesterday, Ethan, myself, and the kids took the day to go pick up some more cattle. At noon we stopped at a roadside historical marker to have lunch. We were about 2 1/2 hours from home and about 45 minutes away from the farm we were heading to. Before Ethan got a chance to bite into his sandwich, he noticed a problem with the trailer tire. We soon discovered that the bearings were no more.

    We couldn't pull the trailer back into town so we unhooked it and drove the truck back to see if we could get some help. Ethan ran in and out of shops trying to find someone who could help. Some of the responses he got included: "We're about ready to go home." (Turning to fellow employee.) "Do you want to do it?" (Fellow employee) "No." Also, "We don't do that kind of thing here." And, "Yeah we do that, but the mechanics just went home."

    So we headed back and sat by the trailer to finish lunch. Ethan called his dad, who owns the trailer and lived about 1 1/2 hours away. He said he would come help out, but it would be a bit until he could get away. We took the kids to a park for awhile and then went and sat by the trailer again to wonder if we were going to be able to get our cattle.

    Around 3:30 Ethan's dad and brother arrived with some tools, and they got to work. After some more running around, we were able to locate the parts that we needed (or at least that were close enough) and got the trailer temporarily fixed. Off we went to get our cattle, and we were able to unload our new additions to our herd and get home 15 minutes before midnight.

    So what's so appealing about farming? I think there are many things, but one thing stuck out to me today - the importance of community and helping others out.

    As we were sitting along the side of the road with a tire laying on the ground and with our 3 1/2 year old and 22 month old, there were many, many cars that drove right on by. Some of them would slow down and look and then keep going. Some of them would slow down and look, wave, and then keep going. I'm sure they had places to go, people to see, and deadlines to meet.

    The whole time we were there we had one guy step out of his truck and ask if we needed anything. He was a farmer. An interesting thing about farmers is they also have deadlines to meet, many of which effect their income - getting crops in before the rain, getting crops out before the rain, taking care of livestock to keep them healthy and productive. This farmer that stopped even had a deadline for today he was trying to meet and was having problems lining up equipment, but he still stopped. He even drove back later when he came up with an idea for us. I think he realized the importance of community and helping others out.

    Also, when we finally located a part we needed, it was in another town. The owner of a trailer business was just about ready to leave for an event he was helping with, but he said that he would stick around for us. When we got to his business we saw that it was located right beside his house on his farm. I think this man also realized the importance of community and helping others out.

    Now, I'm not trying to idolize farmers. I know there were a lot of farmers that drove right past us . . . many times. There was a coop down the road and we watched them take their grain in throughout the afternoon. I also know that there are lots of non-farmers that realize the importance of community and helping others out. But I think that when you are a farmer you often depend on help from the community and from others and begin to realize the importance of it.

    That is one thing that I think is missing in our culture. So many people fence themselves in: their property and their lives. I think we have a lot to learn from those who don't. And that is one of the reasons that farming appeals to me.

    Friday, September 28, 2007

    Coffee, Anyone?

    My garden has had trouble all three years we have had it. One of its problems is that it only gets partial sun during the day - the most sun we can find in our yard. The other problems is that there are walnut trees all around our yard, including by our garden, which release a toxin through their root system that is hard on many garden plants.

    This year my tomato plants looked quite droopy most of the summer. I decided that they might need some coffee to perk them up.

    Twice a week I go to the coffee shop on the square and pick up a bucket of coffee grounds and filters to throw into my garden. Used coffee ground are an excellent fertilizer and filters decompose and add organic matter, both of which can decrease the toxic effects from the walnut trees. The coffee shop is more than happy to give me their heavy, wet garbage too.

    Although I didn't mind the coffee filters out there (they make a great mulch!), Ethan didn't really care for the look of them in the garden. So now I add them to my kitchen compost barrel outside of our door, which eventually goes to the larger compost pile in the railroad ditch adjoining our property.

    After pulling out the filters, I am left with a bucket of pure coffee grounds to spread on the garden. The coffee grounds have a 20:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen. To balance the ratio out to a 30:1 ratio, ideal for composting, I add sawdust - given to me from my dad who is a woodworker. The sawdust will "capture" nitrogen (fertilizer) from the coffee grounds and will make it available as the sawdust decomposes. It also adds some of the extra organic material to my garden that I was looking for.

    It sounds like it is quite a long drawn out process, but really it only takes a couple minutes. It also gets me out of the house and outside where I can feel like I am doing farmy type things. I think if/when we get to the country, I might still go after the free coffee fertilizer but will just dump it into the compost pile to be spread later - after the filters decompose. As for now, I am hoping that all of this will help turn my golf ball sized tomatoes into softball sized tomatoes next year!

    Wednesday, September 26, 2007

    Where'd Ya Get Your Jeans?

    A funny thing happened a couple years ago. We were at a football game and one of the kids in Ethan's youth group (Ethan is a youth director) asked him where he got his jeans. She thought they were pretty cool. Later that week, another kid asked the same question during youth group about the same pair of jeans. What was so cool about them? They had been patched from the inside - the new style that came with a nice price tag.

    There was something about these jeans, however, that the students didn't know about. These jeans were probably at least 3 years old at the time, and when they were purchased - there were no patches. Yes, these jeans actually earned their patches, and I put them on. On the inside. Before I knew it was cool.

    Today I spent the better part of my afternoon patching up the pile of jeans in the picture. The pile has accumulated since spring, and I figured that they better get fixed up since the fall weather is coming. Unfortunately for my husband, jeans with patches are not what is cool anymore. Now it is jeans with holes all over - unpatched. If only I would have let them be. But some of the holes were getting a bit, well . . . indecent.

    We aren't really that concerned with the changing tides of coolness anyway. We're just trying to go another year without having to buy more jeans. So I'm just going to keep patching away. And when you think about it, fashions cycle - so jeans with patches will eventually be cool again. And I bet these jeans will be there to see it!

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    Monday, September 24, 2007

    Fall Plantings

    I am by no means an expert when it comes to fall gardens. Actually, this is the first year I have tried some fall plantings, although I heard about my Grandpa putting in his fall seeds while growing up. Today, I finally picked my first vegetables from my fall planting - BEAUTIFUL green beans!

    I had planted green beans in the spring. The plants looked great at first. Nice solid leaves with no signs of pests. Well, that didn't last long. By the time my beans were ready to be picked, the leaves looked like lace from being chewed up so badly. The beans were just as bad. I tried to salvage some of the crop, but it was hard to find even an inch on a bean that hadn't been nibbled by insects.

    Many people suggested powders and chemicals that we could treat them with to chase away the bugs, but that equaled more expenses. As you might have noticed, we are trying to do things with as few inputs as possible. So I gave up my hopes of canning beans, pulled all the plants, and decided to do some research so I could try again next year.

    As I was doing my research, I found out I didn't have to wait until next year. I read that many times fall beans will be better than beans planted in the spring since most of the pests are gone by the time the beans mature. So off I went in search of more bean seeds. Most stores had sent theirs back, but I found one greenhouse that had 1/4 cup of seeds left. I bought them out.

    I had a little bit of a late start in getting my fall beans planted since it took me so long to locate seeds so I soaked them overnight to hopefully cut down on some germination time. After they were well swollen, I put them into the soil. A few days later, up popped my beans!

    I was pretty excited with the thought of another try with beans this year, but I soon became somewhat worried as I saw their leaves starting to look a bit like lace again. As I resisted the urge to pull them out, the nights started becoming cooler. As the nights started to become cooler, I noticed that the new leaves weren't getting eaten. (Hopefully you can see the difference in the picture.)

    Today when I went out to the garden, I saw that there were a few beans ready to be picked. I was somewhat apprehensive as to what I would find hidden within the plants. What I found though were beautiful, long green beans without any signs of insect damage. It seems as if the insects clocked out for the season when the nights started to get cooler - and just as my beans started to mature!

    So now I still have some hope of canning beans this year. I also still have some hopes for my spring planting of beans. While doing a little digging around I read that planting savory next to your beans will help ward off bugs. I think I will give that a try next year.

    Here are a couple other pictures of my fall plantings. The first is peas. I don't know if they will amount to anything. I found extra seeds in my basement quite late but decided to throw them in the ground since I had them. The other is lettuce. I will be planting new patches every 2 weeks until it stops growing so we can have fresh lettuce too throughout the fall.
    I'd love to hear comments from other fall planters as to what works for you.

    Thursday, September 20, 2007


    I had a hard time today deciding what to title this post.

    At first I thought about titling it "We Paid For It, I'm Using It" since that is something Ethan teases me about saying. I thought maybe I would talk about how I wash out the cereal sacks to use as toss away table coverings for projects like making noodles and bread and for the kids to do their Play-Doh and other crafts on. It only takes a second to rinse them out when the cereal is empty and makes project clean up SO much faster. The "We Paid For It, I'm Using It" phrase is a phrase that I also used a lot when I would toss my banana peels in the back flower bed to decompose and add nutrients to the soil before we started a real compost pile. But I decided against that title.

    Then I thought I'd title it "Cereal Sacks and Alternative Farming" and talk about how a farmer only receives a fraction of the price of an item in the grocery store. As I was making my noodles today and using the cereal sacks we paid for, I was thinking about how we also pay for the cereal box, the processing of the cereal, the transportation of the cereal, the advertising for the cereal (unless you buy the generic like we do), the wages for the store employees, the overhead for the store . . . and really the farmer that grew the grain gets very little of the amount that was paid for the box of cereal. I thought maybe it would be interesting to post about how alternative farming and direct marketing take out a lot of those additional expenses so the farmer gets a higher percentage of the market price, but I decided against that post too.

    Next, I thought about titling my post "Where Do You Want to Spend Your Time?" and talking about how trying to save money at home will reduce the amount of money that you need to earn, which can help you be at home more, which can lead to more opportunities to save money at home, which means that you will need even less to live on, which might eventually lead to allowing one parent to stay at home with the kids or even the other parent to be able to farm - all taking into consideration that you aren't trying to save money to be rich but to be able to spend time at home with family and friends. But I thought that post might get a little confusing.

    So I finally decided to title my post "Supper" and let everyone know that for supper we are having ham and noodles, mashed potatoes, green beans, and bread.

    By the way, the ham was from leftover ham broth I had canned. The noodles were homemade with eggs from our chickens, and I used the cereal sacks that we paid for while making them. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to can any early beans and our fall beans need another week or so before they are ready, so I had to use green beans from the store that are hardly worth the 33 cents I paid for them (and the can, and the transportation, and the. . .). And although I had spent most of the kids' nap time making bunches noodles so I could dry some for later meals, I decided to go ahead and make the bread too since a penny saved is a penny earned.

    Monday, September 17, 2007

    Raspberries, Rabbits, and Fire

    Raspberries, rabbits, and fire. What do they have in common? . . . our ditch!

    My husband is an associate pastor/youth pastor, and we have lived in this parsonage in town for 3 years. The property we are on borders the railroad tracks which comes along with a deep, thick, woody, weedy ditch. The police caught a fugitive 2 years ago in our ditch while my husband was on a mission trip and I was home alone with the kids, but that's another story!

    Before we moved here, and a short while after, many of the church members would use that ditch for dumping brush and clippings. Thankfully, we receive no more outside yard waste, but there was quite the pile of brush that had accumulated in the ditch. Right beside the brush pile that first year, I found three raspberry vines.

    For 4 summers now, I have been pruning those vines and allowing runners to root. I have also been weeding the area and cutting down saplings so they can get more light. Many of the tall weeds aren't around anymore, and creeping charlie is starting to take over the vacant ground around the vines, making a nice carpet to walk on. I now have so many vines that I don't even bother counting them.

    There is one problem though. Since my raspberry patch has expanded so much, the rabbits found it last winter. They chewed almost all of my vines to the ground while the snow piled over their other choices of food. Needless to say, I didn't have very high yields in my berry patch this summer.

    One of the big problems is that the brush piles that were dumped here make quite a nice home for little bunnies in the winter, and the biggest brush pile was just a couple feet from my berry patch. Very convenient for cold little rabbits who don't want to hop far in the snow to have their breakfast . . . or lunch . . . or supper.

    Since one of the things we are interested in having is pick-your-own fruit, we decided this would be a good opportunity to do some experimenting and learning with pest control. We figured that we had two options. One was to fence in the raspberries, and the other was to wage war on the rabbits. A big aspect of alternative farming is keeping your inputs (expenses) low so your profits remain high. To fence in the raspberries, we would have to buy fence. So you guessed it, we decided to wage war on the rabbits.

    Since we live in town and shooting them is legally out, to the disappointment of my husband, we started by destroying their shelter. Over the weekend we burned up and cleared out the brush pile by the berries. While Ethan was managing the fire, I took care of the fall pruning of our raspberries and cleared out some more saplings. When we were done, we were left with a nice clear area that has had decomposing matter on it for quite a few years and now ash, which is good for fertilizer. I will either trail some raspberry runners over to our newly cleared land to extend my patch or plant some blackberry starts from my mom's garden or my father-in-law's farm to experiment with.

    As for now, we will start setting our rabbit trap to decrease the overrun rabbit population in our ditch and will take them to the woods. Sure, more rabbits may move in, but at least they won't have a house right next to my vines. We'll see if my berry plants survive this winter.

    Here are some of my black raspberry plants all pruned up.

    This is a picture of our ditch. In the foreground you can see the area we just cleared out and burned. The green growth behind the cleared area is part of my raspberry patch - all started from 3 vines!

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    Sunday, September 16, 2007

    Soup's On

    A few times throughout the year we will bake a turkey. I freeze the meat in meal size portions and cook down the bones and save the broth. Tonight I popped open a jar of broth that I had saved and made turkey soup (using carrots from our garden). We also had sourdough bread. I had started some sourdough last night for bread sticks to go with our pizza pasta, but it took a lot longer to raise than I had expected. So instead, I baked two loaves of sourdough bread this morning. (I had to stay home from church since the kids are getting over chicken pox.)

    I was happy with how the soup tasted, and I thought the sourdough bread was better than the regular bread I make. I still haven't found a recipe I like for yeast bread, so maybe I will be making sourdough bread a bit more.

    Here are the recipes I used.

    * 2 Cups of sponge
    * 3 Cups of unbleached flour
    * 2 tablespoons of olive oil or softened margarine
    * 4 teaspoons of sugar
    * 2 teaspoons of salt

    Mix and knead like you would a yeast bread. Allow more time for the rise than you would a yeast bread. (Bread machines won't work for this recipe.) Punch down and form loaves. Let bread rise again. (Also allow more time for this step than you would a yeast bread.) Turn oven on at 350, and bake for 30 minutes. (Do not allow oven to preheat.)

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    * 1 quart turkey broth
    * 4 cups water
    * cooked turkey
    * 1 medium onion - chopped
    * 3 carros - sliced
    * 2 celery stalks - chopped
    * 3 potatoes - diced
    * 1 tsp salt
    * 1/3 - 1/2 tsp pepper
    * 1/2 tsp garlic salt
    * 1 bay leaf (remove before serving)

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    Thursday, September 13, 2007

    Preserving the Harvest

    This year I have started canning. I have slowly been accumulating canning supplies for the last 5+ years. I decided that it was about time that I do something with them. I started out canning some pinto beans. They didn't cost me much in time or money so I wouldn't have been that disappointed if they didn't turn out. They actually turned out great though, and I have been using them in Mexican dishes.

    After I gained a bit of confidence with my beans, I pulled out the ham and turkey broth from the freezer that I was saving for soup. I also canned that and was pleased with the results.

    Finally, I felt like I was ready to move on to bigger and better things, which was good because my tomatoes were becoming ripe. Unfortunately, our garden is placed in the only spot in our yard that gets any sun (1/2 of the day) and is surround by walnut trees (poison to gardens!), but I have gotten enough whole tomatoes canned to last me a year, I hope.

    Now that my whole tomatoes have been stockpiled, I have been canning spaghetti sauce. Ethan seems to like it, which is good, but I still don't think I have tweaked the recipe enough to make me put it in my recipe box. Luckily, I still have lots of tomatoes in the garden to ripen so I can keep playing a bit.

    Here is a picture of the tomatoes I "squished" tonight. (Caleb asked what I was doing, and I informed him that I was squishing tomatoes.) The pint jars are some of my spaghetti sauce, and the quart jars are some of my whole tomatoes.

    Sunday, September 9, 2007

    Town Chores

    As I mentioned earlier, we are trying to do as much learning as possible from in town, whether it's experimenting or researching. One of the things that we are experimenting with is "pastured chickens". This spring we built a movable chicken pen for our backyard. We were able to build it completely out of salvaged materials, except for some of the chicken wire. (You can see the assembly in this May posts of The Beginning Farmer) Every day, Ethan's job is to wiggle it over to a new spot in the yard. The chickens eat 30% of their feed from the grasses and what they scratch up in the grasses. The variety of greens and living critters makes their eggs quite a bit more nutritious and delicious! Ethan also checks on their feed and water every day and collects their eggs. Ideally, broilers (meat chickens) would be the ones being pastured in movable pens while laying hens would be in a moveable chicken house on a trailer (to keep their area fresh), but this is what will have to work in town.

    My job with the chickens is to wash up the eggs, stock up the fridge, and then figure out all of the ways we can use them. We had originally planned on trying to find a customer or two to sell our surplus to, but we really haven't had a surplus yet. It isn't that our chickens aren't laying enough eggs, it's that we are using a lot more eggs that we did before. From the record keeping I've been doing (another important responsibility I've taken on - to see if our efforts are profitable), we have seen that the chickens are earning their keep. Their eggs are costing less than store eggs, and they are better for us!

    As you can also see in the pictures, we try to include the kids in as much as we can with the chores. They enjoy helping where they are able to, they develop an interest in what we are doing, and it teaches them about responsibility.

    Wednesday, September 5, 2007


    This past week I have been working on starting a batch of wild yeast starter dough. I really shouldn't say working on it though, because it is hardly any work. I was pretty excited when my sourdough started getting bubbly and smelled of yeast, even though I hadn't added any yeast to the mix. That meant that it was started on the wild yeast in the air and on the wheat flour.

    After my starter got established, I decided to try to make something with it. Since pancakes were on the menu for the next day, I thought that would be a good place to start. I used my sourdough starter, eggs from our chickens, and berries that I had picked and frozen. I mixed up some regular pancakes too so I would have something to compare them to. I thought the sourdough pancakes were great. Ethan couldn't tell a difference, but that is a compliment from him. He has very particular tastes so if something matches something he already likes, I am relieved.

    One of the great things about the sourdough pancakes is that they use no milk. Our old recipe used 2 cups of milk for the same amount of pancakes. With milk being over $3.50 a gallon, these pancakes are more economical.Above is a picture of my pancakes and sourdough starter.

    I would love to have more sourdough recipes if anyone has any to share. Here are the recipes I used:

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  • 1/2 c unsweetened pineapple juice (acidic and prevents bad bacteria from growing)
  • 1/2 c whole grain wheat flour or whole grain rye flour
  • 1 c unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 c water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cider vinegar (optional)

    DAY ONE - Mix 2 T whole grain flour and 2 T pineapple juice. Stir well, cover, and let sit for 24 hours at room temp.

    DAY TWO - Add 2 T of whole grain flour and 2 T pineapple juice. Stir well, cover, and let sit another 24 hours at room temperature. You may or may not start to see small bubbles at this point.

    DAY THREE - Same as day two. Add 2 T of whole grain flour and 2 T pineapple juice. Stir well, cover, and let sit another 24 hours at room temperature. You may or may not start to see small bubbles at this point.

    DAY FOUR - Stir mixture and measure out 1/4 c -- discard the rest. To the 1/4 c, stir in 1/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour and 1/4 c water. Let sit 24 hours at room temperature.

    REPEAT - Day four until mixture expands to double its size and smells of yeast. Mixture may start to bubble after a couple of days and then go flat, looking totally dead for a couple of more days. If this happens, at about Day 6, add the 1/4 tsp. vinegar with your daily feeding. This will lower the PH and wake up the yeast, which will then start to grow.

    FINAL - Once the yeast starts growing, starter should be fed equal parts of flour and water in a quantity sufficient to make enough starter for your recipe. Store the starter in the refrigerator when you are not using it. It needs to be fed equal parts of flour and water once a week to keep it alive. Either use or discard at least half of it when feeding - THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT to maintain a healthy starter! If you forget to feed it for a few weeks, it probably will be fine but may take several feedings to get it back up to par.

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  • 1 c sourdough starter
  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c warm water
  • 2 large egg
  • 2 T vegetable oil (I didn't use this)
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda

    Place the sourdough starter in a plastic or glass mixing bowl. Add the flour and water. Stir and leave covered for 8 or more hours. (Remember to feed the starter.) After the mixture has rested, add remaining ingredients, stirring well. Cook pancakes.

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