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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Homemade Planting Pots

Last year Ethan gave me a planting tray with Jiffy pots and some seeds for Valentine's Day. (It was another of those great gifts - He knows I'm a practical kind of girl!) I started my tomatoes with them, and they worked great. I had a few Jiffy pots that I didn't use, so I saved them and the tray.

On the Lehman's website, they have a tool that allows you to make your own planting pots out of newspapers. You can click here to view it. I have heard rumors that you can also do this with a toilet paper roll so I thought I would give it a try.

I searched for a picture tutorial and couldn't find one so here is what I did:

I got an empty toilet paper roll that I had saved and a glue stick. Then I cut a bunch of strips of newspaper to about the size of the toilet paper roll. I also ripped them in half down the center fold of the newspaper to get them a length I thought would work well.
Next, I wadded up some newspaper and filled the toilet paper roll about half way up. I did this to give it some stability and to have something to pack the bottom of the pot with.
I then placed the toilet paper roll half way on to the newspaper strip and started rolling. I spread a little glue on the paper where it would start to overlap to hold the inside edge in place. This isn't necessary, but I found it really helps when you go to fill it with soil.
After that, I continued to roll up the newspaper. As I rolled, I tucked the loose end up inside of the toilet paper tube.
When I was finished rolling, I put another line of glue to secure the end.
Then I pushed the remainder of the newspaper overlap up into the toilet paper tube. I didn't find it necessary to use glue here.
After the newspaper was all rolled up, I set the tube on the floor. With my fingers, I pushed down inside of the tube on the paper I had stuffed inside. This packed down the bottom of the pot.
When this was done, I carefully slipped the planting pot off of the toilet paper tube.

I repeated this process until I had made enough pots. After I had all of the pots I needed, I fit them inside the base of my tray. They fit quite nicely and were snug enough to be stable. I used a plastic spoon to fill them with soil, and then I added the water.

With the original Jiffy pots needing quite a bit of water to puff up, I added more water than I would have needed to to moisten the homemade planting pots. Even with the newspaper quite saturated, they seemed like they would hold together well. We'll see how it goes!

For results of these planting pots, click here.
To see how I changed my seed starting and to view a seed starting timeline I put together, click here.

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Tools of My Trade
Here are a few of the supplies I use for starting my seeds.  They can be found in most home and garden departments or through the affiliate links below.

These planting trays can be purchased with rehydrating planting discs, which is how my tray came when gifted to me.  Instead of disposing of the tray or buying new discs, I made my own planting pots the following year.

Ethan also gifted me two grow lights over the years.  Although I keep my plants near a sunny window, these special grow lights help immensely in preventing my seedlings from becoming spindly as they would otherwise stretch to a more direct light source.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Waiting on the Land Loan

Right now Ethan and I are waiting on the closing date for our land. The date is set for April 11th. The papers have all been signed with the realty company and the seller. Now we are just waiting for the land loan to go through.

I have always thought that when a closing date comes for a loan, you have reached the end of the process. Now when I think about closing dates, I think that things are not ending, but beginning.

When the land loan finally closes, we will be caught up in a whirlwind of things to do.
- Land will have to be taken out of CRP
- We will have to get the construction loan set up and closed to start any improvements to the land.
- We will have to have land released from our land lender to our construction lender to have financing for improvements. (The land lender doesn't consider a pole building loan worthy, but the construction lender doesn't lend for large amounts of land. This is what took HOURS of phone calls - trying to find two lenders that could make this work for us. The only two banks I found that would work for what we want to do have to have some land change hands between the two of them so the land under the building belongs to the right lender. )
- To finalize the construction loan, we will need signed contracts with all of the contractors. (Pole building, septic, water, graders, cement, gravel, etc.)
- We will also have to have a materials list put together for the appraisal of the finishing work that we are going to do to make the pole building a house. (Ummm . . . Yeah . . . I think I will need some help with this one! Menards has a computer program where you can design houses and rooms for remolding or building. I know it prints out plans - I'm hoping it also prints out a materials list.)

And that is just some of what we need to do to even be able to think about building on the property. That doesn't take into account what we will need to do to actually build, or to even consider what we will need to do to get the land going for livestock.

With Ethan working full time AND with him coaching soccer this spring, I have taken on much of the responsibility to keep this thing rolling. I continue to make phone calls, file information and bids, and pray for wisdom far greater than I could ever dig out of anywhere I know to dig.

We are trying to get as much lined up and done as possible as we can before the land closes so we won't have to wait even longer to get going with the building. One of the things that needs to be done is figuring out which section of land to release and have a legal description drawn up for the exchange between the lenders.

We could have paid a surveyor $1800 to do it for us. After some calling around, however, I found out that the courthouse could draw up the legal description for free if we could get the dimensions. So yesterday we went out to the land with a tape measure and started measuring from the road. We will repeat this a few more times to make sure the numbers match up, and then off to the courthouse we will go.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sweet Potatoes :: Week 3

Here is a picture of one of my sweet potatoes. You should be able to see at least two of the little purple sprouts that are starting to break through.

The roots have also continued to grow. I didn't get a picture of them this week since I didn't want to chance breaking any off.

Here are the growing conditions for mine:
- Water is kept at a constant level and was changed a few times this week.
- House temp stays at a steady 66 degrees. (Warmer would probably help out.)
- By a window that gets only filtered sunlight. (The best I can do in my house.)

I would love to hear how your's are doing. Last week I checked out Sea 2 Shore's update on her blog. Wow! Hers really took off.

Here's a bit of a sneak peak of what will happen with those purple sprouts. This picture is from a sweet potato that was started a few weeks earlier than the others.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Nothing Like a Friend!

This year I have been taking Caleb (4) and Hannah (2) to an activity day that meets twice a month. This is the first year I have done this, and we have met so many neat families! I have also had a chance to meet a number of moms in our community, and they are quickly becoming great friends.

All of these other moms are also stay at home moms, and boy do I have a lot to learn from them! I think every time we get together I learn something new.

Because of this, I sent out a cry of help among them. For Christmas this year, I received a KitchenAid mixer and a grain mill (both recommended by friends from this group). After I got my wheat berries, ran them through the mill, and made my first loaf of freshly ground wheat bread, I discovered that my bread was not nearly as good as theirs.

I tried and tried all kinds of different methods that I found on the You Tube and the internet, but it seemed like the harder I tried, the worse my bread got. So out came my cry for help, and to the rescue came my friend, Jennifer - on the left. (Check out her blog - she is great and cracks me up!)

In the middle of her busy schedule, she invited me over to her house to make some bread. I had a blast, and I learned a ton! She has the same mixer and grinder that I have, so she walked me through from start to finish. She showed me all of her tricks - things that I never would have figured out on my own or learned from the internet - things I had to see with my eyes and work with my hands. And then she sent me home with a beautiful loaf of bread and even a pan of hot cinnamon rolls (which she also showed me how to do!).

Ethan and I were in the middle of our our land buying process at this time, so I wasn't able to try bread at home right away. I did take notes though to help recall everything. When I finally got around to making my bread at home, it turned out beautiful!! I couldn't believe it. Neither could Ethan. He kept eating slice after slice saying, "This is amazing!" Hmmm . . . I guess my original bread was in need of some improvement!

So after much time on the internet, too many You Tube viewings of random people making bread, and countless loaves of confusion, I am now able to make a loaf of bread that "wows" my husband, thanks to Jennifer's help. This just goes to show, there is nothing like a good friend!

(I have both Red Winter wheat berries - which the bread shown was made from - and Prairie Gold wheat berries. I really like the taste of the Red Winter wheat, but it doesn't rise up quite as high as the Prairie Gold wheat - although it does now much better after my lesson! From my understanding, the Red Winter wheat is a bit harder than the others, but also has more nutrients. I'd like to try a combination of the two. Does anyone have anyone have any thoughts on varieties of wheat berries?)  
Tools of My Trade
My Nutrimill will grind grains extra fine to course. It's main use is for grinding wheat berries to make wheat bread. Freshly ground wheat is so much more nutritious than the wheat flour that has sat on the shelves. It is also more economical to grind it yourself, minus the cost of the wheat grinder. (I put my wheat grinder on my Christmas/January birthday list and asked gift givers to go together on it.) In addition to grinding wheat though, it can also grind quite a variety of other grains including beans and corn. You can even make your own cornmeal (they say popcorn works best!). See here for more information about grinding wheat at homeYou might be able to find a nice used one on e-bay, or you can purchase one new as in the link below.

My kitchenAid mixer was another jointly given Christmas/birthday gift.  It's most common use is for making bread, 3 loaves at a time.  The dough is worked entirely by the mixer with the dough hook, including the 10 minutes of kneading time.  The only hand work is dumping in ingredients and then forming the dough to fill my loaf pans.  I also use my Kitchen aid for mixing cakes, cookies, quick breads, for whipping . . . well, just about for all of my mixing! These can be found used on Ebay or you can purchase one new as in the link below.  I would strongly recommend getting the 5 qt, 325-watt mixer.  I have had friends get the smaller one and have been disappointed with the volume/motor capabilities.

When I started making bread, I just used basic loaf pans. After seeing how beautiful my friends bread baked up in 8 inch Norpro pans, I decided to put a set of 3 on my Christmas list. Not long after using them, I realized that I would really appreciate having 6 of them so that when one batch of bread is baking in the oven, I can get my second batch prepared, raised, and ready to go right into the oven too, without waiting for the previous bread and bread pans to cool. I like to make as many loaves as possible at once to cut down on the number of days of bread making kitchen mess. I received my second set of 3 pans the following Christmas, and when I make bread, I make bread! (I freeze the extra loaves so they are ready to go.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Milk Jugs

I can't believe I almost forgot!

It's time to start saving those empty milk jugs. Rinse them out well, cut off the bottom, and stash them away. They are a great little greenhouse for helping new plants get started in the garden. They keep the moisture around the plants and help the plants harden up a bit to the changes of being outside.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sweet Potatoes :: Week 2

If you started your sweet potatoes last week, you might be wondering if things are working. The water probably is starting to look a little gross, and it has probably evaporated a bit. Other than that, you might not see a whole lot of changes.

Don't throw them out though!

Take a closer look at the bottom of mine. Do you see? Not the that they are wet, but something else . . .

Here's another picture closer up. Now do you see? Yup. That little white hair. They are starting to shoot out their roots.

If you don't see any on yours yet, give them a bit more time. I wouldn't regularly pull them out though. You don't want to break those little guys off.

For this week, all that I will do is gently drain some of that gross water and refill it to the line with fresh water.

Click this link to see week 1.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Our Newest Addition

On Monday, we had our third calf born for the year. We previously welcomed a little bull calf and a little heifer calf, both black.

This time we got a dun heifer. She's a cutie. Caleb and Hannah helped decide on the final name for her, which is Tabitha.

Earlier in the week we went to Ethan's dad's to go check her out and get some pictures. It will be nice when we are able to just walk out our own door and find a new calf in the pasture!

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Future Possiblities for our House Plan

In my last post, I talked a bit about one of our options for a house on the property. I mentioned that we decided that we were going to try to purchase land over housing, with the plan of upgrading our housing in the future.

Our main goal is to be able to build a traditional stick house down the road. If we do that, there are many things that we could do with this building in conjunction with the farm.

Here is a picture again of what we are looking to do for our house for the time being. We think that this design is one that allows us to have a lot of options for the future.

One of these ideas is to make this building into our farm office and farm store where customers could come and purchase our products. Depending on what we would be selling, we could add displays, shelves, refrigerators, or freezers. Another idea, that could fit right along with the first, is to put in a certified kitchen where we could make value added products from what we grow and raise on the farm.

As I mentioned in the post below, we planned all of our plumbing to be on one side for budget reasons but also for future plans. On the left side of the building is a storage area, and with the plumbing all being on the opposite side, we can knock down walls to reclaim some of the building into more of a barn. We can still do any of the above ideas with this plan too.

Another idea that we have tossed around, that might work better when the kids are grown a bit, is having our farm be available for agri-tourism. This building could then be used as a sort of bed and breakfast for those who want to get out and experience life on the farm.

And finally, we can also just live in this building forever. If we need more bedrooms, we can rearrange furniture and put a bed and dresser in room that is designed as the office. We could also tear out the office walls, finish off the storage area, throw in two doors, and have two more nice size rooms. There's always the ability to add on to a building like this too.

So those are some ideas for the future with a building plan like this. It is affordable to build (especially if we do the finish work on the inside), and it leaves us with quite a few options. We haven't set this plan in stone yet, but as of now, this is our top choice.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Our House Plans

Ethan and I have spent a lot of time talking about what we will do for housing on the property we are purchasing - assuming all goes according to plan.

We decided that it is easier to get land and then build a nice house later on, rather than getting a nice house and then getting land later on to go with it! Because of this, we are looking at building a pole building and finishing it off into a house, with the intentions of building a stick house sometime down the road.

We found a kit from Menards for a pole building that caught our eye. Although we probably will not get it from Menards, this is kind of what we are looking at for the exterior.

I found a free program online that allowed me to design the inside to scale, as well as add furniture according to the size and colors we have. It was a lot of fun!

For the inside, we will finish off the majority of the building, but we will be leaving some unfinished for storage on the left side of building. It will be accessible from the outside.

On the right side of the building will be a mudroom with a storm cellar underneath. Very important when you live in Iowa!

As you walk into the house, you will immediately come to the bathroom with an attached laundry room. With farm chores being done, this is something I wanted to keep mud (and other stuff) from being tracked through the house!

You will also see the mater bedroom and kids' room on the back of the house.

If you are a guest of ours, you don't have to use the mudroom to enter. We would have a front entrance that would welcome you into the dining room/ kitchen and living room. If you notice, the kitchen has very few cabinets. This is on purpose since cabinets can really eat away at a budget! Instead, we will have our sideboard and then a large pantry (in the hall on the wall behind the kitchen) to store all of that extra kitchen stuff.

The last room is a small office that will serve for business purposes and an extra nap room for afternoon naps. I'm a big on getting young kids a GOOD afternoon nap!! :)

A few other things that might be of interest: We will be heating with wood. The wood stove will be on a half wall in the middle of the house. This will allow the heat to radiate though the house. We will have some baseboard heaters as backup heat for when we are gone or for times where we can't get wood in the stove, and we will use window air for those really hot days. Our house will be an all electric house, which will get us a discount from the electric company. Also, all of the plumbing will be on one side of the building for budget reasons, as well as for future plans for the building.

Check back for my next post, and I'll write a bit about what we might do in the future with this building if these are the plans we go with.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Our Big Secret

Since the end of January, our family has been working on something pretty big. I mentioned it a few times, asking for prayers for wisdom if we came to mind. Well, Ethan decided it is time to let the cat out of the bag. You can click on this link to his site to see the news.

Sweet Potatoes :: Week 1

Last night I started my sweet potatoes.

Being in southern Iowa, it is really a week before I need to start them, but I thought I would go ahead anyway for those of you who are even further south than I am. Don't worry if you think you are starting them too late if you are, because they will still work out. You just might need to baby them a bit more (water more) when they go out to the garden.

If you are further north, you can start them in a week or two, but if you start them now, it is really no big deal either. They might just have more roots tangled together when it is time to move them to the garden, so you will have to be a bit more careful when separating them.
Sorry if none of that makes since . . . it will when you get there.
So, assuming that you have your sweet potatoes, you can get started.

The first thing you will have to do is examine the ends to see which end goes in the water and which end will stay above the water to sprout. I think of it kind of like a carrot. If you look closely, one end will look like it almost had a stem cut off, and the other will look like the pointed end of tap root. Some of the sweet potatoes will be very obvious as to which end is which. Some of them might cause you to stare awhile and wonder. If you do get the wrong end, it's not the end of the world. You can just flip it over - it will just be a tad bit behind the others.

Here is a picture of the top side of the sweet potato. It looks like it had a stem broken off.

Here is a picture of the bottom side of the sweet potato. It looks similar to the top side since the point is starting to shrivel, but if you saw it in person you could see a bigger difference.

Here is a picture of my four sweet potatoes all lined up after being examined, according to their ends. (Next year I might do more, but four is what I decided to go with this year. In all honesty, I have two others that I started three weeks ago because they were starting to go mushy before I could bake them.)

Okay, so once you have your ends identified you can get them into water. You will need a container that will allow you to have the water level to about half the height of the sweet potatoes. The possibilities for containers are endless. I chose to cut a milk jug in half, mainly because I could throw it away when I am done. (The water gets a bit dirty in the process.)
If I would have had more sweet potatoes to start, I could have just stuffed them in so they would hold each other up.

I only have four though, so I am going to use toothpicks to stabilize them. All I did was put the sweet potatoes in the jug with the pointed ends down - you can have them touching the bottom - and join them together with toothpicks. I also stuck some toothpicks around the outside to rest on the jug. They don't wiggle much, so I know they won't fall into the water now. (Some people like to put them into mason jars, but I didn't want to clean my jars when I was done or monitor that many water levels.)

Next, I filled the container with water so about half of the sweet potato was under water. I also drew a water line on my container. It isn't necessary to keep the water level that precisely measured, but it is easy for me to glance at and be reminded that I need to add some water.
I also wrote the date I started them on the container. This will help me know if I need to adjust my starting time for next year. I will probably record it in a garden notebook for the year when I get one . . .

After all of this, I set my sweet potatoes on top of my dryer. They are by a window there, and it is a place that I frequent often so I can keep an eye on their progress.

So there you go. Week 1 of the 2008 sweet potatoes. You really won't have to do much after this week besides watch and wonder. (And maybe add some water if needed.)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Save Your Sourdough

If you have had a chance to make a sourdough starter, and it was successful, here is something you can do to safeguard your efforts in case your starter goes bad. It is also away to preserve your starter if you will be gone on vacation or don't plan on using it for awhile.

Take a piece of wax paper (or a rinsed out cereal bag), and paint your starter on it with a kitchen brush. The starter should have been fed no later than a day before. If you proof a starter - without using any ingredients besides water and flour, you can also just leave the bowl out to dry without washing it. Allow this to set out until it is completely dry.

When it is dry, the sourdough starter you left out will be flaky. Take these flakes, put them into a zip lock bag or a clean jar, and then store it in a dry place or put it into your freezer. You will probably want to store a cup or so of flakes just in case.

To start a new batch of sourdough from your flakes, put about a tablespoon of flakes into a medium, non reactive bowl. Mix your flakes with lukewarm water (about a tablespoon) to form a paste. Slowly mix the paste with one cup of lukewarm water. When this is smooth, add about 1 1/4 cups of flour.

Cover the bowl and allow it to sit overnight on the counter or a in a warm place.

The following day there should be bubbles covering the surface and it should have expanded a bit. If it looks a bit slow, give it one more day. If all went well, your starter should be up and running quickly, and you can feed it accordingly to get the amount you want.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Our New Bull

Last week Ethan, my husband, took off for a two day marathon to pick up our new bull.

We have been trying to get Hershey to our herd since December. Since then, the trailer we were going to use broke, the trailer we found to buy got sold the day before we went to get it (it had been for sale since summer), and after my aunt and uncle graciously let us borrow their trailer, snow and ice storms prevented us from traveling .

We were going to take 3 days and make a mini family vacation out of the trip - we haven't had a vacation in 3 years. With the weather and number of schedules to coordinate though, we decided that Ethan better just go and get this bull at the first available chance, or who knows when we would get him!

Here's the estimated times of his trip:
Saturday: Drive a 9 hour round trip to pick up cows and drop off at his dads (cows to be delivered to Southern Missouri)

11 am - Leave from Des Moines
1 pm - arrive at his dad's to pick up cows to be delivered
9 pm - drop off cows and visit
11 pm - find a WalMart to park truck and sleep

3 am - move from WalMart to a roadside stop (work trucks came in)
6 am - wake up and find a place for breakfast
9 am - arrive to pick up bull and chat a bit
11 am - arrive at vet for over the boarder vet check papers
6 pm - arrive at his dad's to drop off the animals . . .yes, I said the animals. Ethan ended up with two hitchhikers - a cow and heifer. He figured that since he was spending the gas to get Hershey, bring these two back might would help spread out the traveling expenses. They will stay at the farm for a bit, and then will probably get sold. (We had discussed this possibility already.)
9 pm - Ethan arrived home safely.

The only other stops not mentioned in this whirlwind trip were 4 stops for gas. All other meals were eaten on the run from food that I packed for him.

On Friday our family went to go check out the new bull together. Although I'm pretty uncomfortable with myself or my husband hanging out in a bull pen, especially with a bull that has horns, I do have to admit that Hershey calms my fears a bit. The Van Beevers from Five Ponds Farm, really worked with him well and brought out the good natured personality that Dexters are valued for. Hershey is almost like a dog. He enjoys being scratched under his chin and down his neck, and even enjoys a good brushing. Although I will always want to be cautious with animals who can be unpredictable, I'm thankful for the great demeanor that Hershey has.

To end this whole fiasco, we took a trip Saturday to return the trailer to my relatives, who we owe a huge thanks!!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

It's Time to Start Sweet Potatoes!

Well, almost.

I thought I would give you a fair warning though so you could get to the store to pick up your starters in case you don't have any laying around. If you are looking to just experiment with them this year, one or two should do. If you are wanting a bumper crop though, you might want a bit more.

I plan on posting step by step instructions for sprouting, starting, and growing your own sweet potatoes. I gave them a try myself for the first year last year so I don't consider myself an expert, but I do have an older farmer who is an expert that is guiding me through the process again. I will share his information with you, and I would love any tips or advice you might have to share with me!

I am estimating that I will officially start them in the next week or two so if you are interested in joining me, pick some up at your local grocery store.

Here we go!!

(I decided to edit this post to add a brief picture of what this process will look like, just in case you want to know what you are getting into. The sweet potatoes that you buy at the store will be sprouted by positioning them in water properly. The sprouts will form vines which will eventually be broken off to root in water. The rooted vines will be what gets planted in the garden. Hope that helps!)

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