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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Gifted an Orchard

Ethan is big on doing things according to where your passions are and what you like. This is why we are doing cows/pigs/chickens even though it would have been A LOT easier to do a market garden. If you know Ethan at all, you will know that his tastes for meat and his tastes for veggies are in stark contrast.

I am kind of the opposite. Although I do eat meat, I really don't like eating big chunks of meat. A little is plenty for me. I do really like veggies - which is why I love my garden.

What I really pile on though is the fruit. I LOVE fruit. I could make myself sick off of eating too much fruit. Not only that, but I love to prune - trees, vines, bushes - and with fruit comes plenty of pruning. When I started talking about the fruit that I want to grow I was a little worried that Ethan would want to save the area for pasture, but I was surprised to have him be excited about it too. (If you know Ethan you might also know the only fruit he will eat is store grapes and bananas.)

All this is to say that I have been anxious to get fruit crops going and especially the ones that take awhile to get established. With all of our start up expenses though, I assumed that it was going to have to be something that would require my patience.

Well, this spring I learned that I might not have to be so patient. A very generous friend let us know that in a few weeks we will have 27 fruit trees and 3 flowering trees (for pollination) appearing at our house! Here is what will be coming:
  • 3 pear trees
  • 3 plum trees (2 varieties)
  • 5 cherry trees (4 varieties)
  • 7 peach trees (4 varieties)
  • 9 apple trees (6 varieties)
This is such a blessing, and I am so excited to give these a try! Right now I am doing some research on the best way to plant our variety of trees. I would love any input that you have. Until then, I will dream of fresh fruit and preserves . . .

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Our New Storm Shelter

You know when you are cleaning the house and you have something that really doesn't fit anywhere so it is continuously shuffled around but always in the way?

Well, our storm shelter project has kind of been like that through this whole building process. It is something that is extremely important to have in Iowa. We had lots of options of things to do, various places we thought about putting it (both underground and above ground - inside and outside), and just as big of a range of price options. So we talked about it with contractors and family, kicked ideas around, made decisions and changed our minds, and avoided the final decision as long as possible.

Well, spring is here and with that was coming nightmares of tornadoes and nowhere to take the kids. So it was time to make a decision.

First we decided to not have it in the mudroom - first of all because we didn't want to give up the space and secondly because we wanted it underground.

Next came the decision of what to put underground. There were 3 choices.

Option A - Build one ourselves with my dad's volunteered help. This was very generous of my dad, but with Ethan's schedule we ruled it out since we didn't want to make him build it by himself.

Option B - A 6X8 rectangular precast concrete shelter with a metal door and seats. This one didn't call for a drain or sand underneath, and it was ready to go once installed.

Option C - A 6 foot wide, 6 1/2 foot long cylinder out of precast concrete with no doors and no seats. This one needed to have a PVC drain run and sand underneath. We would have to build 2 doors and get wood for seats. We can also get wood for shelves and it can double as a root cellar. This one installed was two-thirds the price of Option B, even with the sand and drain.

We went with Option C - the cylinder. I affectionately call it our glorified septic tank. It WAS made by a septic tank casting business.

Next was where to put it. To make a long story short, 5 minutes before it was dug in we picked our spot. We chose to put it at the end of the porch instead of behind the house by the mudroom door because of where we want our shed and winter cattle area.

So our storm shelter is in. We were happy to see that it didn't get water - even after getting 3 inches of rain with storms that passed through this weekend. We now have some doors to make and landscaping to do, but I'm glad this decision is done!

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

I've Had Enough, Mr. Bull!

It is spring.

The grass is turning green.

The bull in the cow pen knows the grass is turning green.

The wires on the cow pen are rusty.

The bull has figured out multiple times that the wires on the cow pen are rusty. (Which by the way was put up for cows and not a bull.)

This is not a good combination with the fact that Ethan is also gone a lot with coaching soccer in the spring.

Now I have nothing against activities that get your heart rate up. But rounding up cattle that have broken out of the pen once a week is not my first choice of exercise.

Today Ethan was gone all day with work and an away soccer game. All I'm going to say is that I spent the LAST half of the afternoon/evening rewiring the fence. Instead of 2 rusty wires, each end of the panel is now tied up with 2 rusty wires and 3 new wires.

Hopefully now I can choose my own form of exercise, and hopefully Ethan got my text message and will bring me home mint chocolate chip ice cream after the game.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Jealous Bull?

When our bull gets out, he often heads over to the septic system. (Our fence wasn't made for a bull in mind, but it will be beefed up soon.) This is where the grass is the greenest right now. The septic drains into the valley where two hills meet, which is naturally greener from extra water runoff from the hills. With the extra septic outflow, however, it is really lush.

Tonight while I was tucking the kids in, I went to close their curtain. Their window faces the septic system, and I happened to notice 9 deer feeding there. It must be a popular spot. I just hope that our bull doesn't get too jealous and think he needs to go protect his spot!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Plowing the Garden

Over the fall and winter we had our pigs where we wanted to put our garden. The back half of their pen we left grass, where we would move them in and out during the growing season. Once winter hit, they got full run of the pen. We had hoped to not have them in there so long, but since we didn't get our perimeter fence up they stayed put. Because of this, the garden spot not only got rooted up nicely, but it also got packed back down.

Last night Ethan started getting it ready to be a garden. As you can see, it plowed up quite nicely. It still has to be tilled, and it is errr . . . well . . . quite ripe smelling.

It was suggested to us to just plant things that are off of the ground in this spot this year since it hasn't had a chance to fully compost yet, putting the crops that come in contact with the ground in a different spot. So the crops I'm thinking of planting here are sweet corn, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, and also pumpkins and gourds that won't be eaten. I will also put a nice layer of mulch under the plants that are semi close to the ground to prevent "backsplash". Let me know if you have any thoughts about putting these veggies here and if you have any other suggestions of others.

So, now all we have to do is get the garden tilled, and then I can start planting. I am excited to see how it does.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Birthday Pig

Today Caleb is 5 years old. It's hard to believe he can be that old! Boy does time fly.

For the last few months Caleb has been talking about wanting a pig for his birthday, or should I say his birthday cake. I have had some time to plan it in my head, and although I wasn't able to get to the store last night to get what I wanted for the ears, I think it turned out alright for throwing it together after a soccer game. The most important thing though is that Caleb thought it turned our alright. :)

Somehow the tradition got started that the kids pick out what they want for their birthday cake, and I try to make it. I think Hannah started it when she saw Caleb's farm cake last year and wanted an "Animal Cake" for her last birthday with a pig, chicken and cow.

I don't mind being creative, but I have had my share of battles with birthday cakes. (One of them resulted in me needing to make a whole new cake, but that is a different story and I will blame it on hormones from having a baby a week and half earlier.) Most of these battles are with the frosting. I think I have a frosting that is the right consistency, but then it either is too thick to spread or looks like it is thick enough but ends up running once it is on the cake.

So for this post I am calling out for help on making the perfect frosting. I do like the flavor of mine. I don't have a recipe, but I blend together powdered sugar, milk, shortening/margarine/butter - depending on my mood and the color of frosting I need - vanilla, and a pinch or two of salt. I learned the salt trick from a cake baker. It actually is quite good as it takes away the sugary bite. What I didn't get is the proportions though. So . . . anyone what to share their favorite cake frosting recipe???

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dessert Jars

Thanks for all of the great information on brown sugar. I was surprised so many people use it and glad to hear others like the dark better too.

To keep with the theme of sugar (and because we received a lot of it this past weekend), here's a little post on what I do with all of the candy that the kids get.

Caleb and Hannah each have their own "dessert jar" which is a wide mouth quart jar. Whenever they get candy it goes into their jar. After lunch and supper they get to pick one thing from their dessert jar. It can be quite a hard decision.

The dessert jar has also turned into a tool for discipline issues. I recently pulled out two lids that fit the jars. When someone has a behavior problem during the day the lid goes on their jar. If there is a lid on a jar at dessert time, no dessert comes out of the jar. They do get to take the lid off though and try again for the next meal.

As you can see, our jars are well stocked right now. They each have a lunch sack half full of candy too! Hopefully these jars will help them with eating candy in moderation. When I was growing up I probably would have scarfed it all down within a week - as you might have guessed from my brown sugar post.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Brown Sugar Confession/Question

This week I went to the store and real brown sugar was on sale. Since I usually buy the generic stuff that is made from beets, I decided I better get some. I also noticed that the dark brown sugar was on sale. I have known about it but never tried it since the generic doesn't carry the dark brown. So I got a package of that too out of curiosity and since it is the same price as the golden.When I got home, I decided to see what the difference was. I opened up the package and tried a pinch. It was REALLY good. I am already very familiar with the taste of regular brown sugar, but I decided to check that too just to compare them side by side. :)

My vote was in. The dark brown sugar won the taste test. I have been continuing to confirm my vote too, so much so that I really need to put the package away.

So now a bunch of brown sugar questions have popped up in my mind. I really like the dark brown sugar (when taken straight) better. It is obvious from the shelf supply that the golden brown is more popular though. Do they bake differently? Also, if you use dark brown, what do you use it for? Are there certain recipes where golden brown is better than dark and where dark is better than golden brown?

I would love to be flooded with your knowledge about the differences. Until then, however, I better go put my package in the cupboard before I get a sugar headache . . .

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pretty Preserves

I haven't been canning long, really only one season. (Last year I didn't get much canning done, but the year before that I canned a fair amount.) Even so, I find it is very rewarding. There is a sense of accomplishment when you pull those jars out of the canner - seeing the produce that you grew and knowing that it will be available to enjoy throughout the year.

Because of this, I like to SEE what is in those jars! Here are two different jars of canned tomatoes. They are both in identical Ball jars with the name facing out. The one on the left, however, has quite a bit of lime deposited on the outside of the jar. The jar on the right is shiny and clear.

The difference? About a tablespoon of vinegar in the canning water to help keep mineral deposits from forming on the outside of the jar during the canning process.

I am anxious to plant my garden this year, but I am also excited to do some canning!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sweet Potato Update

This is about week 9 for this year's sweet potato sprouting. I am quite happy with how my potato sprouted this year compared to other years I have tried it. This year I looked for a potato in the store that looked like it already had some sprouts on it. (Sometimes there will be sweet potatoes in that are really smooth - most of these are probably treated to keep them from sprouting.)

Although I don't have a grow light on it this year, which does help speed up the growth of the sprouts, the sprouts are growing quite nicely. Hopefully soon I can pinch off some to root and let the potato continue to produce more sprouts.
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