Blowing the Dust Off

I can’t believe over 2 years has passed since I last peeked into this little blog of mine.  Feels like it’s only been a few months at most!  I would love to say it’s because I have been soooo busy with really important things but the truth is that I just kind of let it go.  Not that we don’t have things going on.  We do.  But this is one of those things that didn’t take an important part in my day to day.  It was always in the back of my mind (like, oh, that would make a great post on my blog… I need to get pictures!) but I pushed it away and focused on other things.  Besides, I always felt a twinge of anxiety and a bundle of nerves every time I posted.  Sometimes people actually read  this thing.  Egads!!!  I am so not an extrovert and I get some serious panic attacks when I push myself past my teensy little comfort zone.  But, at the prodding of an unnamed source, I am back.  Let’s do this.

What, you ask, have we been up to these past days?

Well, we moved.  AGAIN.  Yes, I know.  I think we may be chronic movers.  Instead of cleaning the house or making repairs it’s much easier to move somewhere new and have a fresh start!  But seriously, we were wanting to make permanent roots and have a place all our own.  So last year in April we bought a house on 6 acres with lots of trees and a creek and a barn.  And lots and lots of work.  Why didn’t someone tell me that eventually all these trees lose their leaves and need to be raked up?

IMG_20171030_112828015

And to boot, now there are only 3 of us to do the raking.  Nik has flown the coop!  Yep, I am on the verge of facing the dreaded empty nest syndrome.  I have been assured that my youngest will be around for the next year or so while she finishes up her last year of high school and decides where she wants to go from here.  But it is coming.  Oh yes, that day will be here before we know it.  Nik is now living and working in Arizona.  He always said that he wanted to go out west and sure enough he did!  High fives all around!

Our story will now focus on the trials and tribulations of life on our little farm (ducks, geese, and one hunky turkey left, oh and don’t forget the bees!) and follow updates to the house as we plan our next 3 year move.  Come on, I told you we had chronic movers syndrome!  And I will still have recipes, crafts, and who knows what else.  All I know is that I need to focus on something because I am slowly becoming less needed by my kids (they’re not so little anymore) and I have more time on my hands.  I’ve got to do something to keep myself out of trouble!

 

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Country Craziness

Geez!  I just don’t even know where to start.  I suppose if I had been keeping up with this whole blogging thing the whole time that I wouldn’t have this problem!  But, this is me we’re talking about.    So….

I guess the biggest thing is that we are preparing to move.  Not far, actually the next driveway over.  Life is funny the way things work out.  Our landlords finally decided to move back home and we were doing a mad search for another farm so that we wouldn’t lose our animals and this lifestyle that we have grown quite attached to.  Our wonderful neighbors offered us their house that just happens to sit on 200 acres with all kinds of outbuildings and barns with water and electricity for our animals.

Barn and chicken coop on farm

Yes, angels are real.  I won’t get all mushy with details and such but they are truly awesome people that we are blessed to be able to call our friends.  The farm hasn’t had animals on it for around 10 years so there is some serious work to do – all new fencing for the pastures, leaky roofs, stalls, nesting boxes, animal-proofing, yada, yada, yada.  Not to mention the packing, downsizing (the house is half of what we have now so bye-bye shoe collection), and cleaning.  Yikes, the cleaning!  I always thought my house was fairly clean until I started packing things away and uncovered dust bunnies and cobwebs.

To top that off, Nik is away on a farm down in Texas.  A sort of working vacation if you will.  He’s gone for 2 months learning all about animal care and plants from the former personal botanist of Lady Bird Johnson.  Lucky boy, I know.  He’s having all kinds of exciting adventures and making great contacts that he can use in the future.  If you thought he could talk your ear off about seeds and farming before, ya better watch out!  It was really stressful sending him off on a plane by himself halfway across the country.  I keep forgetting that he’s almost 18 and no longer a child.  This summer away is a good step towards him becoming an adult though.

In the midst of getting ready to move we had our first baby goats born!  Thor was born on June 2nd and Athena gave birth to twins 2 days ago.  They are Atlas and Ares.  All males.  Way too much testosterone if you ask me.  But they’re too cute for words.  And thank God for Google.  Why don’t any of the goat books tell you that baby goat poop is going to be a thick yellow pudding for the first week?  I had no clue what-so-ever.

Tennessee Meat goat buckling

Tennessee Meat goat buckling twins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thankfully and regretfully (oxymorons?) we didn’t plant a garden this year.  We weren’t sure when we would be moving and didn’t spend time planting something that we wouldn’t be able to use and enjoy.  So we have a huge wild area that has all kinds of volunteers.

Overgrown garden with volunteers and herbs

And a bunch of beautiful poppies (thank you Nik!).

Poppies in the garden

If you search you’ll be able to find radishes and kale, dill,  lots (seriously LOTS) of chamomile, and a few squash plants.  I even think I’ll be able to see the sunflowers come up before we leave.

Ellie May loves the all-you-can-eat salad buffet that used to be the garden.  Oops.  I don’t think I’ve introduced you yet.  Ellie is our mini potbelly pig.  The one that was guaranteed not to go over 30 pounds.  Dirty breeders.  Or shame on me for not buying one elsewhere.  Anyway, she’s ours and she now weighs a mini 60 pounds.  The vet told me to restrict her food and she wouldn’t grow as large.  I no longer go to that vet.  Ellie also loves to clean up after our guinea keets.  She goes around the brooder and “cleans up” all the food bits that they kick out.

Potbelly pig with guinea keets

We bought a bunch of guineas to help with the ticks around the property.  We used to have 6 but ended up getting rid of them because they attacked our chickens.  Now with a larger property and no more red chickens, hopefully the problems will be over.  We also heard they do better in larger groups.  We have 15.  Keeping our fingers crossed!

DIY: Making Wool Dryer Balls

This is one of those projects that has been on my “must/want to make” list for some time now.  So during our latest winter blast, I stayed in and played.  I don’t know why I didn’t get around to these sooner, they really took no time at all to make and so far I’m loving them!

What are wool dryer balls?

Wool dryer balls are made from 100% wool and can be made in any size you want.  They go into the dryer with your wet clothes and help to separate and fluff them so that it shortens the amount of time you have your dryer running.  They also help to get rid of wrinkles and static.  And if you use some essential oil, make your laundry smell good without any use of chemicals.

Shorter dry time, no wrinkles or static, and pretty smelling.  Yay!  With wool balls you can use and reuse again and again!!!  Saving you money.  Yep, that brings a smile to my face.  A penny saved is a penny earned… I’m earning some serious pennies with this one!

How to make your own dryer balls…

The first thing you need is 100% wool yarn.  It can’t have any cotton or acrylic or anything else in the yarn.  And it can’t be pre-shrunk.  The wool has to be able to felt.  I wanted to be able to make quite a few balls and didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on the yarn.  So… I got really cheap (or thrifty) and bought some wool sweaters at a garage sale for a quarter a piece.  Then I bought a couple of skeins of yarn at the fabric store.  You’ll also need some old pantyhose and a crochet hook.  Don’t worry, you don’t need to actually know how to crochet (whew!) you just need it to pull the final piece of yarn through.

Wool Dryer Ball Supplies

Since you wanted to save money on yarn and are using a junk sweater, you need to cut the sweater into strips.

Wool Sweater Strips for Dryer Balls

Then you take two strips of your wool sweater and knot them together to form the base of your ball.

Knotted Wool Sweater Strips for Dryer Balls

Now you can take and wrap more of your sweater strips around and around until you get it to about the size you want.

Medium Wool Dryer Ball

Once you have a decent size ball, take your yarn and wrap it around the sweater strips.  This holds all the sweater strips in place and makes your balls pretty.

Start of Wool Dryer Ball

When your ball is the desired size, cut your yarn, take your crochet hook, and weave the yarn into the ball.  I made my balls the size of a large orange.  The bigger, the better.  Or so I hear.  The larger the balls, the more they bounce around and separate the clothes.  Just felt I had to clarify that a bit for those of you who have wandering minds.

Large Wool Dryer Ball

Now, I’m not sure this next step is necessary, but I thought it might help since I have a front-loading washing machine and wanted to make sure my balls got adequately soaked and shrunken.  So I filled my sink with really hot water and a bit of hand soap and soaked and swished my balls for a little while.  Okay, so I really just let them soak while I went about and made lunch.

Soaking Wool Dryer Balls

Before you pop them into your washing machine you want to enclose them in the pantyhose so that they don’t unravel and create a really big mess.  I suppose you could do this before you soak your balls in the sink too.  I did have one that I made earlier and never got around to finishing floating in the sink.  Doesn’t matter as long as you do it before they go into the washing machine.

Place a ball in the stocking, tie a knot in the stocking, put another ball in, tie another knot and so on.  You won’t be able to reuse the pantyhose once the balls are felted.  The pantyhose get kind of hairy.  Not a pleasant feeling.  So buy really cheap ones or use some old ones that you’ve had hidden in your drawer for 10 years.  I don’t wear pantyhose too often to go out and feed the animals here on the farm.  Although it might be kind of entertaining to the neighbors!

Wool Dryer Ball Worm

Now you are ready to throw your wool ball worm into the washing machine.  Wash in high heat with cold rinse.  Then pop them into the dryer and dry on high heat.  Now might be a good time to wash your sheets and pillowcases.  Just an idea.

Take them out of the dryer and run your fingernail over the stocking/ball and see if the yarn threads have “felted” together.  You may want to put it through the wash/dry cycle one more time to be sure.

Your finished balls will look similar to this.  You can make them in any colors you like.

Close-up of Wool Dryer Ball

I made 7 of them using one and a half skeins of yarn.  The sweater insides really helped to save money on the yarn.  I put mine in a basket on top of the dryer with a bottle of lavender essential oil.  Place a few drops on the balls before popping them in the dryer and you have a healthy alternative to the chemical-laden dryer sheets sold in stores.  Much prettier and reusable too.  Be sure to use essential oil, not fragrance oil.  Fragrance oil will leave greasy spots on your clothes.  Pure essential oil will not.

Basket of Wool Dryer Balls

Now that I’ve had fun telling you all about my balls (tee hee), go out and try to make some of your own and let me know how much you love them!  Hmm, how do you use dryer balls when you hang your laundry on the line during the summer?  I’ll have to ponder that one!

If you don’t feel like making them, you can always buy some online at Etsy or Amazon .

 

Pickle Canning Day

Nik has been in charge of the garden this year.  The whole kit and caboodle.  All the tilling, planting, weeding, and harvesting.  I think I helped him weed once.  His main focus was on beans and peas and saving seeds.  So I didn’t expect much if anything to have for canning and putting up.

One morning Nik brought me in a small basket of cucumbers.  Too many to eat, too few to can.  I figured we could make quick refrigerator pickles.  Two, maybe three jars tops.  I took my time cleaning up the kitchen and piddling around for a while.  I suggested that he go out and make sure there were no more cucumbers because I only wanted to do this once.  So out he went with a basket.  Next thing I know he’s coming to the door with a full basket and tells me to empty it because he’s going to need it again.  And again, and again.  His grin got bigger and bigger with each basket he brought up.  I swear he was basking in my misery!  I didn’t plan on spending the day doing a full blown canning session!  His giddiness was disturbing.

We ended up with a giant pile of cucumbers for pickling.

Pile of pickles

So much for 2 or 3 jars and quick refrigerator pickles.  But I wasn’t about to waste them.  I gathered my handy dandy Ball Blue Book Preserving Guide and my trusty Bread and Butter Pickle recipe and got busy.

I gathered supplies for dill pickle spears first.

Pickling Supplies

I didn’t have any pickling spice so I mixed up some of my own.  You can get the recipe here.

Homemade Pickling Spice

I had quite a bit left over so I put it in a jelly-sized canning jar for later use.  Or maybe I’ll use it on the woodstove this winter, it’s woodsy and aromatic.  Sure hope it tastes as good as it smells.  I’ll have to let you know on that one.  I’d sure be really disappointed to find out I spent all this time on dill pickles to have them turn out grubby.  Not going to think about it.  I love pickles, they couldn’t be that bad!

Once the pickling spice was made I sliced the washed cucumbers up into spears.  I used all the larger-sized cukes for this.

Dill Pickle Spears

I combined 4 cups of sugar, 4 Tbsp salt, and 12 cups of vinegar in a large pot.  I tied my spices in cheesecloth and added it to the mixture.  I brought it to a boil and then let it simmer for 15 minutes.

Place the spears in a quart-sized canning jar, fill with hot vinegar mixture, add a fresh (or dried) dill head, and leave 1/4” headspace.  Remove air bubbles, wipe around the rim, add lids, and Walaa!!!  You are now ready to process for 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

Dill Pickle Spears in canning jar

I made 14 quarts of dill pickle spears.  With that done, I was ready to move onto the Bread & Butter slicesHalf way there.

I cut my smaller cucumbers into thick slices.  Then I added some thinly sliced onions,1/3 cup of pickling salt, and a few sliced garlic cloves to a large glass bowl.  Mix it all together and let it chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

Bread & Butter Pickle Slices

Drain well.  In a large Dutch oven, combine 4 cups of sugar, 4 cups of apple cider vinegar, 2 Tbsp of mustard seed, 1 1/2 tsp turmeric, and 1 1/2 tsp celery seed.  Add your onions and cucumber slices and bring to a boil.  Pack into quart-size canning jars, leaving 1/2” headspace, remove air bubbles, wipe your rim, add lids, and process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

WHEW!!!!!

By dinnertime I had 30 quarts of homemade pickles.

Finished Jars of Homemade Pickles

Not too bad for one days work.  I figure we have enough pickles to last us a good year, maybe more.  If things get really bad, we always have something to eat.  What’s for breakfast?  Pickles with a rice cake.  What’s for lunch?  Duck and pickles.  Dinner?  Duck and pickles with beans.  Snack?  Leftovers.  Yep, we’re good to go.  Oh – to mix it up I still have some beets from last year!  Woohoo!!!

I almost forgot – thank you Nik for our bounty of pickles!  Couldn’t (and wouldn’t with the price of cucumbers) have made them without you!

Flat Tires and Farm Conferences

Okay.  I know, I know.  It’s been a while and I haven’t been writing like I said I would.  I’ve got a bunch of great excuses (at least to me they’re great) but that’s all they are…  excuses.

If something is truly important to you, you don’t put it last on your list and let everything that comes up get in your way.  It’s called priorities.  And obviously mine are a little skewed.  I’ve always been this way though (yet another excuse).  The house would have to be cleaned, laundry done, bills in order, yada, yada, yada before I’d consider “me” time.  Not today.  Go play little dust bunnies, I have better things to do!

We’ve had a few vehicle fiascos lately.  Luckily at least one truck was running while the other was down.  I think we had a truck down for at least  a week or two.  Stupid sensors go out and your truck quits running.  You have to pay for a computer to tell you what’s wrong.  Gone are the days when you could fix the truck yourself.  Not that I personally ever worked on a truck, but you get my point.  Todd could fix all our old vehicles, but these newer models you need a college education to repair them.  Or that handy dandy computer.  Front ends start shaking and tie-rods and struts need replaced.  Exhausts are due to be replaced.  Does it ever end?  I love the fact that at least one of our trucks is paid off, but it’s starting to get a little old and needing some TLC.  Then one night you are shopping and go out to see your truck leaning heavily to one side.

Flat rear tireFlat front tire     

You have not one, but two flat tires!!!  Not to mention a trunk load full of groceries.  But on the bright side, it was during that polar vortex so the temps were in the negatives.  No chance of thawed ice cream!  So almost a month after we replaced all the tires, we had to replace two of them again.  Argh.

On a brighter note, we attended the OEFFA conference in Granville this year.  Lots of different classes to choose from, lots of networking opportunities, and all kinds of farm stuff. 

OEFFA entry

I was the lucky one who got to attend all the “business” side of stuff workshops.  Agricultural easements, diversification and success of your farm business, marketing your farm, and federal farming programs.  I learned a few things that may help us out.  Nik hung out with me on the second day and attended the federal farming program with me.  It was hosted by Kathleen Merrigan who served as U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture from 2009 to 2013.  She was named as one of Time magazines “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2010.  While we were in the class, there was a heckler!  At a farming convention, really?  But it made for a little bit of excitement and we both got a laugh out of it.

USDA conference 

Nik was in charge of attending the workshops focused on food production.  He said that he pretty much knew all that the instructors had covered so he figured he’d take my classes with me because that was stuff he didn’t know!  This kid knows his seeds and plants.  Ask him a question, I dare you.  That’s why we’re leaving him in charge of the garden.  It’s in good hands.  But we still have to help with weeding and harvesting.  Although we have to be careful because he’s got it all planned out so that he can save seeds to exchange with other seed savers, preserve some heirlooms, and to create his own seed lines.  Guess that could be a whole story on its own!

Todd and Lexie attended the “fun” classes about heritage poultry and a sustainable flock.  Okay, maybe it was serious business, but anytime you’re dealing with animals, it’s fun!

Todd and Lexie at OEFFA

And of course one of the best things about conventions is the exhibit hall!  All kinds of information, farming books (yes, I’m a non-fiction/documentary geek), t-shirts, tools, food samples, livestock products, and seeds.  You know where Nik was.  Hanging out at the seed booth.  Those ladies were ecstatic to see him coming.  I think he almost bought them out!

OEFFA Exhibition Building

Lexie got to meet Jim Adkins, who started the Sustainable Poultry Network and knows Dave Holderread of Holderread Waterfowl Conservation and Preservation Center in Oregon.  Dave is her hero and she wants to raise poultry like he does when she is out on her own.  But since meeting Jim, she says she’d be good going around and talking to people about preserving the heritage breeds of poultry and being a poultry judge too.  She’s going to be a busy girl! 

Both of my kids are pursuing their dreams.  Makes a momma proud!!!  I guess we are really lucky because all of our dreams seem to tie together.  Which is wonderful for our little family farm!♥♥♥

Little House on the Prairie Days

Brrrr!  Mother Nature is MAD!

This has had to have been some of the craziest weather that we’ve had in a long, long time.  According to the National Weather Service, we haven’t had temperatures this cold in over a century.  Ugh.  I am not a cold weather person.  Which I find hilarious because up until we moved here, we were looking at moving to Michigan or South Dakota!  Not quite sure what I was thinking.  Oh, I remember.  That was right after summer when I swore I couldn’t handle the heat anymore.  Some day I’ll look back at all this and laugh.  But not until spring arrives, at the earliest.

Bundled UP for cold weather

 

 

 

It’s difficult to laugh when you’re wearing numerous layers of clothing.  Two pairs of socks, jeans, Carhart bibs (padded), sweater, another sweater, heavy jacket, FOUR hats, giant scarf, and two pairs of gloves.  And I’m still chilly.  Those ducks better appreciate this!

 

 

 

The other night we had an unusual weather phenomenon occur.  Frigid temps rose to about 40 degrees.  Then around 3 in the morning, the wind blew like crazy, rain came, and temps dropped to 20 degrees within minutes.  I thought for sure we were in Kansas.  In the morning, the fields were littered with these:

Snow Rollers

Snow Rollers!

It looked like giants were out bowling all night with snowballs!  I guess these only happen during certain conditions – kind of like the perfect snow ball storm.

The next day brought us more winter surprises.  NOT the good kind.  I crawled out of bed around 5 a.m. to a freezing house.  The furnace went out!  Luckily we have a wood burner that we use as our main heat source.  Love, love, love that thing!

We started about our day as usual.  Suddenly, everything went dark.  NO POWER!!!!  After a brief moment of panic I became quite excited.  No balancing the checkbook, no washing the dishes, no laundry, no vacuuming, no computer work.  Just quiet.  I could sit on the couch wrapped in a toasty blanket and read.  ALL DAY LONG!  I was ecstatic!!!

Thinking ahead, I put on a big pot of beans.  I would use the wood stove just like they did in the old times!  I filled my pan with beans, chopped some onions and garlic, and added enough water to cover all the beans and then some.  At least we’d have a warm dinner.

Dried beans cooking on wood stove

 

Aaaah.  I love being unplugged.

But just as I was getting ready to get settled in with a book… the gosh darn power came back on!!!  NO!  NO!  Nooooooooo!

So much for that.  Now I felt guilty even thinking about putting chores off.  I lost my greatest excuse ever.  Bummer.  But at least dinner was cooking and the house smelled warm and inviting all day.

Is it selfish of me to hope for another snow day with no power?  If only I could be Laura Ingalls just for a day… everything seemed just a little simpler back then.  No, not easy.  Just simple.

Annual Pumpkin Canning Fiasco

We finished canning our pumpkin harvest just in time for “everything has to be pumpkin flavored” season.  Actually, we eat pumpkin all year long.  Why should I only enjoy it during the fall and winter months?  I make sure to have plenty stocked up so that we can nosh on pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bars… you get the idea!.. all year long!

Last year we bought all of our pie pumpkins from a local market.  This year we grew all but 10 of the pie pumpkins.  We canned 42 pumpkins and only spent $15.00.  Woohoo!  We’ll be eating extra pumpkin coffee cake, pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin lattes.. I can go on but I’ll spare you this time!  By growing our own, we know that we’re using heirloom seeds and growing these babies without any pesticides, insecticides, or any other “cides” that aren’t good for us.

Washed Sugar Pie Pumpkins

The first thing you do is wash your pumpkins really well.  You don’t want any dirt or grubbies getting into your hot liquid or pumpkin.

Clean out seeds from pie pumpkin

Cut your pumpkins in half with a sharp knife (cleaver, axe, whatever works – just be careful!) and clean out the seeds.  Save the seeds in a bowl to roast for later.

Cut Sugar Pie Pumpkin PiecesChop the pumpkin into manageable pieces. 

Boil Sugar Pie Pumpkin PiecesBoil the cut pieces in water for about 20 minutes until pumpkin is tender but not mushy.  It will be easier to peel the pumpkin rind.

Pumpkin LiquidRemove the pumpkin pieces and allow to cool a bit.  Save the water that you boiled your pumpkin in, you will use this as your “juice” for the canning.  I figure that it’s better than plain water, any of your vitamins and minerals that get cooked out from the pumpkin will be in this water.

Cooked Pumpkin PiecesWhen pieces are cool to the touch, remove the rind, and cut into cubes.  There’s all kinds of warnings about how you should never can pureed pumpkin, it should always be canned in cubes.  You can read what the National Center for Home Food Preservation has to say about it here.  They are funded by the USDA.  I feel much safer now.  (Can you feel the sarcasm?)  Wonder how anybody survived years ago?  I follow their advice for the most part.  Sometimes my pumpkin is a little “mushy” and the cubes fall apart and I really like to stuff that pumpkin in those jars.  Sort of like puree but I’ve never had a problem with any of my pumpkin.  Except for that one time that…. Just kidding!  The pumpkin turns out all good even if it is a little pureed.  Libby’s purees their pumpkin and expects everybody to eat it.  Maybe they don’t like the competition.  Just saying.

Pumpkin in Canning Jars

Fill hot, clean jars with your pumpkin cubes.

Hot liquid in Pumpkin JarsTake your hot pumpkin liquid and fill the jar almost to the top.

Air Bubbles in pumpkin canning jars

Slide a knife or plastic spatula along the sides of the jar to remove any air bubbles that may be hiding out in there.  Bubbles not good.

Headspace for pumpkin canningCheck to make sure that you leave 1 inch of headspace in your jars.  You need to leave this room due to expansion of the pumpkin while it is being pressure cooked.  Trust me, I’ve made this mistake before.  All your pumpkin juice from inside the jar makes its way out into the pressure cooker and you’ll get a little bit of dry pumpkin.  Leave the headspace.

Clean Jar rim before pressure cooking Wipe off the rim of the jar to remove any sticky liquid or pumpkin chunks that could interfere with getting a good seal on the lid.

Tighten lid on canning jarTighten the lid onto the canning jar (careful – it will be hot!)

Jars in Pressure CookerPlace a maximum of 7 quarts into your pressure cooker.  You have to use a pressure cooker, not a hot water bath canner.  The pumpkin doesn’t have enough acid in it to kill any little critters that might be in there.  Follow your directions for your pressure cooker.  Make sure that you check the vents to make sure they are clear (tee hee!  Chicken humor – check your vent!  I know, my joke was wearing thin on Lexie too.  She had to hear it every time I started a new batch.  Can’t take me anywhere.)

Process quarts for 90 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure and pints for 55 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure.  You can fit 10 pints into the canner.  This is the long part.  Waiting for the canner to achieve correct pressure and then waiting and hoping nothing goes wrong.  I’ve heard pressure cookers can be quite dangerous.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Since you have to stay close to your pressure cooker to keep an eye on it, might as well roast all those pumpkin seeds!  I just mix a little sunflower oil and sea salt and pop them into the oven at 250 degrees for about half an hour.  I think we got 2 gallon size bags of pumpkin seeds this year.  Pretty sure they won’t last too long.

Canned Pumpkin Quarts Now you have pumpkin to use for all those yummy treats all year long.  When you open a jar, drain out the water and mush the pumpkin up with a spoon.  Pumpkin puree!  We did pretty good this year.  There are 50 quarts and 27 pints in the pantry.  And it only cost us $15.00!  Hmm.  That would be about 19 cents a jar.  Plus I had a bowl of pumpkin that I just didn’t feel like canning anymore so we ate pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread, … yeah, yeah, you get the idea!

Ducks and Noodles

Whenever Todd introduces himself to someone  he refers to himself as a “duck farmer”.  Sometimes we get curious looks as to how you can actually “farm” ducks.  I believe it’s an accurate description and one that I’ve taken to using also.  We love ducks.  We’ve grown our flock to over 100.  See, we “grow” our ducks to use for food.  Either by eating eggs from the ducks or the duck itself.  I wish I could say it is an economical alternative, but I’m not sure yet.  We put a lot of our time into the ducks.  And depending on which breed of duck we’re talking about, lots of feed.  Pekin ducks are dependent on you for finding the majority of their food.  Muscovy ducks, on the other hand, are great foragers and they supplement their diet with feed.  All of the ducks look forward to their treats of whole corn and scratch.

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck

Pekin Duck

Pekin Duck

We’ve been busy “harvesting” ducks for the past month or two.  On my last count we were down to 8 Pekins and … okay, I don’t actually know how many Muscovies are left!  We’re trying to decide how many we want to keep over the winter.  I’m pretty sure we will reduce the Pekins down to 2.  I love the temperament of them, but they eat a lot.  The only reason I want to keep 2 is because the one hen is the “sister” of our hand hatched goose baby (I don’t want him/her to be lonely) and the other is Lexie’s favorite 4H hen, Elizabeth.  We have quite a few Muscovy ducks that we have named and want to keep to breed.  We know we will keep only one drake.

Our harvesting window is slowly closing.  Nobody wants to be slaughtering ducks in the freezing cold.  Heck, nobody wants to slaughter ducks at all!  We’ve been culling around 6 ducks each week.  It’s a family affair.  We all know what our jobs are and we work in a production line.  Warning:  some content may not be suitable for children or those with weak stomachs.  Read at your own discretion.  Lexie and I choose the ducks that are to be slaughtered and deliver them to the boys.  The boys get the awesome job of axing heads.  Okay, I know it’s not awesome – it’s gory, bloody, messy, and downright sucks.  But you suck it up and do what you have to do.  I don’t even cry anymore – I’m a big girl now!  The ducks are hung in a tree to bleed out.  We all start plucking down.  There’s a 55 gallon drum that is full of down and someday we’ll find a use for it.  Lexie and I also choose feathers that are pretty and interesting to save for making earrings with.  The boys finish off plucking feathers and gutting the ducks.  Everything is done by hand.  After the ducks are cleaned and prepped, they are put into the refrigerator for 3 days to “relax”.  When ducks are slaughtered they get stressed and the muscles all tense up.  Letting them set allows the muscles to relax and the meat to be more tender.  At the end of 3 days I do a final cleaning of the ducks and vacuum pack them for the freezer.  We are fortunate, this winter our freezer will be full!  OH, a farmers weather prediction:  the ducks have been packing on insane amounts of fat this year.  And it’s still early.  More fat means colder temps.  Ugh.

Muscovy Ducks

Muscovy Dinner, I mean ducks.

Around here, we eat duck 3 or 4 times a week.  We eat duck like most people eat McDonald’s.  One of our favorite ways to eat it is Duck with Noodles.  Reminds me of those Bertolli frozen meals that I used to eat way back when.  When we weren’t gluten free and worried about what was in the food we were eating.

Duck with Noodles

  • 1 duck
  • spaghetti or fettucini noodles (I use Tinkyada brand gluten-free spaghetti noodles – made with brown rice only!)
  • olive or sunflower oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 4 oz sliced mushrooms
  • garlic powder
  • salt and pepper
  • Bragg’s nutritional yeast
  • basil or oregano, to taste

Place duck in turkey roaster.  Sprinkle with choice of herbs, salt, and pepper.  Roast at 400 degrees for about 1 hour.  Remove and let cool.  Prepare noodles according to package directions.  While noodles are cooking, saute onions, garlic, and mushrooms in large frying pan until browned.  Place onion mixture in large bowl.  Drain noodles and place in frying pan with a little bit of oil, spices, and nutritional yeast.  Slightly brown or “fry”.  Remove from skillet and add to onion mixture.  When duck has cooled, remove meat from  bones and shred into the noodles and onions.  Sprinkle with spices and additional nutritional yeast.  Mix well. Our family of 4 can get 2 meals out of this.

Duck with noodles

Duck with noodles

The whole meal, hands on, doesn’t take long.  Once the duck is roasted, everything else comes together within 30 minutes.  Which is why it’s one of our favorite go-to meals.  Serve with a side of veggies, some homemade applesauce, and you’re good to go!

Duck with noodles and broccoli

Duck with noodles and broccoli

Farmers do eat well!  We feel really good when we sit down to eat, knowing that we put work into what’s on our plate and that we are capable of providing for ourselves.  It makes you appreciate your food, and a side of appreciation makes anything taste even better!

Pheasant with Homemade Crockpot Applesauce

I love this time of the year.  All the preparations for winter, a myriad of colors, a crispness in the air… and canning.

Fresh garden beets for canning

Beets from our garden

We harvested the remaining beets, tomatillos, and carrots from the garden.  The carrots were juiced for us and the leftovers were fed to Buster Bunny.  Tomatillos were made into salsa verde, which we all agreed wasn’t as good as our friend Dave made it.  I’ll work on it for next year, and maybe steal his recipe.

The beets were washed, boiled, peeled, and cubed in preparation for canning.  They would have to wait until canning day.

We took a day and went to visit my parents.  While we were in the area, we stopped at our favorite apple orchard and loaded up on apples.  We bought 4 overfilled brown paper bags of #2 apples.  These are apples that have fallen off the tree or that have a bruise or other minor flaw.  Perfect for homemade applesauce.  We bought a mixture of Gala, Macintosh, and Jonathon.  And a big bag of Honey Crisp just for munching on.

Peeled apples for applesauce

Large bin full of peeled apples

Super Easy Sugar-Free Crockpot Applesauce

  • peeled, cored, and chopped apples (enough to almost fill your crockpot)
  • lots of cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg
  • water
Homemade crockpot applesauce

Crockpots full of homemade applesauce

Put everything in your crockpot, add a little water, and let cook on low for about 6 hours.  Or turn it to high for 4 hours.  You can add more water depending on how thick you like your applesauce.  You can also add a few more apples halfway through so that you get some apple chunks (if you like it chunky) in your applesauce.

Applesauce should be canned using the boiling water method.  Leave 1/2 inch of headspace in your jars and process quarts or pints for 20 minutes.

I spent the next day canning beets in the pressure cooker and applesauce in the boiling water canner.  We made 8 batches of applesauce over a 3 day period.  My kitchen smelled like apple pie.  It was also quite messy!

Canned Beets and Homemade Applesauce

Canned Beets and Homemade Applesauce

I now have 35 quarts of beets and 27 quarts of applesauce.  That doesn’t include the beets and applesauce that we’ve already eaten.  It’s looking to be a good year for canning!  I love the feeling I get from having a well-stocked pantry.

We had a surprise in the poultry pasture.  Nik was collecting eggs and came running back to the house.  I was sure something had happened to one of our ducks.  Instead, we saw this guy standing there…

Pheasant

Pheasant

Not what I expected with the ducks, geese, and chickens!  Nik and I herded him into a corner and he flew out.  I think he probably stopped by for a snack and wasn’t sure which way to go to get out.  Luckily for him, it wasn’t pheasant season!

To top off our day, we were treated with a beautiful sunset.  It makes me think of that old sailor saying:

Red at night, sailor’s delight

Red in morn, sailor’s take warn.

Colorful Sunset

Colorful Sunset

Homemade Elderberry Syrup

Fall has officially arrived.  I’ve read multiple stories about how bad this winter is going to be.  And everywhere you go you see reminders to get your flu vaccine NOW!  It’s that important.  Right.  We haven’t had our flu shots in 5 or 6 years (oh, say it isn’t so!) and we haven’t had the flu. *Knocking on wood*  (Ok, maybe I’m a tiny bit superstitious!) Actually, we haven’t been to the doctor for that long either.  Doctors have their place but we have done just fine treating ourselves naturally.  That’s why I made some elderberry syrup!  Nik was out foraging and he told me there was a huge elderberry bush just loaded with berries.  Free medicine from nature?  Sign me up!

Elderberries are large perennial bushes that can grow in all kinds of conditions.  The berries ripen from late August to early October.  They are rich in flavonoids, rutin (known to improve immunity), antioxidants, and Vitamin C.  They are anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and are most effective at boosting the immune system and warding off the flu.  Research supports elderberry’s role in easing coughs and colds.  Native Americans used elderberries to treat colds, joint pain, fever, and skin problems.

It has all kinds of healthy ingredients that make it taste yummy too!

This recipe calls for ginger (helps blood flow and warms the body); cinnamon which is antifungal, inhibits bacterial growth in food, lowers bad (LDL) cholesterol and blood sugar, has an anti-clotting effect on blood, and when taken with honey it relieves joint pain; cloves  are great for treating toothaches, coughs and cold, nausea, bloating, and infections.  You also need honey, which is antibacterial, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and speeds up wound healing.  I chose to use Manuka Honey.  It has a little bit of a different taste and is like the BMW of honey.  All the benefits of honey only supercharged!  The majority of honey found in supermarkets is not real honey.  It’s a watered down, filled with molasses, sugar, and/or corn syrup version that they see fit to label as honey.  We like to get our honey from a local beekeeper.  At least until we can get our own hives!

I didn’t realize it would be this easy to make.  I found a recipe that sounded good at Wellness Mama and got busy.  Warning:  it will make your kitchen smell like you’ve been baking all day!

Black Elderberries

Bowl of fresh black elderberries

Elderberry Syrup

1 cup black elderberries

3 1/2 cups water

1 Tbsp ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cloves

1 cup honey

Combine all ingredients except for honey in a saucepan and bring to a boil, turn heat down and simmer until the sauce is reduced by half.  Allow the syrup to cool and stir in your honey.  Pour your syrup into a glass bottle and store in the refrigerator.  It should store well in the refrigerator for about 6 months.

Black Elderberry Syrup

Elderberry Syrup Ingredients

This mixture made about a quart of elderberry syrup.

For adults, take 1 Tbsp daily.  For children, take 1 tsp daily.  I’ve read where some people suggest taking it through the week and not taking it on weekends.  If you feel a cold or flu coming on, you can take it up to 5 times daily.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an elderberry overdose.  Hhmmm, I’ll have to research that one.

Quart of Black Elderberry Syrup

Finished Quart of Black Elderberry Syrup

Disclaimer:  I am not a medical doctor.   All views and opinions stated are my own arrived at by personal trial and research.  I encourage you to do your own research and to seek professional medical advice when necessary.