Friday, October 16, 2009

The Wood Shed

The completed and filled woodshed as it looks today. There is room to stack the wood higher, but we don't anticipate needing that much wood this winter.

When we moved in, there was a good size pile of wood stacked up against the fence on one side of our property. It was held in place by t-posts and covered with a tarp. Last fall, we purchased additional wood entirely too late and had to pay a premium. We had to search far and wide because many of the normal sources were out. This was partly due to our late timing, and partly due to the downturn in the economy. How does the economy affect wood, you ask? Well, first of all, the rising cost of oil freaked everyone out, so those that might only have gotten a small supply of wood as supplement got more just in case they couldn't afford oil or natural gas. Secondly, because of the downturn in the housing market, less new homes were being built. Quite a bit of the wood sold as firewood is actually cast offs from lumber created for housing. When there aren't new houses, the demand for lumber goes down and so does the supply of 'cast-offs'. And lastly, when the lumber business falls off, workers get laid off. Less workers, less trucks, less lumber in general means less firewood available for burning.

We actually didn't know any of this when we first started looking, but I was hoping to find a local source anyway. We ended up lucking out - we found a tree farm not too far from us that sells firewood from their farm. Last year they delivered to us and we were able to make it through the winter with wood to spare.

This year, we opted to use the same farm. Business has been good for them, so they've now managed to secure a bigger truck with a dumping feature. My husband was happy to hear that as last year, he had to help the guy unload the truck by hand. This year, we got some wood from our neighbor, some from the apple trees we lopped off and two cords from this farm. This is what two cords looks like after it's dumped off a truck:

Cut and split wood awaiting stacking.

And this is our woodshed prior to stacking it. My H built this shed basically around the old pile. In fact, in this photo, you can still see the t-posts that held the old pile together. the wood already in the shed is what we had leftover from last year. The small pile in front is mostly our trimmings from our apple tree pruning.

Woodshed awaiting the bulk of the wood. A few hay bales are barely visible in the right most section. There is a low wall between the wood and the hay.

Since we don't know when a small barn will be in our budget, we intentionally built a small space to the right of the wood within the shed to house hay for the winter for the goats. We also are currently keeping the feed (both goat and chicken) as well as supplemental minerals in there, but as it gets wetter around here, that will have to change. I think we are going to look into some type of bin to store the grain in to keep out moisture. We don't keep all that much on hand, so they won't need to be too large. The 'floor' of the hay area is made of wooden pallets that we scavenged from the 'free' listings on craigslist. The floor of the wood area is dirt. We also planned for a sizeable overhang on the roof allowing us space to stand in front of whatever is stored but still remain out of the rain. The walls were left mostly open because the fence behind the shed will keep out most of the wind blown rain.

This year, our wood will stay nice and dry (and so will we as we bring it in!).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Plum Jam

Beautiful red plums awaiting 'jamming'. I actually had to pick and process these all in one day because due to a sudden summer rain storm (unusual around here), they were all starting to split on the tree.

Washed, cut, pitted plums sitting in the bowl of my food mill. Aren't they a gorgeous color?

Plum puree exiting the food mill into a stainless bowl.

Jam being cooked.

For this recipe, I used the regular certo pectin and quite a bit of sugar. The jam turned out delicious but a tad sweet for my tastes. Next time, with this variety, I'll use either the low sugar pectin or Pomona's Pectin which sets with calcium, not sugar. I just bought a couple of boxes and I'm anxious to try it...too bad all of our fruit is past! I might just have to buy something at the store so that I can give it a shot this year.

I still need to take photos of the finished product but it is just beautiful! The red color looks so stunning sitting there on our shelves! These plums are probably my favorite item that we grow (right now, once the blueberries are mature it'll be a toss up). I just love these. When my parents were visiting, my father loved running out to the tree every morning to pick a few for his breakfast. They are spectacular for eating and *almost* as good in cooking. I've frozen quite a few bags of these, so I'll hopefully get the chance to use them in a few more recipes this winter.

We have recently been discussing where to put an inside drying line for once the rains start (like today!!) for laundry. As much as it's super convenient to use the dryer, once we are on solar, it'll be virtually impossible (only for emergencies). We are trying to learn to live with less that means using a clothes line for more than just big quilts and bicycle clothing. ;-) And since this is so timely - I love Sharon's response on this very topic - to a NYT article... "If you think flapping underpants are scary..."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Where have I been?

Cuke and tomato salad with fresh basil and oregano - 100% garden fresh treat!

You-know-what must be freezing I am, to post once again! Can you believe it?

So yes, I've had to take a little time off from posting in this blog. As I mentioned in my last post, things have been nuts at work and it more often than not, spills over into my 'real' life creating havoc. Throw in out of town visitors and trying to get back into shape on top of the typical farm stuff (and fall harvest) and you've got the chaos that is my life these days. Ah...the joy of the small farm.

Let's see - what has happened since my last post?

My parents came to visit at the end of August. We spent 4 days together mostly doing projects around the house but getting in some dinners out and a visit or two to a local winery. As a result, our back deck is now no longer an embarrassment! We also managed to get quite a bit of 'brass' out with the trick of using metal paint (on heat grates, light fixtures, etc). The master bath no longer has any pink in residence (we did this prior to their visit) and we have pictures/artwork on the walls in many places were blankness reigned supreme earlier this year. It was really fun to have them here and they were a great help not only with projects, but also with picking plums, blackberries and zucchini. And the winery visits were a blast too - a quick internet search revealed 119 wineries in our immediate vicinity (seriously - less than a 50 mile radius!)...we visited 2 of the closest ones. 2 down, 117 to go! ;-)

We have since seen our first few frosts, so finally, months after they almost overwhelmed us, the zucchini has been put to rest. Of course, we still have humongous ones that we are slowing feeding to the goats, and a bag of smaller ones in the fridge that we will eat over the next few days. I picked all the remaining cukes last week, the peppers over the weekend and we are still harvesting about a quart of strawberries a week. The blackberries are done. The apples (we only had one tree produce this year) are done. The pears (very small harvest) are also done. I've got small sugar pie pumpkins all over the house (dining room, basement, kitchen, laundry room...) and we should be harvesting the remaining tomatoes this evening (quite a few are green). We still have swiss chard, carrots, parsnips, brussels sprouts, mixed greens and the monster kale still growing in the garden. Oh, and a few straggly broccoli plants as well. I just harvested the rest of the beans yesterday as well. The only thing that was a major dissappointment this year was the corn. We made a few mistakes, but we hope to do better next year.

Next on the list of things to do with the garden is to get the chicken coop on the weeds and get the garlic bed set up and planted. That will hopefuly happen this coming weekend. I'd also like to try doing some lettuce indoors again this year, so we'll see how that goes. We may still have enough daylight to do it in the green house over the next couple of weeks, so if I can get something going in there, it will be worthwhile.

Sass is doing well. She's had her first estrus cycle of the season about a week ago, so we are watching for the second one soon. We've already arranged her 'date' we should be good to go when she is ready. We weren't 100% sure we wanted to breed her again because we aren't really sure what our future holds in terms of goats. I think we may consider going to a smaller breed (Nigerian Dwarfs) since we have so little land, but we love Sass and would have a real difficult time both selling her, or forcing her to 'retire' when that's not what goats want to do (in nature, they keep producing basically until it kills them). We haven't made a decision yet, so until we do, we are going to continue with our original plan. If she has girls, and we decide to change breeds, they will be no problem to sell. In fact, we know a woman locally who is thinking about getting into a better milk producing breed (they need more volume) and Sass is amazing at it. In fact, just last Friday, she gave a full gallon at one milking!

The chickens are hanging in there. A couple of the reds appear to be molting, so the egg production is falling off a bit. This is to be expected this time of year with birds that are over a year old. We expect to have very few eggs this winter (if any)...but we'll see. We did buy a small incubator that we hope to utilize next spring. I'd like to get a couple of heritage breed bird eggs from a hatchery, and then do a couple of our own. The incubator only holds 7 eggs, but since we are a small operation, anything bigger than that would just produce too many chickens. Our plan is to do a few dual-purpose heritage breeds. These are birds that do not grow at the freakish lightning pace of the Cornish X (typical bird used in industrial chicken houses), but they are more natural and healthy. A dual bird means that they bulk good for eating but that they are also good layers. We'll hatch a straight run, butcher the boys at the right age for the freezer and keep the girls for layers. Lather, rinse, repeat. This way, we can provide our own birds over time. I don't know if there is a inbreeding danger with chickens, but we will research this before we get to that point.

Let's see...what else...

Still riding when I can but I haven't done much commuting at all. I did finally find my headlight mount, so I hope to do my first fall commute this week. It's dark until just before I arrive at work in the mornings right now, so good lighting is essential. (damn daylight savings!)

We are doing some research into solar power and water. We are trying to set up some appointments to talk to a few companies. Basically, we know that a barn is our first priority in terms of needs, but with all the incentives for solar out there, getting panels up may be a 'low hanging fruit' for us. Oh if only we would win the powerball! (I guess you need to buy tickets to win, huh?)

The woodshed is completed and stocked full of wood. We have plans to put up cross-fencing and start re-seeding the goat area as soon as the rains start (we need the ground to be a bit softer). We have also planned out the addition of a covered area to the front of the goat shed so that they have a rain-free place to hang out besides just inside the shed. We have also tried to determine when we want to fence in our front side yard. It's a big, wide open space that would make both good goat grazing and good chicken free-ranging, if it weren't so close to the road. The plan is to put up a privacy type fence along the road and then the typical wire/t-post fence on the insides so that we can use the space for more than just fetch with the dogs. Lastly, we have been discussing our chicken housing. We want to alter the current coop a bit, build a new one, and create a temporary one in our existing shed for the meat birds in the orchard.

Oh yeah, and because we don't have enough to do - we purchased a 1971 VW Super Beetle to restore! The good news is that this purchase forced us to get our garage organized and cleaned out. The bad news is that we haven't had much time to do any work on her yet (her name is Betty). I know...we are nuts. Go ahead, say it. I can take it. ;-)