Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Patience of Cats

When I got up yesterday morning, I noticed both cats intently staring under the refrigerator.  I thought about taking a picture, but there are cedar shavings everywhere, tracked in from the chicken area on the porch and it looks like I don't keep a clean house.  No sense advertising that.

Well, Pancho stayed by the refrigerator all day and finally, at about 10pm his efforts were rewarded.  The rest of us, sleeping (2 dogs and a cat) and reading (me) heard a thump, and over trots Pancho with a mouse in his mouth.

Everybody except Desmond, who is hard of hearing and didn't hear a thing, went over to investigate.  The mouse lasted another 5-10 minutes and was finally dispatched by Maggie.  Then Maggie and Pancho shared the mouse back and forth a bit in the kitchen, batting and nosing it.  When they tired of that, I called Desmond over and he ate it.  No cleanup necessary.

In the background of this picture you can see the thermal curtain keeping the warm part of the house warm and the cold part of the house cold.  Next year I'm going to try something different.  This curtain blocks the light, which I don't like, and it doesn't block the cold well enough because of the gaps between the curtain and the floor and wall. Next year I think I'll try heavy plastic, carwash-style.

It's been snowing up here for several days straight, no letup.  I've gotten about another foot of snow since Friday.  It will be nice to see the sun - but of course I'll be at work then.  I won't complain though, temperatures have been solidly above average.  It could be 12 degrees at night, but instead it's been in the upper 20s.  Sometimes ya gotta find small things to be thankful for!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Leaving Work at Work

This past week at work was pretty rough.  I had to kill a project I've been working on for 9 months, after we'd paid money to have IT programming work done, after spending umpteen hours with umpteen people testing all of the aspects, and after getting some persistently unhelpful people in trouble, after getting in trouble myself.  A few managers had pinned their hats on this project, so nobody was happy to have it stopped.  Myself included.  This corporate culture doesn't take things like this well.

Truth is, if I had been focusing on it fully like I should have in July and August, we may have discovered the fatal flaw earlier, and we wouldn't have to be starting over right now.  It will be no surprise to you readers that I have a hard time mustering up a lot of enthusiasm for whether my company makes 7% profit or 9% profit.  Honestly, I don't care.  My first priority and focus is the 'stead.  But the truth is also, I should be doing a better job.

Anyhow - this week has been a bad one and I'm feeling a little beaten up and faded around the edges.  So it was extra special nice to come home (in yet more snow) to see this...

Kinda helps me leave work behind and put things in perspective...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Hauling Wood

I have finally used up all of the wood in the woodshed.  It's time to break into the outside woodpile.  Since a relatively snow-free weekend is coming up, it would ("would" - ha ha) be a good time to move a week's worth of wood inside.  I'm not a fan of being cold and wet, so I'm going to do my best to make it so that I don't have to haul wood from out here any evening after work.  Last year I burned wood well into May, but here's hoping that last year was unusual.

I got exactly nowhere in building the chickies their yard this week.  It was extremely optimistic of me to think that I would get anything like this done during the week.  Especially a week with 3 snowstorms in it.  The wood and the chicken wire are buried in the yard somewhere.  Maybe the Snow King is going to use it to build his snow castle!  I'll see if I can't steal the material back from the Snow King this weekend and make a dent in the chicken yard construction.  Picture me using a stick to poke down through the snow to find the stuff, like a blind man. I mean blind woman..

I'm getting used to the noises that the hens make and am beginning to be able to tell when they're making happy noises and when they're making "feed me something interesting" noises.  It's extremely satisfying to hear the happy noises.  It's similar to watching my other animals when it's obvious they're happy - makes me feel like a good mommy!

The Big Cheesy Epiphany

I have 2 things to say :
1) Nothing like reading the instructions!
2) Thank goodness for the internet!

I read through some cheesemaking forums at lunchtime Thursday and figured out what I can do to age this muenster cheese (only 3 days late, but hopefully still rescue-able).

I can use a plastic container with water on the bottom, placed in a cool area of the house, to create a humid atmosphere.  My goal is to have the container at around 60 degrees and 90% humidity.  (In the winter, I have barriers separating the cool area from the warm area of my house, in order to heat a smaller space.  The cold area of the house is at 40 degrees, so I should actually put the cheese in a cooler part of the warm area of the house.  The thermometer on the dining room table indicates that the dining room table would be a perfect place to keep the cheese if I want it to be 60 degrees.)  Ideally, I guess, I would have some sort of fan circulating air around the cheese, but that will wait for some perfect world in the future when I have unlimited money and time to make everything perfect.  (Cynical - yes, but that's OK.)

So there it sits, on the dining room table, by the east windows.

I washed the cheese in a saline mixture with some B Linens bacteria added, which seemed to be a recommendation in the internet forums.  I was concerned that I'm not seeing any color, but the forums say that it will be 5-10 days, and even then it may not be red.  Whew. Life is still good.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

March 8 is Seed Starting Day

Or thereabouts.

I printed and filled out the book that Karen Sue sent me the link for, here, using Memorial Day as the last frost date.  According to the book, 12 weeks before the last frost, you should be sowing indoors broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, head lettuce, onion, and parsley.  If you don't get them started, it looks like it's OK to start them the following week.  I highlighted the things I have seeds for, so it's easy to see that I should be starting something March 8th and then I don't need to start anything else until March 29th.

I know this stuff isn't written in stone.  The world doesn't end if I don't get stuff started exactly when it's supposed to be started.  Some magical finger from the sky doesn't point down and say, "No!  Stop.  You missed your chance to start those seeds!"  But I'm a beginner.  Last year was my first try at starting seeds and exactly ZERO things I started survived to food-hood.  I need easy guidelines to follow.  A trail of crumbs that cannot be mistaken.  Actually, maybe it's a trail of stepping stones, painted bright yellow .. with signs that say, "Do this now,"  "Now, do this,"  "Next, this."  I feel so inadequate for the challenge.

I've read about lights and soil and germinating things in paper towels on top of the refrigerator, propagating, transplanting inside and out, newpaper starting pots, etc, etc.  All it makes me is confused.  I can design things in my head.  Do complex calculations, just like that.  Keep 10 projects gracefully in progress at the same time.  But I don't understand gardening.  At all.

I think what I'm going to do is find some dirt and put seeds into it on the appointed days.  Even if I do nothing else right, it's more right things than I did last year, and if I accidentally get something to eat out of this, then so much the better.  There's still a chance to learn a thing or two as the season progresses.  Next year I'll do better ... I hope.

Two Feet

I think we all tend to exaggerate a  bit (I got THIS much snow she says, holding arms outstretched!).   My weather up here on the mountain is so extreme compared to folks that I work or socialize with, that I don't think people believe me when I say things like I got 2 feet of snow. It certainly seemed as though I got a ton of snow, but I wasn't sure what to tell people. So I took a tape measure out to see how deep it really was.

It's really 2 feet.

There's a car to the left of the truck, you can tell because the mirror is sticking out.  In fact, the ground was clear on Monday.  I drove that car on Monday.

When I went out to shovel a few times during the day, I noticed a weird,  blue light in cracks and crevasses.  I'm sure it has to do with light wavelengths and absorption and other scientific stuff, but it seemed like the Snow King was down there holding court.

Since the temperature is above 32 degrees, the snow has slumped to half it's former splendor.  To add insult to injury, it's raining now, so the snow may not last much longer at all.  I optimistically think the Snow King was presiding over their end-of-season festival!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Muenster Cheese

Here's a 2 pound, 7 ounce hunka muenster cheese from two gallons of raw Jersey milk (picture taken Monday evening after brining and I sprayed the red bacteria on). I followed the recipe pretty much exactly, but here's where the recipe and I start diverging.

I'm supposed to let it sit at 60 degrees and 85-95% humidity for 14 days and then 50 degrees and 95% humidity for several days before waxing it.  The problem is that I don't have any place with that high humidity.  The basement maybe, but the basement also has creatures that like cheese.  So I have it in a cupboard above a bowl of water, which I'm sure is not going to work.  Not sure what's going to happen, but I guess we'll find out.

Cheesepress note:  You may remember that the 6-inch wood follower didn't fit the PVC pipe?  Well, I cut down the wood piece, but forgot one crucial thing.  Wood swells when it gets wet.  Oops.  That's why one surface of this cheese is at an angle.  Doesn't affect the flavor at all, but I need to do a bit more work on the cheese press.

My First Three-fer

I came home after a harrowing ride home to three eggs in the nesting box.  Actually yesterday was a four-fer since I got one in the morning as well.  And one this morning too, although I'll give that one to today.

It was a slippery, slide-y, long ride home last night because it was snowing so fast that plows couldn't keep up.  There was a long train of cars going 15-20 miles an hour.  At two points on the ride, different car in front of me couldn't get up a hill.  I was extremely worried about MY hill, since it's much steeper than those baby hills that stopped cars cold.  But it turned out fine - the problem was compressed snow from multiple cars making the whole thing slick.  Since I was the first vehicle going up my hill, it was easy, relatively speaking.  And it was plowed recently - what luck.
Maybe 18 inches yesterday and another 4 inches overnight.  Good thing I brought my work laptop home.  Looks like I'm in for a while.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Recent Casualties

These two lightbulbs are Sylvania Double Life bulbs and they each lasted a day.  These two are bulb numbers 4 and 5.  The first 3 were GE cheap bulbs; my last Sylvania Double Life bulb is in the socket now.

I have no idea why the bulbs are failing so quickly.  I eliminated the timer and the extension cord as suspects.  The two suspects left are the cord and socket or ... the chickens.  They can indeed reach this light and either hit it inadvertently in transit somewhere or hit it advertenly (must be the opposite of inadvertently, right?, and mean on purpose?) 

Do chickens do that?  Murder light bulbs??  Those murderous beasts!  Sentence is to lay eggs, almost daily for the rest of their lives.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chicken Coop Mods - Just Begun

I have such a hard time calling this a chicken coop! It's a playhouse!  My goal is to give the chickens more space by making an enclosed "yard" for them on the near side of the playhouse.  These large hens should have about 4 feet apiece, which would be 20 sq feet total.  What they've got is maybe 10 sq feet.  The challenge is that I want the "yard" to be where the playhouse is now, and the playhouse to be closer to my front door (barely visible behind the playhouse).  The playhouse is now resting on 2 pieces of 4 x 4 plywood, so I moved the hens to a dog crate and shimmied the plywood apart.  Then slid the playhouse back, breaking 2 eggs in the process.

That's all I did with the coop yesterday.  Over the course of the week, I'll try to get a frame built and chicken wire put over the yard (just like some schoolyards on building roofs in NYC).  I'll roll the wire down from the top of the playhouse window and put a ramp in so the chickies can go in and out through the window.

I didn't start working on this until mid-afternoon.  In the morning, I made muenster cheese with the last 2 gallons of cows milk from last weekend.  That was roughly a 5-hour endeavor that I couldn't do during the week (and really, it turns out should have done on a Saturday, unless I wanted to stay home today to turn the cheese over in the brine solution as the instructions say.  The cheese is brining unflipped today while I work for a paycheck to buy more milk).

Now, cheese made, playhouse mods started, sun is shining. Life is good.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Sunset

It's going to be a snowy week next week.  The weather peeps say we'll get 3 storms, so it may be a while before we see the sun again.

Found in the Coat Pocket

I wore my good winter coat yesterday.  It's quite the dress-up coat.  It's black wool with a fur collar and cuffs, goes down to my ankles.  And it twirls.  It's a coat for city people.  I wore it a lot when I lived in Washington DC and in The Hague because it's perfect for walking.  This coat has absolutely no place in my current life and so I keep it upstairs in the back corner of the back bedroom.  Until yesterday.

After I fed the animals, did my chores, hauled wood, loaded up the woodstove and finished all the dirty things I needed to do, I put the wool coat on on my way out the door.  And found these two pieces of paper in a pocket, reminding me of the last time I wore this coat.

It was April 17, 2008 when I bought a train ticket from The Hague to Schiphol, which is the Amsterdam airport (pronounced skip'-ol).  It's 7:32 in the morning and I bought the ticket with my ABN AMRO bank card for 13 euros, 40.  The train trip takes about 45 minutes.  The top piece is the ticket and the bottom piece is the receipt.  The ticket was validated by the conductor at 7:45 along the right side.

I traveled a TON when I lived in The Hague.  So much so, that for the first 8 months of the job, I didn't have an apartment.  I spent a month in two different hotels and over 6 months in other countries before I got my apartment.  And then I still spent much of my time in other countries but at least I had a place to come back to.  I never saw myself as the kind of person who needed roots, but that year when I didn't have a home really made me see that I like having one.

This particular train ticket is for a whirlwind trip I took to Cleveland, Ohio to interview for a job, which would have had me living fairly close to where I live now, but traveling all over New England to various factories.  I spent a few hours at the interview and the rest of three days with various old friends.  I'm glad I didn't get that job, because here I am with 2 dogs, 2 cats and 5 chickens and I don't travel at all any more.

The coat is back in the back corner of the upstairs back bedroom now, after giving me a memory trip to a far away place, that was not so long ago.  I don't think about that time very much anymore, so it was a nice little journey.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Week in Cheese

It's been a cheesy week as I've tried oh, about 4 new things you see here. 

Last Sunday I made queso fresco with cows milk.  I've been taking a hunk of it in for lunch every day to eat with my salad and homemade beef jerky.  (Aside - I've brought my lunch to work for the last 2 weeks solid! Yay me!)  The cheese doesn't have a lot of flavor, but it is filling.  And fast to make for us instant gratification folks.

Then on Tuesday I made goat milk chevre.  That's a long cheese to make.  It was ready Wednesday evening, but it tasted yogurt-y.  So I put garlic, dill and chives in it.  It still tastes yogurt-y.  I have a hankering to put this in phyllo triangles, so I may pick up some phyllo this afternoon.

On Thursday night I made starter (in the Ball jar) which takes a day to percolate, that I used Friday night to make goat milk cheddar.  This starter is what came from NE Cheesemaking Co labeled as Fresh starter.  Apparently it's a mixture of mesophilic bacteria.  I cultured it, but then couldn't find any recipes in the cookbook that use it.  The recipes just say mesophilic or thermophilic starter.  But thermophilic starter doesn't come in the beginners kit.  Since I had the starter cultured already, I decided to use it in a recipe as mesophilic starter.  I am finding this "beginners" book a little confusing.  Some parts are written for beginners, but other parts aren't.

But then, all the goat milk recipes I could use it in all call for 4 gallons of goat milk.  FOUR gallons??  I had ONE.  I vaguely remember that you use the same amount of something for 1 through 4 gallons, but the recipes don't tell you how to size down for less milk.  So I just did something - even if it was wrong.  I used the same amount of starter and rennet that I would use for 4 gallons but only used 1 gallon of milk.

It's a pretty lengthy process.  Lots of bringing to a temperature then sitting for an hour, then stirring for 45 minutes, etc, etc.  By 11 last night, I had finally gotten to the part where I get to put it into the mold.  Never mind that there's another 2 hours of turning and rewrapping involved after that, per the recipe.  What I found out is that my 6-inch wood follower doesn't fit in the PVC pipe mold.  The pipe is not round.  I thought I had checked that, but apparently not.  And 11 pm is not a good time for discoveries like that.

So I made something up and went to bed.  That's why the last cheese is lumpy.  I don't think I'm going to wait the recommended 6-12 weeks on this cheese.  There are multiple ways I diverged from the recipe and I don't know what the impact will be on the result.

You know - when I'm cooking, or knitting, or sewing, or building something, I have a feel for what happens when I make a change from the directions.  Cheese, not so much.  I have a suspicion that there will be quite a few dead soldiers on the field before I get that knowledge.  I'm tempted to say that last week wasn't very satisfying because I have a bunch of failed experiments to show for it.  But I do have a bunch of stuff to show for my work last week - and it IS all edible.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Humpty Dumpty

I got 3 eggs yesterday, but broke 2 of them in retrieval, like this one where I used the crowbar as an arm extension to the way back corner of the playhouse.  Then I dropped the egg on the water bowl on its way out. I know.  Using a crowbar to retrieve an egg.  What gives?  I scrambled one of the broken ones as part of dinner. It was the highlight of dinner.
Random chicken questions:
- Do the same birds lay the same-looking eggs?  As in, is it one hen that's been giving me these speckled eggs and another one that's been giving me the striped ones?
- How would I know if an egg was frozen?  Would all frozen eggs be broken?  Does it matter?  As in, can I eat it anyway?

It's going to be a very busy weekend this weekend, but probably exhilarating.  I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wordless Wednesdays

I've read on other blogs about this but keep forgetting on Wednesday to let the picture speak for itself.  So today will be wordless Wednesday, a day late.  I know I've ruined it by not being silent, so...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Blog Love

I discovered a new blog the other day, Hope Dies Last.  I spent an embarrassingly long time at work reading her words, getting caught up in the wonderful phrases about the twinkle in some man's eyes, or the way they said goodbye or met in the rain.  She writes extremely well.

I found her blog from another blog that I read just because I like how she writes.  It's this one: The State That I am In

I looked at some of the other blogs on Georgia's blogroll and they're written by people that live in other places in the world, and they're all written very, very well.  There's quite the turn of phrase in these blogs and I'm all for turns of phrase!  I mean, read this and it's wonderfullness will make you weep:

That night in bed I cried; a short drizzle but a cry nonetheless. It wasn’t a cry spurred on by pain, or jealousy, or unrequited want. They weren’t tears of self-pity or of desperation; of unfairness or frustration.
These were, at long last, farewell tears. A final nail in the coffin of not meant to be.

Or this (from here)
The first time we hung out we went for a long, winding ride on his beat-up old Vespa. This was a first for me, and the exhilarating feeling of having my arms wrapped around the waist of this very attractive guy, the shocking freedom you feel being so exposed to the world, the envious and longing glances from the normal people, in their normal cars, living their normal lives...all these things conspired to make my heart race that much more when we later kissed on an empty beach in Malibu, his Vespa abandoned by the rode, waiting for us like a spaceship in the moonlight.

There's one problem.  These people write wonderfully well about ... mostly men.  Knowing them, wanting to know them, meeting them, saying goodbye to them.  So much melancholy and sweetness and the words just put a tightness in my chest and a yearning ... somewhere.  
Bah humbug!  Thinking about that stuff doesn't really help me.  My life isn't a better life by spending time thinking about lingering touches, lips or twinkling eyes, or any other twinkling thing  (I don't want to spend time thinking about what I do not have).  I should be spending time thinking about chickens!  And goats!

Where are the bloggers that write words like that about haybales or goat poop?  Where is the blog that puts tears in my eyes with the sweetness or the melancholy and very good writing about dirt, or the impossible sweetness of the summer rain? 

Cough it up folks - do you read any extremely well-written blogs about sustainability or homesteading?  Or put another way - what are your favorite blogs that you read because you like the writing?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sometimes Work Isn't All Bad

For those of you that are new readers - Welcome! Happy to have you along for the ride as I learn how to homestead and figure out whether I can make a career out of working off the land. Many of my readers know that I have a full-time job as an engineer in a chemical plant (never mind the multiple contradictions there). I frequently complain about the difficulties of finding a balance, giving most of my time to the job, but most of my hopes to life outside the job. I don't often find the paying job rewarding and hope that in a year or so I can cut back to part-time, leaving me more time and energy to pursue the dream of self-sufficiency.

Yesterday was one of the few days when my work paid off. I've been working on a project for the last year that is coming to a close. Never mind that the project should have taken a few months, at most. I spent entirely too much time getting folks to own their part of the process and own any improvements to that process. I've written here about how frustrating that's been.  However unsuccessful the project has seemed, the data show that the results have been successful.  In a world where smaller is better, you can see that since May, 2009, the average has been 1.9% compared to over 10% before then.  I love graphs like this.

I didn't entirely realize why at the time, but I got called into a customer meeting yesterday to present the project. What I found out then is that they're using my project as an example of good work that my company does in response to customer problems. Then later in the afternoon at an all exempt hands meeting, the COO mentioned my project as a success, among other things that he said we're doing right.

One of the results of getting other people to own their process is that they will be the ones to get the credit for improving their process, not me. That's the way it should be. I'm more comfortable in the background anyway, and as long as the people in the know know this wouldn't have happened without me, maybe I can keep this job for a while longer, and maybe they'll be inclined to let me go part-time when I ask for it.  That's what success looks like to me.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Yet Another First

I came home prepared to try making Muenster cheese, but after I fed the dogs, the cats, the chickens and myself, then read the cheesemaking directions, I realized I'd be up to midnight if I started tonight.
So I gave cider bottling a try, and here's what I got.  I did taste it, and I really hope it ages into something a little better-tasting.  It's drinkable, but not yummy.  Good thing I only fermented a gallon instead of the standard 5 gallons.  I primed it to carbonate it (that's beer lingo for adding sugar water), so I think it will taste different in the future.  I haven't figured out if the future is 3 days, 1 week or 3 weeks.

I feel, as Kate wrote in a recent comment, like I've been trying something new virtually every day.  I'm OK with that.  I'm a bit of an explorer; instead of exploring the country or the world these days, I'm exploring new things from here.  The catch is that first tries are not usually resounding successes, in work or in life.  I don't really expect this to be any different.

The cool thing is that now that this first try is almost over, I can move on to the second try. And second tries are often much better than first tries!  Prost!

Testing Cheesepress 2.0

I made Queso Fresco from the Home Cheesemaking book yesterday, mostly because it was one of the few cheeses that I had all the ingredients for AND I don't have to wait weeks or months to see how it turned out AND I could try out the cheesepress I "made" a few weeks ago.

Here's the cheese press I used.  Two pieces of PVC pipe cut to 9 inches long, resting on a wooden cutting board, with a fence post stuck under the windowsill and a weighted bag hanging from the end.  I've got a gallon of water (8.3 pounds) plus 2 cans in the bag.  So about 10 pounds at 2 to 2-1/2 feet distance, or maybe 20-25 pounds of force pressing down on the cheese. 
It was good, but not perfect.  You can see that the force didn't push down evenly on the PVC pipe.  Because of the angle, the fence post hit the PVC only at one point.  Every hour or so I rotated the PVC so that the pressure would move.  I suppose I should cut the PVC shorter, to cut off some of that angle, or make a slot, or something. It's something I should fix at some point, but doesn't need to be done immediately.
The cheese came out well, proving that the cheesepress works!  It's well-pressed and smooth.  Not very flavorful though, meaning that's the area I need to work on next.  If I buy brining salt, I'll have everything I need to make Muenster, which is what I think I'll try next!

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Right before I ate two of them, and then later got one more.  Maybe we're nearing the end of the part where I can milk this whole "first egg" business.

Chores - I Got 'Em!

I've never had chores before.  City girls don't do chores!  I've always gotten up much, much earlier than I needed to.  Like now, I get up at 5:30 and leave for work about 7-7:30.  Mostly I putz (or putter).  Read the newspaper, wash dishes, clean up a bit, sit and stare at the fire.  If I have any important thinking-type work to do, I do it in the morning.  You know.  I putz.  I've been doing it as long as I've been working, around 25 years (except for the staring at the fire part).

Now, the chickens are beginning to insinuate themselves into my routine.  First thing in the morning, feed the dogs and cats, go out and feed the chickens, look for eggs, bring the water bucket in, clean it, refill it and take it back out.  Revive the fire in the woodstove.  Make tea. etc, etc.  And so the day begins.

The chores are even beginning to resolve into morning chores and evening chores.  Feed the animals both morning and evening.  Morning: clean the chicken water.  Evening: haul wood. 

I've got about 2 weeks of wood left in the woodshed before I have to start hauling wood from the backup cord, outside.  This woodshed is SO on it's last legs.  The 2x4 at the lower right of the frame is holding the roof up.  You can see daylight on both sides of the back wall. On the right side, it's raggedy daylight, as if something were coming apart, which is exactly what's happening.  As soon as it gets warm, the back and side walls (and roof) are coming down and getting rebuilt.  Better than before, and longer too, so I can park the lawn tractor and ATV behind the wood.

You guys have no idea how close I came to buying 3 baby goats yesterday from the goat dairy! The owner says they can stay in the house for a few weeks/months (I don't remember which), they only need a tent outside, and my portable electric fencing would be plenty for them.  It was in my plan for this year anyway!  Thankfully, sanity ruled the day and I returned goat-free.  For now anyway.  The goat dairy lady says she'll have kids for another month. ...  hm.  hm.  More chores.  But these guys/gals were SO cute!  And part of my plan, too!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I WAS Going to Get a Lot Done Today

Today started off with such promise!  A sunrise, a whiff of accomplishment, and off I went!  I put 2-1/2 pounds of beef jerky into the dehydrator, sewed three buttons back onto a sweater, tasted the hard cider and determined that today is going to be bottling day.  But first, I'm going to go find the goat dairy in Vermont and find the cow dairy on the way to finding the goat dairy.

Five gallons of raw milk in the car later (3 cow, 2 goat) and visions of cheesemaking dancing in my head, I returned from the dairies, ready to bottle the hard cider.  I read the directions on how to sterilize the bottles, looked for the materials to sterilize and realize that I don't have them.  OK.  Guess I have to get that stuff tomorrow.  Now, on to the cheesemaking.  What I really want to make is Muenster, my favorite cheese.  Read the directions, look for the cultures and realize that I don't have the right cultures.  Rats.

Right about now, my great accomplishment day is slowly coming to a screeching halt. I think I have the materials to make goat cheese.  What I really want to make is herbed goat cheese.  Oh.  You guessed it.  I don't have the right herbs.

I'm not sure what I can salvage in my big getting-things-done day.  It's beginning to look like what I'm going to get done today is a beer, some corned beef from the slow cooker, potatoes cooked in cultured butter, homemade bread and a Netflix movie.  That's accomplishment enough ... I suppose.  Oh, and I got another egg today.  It's so old hat by now (!!) that I didn't bother to take a picture of it.  Look at me being an old hat at owning chickens!  Hard to believe I've had them exactly a week, to the minute!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Second Egg

These wily birds!  I came out and checked for eggs before breakfast, fed them and cleaned out the water can.  No eggs.
Then, when I was in a rush on my way out the door to work, what did I see?  Yes - an egg, I can say for sure was not there at  6 and was there at 7:30.

So instead of taking the egg inside, I decided to give it to a coworker who has been very interested in this whole chicken/egg experience.  Here we are, about 5 miles from my place, on the way to work.

And then

And then

And finally, in the parking lot at work.
After all that, my coworker wasn't in the office today, so here the egg sits.
It will be a well-traveled egg by the time I eat it tomorrow.

I know - it won't be long before a fresh egg is no big deal to me.  But until that happens, I'm going thoroughly enjoy every. single. one!

Let There be Light

When the days got shorter and I started driving home in the dark, I started keeping a small flashlight in the dashboard of the truck.  I arrange my drive home so that I drive by the mailbox and retrieve my mail as if I were at a drive thru, through the window.  When it's dark, I can't see if I've gotten all my mail.  The flashlight shines light into the back of the mailbox, and is an invaluable thing to have in the dark of the winter.

This flashlight is pink to remind me that I've painted red nail polish over the lens.  In the summer, I use this light to look at star charts in the yard when I'm out gazing at the stars.  After my eyes have adjusted to the dark, the red light allows me to read the star chart without casting a bright glare.  As much as possible, I sleep under the stars, flashlight and star chart close at hand.  Virtually every single time, I am surprised by the dew, sopping wet as I wake up, swearing to remember it ... next time.

Except that I didn't sleep outside at all last year.  It somehow managed to rain or be cloudy every single weekend night for all of June, July and August.  Maybe this year I will try to sleep outside on a weeknight.  The sun will wake me up, I will take a shower and go into work.  Heaven, except for the getting dressed up to go sit in a cubicle part.

The big news is that now that the great wheel has turned towards spring, I don't need this flashlight any more in the truck.  There is enough light to see the back of the mailbox without artificial aid.  It should be a celebration like the solstice or the equinox.  Flashlight day.  I can bring the flashlight inside, place it next to the star charts and wait for the wheel to turn further towards the highlights of summer.  The potential of it leaves me speechless.  It's coming.  Soon.  Soon

Thursday, February 11, 2010

No New Eggs

Maybe this is one of those situations where I get one egg as a tease and then have to wait two or more weeks for any more eggs!

I cleaned and fried up yesterday's egg with some store-boughten ones and some sausage.  A definite difference in texture and taste, and how long it took to cook, compared to the others.  I'm eagerly awaiting more of these brown babies.

This weekend I plan to make a few small changes to the playhouse/henhouse setup and I'm considering taking a day to explore a bit and hunt for a few local sources of grassfed meat and dairy that I've heard about.  If I get really ambitious, I'll start some more cheese and try the cheesepress I made.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Update on the Chickens

I'm frequently a day ahead on posts.  I wrote this post on Tuesday night.  Generally that works fine, except when something really big changes the whole landscape, like today.  But ... since I had some investment in writing the below post, I'm going to go ahead and post it and you can read down to the end to see what's up now.  Without further ado ...

Well, everybody seems calmer now, after 3 days of the chickens being at chez Blueberry Hills Homestead.  I'm not terrified of every little thing anymore.  The hens are calmer and realize that I'm the source of food, so they move forward when I approach.  That's so nice.  The dogs aren't trying to get in to the henhouse every single minute.

I've come home from work early both of the last two days because I had ineradicable visions of white feathers flying all over the porch and Maggie with a big bird in her mouth.  That means the dogs and the birds were alone together for about 5-7 hours each day. 

On Monday I came home to see the door to the playhouse not quite open.  But Maggie had given it her best shot!  The hook was unlatched and the top part of the door leaned out.  Thank goodness I plopped a concrete block in front of the door at the last moment before I left Monday morning.
So Monday night I attached a piece of wood to the top of the door to add to the safety.  It's not really solid, but it's the best I could do on short notice, short of another concrete block.
Tuesday when I came home, Maggie was in the yard and I could see that she'd been moving some sticks around, evidence that she hadn't spent the entire morning trying to get into the hens' playhouse.  She's showing signs of calming down about this whole new animal thing, and I'm happy about that.

I finally read a bit more about laying hens and realize that it will likely be weeks before I see an egg.  I can probably stop visiting them every two hours!

That was the world then - this is the world now...

And another picture

Think I can frame this egg like stores frame their first dollar?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sustainability and Chocolate and Bacon, Oh My!

I went to a potluck Sunday night (not related to the Superbowl).  Even though there was stiff competition, in the form of a certain football game, there were still maybe 30 people at the potluck. 

This is a group of people in the Capitol District area that are into permaculture and sustainability.  It was really energizing to talk to people that are on the same wavelength as me.  I caught up with a few people that own land on the same side of the Hudson as me and we talked about doing a work exchange in April.  My concern specifically was pruning my apple trees and one of the folks has experience doing that.  I'd be happy to loan my back and arms to help someone, knowing that the same will come back to me at some point.

I also met the woman that writes the blog Casaubon's Book, or Sharon Astyk.  That's not how she introduced herself and I didn't realize until the next day.  We talked a bit about her wanting to make more of a living from her farm, her goats and her herbs.  Things you may know I'm thinking about!

There were a bunch of smart, committed, caring, nice people there and I left energized and happy.  Exactly the sort of connections that I want to nurture.

Oh - the picture?  It's a chocolate muffin with chocolate icing and bacon bits on top.  I couldn't believe it, but it's really very yummy.

Animal Love

I've been collecting animal love pictures between my four animals to illustrate a posting I was going to write for Valentine's Day about the dynamics between them.  But I don't want to throw all these wonderful pictures out in one posting!  I'd rather draw them out over several days so we can give each picture it's due justice. 


I have never in my entire life seen animals get along as well as Maggie and Pancho.  It lasted about 10 minutes.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What the Chickens Do

Well, they don't lay eggs ... yet.

This morning I did my regular getting ready for work routine, and then after I started up the car to let it warm up, I came back to the house and put cedar shavings in the playhouse/chicken coop and some food as well.  I've decided to keep all the porch doors closed (so if Desmond, my older dog who doesn't like the dog door, wants to go out, he'll either have to hold it in or use the dog door), but allow the dogs to be on the porch.  I raised the blankets to give the chickies some natural light.  Then I drove to work and started my normal Monday morning work routine.

Sitting at my desk, I look across the room to see cedar shavings all over my scarf, and notice them all over other parts of my clothing.  Everywhere.  Hm.  So this is what chickens do.  Make it obvious to everyone that I'm a farm girl.  Maybe my coworkers will give me credit for at least trying to look nice while pieces of the homestead follow and cling to me everywhere. Or maybe they'll let me off the hook when I start bringing eggs to work!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

More About the Birds and the Playhouse

Last time I wrote about the playhouse, I hadn't finished it.  I guess it's finished now, so I should finish writing about it.  I'm not sure whether what I did is good or bad, so as I discover, I'll let you know.  You can see the main inside components in this picture, so let's talk about them.

The nesting box is the 2 beehive pieces with a piece of old molding attached to the front, resting on top of an upside down recycling container I found in the shed.  It's hard to see, but I drilled 2 holes on each side of the window and pulled wire through to hold the beehive parts to the wall (keep them from falling off the recycling container when a bird sits on the ledge).

I found a stick outside (really?  In the woods?  A stick?), and wedged it diagonally across for the roost.

The light is a 40 watt, normal light (not a heat lamp), attached to something on the inside wall that I don't know what it is, and pointed up.

The food and water dishes are what Agway had, and they take up a bunch of space.  I think I should be raising them off the ground.  I've got an immersion heater (that I can't immerse), in a pan underneath the water, so the water dish is resting on top of the heater.  It didn't completely work last night, but for goodness' sake it was 2 degrees last night!

And that's it folks!  These are Delaware hens, which is a heavy breed (and they make big eggs ... I hear).  They've figured out where the food is, so they're eating now - a lot!

What might be bad:
-I've read that heavy birds should get 3-4 square feet per bird of space.  These birds would have 2.something if there was nothing on the floor.  It's really like 1.something since I've used up so much floor space with the nesting box and the food/water.
-There's only one nesting box and that may not be enough for 5 birds.

What's good:
-these are a docile breed, so they don't seem to be getting too upset with the frequent observation visits from me and the dogs.

We'll see how it goes.  Like any first-time mom, I'm semi-terrified about pretty much everything.  I'm going out tonight for a few hours and I think I'm going to keep the dogs inside, away from the birds.  Tomorrow, when I go to work, the options are to lock them all the way outside in the snow and cold, or take my chances and let them stay on the porch like they always do.  I've got about 15 hours to figure that one out!

First Day with the Chickens

Actually the day isn't even halfway over yet and already I'm posting about it.  You'll forgive me if I post again later with the same title? I'm SO glad I got the chickens a day early - now I can spend the first day at home watching and helping.

Of course everyone would likely get along fine without me...  Here, Pancho can't decide whether to go for the leash or the chickens.  So he starts with the leash.
Then moves to his friend Maggie and looks at the chickens.
And together they go around to look in the back window of the playhouse.  See how their tales are like question marks facing each other?