Homestead Diary Week Ending May 27th

The big news of this week is rabbits. Yes, rabbits. The generosity of two different friends has seen us with two does and two rather nice used cages, all for free. We’re really liking them so far! I’m going to get a buck for them soon and then try breeding them. These are ‘meat mutts’ but they have very soft fur, so I’m guessing they have some Rex blood in them. They adore dandelion greens. I’d like to eventually move them into a colony type setup (combined with the chickens) but will have to see how much time and money that will cost to setup. I’ve got some draft plans I’m noodling on.

Getting used to the rabbits, as well as the craziness of a normal week, has seen me not making any notes during the week. The rest of the post will be told with pictures:

Kids have named her Cookies. She is about 6 pounds and a little underweight.

Kids have named her Cookies. She is about 6 pounds and a little underweight.

This is Chocolate. She's very active and enjoyable to watch.

This is Chocolate. She’s very active and enjoyable to watch.

This is the 4,000 sqft garden plot at my friend's place. Over in the corner you see the rabbit tractors where our two bunnies used to live.

This is the 4,000 sqft garden plot at my friend’s place. Over in the corner you see the rabbit tractors where our two bunnies used to live.

A fat robin.

A fat robin. Not the greatest picture as I don’t have a good zoom lens.

Royal Burgundy green beans. So far this patch unmolested by rabbits but another patch is getting slug damage.

Royal Burgundy green beans. So far this patch unmolested by rabbits but another patch is getting slug damage.

Broccoli making heads. Judging by the florets, these won't get very big. Our early heat wave is stressing the plants.

Broccoli making heads. Judging by the florets, these won’t get very big. Our early heat wave is stressing the plants.

Raspberry blossom.

Raspberry blossom.

The earlier carrot patch.

The earlier carrot patch.

Ripening strawberries!

Ripening strawberries!

A very stressed broccoli plant. Got a few like this. Not a great year for broccoli so far.

A very stressed broccoli plant. Got a few like this. Not a great year for broccoli so far.

Sunflowers.

Sunflowers.

Cucurbits really needing to get out of pots. Will try to transplant them today.

Cucurbits really needing to get out of pots. Will try to transplant them today.

White clover blooming.

White clover blooming.

Green cherries.

Green cherries.


Homestead Diary Week Ending May 20th

Saturday the forecast was very close to freezing, so I didn’t want to take a chance we’d actually get frost. I had planned on moving the tender trays of plants inside after dinner, but mid-afternoon we actually had snow for a short time so all day the living room looked like this:

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The baby bunnies ventured out of their nest for the first time. We spent part of the afternoon watching some of their antics. The Alchemist captured this picture. The video she took was even cuter, showing the way its little ears were practically vibrating with how strong the wind was.

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After dinner I used blankets to cover the tender annuals we planted in the front of the house and then glass jars as ‘hot caps’ to cover the baby squash and tomatoes in the ground on the side and back of the house.

I have many memories of covering gardens against frost with my Dad, except we mainly used old army surplus blankets.

I have many memories of covering gardens against frost with my Dad, except we mainly used old army surplus blankets.

Hot caps galore.

Hot caps galore.

The extended forecast warms up again and, given how late in May we are now, this should hopefully be the last frost scare. I’m fully expecting to have lost some plants at Homestead Buddy’s place, however, as he is much further from the moderating temperature of Lake Michigan and doesn’t have the urban heat island effect I benefit from as well. That’s why we hold seeds back and don’t plant everything in one go:)

Monday I got most of my surviving cucurbit transplants in the ground. Germination is much faster than in the ground this time of year but time will tell if they are healthier than direct seeded crops. I sowed a little more mesclun mix. The mesclun I sowed early in the spring will be ready for a first cutting in a few days. I made the first harvest of anything from the garden, about half a pound of rhubarb stalks.

Tuesday after Beta’s violin lesson I went to my sister’s house. She graciously let me pick a bunch of rhubarb and then take 4 crown divisions to plant. This gives us 7 rhubarb plants which, once established, will give us all the rhubarb we could want and then some. The one I picked from on Monday is probably the only one that will produce for us this year but we’ll see. The leaves on the transplants are a little wilty but rhubarb is hard to kill and should quickly bounce back.

Wednesday we went out to Homestead Buddy’s place for first time in two weeks. We had pretty good germination on the peas, some germination on the green beans. Almost all of the broccoli was happy. The zucchini was starting to sprout and we had two winter squash up. Most of the winter squash came up early and he had two frosts since we’ve been frost free. Oh well, we had a 75% chance of being frost free and getting early growth. I weeded and then seeded a bigger green bean patch.

We spent some time discussing where my bigger garden plot will go. It will be about 4,000 square feet to start, close to water, with potential expansion that doesn’t get in the way of his own expansion plans. We moved his rabbit tractors over to start knocking the grass down and adding fertility to the ground. I’m unsure whether I’ll just turn the ground over the hard way (by hand) or look into borrowing some equipment. I’d like to get it seeded into a cover crop or possibly into some easily weeded crops. Another friend that’s down the road may also give me some garden space, and he and I have talked about having him sell excess produce I have on a consignment-type basis.

The only pictures I took that day were of the kids petting and feeding his rabbits dandelions before we moved the tractors to the new ground.

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Thursday and Friday were busy days, just not in the garden. Mostly I focused on watering. I also moved a few of my kale and flower seedlings out into a sunnier spot to start hardening off before transplanting.

Here’s some pictures to close out the week:

It's pretty typical for mid-year rhubarb to wilt heavily but they quickly send up new growth.

It’s pretty typical for mid-year rhubarb to wilt heavily but they quickly send up new growth.

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Blackberries finally getting some action going.

I'm pretty sure these are flower buds about to open on our raspberries.

I’m pretty sure these are flower buds about to open on our raspberries.

Broccoli quickly increasing in size. Ironically, the best performer this year is a hybrid that I believe has been discontinued.

Broccoli quickly increasing in size. Ironically, the best performer this year is a hybrid that I believe has been discontinued.

Green beans germinating

Green beans germinating

One of the taller peas. I liked this shot with the sun backlighting it.

One of the taller peas. I liked this shot with the sun backlighting it.

Carrots take a long time to germinate, and then a long time in seed leaf stage, but they're finally putting on growth.

Carrots take a long time to germinate, and then a long time in seed leaf stage, but they’re finally putting on growth.

Small patch of mesclun that will be harvestable soon.

Small patch of mesclun that will be harvestable soon.

Nice progress on the strawberries. Hoping we get more critter-bite free ones this year.

Nice progress on the strawberries. Hoping we get more critter-bite free ones this year.

Our Liberty apple is making nice progress. The Mac-Free is also doing well, just a little slower.

Our Liberty apple is making nice progress. The Mac-Free is also doing well, just a little slower.

First true leaf on one of the Costata zucchini. Love this variety. Germinates strongly and has been very hardy in my climate.

First true leaf on one of the Costata zucchini. Love this variety. Germinates strongly and has been very hardy in my climate.

Purchased tomato.

Purchased tomato.

The best of my starts. Sigh.

The best of my starts. Sigh.


Recipe – Cherry Galette

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Next time I make one I’ll try and remember to take a picture with the better camera.

After trying a number of pie crust recipes, I’ve admitted to myself I just hate making pies. What I do enjoy, however, is a very similar dessert called a galette. Basically a rustic pie, the pastry is easy to handle and you’re not looking for the delicate flakiness of a traditional pie. You actually want a little heft to it, because you eat galette slices like a piece of pizza, not with a fork.

We buy tart cherries from a local orchard that’s a bit over an hour away. It’s a little hike but we’ve never had better cherries. Their picking season for fresh cherries is very short, about 10 days, but they typically have frozen cherries available year round. I recently bought 7 gallon bags when we ran out. We especially like their Balaton cherries, which is a Morello-type (dark) tart cherry from Hungary, as apposed to the bright red Montmorency-types. Montmorency cherries are a bit astringent for fresh eating, even for us, but we’ve come to love the Morello-types for their balance of sweet and tart. I think they have much more flavor than the Bing cherries available in the store, though no one grows sweet cherries commercially here, so I don’t know if truly fresh sweet cherries would change my mind about them.

Alpha eats them straight out of the freezer for a snack, I’m turning some into dried cherries in the Excalibur as I write this, and I’ve been making this delicious dessert on a weekly basis. Like most of my desserts, it’s not super sweet, so it can double as breakfast as well. I’m going to grab a piece with my morning coffee after I finish this post😉

Crust

  • 3/4cup white flour
  • 1/2cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1/3 to 1/2cups ice water
  1. Pulse the butter, flours, sugar, salt, and cinnamon together in a food processor until the butter is in pea-sized chunks.
  2. Slowly pulse water into the dough until it comes together. Avoid adding water too fast, as a wet dough is very hard to roll out.
  3. Place a piece of parchment paper or pastry cloth down on your work surface and flour it well. I bake galettes in a 14″ greased pizza pan, rolling the dough out to roughly the width of the pan, then carefully transferring it to the pan.
  4. Put the pan in the fridge until the filling is ready.

Filling

  • 4-5 cups of pitted Morello-type (dark red) pie cherries, frozen or fresh
  • 1/2 cup sugar. If using Montmorency-type cherries, you may want to increase sugar slightly.
  • 3 tbsp arrowroot flour or corn starch. Note: If using other binders, you may need to experiment a little to find the right consistency. Use your favorite cherry pie recipe as a guideline.
  1. Cook cherries in a medium pot, covered, on medium until they start to release juice.
  2. Uncover, reduce heat to medium-low, add sugar and starch. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture starts to gel. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly as the oven preheats.

Assembly

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Transfer filling to the center of the crust. Carefully fold the edges over. If you break the pastry and some juice leaks, it’s not the end of the world, it happens nearly every time to me. It will burn a little in the pan but the galette will still taste great.
  3. Bake for 50 minutes or until crust is lightly golden brown.
  4. Best served after chilling in the fridge for at least one hour.

If you make the recipe, share your thoughts in the comments. Enjoy!


Homestead Diary Week Ending May 13th

Saturday the kids and I got out to the farmer’s market. Besides buying the season’s first asparagus and rhubarb (our asparagus needs one more year to establish and our better-established rhubarb isn’t ready for harvest yet) they helped me pick out some annuals to add a shot of color to the garden perimeter. They had a lot of fun getting involved, and helped me layout the design when we got home too.

I also bought some herbs: peppermint, chocolate mint, oregano, lemon balm, thyme. I started our basil a little late but it will be ready to transplant in a few weeks.

On Sunday morning before the  Mother’s Day brunch my sister hosted I went through my tomato seedlings and picked out a few I thought were worth transplanting. I did a really bad job managing the transition from indoor to outdoor growing and killed 2/3 of my seedlings, and many of the rest aren’t in great condition. I’m hoping the strongest survivors will make it but they’re definitely behind where you want seedlings to be at this time of the year here.

The light Sunday morning was ideal for photography so I snapped quite a few shots. I brought out the SLR but knocked image size down a bit so I don’t have to deal with the labor of resizing images before posting. The files are still big but hopefully not so big that I run up my storage allowance too quickly.

The best looking of the tomatoes I transplanting, burying the stems to encourage good root development.

The best looking of the tomatoes I transplanting, burying the stems to encourage good root development.

Gooseberry blossoms.

Gooseberry blossoms – and by the end of the week (see below) they have made fruit.

A shot of the seedling nursery. I had to run out in the heavy rain we got Tuesday and take everything out of the trays to keep them from drowning.

A shot of the seedling nursery. I had to run out in the heavy rain we got Tuesday and take everything out of the trays to keep them from drowning.

The kids call this particular bleeding heart the "queen of hearts"

The kids call this particular bleeding heart the “queen of hearts”

Tulips are so cheery. Can't wait to plant more this fall.

Tulips are so cheery. Can’t wait to plant more this fall.

Some of the new herbs. The chocolate mint in particular is delicious.

Some of the new herbs. The chocolate mint in particular is delicious.

The most life I've spotted on any of the blueberries I planted.

The most life I’ve spotted on any of the blueberries I planted.

The annuals we planted.

The annuals we planted.

Celosia picked out by Gamma.

Celosia picked out by Gamma.

Pansy picked out by Beta.

Pansy picked out by Beta.

Alpha picked out this dahlia as a Mother's Day present for the Alchemist.

Alpha picked out this dahlia as a Mother’s Day present for the Alchemist.

Wednesday we went up to the same farm we get strawberries, apples, and pears from to buy some plants from their greenhouse. I got a few tomatoes, peppers, and then some more perennials. Before we left we spotted something that made me very happy.

Baby strawberry!

Baby strawberry!

Solanum starts

Solanum starts

Painted Palette

Painted Palette

A type of geranium

A type of geranium

Canadian ginger

Canadian ginger

Gamma loves fiery-colors so this Heuchera caught his eye.

Gamma loves fiery-colors so this Heuchera caught his eye.

Thursday became a cooking day. I made a cherry galette. My replacement grain mill grinds corn much better than the original design so I made my first batch of skillet cornbread in quite some time. I’m experimenting with granola bars again in an effort to mostly eliminate commercial snacks (and go through the obscene number of oats we have in inventory).

My last cooking experiment was making sauce from dried tomatoes. I used up the last jar of canned tomatoes this week and needed to move on to the 26 quarts of dried tomatoes we have. I rehydrated the tomatoes 1:1 in hot water, first bringing it to a boil then keeping it on medium low until the tomatoes looked plump. I ran them through our Squeezo food mill and then seasoned the sauce the way I always do:

Per quart

  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp dry minced onion
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dry basil
  • 1/2 tsp dry oregano
  • scant 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

The sauce only needed a little extra reduction (much of it provided by the onions rehydrating) before it was ready to jar up and put in the fridge. My plan, now that I have a good sense of the method, is to make it in several quart batches and then freeze in freezer-safe deli containers. Yield was about 75% of the water I started with so I have enough tomatoes left in the pantry to make about 17 quarts of sauce. At 1-2 quarts a week that should get us through until they’re back in season again.

The finished sauce.

The finished sauce.

Thursday night we spotted something very cool. My rabbit-proof fence must not have been very rabbit proof because I found a rabbit nest in one of our strawberry beds. The babies are about three weeks old: eyes open, full fur coats, and erect ears. They’ll be leaving the nest any day but for now their momma will return at dawn and dusk to nurse. I think I know where she was getting in and have fixed it but I’m leaving the gate open until the babies are ready to move on.

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Weather for the next few days promises to be cold, rainy, with lows near freezing. Spring in Wisconsin tends to ping-pong around a lot and this year is no different. That said, I’m happy to have spent a good portion of the past week in the garden. It hasn’t fed our bodies yet this year but it has fed our souls.

I’ll close out this week with one last picture.

Baby gooseberries!

Baby gooseberries!


Homestead Diary Week Ending May 6th

I haven’t kept very good track of everything done this week. Saturday was International Tabletop Day so we spent most of the day playing board games. Sunday Alpha and Beta made their First Communion. Tuesday I spent all day shopping for a second car (we found one). Late in the day Tuesday and most of Wednesday everyone besides me in the house was down with a stomach bug.

Most of what I’ve been doing is tending seedlings. Tomatoes, lettuce, kale, zucchini, cucumbers, cosmos, yarrow, chives, basil. I’m probably forgetting something. My tomatoes look only so-so this year, not sure why, but everything else seems good.

Monday we got out to Homestead Buddy’s place. I planted Waltham Butternut and Sweet Meat – Oregon Homestead in the massive hay pile I’ve shared about in a previous post. I held back enough seed of both that I can completely reseed in two weeks if there’s a frost or poor germination. I also planted peas, cucumber, some broccoli starts I’d saved, a bit of zucchini, and a small row of beans.

I did the best I could in getting some of the perennial weeds out of beds we’d prepared already, especially crabgrass and burdock.

The tarps we’d put down to smother the very grassy area hadn’t done much, as they were more transparent than we’d thought, and there wasn’t a lot of sun to insolate the soil with. It’s not the most regenerative practice, but we elected to spade the grass under and then retarp with thicker tarps. We’ll roll back the tarps as we plant new sections.

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The broccoli I transplanted. I was worried I'd used pots that were too big but the roots held the soil together nicely without being bound up. These plants should do well.

The broccoli I transplanted. I was worried I’d used pots that were too big but the roots held the soil together nicely without being bound up. These plants should do well.

A shot of the thicker tarps.

A shot of the thicker tarps.

A cross fence that has a little bendable 'gate' to the right that keeps the chickens out this time of year but will allow them in as desired.

A cross fence that has a little bendable ‘gate’ to the right that keeps the chickens out this time of year but will allow them in as desired.

A few more pictures from my homestead on Tuesday:

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Some of those cucumbers sprouted in under 48 hours.

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First asparagus spotted! I was wondering when they’d start to show up. Hopefully the crowns make a good return from last year. I’ll probably not harvest at all this year and give them one more season to establish.

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Liberty apple breaking bud, the last of the perennials to wake up.

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Cherry blossom about to open.

Thursday the kids helped me plant some green beans and zucchini. These should bear right around when we get back from our trip Baltimore at the end of June. I’ve got a few more beds I will plant this coming week then I’ll save the rest for succession plantings. I also got the rest of the soaker hoses laid out. My plan was originally based on a mixture of 75, 50, and 25 foot hoses but Lee Valley was selling very high quality (double wall thickness) soakers in 50 foot lengths so I made the best of the layout. I made irrigation staples out of bulk 9 gauge wire. Rain has been consistent enough that I haven’t tested any of them out yet.

Friday it got up into the 80s for only the second time this year. I was beat after working in the garden most of the afternoon so I didn’t get to finish writing the post or taking any more pictures. I pulled the mulch off of the off-site garden I lost, reseeded it to grass, and carefully spread mulch over most of the beds that I’d seeded before we had the wood chips. Couple more to go still. The kids helped a lot with spreading it though it is awkward having three people fit around a wheelbarrow in my narrow paths.

I took these pictures on Saturday morning and they will give you an idea of how this week closed out. I think I will go back to using the dSLR for pictures next week, just reducing the megapixels on the camera side. (The only reason I haven’t been using the SLR is because of the labor involved in optimizing the file size for my storage allowance on WordPress.) The phone is convenient but the camera isn’t the best since the lens cover has cracks in it.

Green beans planted 3 rows to the bed with mulch hilled up. Squirrels have already been digging away.

Green beans planted 3 rows to the bed with mulch hilled up. Squirrels have already been digging away.

One of the happier broccoli plants.

One of the happier broccoli plants.

Raspberries putting on growth very quickly.

Raspberries putting on growth very quickly.

Lots of tomatoes! Lost some to damping off, will probably start trying to get some in the ground next week even though many are quite small.

Lots of tomatoes! Lost some to damping off, will probably start trying to get some in the ground next week even though many are quite small.

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Losing most of my cucurbit seedlings to damping off. So much for that experiment.

Losing most of my cucurbit seedlings to damping off. So much for that experiment.

If you look REALLY closely you can see baby carrots. I found one on Friday that was starting to put on its first set of true leaves but couldn't find it again to take a picture.

If you look REALLY closely you can see baby carrots. I found one on Friday that was starting to put on its first set of true leaves but couldn’t find it again to take a picture.

Our most establish rhubarb really putting on growth. I'll be more careful about harvesting this year as it should be even better established given its age.

Our most established rhubarb really putting on growth. I’ll be more careful about harvesting this year as it should be even better established given its age.

One of MANY strawberries happily in bloom.

One of MANY strawberries happily in bloom.

Some of the peas we mulched. The compost I used in the raised beds holds water very well if it is covered but dries out very fast if it is exposed to sun. Still have two small beds to cover up.

Some of the peas we mulched. The compost I used in the raised beds holds water very well if it is covered but dries out very fast if it is exposed to sun. Still have two small beds to cover up.

Liberty apple pushing out growth after being at buds just a few days ago (picture above).

Liberty apple pushing out growth after being at buds just a few days ago (picture above).


April 2016 Financial Review

April 2016 spending

  • HSA Expenditures: Dental work for the kids and Alchemist, and a couple of walk-in clinic visits.
  • Food Related: $300 was spent on alcohol and homebrewing supplies, it should be $0 next month. The food bill was also inflated by providing for the joint First Communion party for Alpha, Beta, and one of their cousins.
  • Garden/Homestead: Mainly irrigation supplies and perennial plants. A few other smaller seed and supply purchases.
  • Kids: Main expense here was the payments for Beta’s violin lessons.
  • Debt: Nothing to note.
  • House Bills: Artificially low because we had an escrow overage refunded to us that more than paid for this month’s mortgage payment. Our utility bill was also higher than normal, not helped by running the growlight.
  • General Spending: A mix of gift spending and personal allowance spending.
  • Cars: We drove a LOT last month, all of that money is gas. Insurance was “free” because we get reimbursed for a part of our policy every year we have no claim.
  • Health and Wellness: Pretty normal spending here.
  • All Other: Yearly state park pass purchased when we took a hike on Alchemist’s birthday. Hope to get a lot of hiking in now that we have 2 cars (the bills for that will show up in May).

Recipe – Best Waffles Ever

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The waffle recipe in The Food Lab cookbook makes the best waffles I’ve ever had, but it’s fussier than I prefer for a breakfast recipe. After a little experimentation I came up with a version that’s simpler, preserves all of the virtues of the original, and even improves it a little when the crunchy, nutty flavor of freshly milled whole wheat is added to the mix.

Yield: varies depending on the waffle iron, but it makes 16 4″ square waffles on mine.

Dry Stuff

  • 5 ounces (1 cup) white flour
  • 5 ounces (1 cup) whole wheat, ideally fresh stone milled
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • scant 1 tsp fine grain sea salt
  • 2 tbsp sugar

Wet Stuff

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2.5 cups buttermilk
  • 4 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  1. Preheat waffle iron.
  2. Whisk dry stuff together in a large bowl.
  3. Measure buttermilk into a 4 cup liquid measure or a medium bowl. Add remaining wet stuff, whisk together.
  4. Pour wet stuff into dry stuff, whisk until just combined.
  5. Use the appropriate amount of batter for your waffle iron, adjust settings to achieve desired doneness. Enjoy!

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