April 2016 Financial Review

April 2016 spending

  • HSA Expenditures: Dental work for the kids and Maria, 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!

Homestead Diary Week Ending April 29th

On Saturday the kids and I traveled out to Homestead Buddy’s place again. They got to feed and pet bunnies, collect chicken eggs, ride on his ATV, and other cool things. I helped him fence the remainder of his garden. The sections of it where he had used the chickens to eat and scratch down the grass where very easy to break up with the broadfork. About 1/3 of the area had not been fenced before (we made it bigger) so we spread some tarps to smother the grass for a couple weeks.

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I’ve read about chickens for a long time but it’s another thing to experience them first hand. I found myself talking to them “hold on girls” “save some worms for us” and other things, which got my buddy to say “oh yeah, you’re going to like chickens if you’re talking to them already.” When I first started broadforking, the chickens were outside of the garden area but in short order they became interested. I turned around at one point and all 12 of his chickens were lined about about fifteen feet behind me, just waiting. Soon they overcame their fear of the strange giant and happily pecked and scratched away right next to me. It makes me very excited for July when we start our chicken flock!

Some of my tiny velociraptor fan club.

Some of my tiny velociraptor fan club.

A shot of the garden at the end of the day. We'll spread hay over the beds too but want to let the chickens scratch a bit more.

A shot of the garden at the end of the day. We’ll spread hay over the beds too but want to let the chickens scratch a bit more.

We also talked a bit about potential expansion if I try to maybe use some of his land as a base for either a market garden or production of a few staples like potatoes that I don’t have the space to justify. Need to do some research and some soul-searching to see if this is something that’s right for me and the family at this time.

Sunday ended up being a rest day. I took care of some baking for a family get together later in the day and then we mainly relaxed. My Dad got to get a tour of my garden for the first time in a while and suggested I should clean up my sidewalks better. There was still quite a bit of mulch residue which I cleaned up Monday. I ended up deciding to not permanently smother the grass around on my sidewalk strip bed. It takes a little more work to use the string trimmer to cut the grass but it’s much more comfortable to kneel on when weeding or harvesting and I think living borders do look nicer than wood chips. Quite a bit of the grass had died back so I used the last bit of my white clover seed to sow them. Hopefully by fall I’ll have a more diverse stand of greenery around those beds.

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Our first tulip bloom of the year. A few from the previous owner have survived 10 years of our neglect. I plan on planting many new tulips, narcissus, and possibly hyacinth this fall.

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The problem is the solution. My oldest enjoyed making a ‘bouquet’ of maple seedlings, helping in removing one of the most common weeds this time of year.

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The kids decided they have outgrown this third-hand swingset. I thought about using it to make an A-frame chicken coop but after sketching it out and making a material list, it will be way more complicated than the design I was originally going to make.

I have been experimenting with drying frozen cherries. If I can make them work acceptably, I will not have to rush and dry refrigerated cherries in our very short season. My first batch was halved, not meticulously oriented skin side down, and yield on 1 pound was 0.11 very dry (but yummy) dried cherries. Quite a bit of drip loss. I caught the juice on a fruit leather tray and peeled it off. Way too chewy to eat as a leather but in small bits it made for a nice sucking candy as the hyper concentrated juice rehydrated in my mouth. I might also try rehydrating it to use as juice.

On Wednesday I began setting up the rest of my irrigation system. I also sowed more chives, and some trial packets of flowers I had laying around just because. I washed some used pots I got from my Dad and used a good chunk of them for the comfrey root cuttings that arrived from Marsh Creek. I also spotted what I think is germination on my carrots, both the original patch planted much earlier and the patch sowed about two weeks ago.

My comfrey nursery

My comfrey nursery

Thursday my order from New Farm Supply arrived. It took about an hour just to unpack the box. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to use all of the plants but I found places for all of them that doesn’t feel forced. I’ll let pictures tell the rest of the story.

Christmas for gardeners

Christmas for gardeners

Our almost about to bloom cherry hanging out with (foreground) elderberries and (against the garage) gooseberries.

Our almost about to bloom cherry hanging out with (foreground) elderberries and (against the garage) gooseberries.

A very happy looking gooseberry.

A very happy looking gooseberry.

A shot looking west down the future hedgerow. It will be exciting to see if/how these plants fill in.

A shot looking west down the future hedgerow. It will be exciting to see if/how these plants fill in.

The honeyberries are quite pretty plants.

The honeyberries are quite pretty plants.

State of the peas.

State of the peas.

A lot of the broccoli has these purple leaves. Hoping it's just because of the cold weather we've gotten.

A lot of the broccoli has these purple leaves. Hoping it’s just because of the cold weather we’ve gotten.

First strawberry blossom!

First strawberry blossom!

Some lettuce thriving despite neglect. I'd actually given up on this bed.

Some lettuce thriving despite neglect. I’d actually given up on this bed.


Homestead Diary Week Ending April 22nd

Monday the kids and I took the Alchemist to work and then drove out to work on a friend’s homestead. He and I turned a rotting pile of hay into essentially a massive strawbale garden. We nested soil in multiple spots and we’ll plant a couple different winter squash varieties and let them crawl all over the hay and into the grass around it.

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After that there was enough time for me to help him with some fencing before we had to drive back into the city and pick the Alchemist up. My kids had a blast playing with his kids and checking out his various animals. We’re going to tag-team garden and it’s a possibility that next season I will have a sizeable plot on his property that I could use for farmer’s market production. This year we’ll both be learning the site and figuring out the best way to work together when I can only drive out once a week or so.

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Wednesday my load of free tree trimming chips came so I spent most of the day working on getting those spread. Almost all of the bare dirt in the garden is now covered except for a few beds where I won’t spread chips until the plants sprout and grow a bit taller.

New Farm Supply ran a special bundle of 24 plants, 8 each of honeyberry, elderberry, and gooseberry. Each species is a mix of cultivars they’ve specifically selected for the Upper Midwest. All three species were things I was looking to plant in 2017 but the pricing was tempting enough that I sprang on the offer. So I spent some of Thursday after homeschooling prepping a good section of where the new plants will go, finishing it on Friday after school. I used a sod lifter to strip the grass off, forked up the existing soil, added a layer of compost, and then covered with chips.

Friday morning I was doing schoolwork with the kids when someone knocked on the door. It was someone from the sanitation department who said neighbors had complained all the way to the alderman’s office about me having wood chips dumped in the street. I said “really?” and he shrugged, “yeah, but I can see you don’t have any other place to have them dumped, and I told the alderman’s office that.” He was very nice about it and just asked when I could have them out of the street – I said by Saturday for sure – so he could schedule having the street sweeper come through.

I’ll let the pictures below tell the rest of the story.

Peas sprouting. Germination looks decent so far.

Peas sprouting. Germination looks decent so far.

Our second year cherry tree. Flowers should open any day now.

Our second year cherry tree. Flowers should open any day now.

Wood chips!

Wood chips!

More wood chips!

More wood chips!

Used some old stepping stones that I saved to make a little access path so we always step on the bed on the same spot. I'll be putting more rhubarb and elderberry in this spot.

Used some old stepping stones that I saved to make a little access path so we always step on the bed on the same spot. I’ll be putting more rhubarb and elderberry in this spot.

Very happy rhubarb. Excited to see how these do.

Very happy rhubarb. Excited to see how these do.

Growth on the walking onions I was given.

Growth on the walking onions I was given.

Raspberries breaking bud. Should get two crops this year.

Raspberries breaking bud. Should get two crops this year.

Created this hedgerow running along the property line. Most of the new bushes will be planted in here.

Created this hedgerow running along the property line. Most of the new bushes will be planted in here.

Up-potted all of my Cosmonaut Volkov tomatoes. Turns out a fork is a handy tool to getting seedlings out of a plug tray when they're not root-bound yet.

Up-potted all of my Cosmonaut Volkov tomatoes. Turns out a fork is a handy tool to getting seedlings out of a plug tray when they’re not root-bound yet.


Homestead Diary Week Ending April 15th

This week we’re getting a stretch of mostly sunny weather with most of the nights above freezing so I’m hoping to see the peas and carrots finally sprout. Peas are definitely sending out root radicals. Carrots I’ve seen nothing, but it’s hard to say since the seeds are small. I tried carefully digging in one of the rows to no avail. I’ll give them another week or two before resowing.

Monday I began hardening off our broccoli transplants. The weather was cold enough (28F) that night I brought them inside but I should be able to leave them outside night and day for a couple days, then get them in the ground.

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Broccoli hardening off in the spring sunshine. Pretty dramatic difference between starts grown under a HPS growlight (left) and those grown under my new T5HO fluorescent growlight (right).

Tuesday I didn’t do any gardening but had to laugh a little when Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the door. My usual ‘let them down easy’ line is “I’m not interested but hope you have a nice day,” which they typically take well. Funnily enough, we then proceeded to have a 5 minute conversation about my garden. One of the women said that she’s always admired my garden, we talked about how therapeutic gardening can be (so true!), and how it grounds us to the earth and teaches us how to respect creation, etc. I wish more people would realize just how much people can bond over being connected to the earth.

Wednesday it was a cool but heavily overcast day so even though the broccoli haven’t been outside for long I decided to go ahead and transplant them. I crowded them a little in case of failures, and figuring they can flop outside of the beds a little if needed. I ended up with space for 34 plants, from three varieties (Green Magic, Packman, and Arcadia).

The two beds in the rabbit protected area. Foreground is Green Magic, background is Arcadia.

The two beds in the rabbit protected area. Foreground is Green Magic, background is Arcadia.

One of the non-protected beds, in this case in the sidewalk strip. This is Packman.

One of the non-protected beds, in this case in the sidewalk strip. This is Packman, a seed packet I bought last year but don’t recall ever planting. My starts may have been a victim of bunnypocalypse last year.

Every day I check the mail, I hope I won’t see a letter with City of Milwaukee letterhead on it. Last week I mentioned there might be an issue with my sidewalk strip beds. As of Wednesday, it’s been 9 days, so I’m increasingly hoping I’m in the clear. Amazing how it is that how any contact with police or government, our instinctive reaction is to wonder what we did ‘wrong’ and cringe? Aren’t they supposed to serve us?

Thursday I was going to up-pot my Cosmonaut Volkov tomatoes but after a few attempts the root system just weren’t quite developed enough to get them out of plug trays. I’ll give them another week or so. Experiences like this make me want to try soil blockers despite the love-hate opinions gardeners seem to have about them. I did up-pot the remaining broccoli starts that aren’t going to be given away just yet. I’m not sure exactly how long I’ll be hanging on to them so I used some of ~1 gallon pots a neighbor gave me for free.

My order for Peace Seedlings arrived, which made me realize I really should get some more tomatoes started. I sowed Bellstar, Orange Centiflor (PS exclusive), Andean Paste (PS line), Amish Paste (PS line), and Heinz 2653. Depending on germination that may be all the plants I need for the year. I’ll evaluate again in a couple weeks. There’s another few varieties I should probably germinate for trialing even if I end up with absurd numbers of plants.

Friday I decided to make a completely homesteading day, as I had a fair amount to get done, the weather was excellent, and it’s the Alchemist’s birthday tomorrow so I won’t be doing much (if any) gardening then. The kids helped me sow some more carrots. We put boards down to cover them, which helps  to keep the rows moist until they start to sprout. We also sowed an interesting snap pea variety (Opal Creek) I got from Peace Seedlings. If it does well I’ll grow it out this year mainly as a seed increase since it’s pretty expensive seed.IMAG0700

As you can see in the picture, I got the soaker hose irrigation lines laid out. If you let them warm up in the sun it’s very easy to spool them out solo. I only had about 125 feet last year, but I inventoried what I’ll need for this year. Looks like:

  • 2 multi-hose adapters (3 zones is all I need for each hose bib but I think they’re mainly made in either a Y or a 4-way)
  • 3 50 foot soaker hoses
  • 4 75 foot soaker hoses
  • 1 50 foot regular hose
  • some form of watering wand or spray nozzle

I sowed one last tray of tomatoes for trialing purposes. I also sowed a tray of lettuce. Last year all I did was broadcast mesclun mix but a friend sent me some lettuce that’s best as transplants. I should have started them earlier but we’ll see how it goes.

As we were eating lunch, the remaining plants I had ordered showed up. I bought 3 bleeding hearts as a 10th anniversary present for the Alchemist. They’ll go in the ground as soon as she tells me her preferences on location. From a different company we received 3 more raspberries (Caroline) to fill in the raspberry bed and 3 blackberries (Prime Jim).

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Bleeding hearts in the deep shade. One will likely go in this exact spot. I have some potential spots for the others picked out, just want to get her to approve them.

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One of the blackberry canes I planted.

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My tray of already sprouted tomatoes getting some sun instead of sitting under the growlight.


Homestead Diary Week Ending April 8th

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The view today

Rain.

Snow.

Hard Frosts.

Sickness.

That basically sums up the week so far. It’s stayed cool, wet, with at least one night well below freezing.

The broccoli I risked early has been severely damaged by frost. I may out of curiosity let them try and live but I’ll plant replacements for all of them. The starts I’ve held back indoors are doing great. Hard to know when to risk another planting.

Spotted quite a few peas with radicals emerging from the seed, so that is exciting. Rhubarb crowns are moving from shoots to little baby leaves. Raspberries look to be breaking bud.

Lastly, a representative from a different Department Of Making You Sad visited and said I might need to modify my sidewalk strip planting beds. He wanted to tell me to straight up remove them but I challenged him on that. The city ordinance allows me to do exactly as I’ve got them. There are additional “guidelines” put out by said Department that are stricter, including a rule I’d honestly missed in my research about the beds needing to be at grade instead of raised. I’m not sure what force those guidelines have versus the ordinance.

He said if I never receive a letter I’m in the clear, so I’d guess if I’ve heard nothing by end of next week, I’m probably in the clear. If I’m not, I’ll look into whatever appeal, variance, or permit I might be able to get because the raised beds honestly look so much better even if they’re technically in violation. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.

 


Homestead Diary Week Ending April 1st

Saturday was a repeat of the day before: bright sunshine, very little wind, temperatures just on the border between light jacket and short sleeves. I went to Lowe’s and got the wood to build the last 3 raised beds, tarps to cover my compost pile against our typically heavy spring rains so that it’s nice to work with as I need it.

Spotted a few signs of life that were welcome sights. All 3 of our gooseberries are breaking bud. Our  rhubarb crowns are forming their first shoots. One I thought wouldn’t come back because I’d sited it poorly has been moved to a much better location. Makes me want to dig out the last frozen rhubarb from last year and make a pie! Spotted the first sprouting chive plant in the tray I seeded just a few days back.

I went ahead and splurged on some more perennials like I mentioned last week. I ordered the following from Stark Brothers: Liberty apple x 1, Mac-Free apple x 1, Hansen’s Bush Cherry x 3, Stark SureCrop Pie Cherry x 1, 2 Jelly Bean bluerries and one each of the following blueberries: Jersey, Earliblue, and Blue Crop.

I am still researching whether I want to grow them in containers or in-ground. All of these varieties can be grown in large (25 gallon or so) containers. Contrary to what I had thought, however, apparently the pH of the soil media is not as important as the pH of the water solution in the soil. So periodic irrigation with some dilute vinegar added to a watering can keep them almost as happy as direct manipulation of soil pH via gypsum, elemental sulfur, and the like. Also, containers reduce both the cold-hardiness and heat tolerance of the plants.

Later in the day I checked the soil temperature, which is above 50F in many spots, so I decided to risk sowing some carrots and peas with the kids’ help. The compost retains moisture really well so I am not going to cover the carrot furrows with a board, instead hoping to remember to water evenly as needed so they don’t dry out during their long germination period. The peas I sowed today were dry seeds but I started pre-soaking some seeds of the same varieties. I’ll plant those out Sunday or Monday and do a little experiment to see for myself what others have claimed about shortened germination time.

Sunday morning the peas seemed ready. They had swelled up and I could see what I thought was the root radical forming underneath the seed coat. Given it was Easter, rain was expected later, and we were due at my sister’s house in the afternoon anyways, I went ahead and sowed. I ended up with more seed soaked than I had planned, so the entire space I planned for peas is now in the ground. I’ll give it three weeks before considering resowing if germination this early ends up being a bust.

I misted the carrots just in case it didn’t end up raining. Otherwise that was basically it for the day. I swept up the sidewalks a bit and began thinking about how I want to handle irrigation this year. If the budget allows I want to go 100% soaker hose and have a decent layout in my head. I have some hose already but need to pace out everything else, figure out how many Y-adaptors, etc. Irrigation is something worth carefully thinking about early because changing it during the growing season is a major PITA.

Tuesday I decided to risk planting some of the broccoli in the ground and up-potted the rest. The weather for the rest of the week looked nasty so I moved what I didn’t plant back inside under lights instead of trying to harden off during a week that was mostly overcast and featured some strong rainstorms. I also sowed an early tray of tomatoes.

I bottled my first attempt at hard cider, which wasn’t bad at all. Very dry, with some apple goodness. The siphon I bought seems to be defective out of the box so the process was a little frustrating. I used straight apple juice with Red Star Cuvee wine yeast. Next time I will likely add some sugar to up the alcohol content.

Wednesday and into Thursday I was quite sick with some sort of stomach bug. I managed to keep an eye on the seedlings downstairs. During thunderstorms Thursday I thought I saw germination in some of my sowed peas and carrots but it’s just weeds poking through the compost layer. The peas keep getting shoved up onto the surface via frost-heaving (I think). Not sure what the best solution is.

Some of my perennial fruit plants arrived Thursday but I just wasn’t feeling up to planting them. I put the unopened boxes in the garage and hoped I would be up to it by Friday. Sure enough I was feeling fine Friday and got to it after doing a little bit of school. I’m glad I didn’t wait until I’d done all of the school and housekeeping tasks, though, because the weather turned quite nasty mid-afternoon.

Planting went pretty well. The kids helped me with some of it but had a tendency to want to treat my $30 fruit trees as spears that may have had me scream some bad words😛 The planting list was as follows:

  • 1 x Stark SureCrop Pie Cherry tree
  • 1 x Libery Semi-Dwarf Apple
  • 1 x Mac-Free Semi-Dwarf Apple
  • 3 x Hansen’s Bush Cherry
  • 2 x Brazelberries Jellybean Dwarf Blueberry (in pots)
  • 1 x Earliblue Blueberry
  • 1 x Bluecrop Blueberry
  • 1 x Jersey Blueberry

I planted both the blueberries in pots and blueberries in ground in a 50:50 mix of compost and peat moss. I’ll periodically irrigate it with acidified water and/or use acid-loving plant fertilizer. I’ve always wanted to try growing blueberries, so hopefully this works.

Pictures of some of the plants below.

In foreground is the new cherry tree. In the way back is our existing cherry. In between them is the bush cherry.

In foreground is the new cherry tree. In the way back is our existing cherry. In between them is the bush cherry.

The Mac-Free apple

The Mac-Free apple

Liberty Apple. Behind and towards the right you can see another of the bush cherries.

Liberty Apple. Behind and towards the right you can see another of the bush cherries.

One of the full-size blueberries.

One of the full-size blueberries.

One of the dwarf blueberries in a free pot a neighbor gave us.

One of the dwarf blueberries in a free pot a neighbor gave us.


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