Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Evening chores

036 I love a great sunset. With my new camera, I find myself looking for nice photo opportunities. Sunday evening (and several other previous evenings) I took my camera with me at chore time. This time of year, evening chores fall during the time the sun is setting. So, I watch the sky on the way down the hill to the barn and on the way back up afterwards, taking as many photos as I desire. The memory card in my camera can hold over 1,000 photos on the highest quality setting. I don’t expect to fill it up on these evening journeys to the barn and back.

Sunday evening there were clouds in the sky to catch the colors of the setting sun, and I snapped a few photos. I’m still learning my new camera. So, I try different shots with different settings. It’s quite fun. I usually can’t wait to upload them to the computer to see them clearly.

Chore time involves cleaning out Josey’s stall, milking her, carrying water for her, giving her enough hay for overnight, and closing the turkeys in their house. We have a well with a hand pump that is about 150 feet from the barn, and I carry water to the barn in five-gallon buckets. There are a few hundred bales of hay which we baled last summer in the loft. Josey’s hay feeder has a chute to drop the hay into from the loft. 

On Sunday, I let Ramiah take a few photos while I was milking Josey just to show that I was actually doing more than taking photos of the sky. 053I give the evening’s milk to my parents. They use the milk for cooking and cereal after skimming the cream off. My mom makes butter with the cream that Dad doesn’t consume or that doesn’t go in their coffee.

Josey is a gentle and affectionate cow. I’m thankful for that. I’d never owned a cow or been around any before buyer her. When I put her in the stall when she first came to the farm, I wondered about my decision to purchase here. She seemed so huge in comparison to our goats.

Yesterday, I worked for a while cleaning out another area in the barn in which we had goats until last summer. I just hadn’t gotten that job done yet. Josey would also spend time in there with the goats, and more recently I’ve used it for housing Chucky Joe overnight (he’s staying with friends for a few weeks right now). Josey had to be right there with me while I worked, trying to nibble on my jacket or pants while checking out what I was going and searching for any good bits of hay that might have been overlooked. Once I finishing getting it cleaned out, I’m going to move Josey into this area. In her current stall, even though I clean it out and put down bedding twice a day, she still manages to lay down in her own mess too often. The other area is larger which will give her more places to choose from when it’s time to lie down.

Homestead objectives (part II)

I made a list of some of our main objectives thinking that I would write one post describing them. Then, I started and determined that such a post would be quite long, longer than I had thought it would be. So, I’ve broken it down into individual posts focusing on the individual objectives. The first one I covered was to grow and harvest good food.

The second objective I’ll discuss is to grow together as a family.

Homesteading provides opportunities for us to be together and to work together that would not otherwise be possible. I’m very blessed in the job that I have because Sabbath breakfastit allows me to work from home. It’s also not full-time work. The income it provides is less than many families spend just for food each month, but it allows us to be together. We have made choices about how weChore helpers live, and we appreciate the advantages that come with it. Sure, it would be nice to still have the income I had before we moved here, to still live in our big, red-brick house, but I would be gone much of each day and several evenings every week. I wouldn’t be around for us to eat three meals together as a family like we do now. I wouldn’t be there every night to help get the children ready and into bed and to kiss them goodnight. We wouldn’t be together as we are now. Our children are Malchiah with handtruckgrowing up with their daddy as an every day part of their lives. In fact, Malchiah and Naomi have always had it so.

We homeschool our children. There are too many influences in the public schools that we do not want them exposed to. Our children do not watch TV or play video games. They don’t go out to eat or to movies. They don’t do many of the things that most of society thinks of as “normal.” They aren’t deprived, though. They have 57 acres of woods and fields to run around in. They have great imaginations and are able to use them. Naomi reading at Mammaw's HouseThey have responsibilities and jobs and are learning the value of working. They have been around and know about the process of live, its beginnings and endings. They are developing a healthy respect for and understanding of the purpose of the animals God has created. Reading togetherThey are learning about proper stewardship for the things God gives us responsibility for. 

Ideally, schooling is a natural, normal part of life. We try to make that so. We also use some specific curricular tools and have “lesson” time for the children. They’ve been read to since they were just wee little things, developing a love of reading at an early age.

Our children are wonderful blessings, and God has given us a great responsibility in raising them properly. I wish I could say that we do it well. I know we don’t do it as well as we should. But, I can’t imagine the additional challenges that we would face in this task if we lived in different circumstances. When I was young, my family was financially poor, but we were rich in many other ways. We worked hard raising, harvesting, and preservingRamiah washing dishes food. I didn’t always appreciate the work when I was young, but I do now when I look back upon what I learned through it. I want my children to learn some of the same lessons and to not be selfish, in-debt consumers.

We have extended family here. My parents living next door on the farm is a wonderful thing. It seems so uncommon to find extended families in our culture and society. Yet, that is the model in the scriptures and in many cultures. There is a strength and are great blessings in having an extended family. Our children are being blessed in ways they don’t realize yet just by having their Mammaw and Pappaw  and Uncle Danny living here with them. Jessica doing lessonsIt’s also something that benefits my parents and Danny. I wish I could’ve grown up with my grandparents in the same way. There is so much more I could’ve learned from them.

I think that every homesteading adventure is unique, because each individual or family interprets and creates it in the ways that make sense to them. We thank God all the time for the opportunity we have to live here, to be together as a family. The are long-term benefits that we haven’t even imagine. Working and playing together, eating meals together, just being together, is incredibly important to us, and we are grateful that it is so.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Homestead objectives (part I)

New Kentucky Homestead blog is only a little more than two weeks old. There is still a lot of information I would like to share in order to provide a background for understanding some of our activities and pursuits. I imagine that doing so will be an ongoing process; this is a dynamic enterprise. Hopefully, I will be able to continue posting regularly. My goal is five times a week with photos accompanying the posts.

So, today, I thought it might be beneficial to begin to describe some of our objectives here on our homestead, why we are here and what we intend to be doing.

The first objective (the only one for today) is to grow and harvest good food.

There are several ways in which we seek to meet this objective. The first one is with our garden. Most of the tillable land on our homestead has been used for growing tobacco in the past. Tobacco is a heavy feeder, and the growing of it in this area involves the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to some degree. We don’t know what chemicals were used on our ground before we moved here, although neighbors have told me that the weeds in the fields the summer prior to our move here outgrew the tobacco. GardenThe man growing on the property didn’t live here and didn’t spend the necessary time and money on the crop to keep the weeds under control. This is probably a good thing because it means he didn’t spray them as much as he might have otherwise.

We selected one of these tobacco patches as our main garden area. It measures approximately 300 feet by 80 feet and slopes slightly toward the south, along which side runs a small creek branch. There is a drive to other fields and areas between the garden and the creek branch. Across the branch our small ridge rises, and trees grow along it. These trees cast some early morning shade on the lower side of the garden.

As we’ve been using this area for our garden, the soil has improved. We’ve added compost, manure, and mulch in different quantities at various times and have also incorporated some green manures. Overall, the soil still needs amended, especially on the upper side where it has a higher percentage of clay.

The main garden crops we grow are tomatoes, potatoes (white and sweet), beans, onions, greens, okra, squash, cucumbers, peppers, and some herbs. produce 010There are other things and also several different varieties of each thing. We grow non-hybrids from which we are able to save seed as much as possible. For instance, this year we grew the following types of tomatoes: Amish Paste, Heidi (paste), Roma, Brandywine, Rutgers, Oregon Spring, Jubilee, and Marglobe. We saved seeds to start this coming spring from most of these and a couple of others that were given to us. I also would like to try some new varieties from Sand Hill Preservation Center (you should check them out if you’re unfamiliar with them – they are preserving so many different varieties of plants).

We planted 100 pounds of Kennebec seed potatoes last year. Fifty pounds we planted in April and fifty pounds in July. Sweet Potato Harvest 002The later crop did not produce as well as the early one. We planted the later one hoping that they would keep better because they were harvested later (the ones planted in  April were harvested in July). However, both crops seem to be keeping equally well. So, we’ll probably plant them mostly in the spring, hoping for a bigger harvest. After digging them this last summer, they spent about two and a half months spread out in the barn. This was probably the coolest place to keep them, and they seemed quite happy. They are now living in “the bus.” The bus is the storm shelter the previous owner built by burying the back end of a school bus into the hillside. We’re using it as a root cellar.

Besides green beans, we also grew Pinto, White Northern, and Horticulture beans this last summer. We’ve experienced difficulty growing dried beans in the past because they would begin to mold and/or sprout if left on the plants in the garden. Probably because of the humidity we have. This year when the beans were mature and had started to dry, I pulled up the plants and tied them into bundles, one bundle on each end of a short length of string. I hung these over four foot long tobacco sticks and suspended the sticks on some of the tier poles in the barn. Our barn is an old tobacco barn – it’s purpose was for holding tobacco to dry. This method worked very well, and we hope to grow more dried beans this coming year. The previous summer, we grew Horticulture beans also, but we picked them when they were mature but not dry, shelled them, and then canned them. Drying them in the barn and then threshing out the beans seems like less work than shelling the beans, plus, storing them dried will require less energy and processing time.

There is more to describe about our gardening, but I think I’ll save that for later. As we work on the process this spring and summer, it will make good sense to discuss it. Of course, time will be more limited then than now, but hopefully, I’ll be able to post enough detail to my blog.

There are other means by which we seek to grow and harvest good food. We also raise some grains, although this is an area still in development. I’ve already posted about growing corn in the previous post. Wheat in shocksAnother grain we have grown in the past and are trying to grow again this year is wheat. I planted about an acre of wheat in the fall of 2005. We harvested it in the summer of 2006 and put the shocks in the barn. I wanted to thresh it later in the year, but the mice had ruined it for human consumption by then. So, I fed it to the goats and turkeys. They loved it, and I didn’t have to thresh it for them.

At the beginning of October this year, I worked up an area, about 1/2 acre, and seeded 100 pounds of hard, white winter wheat. I’d like to acquire a small grain drill for seeding it because my hand-cranked broadcast seeder doesn’t produce a consistent stand. We’ll see how it does this summer, and if it does well, we will try not to wait too long before threshing it. I did try some spring wheat, seeding it last spring. It did not do well at all, and we got nothing out of it. I would like to try some hull-less oats, too. I need to find some seed for that.

We set out several small fruit trees about three years ago. Some have died, and some are doing okay. We had our 17 year locusts this last year. These cicadas bore into small diameter branches to lay their eggs, and they seemed to find our young apple trees to their liking. They were pruned quite severely by these noisy pests, but I think they’ll survive. However, we have so many cedar trees around that I’m not sure how well apple trees will do here because of cedar apple rust.

We can grow blueberries quite well in our climate. Our soil is generally acidic enough for them, too.  We have a few plants that are now old enough that we should get several berries from this coming summer. We pick quite a few gallons of wild blackberries in July each year. This last year I picked over 20 gallons of them. The biggest problem with picking wild blackberries, apart from the scratches the briars so generously endow, are chiggers. I had over 50 on each leg after one picking last summer. I use a citronella-based bug spray usually that helps a great deal, but I forgot to put it on that time.

Another source of good food is animals which we raise. We’ve had chickens for most of the time we’ve lived here, but this last summer we sold all of the. Feed prices were going up and the chickens did not recognize a fence as a barrier. They went over it or through it and scratched all over the neighborhood. This was actually a good thing except for their desire to dig in my mom’s flower beds. So, our nearest neighbors didn’t appreciate our chickens running around free range. The chickens were good for eggs, when they laid them. We also usually had enough hatched out to have several to eat, put in the freezer, and/or can.

We raise a few turkeys, although not a very large breed. We’ve been able to have our own thanksgiving turkey for the last few years plus a few others. Canned turkey and broth is wonderful in soups. We’ve also eaten turkey eggs, because they were laying so well and we weren’t hatching out any more poults.

IM000335Until last summer, we had goats. The goats were good for milk and sometimes for meat, although t hey seem to take a lot to grow them to an acceptable size for meat. We had three or four goats that we milked during the last four years, none of them being anything more than average milkers. When comparing the time spent taking care of them and milking them compared to what we were getting out of it, it just didn’t make sense to keep raising them. We bought a cow and were getting milk from her, so we sold the goats last summer.


091 Our cow is a full Guernsey we named Josephine, but we usually call her Josey. She had a bull calf last May, which is now a steer, who we named Chucky Joe. He’s staying at a friend’s place right now, simplifying weaning. Josey provides us with about 2.5 gallons of milk each day. We only keep about a gallon of it each day for ourselves, giving the rest to my parents and to Danny for his mom. Chucky is slated to be converted into beef next winter. We grow all of the hay needed to feed Josey and Chucky and my Dad’s goats. We also have enough to feed our goats, if we still had some.

002a Most of the red meat we eat during the year is venison. Besides the deer I, Dad, and Danny are able to harvest, people in the neighborhood generally give us several. We process them all ourselves and preserve them, usually by freezing and canning. This year I tried drying some. I also cured some in a salt brine and then cold smoked it in a homemade smoker. We’ve only eaten one of the smoked roasts so far, and it was quite good.

What food we aren’t able to grow or harvest ourselves, we buy, mostly through the local food co-op. We order from the co-op every four weeks. Right now, that’s where most of our grains are purchased. What we do buy, we endeavor to buy certified organic. That doesn’t guarantee its wholesomeness, but it is generally a lot better than conventional.

I’ll write about more or our homesteading objectives in subsequent posts.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Say NO to genetically modified corn

060 Over time, corn has been a major food source for rural families, especially poor, rural families. Nowadays, the fields of corn often seen aren’t the little 2 or 3 acre family plots but hundred or thousand acre fields. Those growing it don’t generally develop their own varieties and save their seeds. Rather, they buy different hybrids designed to meet their needs which are available through seed distributors. What their needs are vary, of course, but usually one of the concerns is production. More is considered better.

When I was a teenager, I worked one summer detasseling corn. There were various seed corn companies that hired teenagers to work in their fields doing this job. In the fields, there were generally two rows of one corn variety alternating with six rows of another variety. By removing the tassels from the corn variety in the six rows, the remaining variety would pollinate them, creating a hybrid. The detasselers’ job was to remove the tassels that the machines missed. I spent another summer working for seed company that was trying to develop other corn and soybean hybrids. My job was cross-pollinating soybeans, a tedious process requiring a steady hand and a magnifying glass.

059 Developing a successful hybrid today involves the laboratory as much or more than the field. Genetic modification is big business. Most of the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the results of Monsanto’s efforts. The process involves injecting foreign genes into the DNA of the corn or soybean or whatever with the objective of producing some desired outcome, like resistance to Roundup herbicide or the creation of BT bacteria (among other things). So many things are today are genetically modified. Too much is unknown about the ramifications of genetic modification in terms of its effects on people’s health, how it affects other animals and plants, and the resulting genetic mutations it produces. It’s actually some pretty scary stuff when you take an in-depth look at it. Watch The World According to Monsanto if you want to learn more.

Our pursuit at New Kentucky Homestead is to grow as much of our own food as possible in a sustainable way. We don’t use chemical fertilizers or chemical herbicides or chemical pesticides. Much of the genetically modified hybrids require a certain level of chemical usage. They also aren’t sustainable; you can’t save seeds from what you grow and have the next year’s crop be true to type. This is the antithesis of what we are doing here. So, we do not use hybrids, let alone GMOs.

In 2006, we grew a half acre of field corn. We bought open-pollinated seed corn from Bunton’s Seed in Louisville, KY. The variety we purchased was Trucker’s Favorite, a white field corn also grown for roasting ears. The corn grew fairly well, although the soil in the field we planted it was less than ideal. Then, because of various other factors, we didn’t harvest all of it. What we did harvest was used for animal feed and to save seeds for another planting.

I didn’t get any corn planted for the summer of 2007, but last spring I was able to prepare a field for another corn crop. The preparation involved plowing and disking. We ended up with just over 1/4 of an acre of corn. It grew and produced fairly well, the biggest problem being from raccoons and deer who apparently thought it was being grown for them. The dryness of the season helped that which was knocked down to not just spoil like it would have if it had been wet.

051 Dad and I were able to harvest the corn this fall. Ramiah and Malchiah helped a little. I think they picked two rows together. Without a mechanical picker or combine, our method for harvesting involved pulling the ear off the stalk, s hucking it, putting the ear in a five-gallon bucket, stepping the stalk down to the ground, and moving on to the next one. When our buckets were filled, we dumped the corn into a small trailer we had at the edge of the field. We spent two days picking corn, and at the end of each we shoveled the corn from the trailer into the corn crib I built for it.

My corn crib is constructed of four, stout cedar poles I cut and set two feet into the grown. 065Onto these poles are attached pallets that a neighbor gave to us. It is one pallet wide and two pallets high. I put a metal shed roof on top and wrapped the structure with poultry netting. The netting is to keep raccoons from raiding the crib. The bottom of the crib sits about two feet off of the ground with each pole wrapped with pieces of aluminum siding that I took off of an old mobile home. The aluminum is to keep mice from climbing the legs and getting into the corn.

All together, we picked about 35 bushels of ear corn. The crib can hold 200 bushels, according to my calculations. Maybe we’ll have a really big harvest sometime in the future.

We’ve been using the corn for our own eating. We’ve had parched corn, grits, and corn bread, all of which we’ve enjoyed. For Thanksgiving I made some cornbread dressing using some of our corn and other ingredients that were all homegrown. It was excellent, if I say so myself.

It is possible that in the future corn will become one of our staple grains. It’s easy to grow and harvest, and we have a crib in which to store it and where it can finish drying after harvest. I’m pleased that we still have the option to grow a real, open-pollinated variety of corn and not the genetically modified hybrids that are commonly available for field corn.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Early morning frost, birds, & a skunk

It was a beautiful morning. A clear sky with a bright sun rising above the horizon. I was a little late setting out to do my chores, but the beauty of the beginning day prompted me to take my camera with me in the hopes of capturing some good shots.frost on fox tailfrosty grass with sun

There was a heavy frost on everything in the bottom, the result of moist air and below-freezing temperatures. When you view a frosted blade of grass closely, you discover that the frost is made up of very small ice crystals. These crystals catch the light of the sun and sparkle.

frost on grass ice crystals -- frostIt was fun trying to capture the beauty of the morning and the little intricacies that exist all around us. I’m still learning how to do it well, but it’s a fun process. 

The birds were happily flitting about this morning, too. We have a variety of different types around here. pileated woodpeckerMany times when I’ve been out early of a morning during hunting season, I’ve noticed that they all seem to wake up about the bird on branchsame time. With the 10x optical zoom on my camera and the 5x digital zoom, I was able to get close enough to snap some bird photos. One of them was a pileated woodpecker. They make a lot of noise as they fly from tree to tree. They’re good-sized birds.

Later in the morning after breakfast, Danny came over and asked if I would look at something. He said it was an animal he caught in a trap, and he wanted to know what it was. He said it was black with a white spot on its head. I thought skunk. That’s what it was. We let it go, successfully avoiding being sprayed. The little guy didn’t seem too concerned about us and gladly trotted away.

[I used Windows Live Writer to compose this blog post. This is a new tool for me – I just downloaded it today. It handles photos quite well, but there are some quirks in text editing which I hope to figure out as I use it more.]

Merry Saturnalia? A good day to split firewood

Today is a special day of the year for many people in the US and around the world. It’s never been more than a day off from regular work throughout my life. I’ve never celebrated Christmas, not because I’m not a believer in and follower of the Messiah. I am. The history and origins of this “Christian” celebration prevent me from embracing it. I wonder how many celebrants of this “birthday of Jesus” really know about the origins of their celebration? How many care? I do. It’s not my job to convince or require anyone else to change what they do on Christmas. That’s a personal choice. I, for one, cannot in good conscience pretend to worship and honor my God using practices and traditions that are rooted in ungodliness. I don’t believe He wants me to do that.

Here are some links if you’re interested in some of the history of this festival:

So, today has not been different from any other day, except that the sun is shining brightly which is different than the previous couple of days. Dad and I split some more firewood this morning. There’s another trailer load waiting to be picked up. The ground is too muddy today to drive over to get it. This is nice firewood; it’s all white oak from a tree that’s been dead for a few years already.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Miscellaneous: painting, reading, photography

Homesteading is a way of life, one in which we are able to pursue what's referred to as a "simple life." I suppose it's simple in some ways, but it also brings considerable physical labor. Growing, harvesting, and preserving food takes a lot of time and work. However, there is still time to pursue other activities and interests, especially during the winter months when the days are shorter and the nights longer. Also, when it's raining outside, there are quite a few things that I'll gladly put off rather than get soaked.

I recently purchased a new digital camera (a Fujifilm Finepix S700), and I'm enjoying taking photos and exploring its capabilities. I have an interest in photography, at least to a small degree, whether I have much skill or ability in this area. I took these photos of the sunset this evening.

There's more time during the winter for reading. One of my evening activities is reading to the children. Currently, we are finishing Little House on the Prairie. We generally read the entire set of "Little house" books over the winter. The children really seem to enjoy them. This year, Malchiah is old enough to truly appreciate them. Naomi is enjoying them, too, although she doesn't follow all of the stories completely.

I also read other books for my own edification or entertainment. I'm currently reading The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need -- And What We Can Do About It by Tony Wagner. I ordered this as an evaluation copy in order to consider using it in my class. I just finished Created for Work: Practical Insights for Young Men by Bob Schultz. I enjoyed the practical lessons he presents.

Probably because they've all been read to since they were infants and have seen Anne and I reading, our children all love books. Jessica reads every chance she gets. Ramiah is growing as a reader. All four of them love to be read to, the younger three asking quite often to be read to. That's a good thing, and I'm glad they are readers.

Years ago while still in grad school, I participated in an informal painting class put on by a friend. It was based upon Bob Ross' method. You may have seen The Joy of Painting series on PBS in the past. Bob Ross would paint a landscape within the 30 minute program. I studied his painting techniques by watching his program and reading some of his instructional books. Although I haven't painted any pictures in a few years, I enjoy painting. I hope to make time to do so again soon. The photos show a couple of the paintings I've done.

The rains of winter

Winter officially began just a few days ago. Growing up in Central Illinois, I have memories of some winters with sub-zero temperatures, lots of snow, and incredible ice storms. This is our sixth winter in Kentucky, and they have all been mild in comparison to the winters I remember on the plains of Illinois. Usually, the ground doesn't freeze except temporarily and only a few inches deep. The major form of precipitation we receive is rain. Lots of rain, usually. At least, it seems that way. Slogging around in mud is a usual thing, because until later in Spring, the ground stays wet.

Last week brought cloudy skies and rain. It also brought wind. All week. I was going to spend several days in the woods hunting deer as it was our late muzzleloader season. The weather was less than ideal for it all week except for two days. So, no deer. I'll try not to complain about the wind we've been having. Generally, we don't have too much, at least not like in the flatlands where there are few trees and no hills to stop or slow down the wind.

After our coldest temps yet this year (5 degrees Monday morning), we had more rain yesterday, last night, and today. Dad said his gauge measured over two inches of rain today. At times it came down quite heavily. The temperatures have been up, though. We were in the 60s today. A chance for more rain is forecast for Friday and Saturday with more 60 degree temperatures.

When the rain comes down hard, the creeks rise and really flow. All that water has to go somewhere. Rain on hilly land is a different experience than it is on flat land. It's amazing how much power water possesses when it flows downhill. I've had to fix my driveway after storms several times. The water will move the gravel quite a ways if given a chance.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Keeping warm during winter

The winters we've experienced here in Kentucky have been quite mild in comparison to some I remember on the plains of Central Illinois. However, that doesn't mean it doesn't get cold here. In fact, the temperature dropped to about 5 degrees last night. It was only in the low 20s today, but we're expecting a high of about 58 degrees on Wednesday.

Our vision of homesteading guides our adventures and endeavors. We want to provide for as many of our needs as we can, limiting our dependence on other systems and service providers. One area in which we have limited our dependence is for heat in our home when it gets cold outside. We heat with wood. To completely restrict our dependence on outside resources, I'd have to cut all of our firewood without the aid of my chainsaw. That could be done, but since it's not necessary at this point, I have not made the move to do without my Stihl MS250. Part or our intent is to be prepared for a time when services and conveniences may not be available. So, we still have utility bills and appreciate "modern conveniences."

To provide heat, we purchased an Amish-built, dual-purpose heating and cooking stove three years ago. It's a Bakers' Choice. We really like it. Previously, we used a wood heating stove that was in the garage when we moved here. There was already an insulated chimney installed through the roof in the mobile home. Yeah, most regulations say you're not supposed to have a wood stove in a mobile home, but for various reasons, I'm not concerned about those regulations. We are safe and responsible, and I'm enough of a Libertarian to believe that what I choose to do is none of the government's or anyone else's business.

I installed a new double-wall, insulated chimney when we bought our new stove. It has a 7" diameter rather than the usual 6". That's what the stove is made for, and the old 6" that was here previously needed to be replaced anyway.

Our heating needs so far have required only about 3 cords of wood each year. It doesn't take too long to cut that amount of wood, especially if it is easy to get to. By that, I mean if it doesn't require too much carrying up steep hillsides in order to get it out of the gully in which it lies. Most of what we've burned so far has been cut on other people's property. Why cut my own trees when others have dead trees or tops left from logging readily available? One neighbor friend is allowing us to cut up the tops from trees on the 40 acres he had logged. There is years' worth of wood in there, and we can drive right up to most of it. Dad, Danny, and I can several cords of wood in a day.

Today, the sun was shining, and it was quite a beautiful day. The temperature was only in the low 20s, though. I had some logs laying on the neighbors property across the fence from our home that Dad and I had drug up out of the gully this fall. We drug it with the tractor using several chains. These logs were from a couple of trees that had blown over early this summer. One was a cherry tree with three trunks ranging in diameter at the but end from 10 inches to 14 inches. The other was a maple tree that had blown over. It was much bigger, close to 24 inches in diameter. So, I decided to cut these logs into firewood today.

I cut them into 16 inch lengths, on average, a size that fits nicely in our stove. Most of these pieces needed splitting. So, after running one tank of gas through the saw, I began splitting them into the proper sizes. Dad showed up after a while with his splitting maul and helped split. He said he needed some exercise since he'd not been doing much because of all the rain we've been having. So, we split what I'd cut. Then, after lunch, I cut the rest of the logs into lengths, and Dad and I split them all into firewood.

After finishing all of the splitting, we loaded the wood on my 16 foot trailer. It's actually still on the trailer, because by the time we finished it was time to begin my chores. There ended up being a fairly nice load of wood out of the logs. I saved four small cherry logs (about 6 feet long) and one maple log to mill into lumber. I want to have cherry runners and maple risers for the stairway in our new house. I'll unload the trailer tomorrow, I expect. Tomorrow, Dad and I are planning to begin cutting up a big, old white oak that we drug out of another gully this fall. There will be two or three times as much wood out of it.

Prior to heading down the hill to do my chores, I snapped a few photos of the sunset. There was a bit of nice color. This one turned out nice. So, I thought I'd share.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It'll taste like chicken

Last week, a neighbor friend called to inquire whether or not I would like some roosters. I waited until she said the magic word -- FREE -- before saying yes. She raises several different kinds of animals including goats, turkeys, and chickens. She specializes in certain breeds for each one of these, and apart from the goats, I don't remember the specific breeds. Anyway, she called again Sunday morning to let me know that she and her husband had caged the birds. All we had to do was go over and get them. So, Dad and I did just that.

These roosters were full grown, having hatched out earlier this year, and were a nice size and age for fried chicken. So, today, Dad and I dressed out these nine birds.

To begin the process, I built a fire in my homemade grill. I made the grill five years ago from a small, metal barrel that was in the garage. It's grilled a few venison steaks, chickens, ducks, and a goat since I built it. It also works well for heating water for scalding birds to be plucked. I use a 30 gallon metal drum that was originally designed for water storage as the pot for heating the water. It sits on a metal plate across the top of the grill, and it doesn't take a very large fire to heat the water to scalding temperature (145 to 160 degrees seems to work well).

Once I had the water heating, Dad and I brought up the first batch of birds. We dressed out all nine of them in two batches. I hung the roosters by their feet from a barb wire fence (I use the fence because it's convenient). Then, they are dispatched. I use my knife to sever their jugular arteries. This method works quite well compared to others I've used in the past which include chopping or pulling the head off. Being hung from the fence, the chickens do not run and hop around after their painless demise, but, rather, they stay and bleed in one spot.

After they have stopped kicking and flapping, it's time to scald the chickens. We scald them right in the pot of hot water. The hot water helps to loosen the feathers so they pluck out easily. Dad scalded them, holding them by their feet and swishing them around and up and down in the water. He checks whether or not they are scalded well enough by pulling on wing and tail feathers, the ones that normally are the most tenacious. If the water isn't hot enough, it's hard to scald the birds well enough, making plucking more difficult (same thing if you don't scald long enough). If the water is too hot, it can also make the feathers not let go and pluck easily. It can also cause the skin to tear easily because it is partially cooked.

Once properly scalded, we plucked the chickens. That means, we pulled all their feathers out. Sometimes, we borrow a friends automated plucker, but not today.

After plucking the chickens, we moved to a makeshift table we had set up. The process at this point was to remove the head and feet. The craw and skin around the neck are then removed and the neck cut off of the bird. We save the necks to be cooked for stock or flavoring of soups or other dishes. Then, the tail and insides are removed. We kept the gizzards and the hearts today, but not the livers. I cut up my share of the giblets into small pieces and froze them. Some time later I will saute these in oil, maybe with a little onion, add some flour and then milk to make gravy. Biscuits and gravy is a favorite meal in our family.

Once we finished eviscerating the birds, we rinsed them well inside and out with the hose and then put them in a bucket of cold water. Once we finished all nine of them, Dad took his share and I took mine (I let him decide how many he wanted -- he left me with six of them). We both finished the process inside our homes.

I took each bird individually and cleaned off pin feathers that remained and removed the yellow scaly stuff on the skin. I rinsed them well with filtered water and then cut them into pieces. My pieces include two legs, two thighs, a back, two wings, two ribs, and two breast pieces. I wrapped each chicken in freezer paper and put them in the freezer. I put one in the refrigerator. We'll have fresh, fried chicken tomorrow night.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Our simple greenhouse

The first summer after we moved here, a friend in Illinois gave us chickens. I built a couple movable chicken houses for them and moved them nearly every day across the yard. For the winter I decided to build a greenhouse for them to live in. I was influenced by some of Joel Salatin's writings and his description of the benefits of this sort of housing arrangement for wintering fowl.

Now, I suppose I could have gone out and bought a greenhouse or a kit for one, but that would've cost more money than I wanted to spend. I am often creatively finding ways to spend little or no money to accomplish the ends I desire (some people call me cheap, but what do they know?). So, I spent less than $100 to build a 20' x 12' greenhouse. I used cedar poles I cut to form a rectangle on the ground. I drilled holes along the two long sides into which I inserted 20 foot lengths of 3/4" electrical conduit pvc. Using recycled lumber, I framed the two ends. On one I installed an old storm door that had been left in the barn, and in the other I put a storm window (also left by the previous owner). I covered the structure with 6 mil clear plastic I bought at Lowes. This came in a 100' roll -- enough to cover the structure 4 times. I nailed the plastic secure at the bottom edges. In order to keep the chickens from tearing the plastic, I put 4' poultry netting around the inside. I then had an unheated greenhouse.

The chickens liked it alright -- at least they seemed to (none ever actually said so). They scratched and did chicken things inside, but the winter wasn't that cold. So, I let them roam around outside on nice days. Eventually, I built them their own permanent house in the spring.

I used the greenhouse to start plants for the garden in the spring. I learned fairly soon that I couldn't expect plastic that isn't UV-treated to last for more than a season. It's not a big deal to recover it, thankfully. Three summers ago I used the greenhouse as a solar kiln. I stickered lumber (stacked in layers with 1" x 1" sticks running crossways which allows ventilation between layers) from a local sawmill inside the greenhouse, set up a couple of fans, and was able to dry the green lumber to 12% moisture content in about a month.

That fall I wanted to try growing greens in the greenhouse for winter salads, but I hadn't moved the last batch of dried lumber out. So, I built another smaller and more temporary greenhouse with moldy hay bales, short lengths of pvc, and more plastic. I had to crawl inside this one as there wasn't room to stand up. However, it worked great for salads, and we enjoyed fresh greens almost all winter.

This year, I redid the original greenhouse. I drove pieces of 1/2" tubing into the ground over which I slipped the 3/4" pvc on 3 foot centers. This allowed the sides to be a little more vertical before they curve across the top. That makes the space more useable up to the edges. I incorporated quite a bit of nice compost, compliments of Josey the cow, into the soil. I was able to plant seeds for lettuce, spinach, chard, mustard, holland tyfon greens, arugula, mache, radishes, turnips, and carrots at the beginning of November. That was a little later than I intended, but I was able to get the ground soaked nicely with rain before covering the greenhouse by waiting. I also planted some garlic in it.

The plants are growing fairly well, especially considering the cold temperatures we've had so far this year. It's been in the 20s quite a few nights and even into the teens a few. Yesterday, I dug up some plants from the regular garden which I planted for a fall crop and transplanted them into the greenhouse. This includes some chard and pak choi. They should enjoy the warmer temperatures. It can be freezing outside, but if the sun is shining, it'll be near 90 degrees in the greenhouse.

I'm looking forward to our first salad this winter. There will be some young greens that will need to be thinned before long. That'll make a nice, tender salad to enjoy.

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