October 31, 2011

Chickens Out and About

Over the last few weekends I've been letting a few chickens out of their pen to wander around the yard. At first I only let a couple out, but this past weekend I let all of them out at once. I'm happy to say that everyone was very well behaved and also very easy to return to the chicken run (using food as a bribe, of course).

My city doesn't allow urban chicken keepers to let their chickens free-range, but I doubt I'm going to get in trouble for letting them out for an hour or so.

They had a great time scratching around the garden, eating weeds (and my fall lettuce), and exploring.

October 27, 2011

Pet Protocol

I've had three of my pets die this year and I've come to the decision that I'm no longer going to get new pets unless they can be used for producing food.

I've purchased a number of small critters over the years (rats, hamsters, parakeets) with dreams of them being loads of fun to interact with. However, when it comes down to it, they are all too small, fragile, and skittish to gain much enjoyment from.

I'm also not interested in getting a dog or cat, which I assume would be more enjoyable and interactive. My family never had a dog or cat, so I have almost zero experience with them. I once babysat my brother's dog Sophie when she was a puppy for a couple weeks. She's cute, but I just didn't "get" the whole "man's best friend" thing. I don't dislike dogs, but the constant pleas for attention didn't seem like much of a friendship situation. I guess I'm just odd that way.

That said, from now on I think I'll stick to animals that can be used for, or produce, food. I've really enjoyed having the chickens. I love watching their antics, they are super low maintenance, and their eggs are delicious.

While I can't fulfill all my livestock dreams at my current home in the city (mostly due to ordinance issues, not lack of space), someday I see myself having dairy goats, meat rabbits, ducks, turkeys, geese, and bees. At the moment, I'm especially excited about the bees. I'm pretty sure they are legal in my city...more on my bee-dreams soon!

October 19, 2011

Hard-shelled Gourd Harvest

I've been growing hard-shelled gourds for about four years now. I love them! It's so much fun watching the plants grow and the fruit develop. Gourds come in so many fun shapes and sizes too!

Here's my gourd harvest for 2011 (plus one more little cream of saskatchewan watermelon). I'm slightly disappointed because there were a few new kinds I tried that didn't do well. I'm not sure how many bushel gourd seeds I started (probably about 12), but I only got one plant to survive and produce a single fruit...but at least it's enormous! This is the second year I've tried growing corsican and penguin gourds and I still haven't gotten a single fruit. I even ordered new corsican gourd seed this year (and got 0% germination both years). I also tried, and failed, to grow snake gourd and swan gourd this year. I think the only types I can rely on are birdhouse and baby bottle.

I'm pretty excited about my lone bushel gourd. It's bigger than a basketball! I'm not sure what I'll do with it yet...perhaps make a couple bowls?

I lost a couple nice birdhouse gourds to slugs this year. I've never had slugs tear into my gourds before! Luckily they only ruined two fruits. The others seemed almost completely untouched.

October 14, 2011

Victorian Farm- My new favorite show

I recently discovered the BBC series Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm thanks to a quick mention by Jenna Woginrich on her blog, coldantlerfarm. If you're into historical reenactment, farm history, or domestic-skills history, you should check it out. Unfortunately, since it's a BBC program (or should I say programme) you can't buy the DVDs in a version that will function on American DVD players. Luckily, most of the episodes are available on YouTube. It can be a little tricky hunting down all the separate sections (each episode is broken into four 15-minute segments), but it's worth the hunting.

To get you started, here's the first section of episode 1 of Victorian Farm:

October 12, 2011

Grocery Store Wars

This video has been out for like 6 years, but I just found it and thought it was worth sharing. I think the message gets a little lost, but it's so darn clever!

October 10, 2011

BLT Pizza (kind of)

I've been having a lot of fun making homemade pizzas this summer. My boyfriend introduced me to the world of chicken pizza and it's now my favorite topping. The latest pizza did not have chicken (we were out), so we used bacon. I decided to do a play on a BLT sandwich using bacon, swiss chard (it's pretty close to lettuce, right?) and tomato (three different colors of heirlooms). I also included a ton of garlic.

It turned into a very colorful pizza! I've been using frozen pizza dough and it is so good! I don't think I'll ever go back to pizza dough mix. You have to plan ahead a little bit more if you're using the frozen dough, but the pizzas we've been making are almost as good (if not better) than from a real pizza place.

I still prefer chicken, but this was pretty good too!

October 7, 2011

Hand Dyed Fabric for Mom

My mom's birthday is coming up again (happy 60th!) and I wanted to make her another batch of hand dyed fabric for her quilting projects (see here and here). I made her some fabric last year and she like it alot, so I thought I'd do it again.

Right after the dying process, each fabric piece is sealed in a plastic bag and let to rest for about 24 hours.

After resting, the excess dye is rinsed out and then the fabric is washed in the washing machine.

The colors are very vibrant when the fabric is wet, but a lot of the color usually washes out in the laundry.

Here are the first six fat-quarters (a quilting term meaning a quarter yard roughly in the shape of a square).

And here are the other six fat quarters.

I think this is one of my favorites (it combines my two favorite colors).

This one also turned out well. I was experimenting with using raw powdered dye sprinkled on to the fabric at the last minute. I think it looks pretty nice.

October 5, 2011

Homemade Applesauce

I picked up a bushel of Empire apples at the MSU horticulture farm fruit sale last Friday. I wanted to get a mixture of apples for making applesauce, but we weren't allowed to mix bushels together. I was told that Empire would be a good combination of tart and sweet (I like somewhat tart applesauce and I didn't want to have to add any extra sugar).

After looking at these photos, I'm really glad I washed the apples...look at all that bluish pesticide residue!

Since I have my awesome Roma food strainer, I didn't have to peel or core my apples. I just hacked each apple into about 8 pieces.

The apple chunks then went into a big pot with a little bit of water to simmer and soften.

After the apples were softened, I transferred them to the food strainer.

A simple turn of the crank, and the apples were pureed and the skins, cores, and seeds removed.

Here's a video of my food strainer in action (please ignore my filthy stovetop...it's canning season you know).

All the skins, cores, and seeds were separated from the apple pulp. This mess went into my compost bin. I thought about giving it to the chickens, but apple seeds contain cyanide compounds that can be bad in large quantities (such as this).

The pureed apples were then brought to a boil on the stove and then canned in water bath canner.

Two batches later and I got 8 pints and 6 quarts of applesauce! And, I still have another 8-10 pounds of apples left.

October 3, 2011

One Measly Melon

I had very high hopes for my Charentais melons this year. I had never grown melons before (except for a couple failed watermelon attempts). Throughout the whole summer I was checking my pumpkin/melon/gourd patch for any sign of melons and I finally got one (and only one). They're suppose to be small, but I'm not sure about this small...

Upon slicing into it, I was happy to find that it was ripe. However, it had no flavor or aroma whatsoever (maybe it wasn't ripe)! What a disappointment.
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