Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Barn tour

Here are some pictures of the interior and exterior of our barn. We are going to be re-furbishing it as best we can to use it for goats and pigs. The first order of business will be closing the hay door. The cables and pulleys that used to pull it closed have broken leaving it open to the winter wind.
We also have a little foundation work to do. The foundation is made of field stone and has crumbled in a ten foot section. The rest of the foundation looks pretty secure though.
The barn siding needs some patching, and the glass is missing from every window there is. To start with we will be patching the worst holes and replacing windows with old mismatched windows from a construction junkyard in town.

And now for the good news! The area where will be keeping the goats is already snug and secure. All it needs is one window and two doors. The doors will be easy enough to make, even with our limited skills.
There are also three good solid cattle milking stalls that we can easily use for goat milking. All of the gates and boards are in usable condition.
It is a daunting task, but after long thought it seems much more reasonable to slowly invest in the barn. It is structurally sound, the roof has very few holes in it, the planks in the walls can be replaced, and the windows can be covered. We are pleased with our re-assessment with the barn. Originally we had almost written it off. It is one of the most beautiful assets on our property.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Clay Pot Cooking

Have you experienced clay pot cooking? It is a must. The food is cooked in a clay pot that is soaked in water and then baked in a fast oven. All manner of foods can be cooked in this way from breads and deserts to chicken and seafood. Follow the directions carefully for your clay pot and always start with a cold oven. Last night we made clay pot chicken. The recipe is adapted from the recipe "beggar's chicken" in the book "The Complete Guide to Claypot Cooking" by Bridget Jones.

Take 8 "bone-in" chicken thighs and score them across the top. Marinate in:
8 Tbs. soy sauce
1/4-1/2 cup red wine
2 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
heaping 1/2 tsp. five spice powder
1/2 tsp. white pepper
4 cloves finely chopped garlic
2 tsp. grated ginger root

cover chicken with marinade and let stand for at least 5 hours.
Soak clay pot for 15 minutes in cold water.
put the chicken and marinade in the clay pot and cover with lid.
Put the covered clay pot in a cold oven and set for 475 degrees
Cook 35 minutes, then remove lid and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.

We serve with rice or pasta and a green salad. It is a heavenly use of inexpensive cuts of chicken. We buy the bulk "family-pack" of thighs for almost nothing.

We will be raising and butchering at least 25 "meat" birds next spring. We plan on getting the "freedom-ranger" variety available from J.M. Hatchery or a similar free range meat variety.

The commercial Cornish Cross meat birds don't appeal to us as a meat flock bird, as they gain weight so quickly that they are not able to wander around and act like chickens.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Knitting in the goose blind

Colleen and I went goose hunting this morning before sunrise. She took her knitting with her. This turned out to be a smart move, since the geese never showed up. It was a beautiful morning to be out in the field though.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Wandering Moose Farm

We finally decided on a name for our new farm. Wandering Moose Farm. Maybe it sounds like the name of a hunting lodge, but we do have moose who wander through the area. We saw the tracks of one in the orchard a couple of weeks ago.

We picked up 12 young Buff Orpington laying hens today. They will bring the number of our laying hens to 35. This should be perfect for the farmer's market this summer.

So far there has not been much pecking order action going on. The rooster has been doing a little dance around the new birds. He seems intrigued, but has not attempted to mate with them yet. He is usually pretty good at keeping the pecking order in line and peaceful. They are beautiful, beautiful birds. Very healthy looking. We'll see what happens with egg production in the next couple of weeks when things settle.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

A beautiful cold, crisp, sunny, winter day here on the homestead. We went goose hunting together this morning. Colleen brought her knitting. Kind of made for a funny image. Later we had a meeting about a business plan and vision for the farm. We discussed how to make the farmer's market our "summer jobs" when the teaching year is over. We came up with a list of what we wanted to grow and sell. Both vegetables and value added products. We narrowed down the list of names for the farm to just a couple.

Then we had a beautiful roast duck for Christmas dinner.

Duck a l'orange. First, I stuffed the duck with a combination of apples, onions, and celery. Put it in a roasting pan covered with cheesecloth dipped in lard. And baked covered at 350 for about 45 minutes.

While it was baking, I put on some garden Acorn squash and made the sauce. To make the sauce I combined,

2 tbsp. melted butter with,
2 tbsp. flour

turned off heat and added,
zest of one orange
2 tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. of mustard powder
3/4 tsp. of salt

stirred and added
2/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup chicken broth

heated on medium heat until thickened, then stirred in
1/4 cup peach jam. (it was supposed to be orange marmalade, but we were out of it)

Stirred until jam melted, turned off heat, and covered.

After the bird had been in the oven for 45 minutes, I took off the cheesecloth and the cover on the roaster. Basted every ten minutes with the sauce. Cooked for another 20 minutes or so. Until bird was tender.

It was marvelously tender for a wild duck. Not "gamey" tasting at all.

Served with garden squash from our root cellar, and a salad.

Merry Christmas to all. Hope you had as lovely a day as we did.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Journal it!

As I mentioned in the previous post about the geese and their migration patterns, keeping a journal of your activities is an incredibly helpful tool. We keep a garden journal and a chicken journal. We keep financial ledgers for the chickens, garden, and capital farm expenses. We also keep journals for hunting and fishing, and one for outdoor recreation.

The garden journal gives us a reference point from the time we plant seedlings indoors in February to the point of harvest in fall. This year I was panicking that I was planting the garlic too late, until I checked the journal and realized that I had planted this late in some years past and done fine. We know that if we plant tomatoes too early indoors, the get leggy by last frost. We know what pest control methods that have worked and not worked. We know when we planted indoors, when the last frost came, when we planted outdoors for each vegetable, and when last frost and harvest was. This will help keep us organized in our endeavor to make money at the farmer's market.

The chicken journal and chicken ledger tell us how much we are spending on feed and fencing compared to how much we are making selling eggs. It tells us when we can expect eggs from chicks hatched in Spring. It chronicles loss from disease and what we have done to prevent disease and predation.

The hunting and fishing journals tell us when the ducks and geese have migrated in the past. It tells us when the deer go into rut. We know where we have seen them at different times of year. We can see when the steelhead have come into the river and what patterns they have been biting on. The journal tells us what flies have worked on what lakes and streams for trout in the summer.

We have three years of journals for the Palouse. We are getting to know the seasons and the cycles of our bio-region. Life moves in seasonal circles.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Princess and the Pea

This is Daddy's little Princess. We have a thick, fluffy down comforter on the couch in the living room and she likes to burrow down and sleep nestled in it.

The geese and ducks have not been flying over the Palouse in the same patterns as they have the last few years. We keep journals of our hunting and fishing, gardening, livestock, and outdoor adventures. In the past the geese have flown by the hundreds in small flocks low over the hills looking for grain. This year they are flying high and just passing through. They have no interest in coming in for a look at my decoys. We've seen no geese feeding on the ground. Oh well, give it a few days, maybe it'll change.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

duck trick and steelhead ready for the smoker

Went goose hunting this morning and ended up shooting a drake mallard. It was beautiful. Four ducks flew by my goose spread. I grabbed my duck call, gave a few quick calls, and they spun around, bowed up and came into my spread. I love it when the calling actually works.

We "wet" plucked the duck and will be making roast duck a l'orange for Christmas eve dinner. When wet plucking, you dip the duck into simmering water before plucking the feathers. After you've plucked as best you can, you still end up with a bunch of really fine feathers that you can't quite get to. The magic tool for their removal is a propane torch. Just a few quick passes with the torch will singe off the remaining hair like feathers without burning the skin. And ready for the oven.

Here is the steelhead ready for the smoker. It's smoking as I write. Looking forward to sampling some at about midnight. I was going to go steelheading again tomorrow, but the forecast is for constant rain all day, so I think I'll take a pass.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Quince jam and smoked steelhead

Colleen canned 30+ jars of quince jam tonight. I'm quite sure we don't need that many, but they will make unique gifts. It tastes really good. what, you might ask, is a quince? It is in the rose family and is related to apples. They are more well known in Spain and marmalade was originally made from quince.

While Colleen was slaving away in the kitchen, I was off steelhead fishing with a friend. Actually, we enjoy canning, so I wouldn't really call it slaving away. There was a lot of ice in the river and it was hard to find access that didn't involve scrambling across ice floes. Not wanting to get dunked in the frigid water, we played it safe and did the best we could. I didn't catch any fish, but my friend did. As he had to leave town, he gave me the fish to smoke. It put it in the rub tonight, and it will go into the smoker tomorrow. I use a rub of:

1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
Tbsp. black pepper

Lay the fillet skin side down in 1/3 of the rub. Pour a 1/3 of the rub on the flesh side, which is now facing up. Lay the second fillet flesh side down on that. And sprinkle the rest of the rub on that. The press with weight in the fridge for 24 hours. rinse. Pat dry. Let air dry for 1-3 hours. Then into the smoker at 150 degrees and apply smoke. (Thanks to Alton Brown for the recipe)

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Faith which does not doubt is dead faith

This quote, by the Spanish philosopher Miguel De Unamuno, is the story of my faith life. I don't pretend to be an expert on spiritual matters. My idea of prayer is to sit on the couch with a cup of coffee and some chewing tobacco and invite God to guide me through the day. I ask God to help me be of service to others. I ask that my own shortcomings be removed, so that I may better be of service to God and my fellow man.

The other day I was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. Life just seemed too much. I rarely pray on me knees but decided to give it a try. A sense of peace came over me and my mind stopped racing. I thought to myself, "it's kind of calm and relaxing down here." I have prayed on my knees on and off for years, but I sometimes forget the power of that simple act of humility.

So back to the quote, I am filled with doubts. I am an intellectual, and I what to see the proof and know the reasons why. Does God exist? Does God answer our prayers? What is God? Is God made of atoms and particles? Should I go back to the Church of my childhood? Would I find comfort there?

I went to a Catholic priest as a young man after many years absence from mass. We had a long conversation and I still remember what he said. He said, "you are more Catholic than most people I see at mass every Sunday." And he was right. I have a completely Catholic worldview. I am moved by Catholic prayers and rituals. Catholic imagery and archetypes resonate for me. A life defined by Catholic values of Love and Service calm my existential angst.

I doubt my faith, but in doubt, my faith is born.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cheese tasting

We got to taste our homemade cheddar cheese the other day. I would say it was a success. It turned out as a sort of medium-sharp cheddar. Its texture is good and it holds together, but it is not the sort of thing you'd melt onto a grilled cheese sandwich. We had it on crackers with salmon, on crackers with salami, and I had some in an omelet. It was good all around. At present it is not a money saver. It is mostly just a hobby. At some point I'd like to barter for bulk milk, and later we'd like to have our own dairy goats. Idaho's food safety laws make it impossible for small dairy farmers to operate, so our milk supply is controlled by a few large dairy operations. We would love to support a small local dairy farmer with our business, but that is not possible. That said, it may be legal to barter or to trade labor with a local milk producer for some goat's milk until we get our own goats.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Playing and plowing with the tractor

After our first big snow of the year we got to try the tractor on our 100 yard driveway. The primary use for the tractor will be cultivating our market garden, but plowing was definitely a factor in its purchase. I still go back and forth on whether we should have bought a larger more powerful tractor or the more compact one that we went with. We do need some maneuverability that we wouldn't have had with a larger tractor. And this one should meet our needs well. Maybe it's a guy thing. Larger and more powerful, how can you go wrong. Either way, it plowed the driveway just fine, and it worked pulling the cultivator earlier this fall.

We are supposed to get another big snow system over the next couple of days. I'd like to go deer hunting tomorrow in the snow, but the roads may be to dangerous to drive into the foothills.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills...

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121

When I need inspiration, I head to the outdoors. Despite snowy weather, I am planning on going up into the foothills to deer hunt on Tuesday. It is in the mountains and forests that I feel closest to God. That is where my strength lies. And when my spirit is renewed, I am better able to be of service to God and my fellow man. When I am in the mountains it is easy to be humbled by God's creation. It is easier to feel God's grace. My brain stops spinning, and I am able to just be, at peace, and in the moment.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Puppy Pictures! The hunting puppy is born.

Puppy Pictures! Here are pictures from the breeder of our newborn puppy. We are so excited for a new addition to our animal menagerie. She will receive some initial hunting related training at the breeder, but most of the training will fall to us when we bring her home. She comes from great hunting lines, and labs are easier to train than some other hunting breeds. The earliest we could get her hunting would be the grouse season in September, but she may be able to help out with the rabbit control hunting I do on the property. There will plenty of training to be done before September. She looks like a beautiful dog. We are first on the list for a female and only one was born. So contingent on vet approval and our inspection, this may be her. We are blessed. I've never had it so good.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Moose tracks?

When we got home tonight, after driving for an hour and a half through a white out blizzard, we found Moose tracks in our front yard leading towards our orchard. We know that moose have been seen on the neighboring farmstead, and we know they like to nibble on fruit trees.

We had a great potluck with good friends and good food. We are blessed to have such a wonderful circle of friends. Made plans to go steelhead fishing with a buddy of mine when I finish teaching next week and the ice breaks up off the rivers.

Back at home the Christmas tree is lit up and the stove is going. A perfect end to a perfect night.

Christmas Tree

We got our tree in the living room and decorated. Drank hot cocoa of course. And to make it even better, it's snowing outside. We plan on going to a potluck tonight with some dear friends, but it is a long drive and the snow is supposed to keep up all night. We have ornaments from all over and from various stages of our lives. Some of the ornaments have been in Colleen's family and are older than we are. In addition to the usual round shiny ones we have some beautifully carved Guge fish ornaments. Other wooden animals abound too.

Supposed to be quite the blizzard. It will be an evening filled with love and friendship whether we go out to visit friends or stay home with just each other.

Friday, December 11, 2009

tractor ballast

I made a ballast for our tractor today. We've got a blizzard on the way, and I need a counter-weight on the back of the tractor to balance out the loader. That way I'll still get good traction when the loader is full of snow. I took a 55 gallon drum, sawed it in half, and ran a length of re-bar through it. Then I attached the barrel to the three point hitch and filled it with gravel. It should work great. Let it snow!


Kapusta! A holiday tradition in my family. Kapusta is simply the Polish word for cabbage. There are as many Polish recipes for cabbage as there are families from Poland. I grew up with my great aunt making this recipe every Thanksgiving. It was my favorite of all the Thanksgiving treats. I now make it every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. It is, like many good things in life, quite simple.

1/2 pound bacon
Large Polish Sausage
1 head cabbage
1 quart jar of sauerkraut

Fry up your bacon and drain. Set bacon aside. Take your cabbage and chop it into 1/4 inch strips. Pile the cabbage into a big stainless steel pot with a cup of water and cook down at medium heat. When the cabbage has softened, add a splash of vinegar and a little sugar. Stir in the jar of sauerkraut. Chop your sausage into 1/4 inch slices and throw in the pot. Chop the bacon and toss that in too. Cook on medium heat for another 15 minutes. Enjoy hot!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Food, Inc.

Just watched the movie "Food, Inc." I don't want to inject politics into this blog site, but suffice it to say that the movie strengthened my resolve to grow and raise as much of my own food as possible. The movie chronicled the industrialization of production in the United States. It showed factory meat processing, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO's), and the shenanigans of the mega seed and pesticide companies. The thesis of the movie is that it is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for us, the consumers, to see where our food comes from. It is becoming harder and harder to eat real, healthy food.

All is not lost! We can vote with our forks! We can choose to eat locally grown, sustainably raised meat and vegetables. More and more people are making this choice by supporting farmers markets, CSA's (community supporting agriculture), and eating local produce in season.

What we don't yet raise or grow ourselves we try to purchase locally. We just recently bought a butcher weight pig from a student agricultural coop at Washington State University. Buying an animal that was raised as a 4-H project is another great option.

We haven't achieved a total break from the corporate food system by a long shot, but we've taken significant steps in that direction. Each small step we take brings us closer to the reality of a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.

Chilly Chickens

The chickens don't seem to mind the cold. Other than laying fewer eggs, they seem oblivious. They are waiting every morning for me to open the door and let them out, so they can run around in the sub-zero yard. They are certainly eating more. I don't like doing chicken chores in the cold though. Carrying waterers into the house to thaw by the stove, patching holes in the coop, carrying bags of feed to the coop. All for six eggs a day. I'm assuming egg production will go up slightly when temperatures go up to above freezing. When this cold snap ends, we are hearing reports of snow, so it will be interesting to see how the chickens react to that. We purposefully chose "cold hardy" heritage breeds, so they will probably be having snowball fights or something.

We've been hauling water from a friends house due to the broken and/or frozen plumbing. It is beyond my abilities to repair and we can't get a plumber for another day or two. Apparently, everybody's pipes froze on the Palouse. We will have to work out some kind of system to avoid this problem in the future.

On a more promising note, I saw thousands of geese in the valley yesterday. They should be coming up to the Palouse to search for grains soon. Setting up a blind and a decoy spread in the fields surrounding the house will be a fantastic break from sitting in the house and worrying about the plumbing.

I've been worrying about the plumbing and taking flights of fancy into, "what other disasters await us as the owners of a 100 year old farmhouse?" All I can do is just pray to let it go. The weather, the plumbing, the foundation, the floor joists...are all beyond my control. If something happens, we will handle it then.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A call to the plumber

As with most of my plumbing projects, this one ends in a call to the plumber. Our water stopped working the other day. By bypassing the pressure cutoff switch I was able to get the water going, so I reasoned that the switch was bad and that the pump was working and the pipes weren't frozen. So I replaced the switch and the gauge as well. No luck. So, I'm stumped. It's been -4, so something could be frozen. So, in the end, this will result in a call to the plumber.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chicken coop repair

It was 10 degrees with 30-40 mile an hour winds today. -6 with the wind chill. Mostly we stayed inside, but I spent an hour making chicken coop repairs that I should have made earlier. I used a garage door rubber seal to create a seal between the two sliding doors on our coop. I also patched a bunch of holes and cracks in the walls with 1/4 inch plywood. Mostly just socked in by the wind and the cold.

sub-zero steelheading

Went steelhead fishing yesterday. We tried to go to the Grande Ronde river in Washington, but it had ice flows in it. We then drove down to the Snake on the Washington-Idaho border, but were unsuccessful there. It really lets you know you're alive when you're standing waist deep in a river on an eighteen degree day.

It's supposed to be even colder the next couple of days. Single digit lows with 30 mile an hour winds. We have some repairs to do on the chicken coop to make it snugger. We'll be wishing we had done that a few weeks ago.

Mostly, we'll be putting up the Christmas tree today. Warm and snug with the stove cranking.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

root cellar rabbit stew

We made a wonderful stew for dinner tonight in the crockpot.
1 onion
4 carrots
6 small baby red potatoes
2 ribs celery
2 cloves garlic
crushed bay leaf
1 rabbit, boned out, chopped and browned
Chicken broth

Cook all day in the crock pot on low.

All of the vegetables came from our root cellar except for the celery. The rabbit came from our land. A wonderful hot meal to come home to on a cold winter evening. Enjoyed it with some leftover stuffing from Thanksgiving dinner.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Farm chores day

I usually get up around 3 or 4 a.m. Today I was able to get my teaching paperwork done between 3 and 6 a.m., leaving me the rest of the day to do farm chores and a couple of hours of hunting at sunset. I got a lot done.

Our temperatures in North Idaho are dropping down into the 20's and teens this week, so I rigged some heat for our chickens. Securely chained a red heat lamp to a beam in the chicken coop. Who knows, it may even increase egg production. I'm sure the ladies have been cold at night. I fixed a feeder and filled a newly sterilized waterer for them.

The previous owners left us with a lifetime supply of manure in the barn, so I shoveled manure for a while into the loader on the tractor. Then off to make a pile in the garden area. Who knows how old the manure is. The area I am cleaning is where we are going to house the pigs, so it needs to be cleaned anyway.

The barn's foundation, about 100 years old and made of field stone, is crumbling in a few places, so I shored it up with some concrete blocks and 2x4's that were laying around. I'll have to get around to a more permanent repair later.

Made a counterweight out of an old 55 gallon drum sawed in half and filled with gravel for the tractor. The weight goes on the rear hydraulics to balance out the loader when we are moving snow this winter.

After all that...I relaxed a little then went deer hunting for a couple of hours. It was a peaceful and spiritual hunt, but not productive as far as filling the freezer.

And tomorrow I teach all day.