Friday, July 26, 2013

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

To be honest, gardening is not my favorite "chore" or hobby. I have definitely gotten better at it over time as I do more research and have found easy methods to get much larger veggies for the time I put in.

When I married my husband, someone gave us a house plant as a wedding gift and it really pissed me off. I really did NOT like plants and I gave it to my sister-in-law as I did not want the responsibility of watering an ugly thing I didn't want.

When we moved out to our neighborhood we live in now we lived in an apartment above the garage of a woman with a very green thumb. She had been my kindergarten teacher when I was little and now was enjoying their "retirement home" with a very large garden, a nice "medium" greenhouse, compost piles, meat chickens, meat rabbits, and dual garage freezers for keeping all of their game and fish. She also had a very large sewing room upstairs in her home where she would homeschool her last boy through his high school years and sew while he would do his work...I'll have to talk about that another day. Her name is, Gloria.

I did not think much of her garden hobby. To me it looked like a lot of work and a lot of dirty dirt.

The first summer we lived there she informed me one day that they had prepared me my own spot in the garden. I said something like, "Oh, no, that's ok, I don't need to plant a garden."

She said something like, "Oh, no, that's ok, Wilbur got it all ready for you."

I replied something like, "Oh, no, really. I don't really want to plant a garden."

She responded something like, "No, really, he already rototilled rabbit manure into it for you, and I have all the starts you need. It won't be hard, I'll help you."

I was trapped, I mean, the man put manure into dirt for me...and how do I refuse?!

That was the begging of the end for me. That city girl had to get her hands dirty and put some plants into the ground. I planted my favorite flower, pansies, at the end of each of my little 4' rows. It was beautiful and I loved it.

Gloria taught me a lot during the four years we lived there. She had raised five boys and no girls. I like to think she enjoyed my company and teaching me how to garden, how to can, how to quilt, how to make the fastest pies, how to make delicious sweet tea and how to sit and visit.

I had a garden every year there after that and when I moved to our new house I built a few garden boxes and put dirt into them. I was NOT going to do a giant "Gloria" garden, but would have my own little "Martha Stewart" garden instead...in pretty boxes in the lawn. I would mow between them and they would look pretty. What I did not have was large vegetables. That was ok, right? We don't like vegetables that much anyway...

A year later we brought in some horse manure, and introduced some naughty weeds that came along with it! The garden boxes did a bit better, but really, not that much. My cabbages were the size of my fist. Gloria's were the size of my head...

Some time after we lived here we got laying hens. After we moved the hens closer to the house, I decided to use their old run as my potato patch. I grew ENORMOUS potato plants and a TON of potatoes. (not literal ton, but a lot!) I was quite excited and realized what I had really known all along but didn't want to face...my dirt NEEDS manure or nutrients to produce large crops.

2008 potato harvest. Great year for potatoes.

2008 picking potatoes in the old chicken run.

I had to get my motivation in order and figure out a way to make this manure hauling thing easier...that's when I went online and found my dream set up. I was determined to build it and I did.

2013 we have the chickens on the left and garden on right.
My dream set up was to place the chicken house in the middle and to build two chicken runs. One for the chickens and one for the garden, then they trade each year. Thus eliminating the need to shovel and amend the soil year after year. The chickens could do it for me. It was much more work to build but oh, so worth it.

I was nervous at first. I had planted sunflowers into straight chicken manure once and discovered that when people say that fresh chicken manure burns plants, they really do get burned. They were GIANT however and I have never since grown such wonderful sunflowers. They did have large brown patches on their leaves. They looked like it hurt.

Here it is in 2010, the year I built it, from behind. I still had a lot of sod to pull (by hand) one side at a time. The first year was the hardest for sure.

Basically the rule of thumb on chicken manure is that it needs to sit at least one year before putting it on plants. I think this is for Alaska, because it's so "hot". The first year I switched them I was nervous for my plants safety, but they did just fine, in fact, they did great! No burn marks and the chickens had only been out of that side for 9 months. I let them into the garden side as soon as I harvest what I want and they clean up the rest. Then that becomes their run the next summer.

Now we even clean out the winter's worth of manure into the run the chickens are in. This year I cleaned it myself and used my little Radio Flyer wagon to bring the manure to different spots all over the 2014's garden (current chicken run). The chickens thought it was Christmas and I felt bad that I didn't see any maggots for them to dig out of the manure like I have found in years past. In only a couple hours they had flattened all of the piles around their run. Warning: the smell is bad, don't do what we did and try to have a bbq with company the next day.

Here are our pullets in their area. the back section between runs we have our pullet house, we raise new hens every year now.


Broccoli down the main row, cabbage on the left. June 23, 2013.
Earlier today: July 25, 2013. Before weeding.

After some weeding later in the day.

I don't remember having cabbages this large before. I bought the starts, maybe it's a giant kind.

The zucchini plants are GIANT this year. We have had a lot of sun and they love the sun and the rich soil.

My garden does not get a lot of my time these days. My sister seems to help me get it planted every year, but I really enjoy when I get to spend time in it and finally weed my carrots. The chickens and goats each got a large sled full of weeds tonight.

Something else I have noticed with doing this flip-flop method is that it has really cut down on our slugs. Last year was a heavy rain year and many people lost much of their garden to slugs. Mine fared very well, and the cold hardy crops did nicely.

Happy chickens earlier today after giving them some buckets of weeds.

At first I was resistant to putting in so much work to TWO chicken runs that they would only use half of. But I realized that a garden really needs a fence to protect it from roaming dogs trampling it, keeping kids out, keeping chickens out (they are the worst nemesis when first planted), goats out and moose out. I get moose in my yard plenty, but they have never jumped into my garden, and I know they can, it's only a 5 1/2 foot tall fence...but apparently if the fenced in space is small enough moose won't jump in for fear of getting trapped, probably need a running jump? Anyway, I figure my garden size is just right, not too big, not too small. I think its about 24x24. There are definitely times I wish it were bigger, but it would take up more time that I don't have now. That is one reason I still don't have a greenhouse.

Giant spinach.

After a day like today where I spent much needed time weeding my garden and putting myself on vacation from my business, it proved for a relaxing evening. I love how gratifying this sort of work is and how non-stressful it is. I wish I had time for less stressing and more weeding.

I'm cheating and adding back in some pics I took in September but never posted. Sep 2013, part of the harvest.
The only picture I can find of our new pasture. Our LaMancha goat chasing after a yummy bush. Sep 2013.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Goats, goats and more goats.


I have not written specifically about our goats for a while now. I'd like to do a better job documenting them than I have and sharing our hard lessons on goats that we have loved and lost.

Three years ago we got Amelia and Lady on July 4th 2010 from My Kids Farm and I made a new friend named, Karlene. We got goats mainly because hubby and I really didn't want to get a horse. And when your 12 year old is DESPERATE for a horse OR goats. You will probably opt for the lesser of the two evils, or in this case, the cheaper and more practical of the two.

I decided that if we were to get goats I'd like them to be "in milk" already so that we had to immediately start milking every day and that we'd benefit from the new food we would be buying them and it would turn into food for us. When I started this blog I was just really starting to develop a "back to basics" mindset. Trying to grow more, can more, forage more, learn more about the food we eat and how to prepare our family better for harder times that always have the possibility of coming.

We set up our temporary hut for the girls (it was a Rubbermaid lawn mower shed, low ceiling to keep warmth in and keep them dry, I had been researching a little and discovered goats don't need a heated space, little did I know what that little shed would lead to.)

Amelia was the first to breed that fall and Lady was much more stubborn. Amelia kidded in April 2011 for the first time at our house. In the heated garage, we didn't want frozen babies, and April can surprise you here with cold weather. She had 3 big boys, Lazarus, Buck and Billy. We sold Lazarus to a friend and got her hooked on goats in 2011.

Amelia with her batch of boys in 2011.
Lazarus was our bottle baby and SO cuddly and adorable.
My daughter had done so well milking the first year that in the spring when she asked for a puppy, I said, "No, but you may have a goat!" So I bought her a pure bred LaMancha doeling that she chose and we brought her home when she was weaned. She named her, "Elka". This was May 2011. I'd wanted a LaMancha to begin with but took Ameila and Lady (Nubians) because Karlene didn't have any other does in milk that she was willing to sell. K and I worked out an arrangement on how we'd share the work and pay for her goat and how we'd deal with money if we sold a kid out of her in the future. So far it has worked out great. K has milked for all three years now and does not want to give it up, she doesn't consider it a chore, she loves her alone time with the goats.

Elka, our new LaMancha.
Lady still would not breed 'till we dried her up completely, so in August Lady had gone to Karlene's, house to visit for a very long visit...in August she bread successfully and in January we had our first winter kidding. We were hoping that this would be the LAST because winter kidding has many issues attached to it. But, as I write this, Lady is at Karlene's again after the same issue of not breeding last November and bred 3x last week, so it looks like we're in for another one.
Large Lady in her kidding stall in the garage a week or so before kidding.

January 27, 2012 she had two adorable boys, this one was the cutest.

Here's lady and her matching boy.

This boy looked just like his daddy, Impetuous. We named him "Roast".
We named both boys after cuts of meat. We didn't have high hopes they would go for breeding stock, not that they couldn't have, they have great bloodlines, but because boys aren't needed as much as girls and they typically get eaten.

On March 9th the boy with moon spots died. K found him frozen stiff on the ground and came to the front door screaming in anguish with the frozen baby goat. All of the other 5 kids chimed in with the screaming at seeing the dead body and jolted hubby and I out of our TV trance to find out who had died. It was very sad.We learned from that experience. If a goat does not come in for food on a cold day, FIND OUT WHY!!! They should ALWAYS want grain, if they don't there is a problem.

In November Karlene and I decided that we would borrow a buck to breed the girls to. We'd give a Nubian to Lady & Amelia and we took Elka down to my friend, Amber's house, where she had other LaManchas to breed. Karlene brought a buck there first and we watched Elka breed 2x as soon as we put him in the pen.

We brought the Nubian up to our house and put him in with my girls. They flirted but didn't really make any commitments, this went on for about three weeks then, tragically, in the November bitter cold winds, her buck died. We learned MANY more lessons from that ordeal. The most important one was to 2X DAILY at the very least, pet, check, talk to, make stand, your goats. We also learned that bucks pee on themselves to make them more attractive to the ladies, so they are more susceptible to cold, especially the kind we had with the wind and a lame ass shelter. We also learned that no matter how good we think we are, Karlene has a lot to teach us about humility, forgiveness, friendship and kindness. Not a harsh word was spoken, she simply cried, collected her bucks body and told us that it was HER fault for not educating us enough and that she just shouldn't loan out goats. Her heart is so kind, she puts me to so much shame.

Hubby had had enough of my temporary shelter and we hired 2 very burly men to build a small doe barn on the end of our milking shed, we added insulation and a deck area inside to keep cleaned off. This also accessed the hay shed so they could eat with out leaving the shelter. I just wish so badly we had done this sooner.

First day's work building in 10 degrees and much bitter wind.

Lunch break and it's ready for insulation and a door.
Amelia nor Lady bred to Karlene's buck, both their preg tests were negative. So Karlene put me in touch with another amazing goat farmer with a disease free herd and she housed both girls while they were in heat in December. Amelia took the breeding and Lady was taken there two times and still didn't take.

In April 3013 we put Elka in a new kidding stall I had built in the milking shed. K noticed that she had developed a hard udder before kidding and Karlene came the next day to take a look. She had developed a very bad case of dry mastitis. She kidded 3 days later, we had been treating her teat, but the main infection was right in the tip of her udder so the medicine would not even go into her udder very far at all. She has not produced on that side, it's quite sad. We hope that with her second kidding we can watch for it more closely and perhaps get some milk out of that side. I have learned that this destroys the milk glands inside and they don't produce nearly as much as they would have even if it works again. She had a single doeling, now breaking our buck "spell". K named her Belka and has since been re-named by her new owners.

Belka at a few days old.

K with her Belka the day before she went to her new house.
End of June Amelia was due to kid. We weren't worried about putting her in a stall as it was so WARM!!! She kidded right after K had checked on her and this was her first birth she did herself, Ameila had the first two on her own and K pulled the last one that was breeched. My husband usually helps the goats but he was on a trip to his brother's wedding. K, now 15, handled it like a champ, it was very laid back and we were SHOCKED to find that she had had three GIRLS!!! 

Proud K with Ameila and babies.


Karlene had first dibbs on Amelia's girls, just took Amelia 3 years to have one. She chose the dark eared one pictured here. She plans to show her. Her big sister from 4 years ago is already a finished champion. She'll do great.

All in all, having goats is very rewarding. It's more work, for sure, but they are very enjoyable. Goat kids are the CUTEST animal in the world and you sell them when they get bigger. My kids love having goats, people love to visit the goats, I love the manure from the goats for the garden, we all love the cheese that my husband makes. All in all it's a win win.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Fireweed Jelly

If you don't know what fireweed is, you clearly don't live in Alaska. That's ok, you are still a good person...just not as cool as me.

Fireweed is a "weed" that grows plentifully here in Alaska. It is known for growing in the Northern Hemisphere in open fields, lots of light and especially where a fire has burned as it has no competition and thrives in that environment. Read more on Wikipedia.

This is a lovely close up shot of what a field of fireweed looks like. Photo credit, thank you.

This is a great pic from USGS from the air. You can see how the firweed will take over an area that was taken out by fire.

I have had to develop my own recipe for my Fireweed Jelly because I use only Pomona's Pectin now. I am a complete convert. I read someplace today in all of my research that the store bought pectins are sugar triggered and Pomona is calcium triggered. What I like best is I have never had a Pomona batch not set up. You can even double batches with no worry. Also...you only need about 1/2-3/4 tsp of pectin per cup of juice or berries when making jam or jelly. So just a little box of pectin will go a long way. If you are anything like me, you will soon be buying a pound or half pound of it to last you years and years. It also comes with the necessary calcium powder. You make a small batch of calcium water and add your water to your juice or fruit mash. The calcium to water ratio is 1/2 tsp of calcium to 1/2 cup of water. This stays good in your fridge all summer...NOT all year. I learned this in 2014 the hard way.

I made 6 different batches of fireweed jelly today, all a little different. I made 3 spiced batches and 3 not spiced batches. Spiced, meaning, I added cinnamon and nutmeg. Two of my kids prefer this most. One of my kids loves it plain best and the rest of us love them both. We have found that the "traditional" recipes with lots of sugar and the store bought pectin doesn't taste nearly as good as the kind we made with about 1/2 the sugar. You can't really taste the flower if you use so much sugar, so just another reason I love the pectin. All of my recipes used about a 1cup juice to 1/2 cup sugar ratio. Some of the lower sugar jams and jellies won't last as long in the fridge, so I used smaller jars this year to avoid mold. I did have some of spoiling with my fireweed/rhubarb jam I made this winter because of the larger jars and low sugar. I'd like to try a honey recipe next as we have bees making us lots of good honey, but so far, this is what I have.

If you are deprived and don't have any Pomona and want to make jelly RIGHT NOW and don't feel like ordering it from them or going to Alaska Mill and Feed in Anchorage and buying some, you can try this recipe. This was my original recipe and has worked for me, but has more sugar than I like and you have to use 2 boxes of Sure Jell. You can add your spices to the sugar too if you want to try it that way. Update on Pomona 2014: my friend said Fred Meyer in Wasilla is carrying it in their health food section. I also found it on Amazon for a premium, Pomona's website sells it at a decent price but they may not ship to Alaska...when I tried ordering from them they told me I had to call them. Azure Standard is by far the cheapest if buying in bulk. I'm putting one pound in my cart now at $41, where on Amazon it was $80 for one pound. Pomona was $50 for a pound. If you're not scarfing down jelly like us, DON'T buy a pound! A one ounce pack will do to start you off.

Gather ye fireweed:

This is a job for kids, if you don't have 6 slaves kids, I'm sorry, I guess you're on your own. (Fortunately you probably don't eat as much jelly as 6 kids who are addicted to PBnJs so you won't need as much.)

One gallon of fireweed blossoms. Or 8 cups (1/2 gallon) of packed blossoms. Rinse, drain, put into a large pot. Fill almost up to the top of blossoms with water. Look out, these blossoms are like Cheerios, they float, so don't put in too much water.

Color tip: I have not yet confirmed this, but today someone said that if you add your lemon juice to the flowers you won't end up with brown juice (sometimes the juice looks more brown than purple). So you could try that and let me know.

Now, put your pot to boil but don't walk away. You don't want this overcooking, your tea/juice can turn bitter if left too long so let it come to a boil, stir it for a sec to be sure your flowers are drained of their color & remove from heat. Strain (I use a paper towel under a sieve). You will have a purple juice. Each batch is a bit different color. Some darker, some lighter, but all very pretty.

Time tip: The last two years I didn't have time to make jelly the day the kids picked the blossoms. So I filled up my 1/2 gallon jars to the very tippy top and put on an un-used jar lid. It sealed with the hot juice and I poped it into the fridge. What I made today was a week old but in a sealed and refrigerated jar. I also made the kids pick again today so I managed to get another 8 cups of juice today to make a total of 14 pints of fireweed juice total.

Gather ye ingredients:

In the jelly making grand scheme of things, this one is really simple. You need:
-fireweed tea/juice, my recipes use 4 cup juice measurements so if you need to add a tad of water to make that much, that's probably ok.
-lemon juice
-calcium water (only if using Pomona pectin)
-sugar
-Pomona Pectin
-cinnamon (opt)
-nutmeg (opt)
-sugar cookies (for sustenance)
-watermelon (no, you don't really need one)
-coffee (not pictured, this is for you to drink, jeez, it's not coffee jelly)

Here are all of your needed ingredients sans the spices (and coffee). I'm using Tattler lids for some of my jars.
I'm going to assume you have basic knowledge of canning jelly/jam. If you don't please do yourself a HUGE favor and buy the "Ball Blue Book" for canning. This is a must for any canner and is not expensive.

9:38pm house is WARM! No AC for us tough Alaskans.

So thankful for my screen door and the nice cross breeze we get.
Fireweed recipe #1 - plain:

(Today this was Batch #5, it set up the best over all, this is being updated the day after the original post was made. The only difference I see is the other plain batches didn't have enough calcium water.)

4 c fireweed juice
1/4 c lemon juice (1T per cup juice)
4 tsp calcium water (about 1tsp per cup juice)
-bring these to a boil in a large pot-

In a separate bowl whisk:
2 1/2 cups sugar (you can change this as you please, with Pomona you can use honey also)
3 tsp pectin

When juice is boiling add the sugar and pectin mix, stir vigorously while everything dissolves. 
Return to a boil. Remove from heat (Don't over boil at this point, this is the difference with the pectins.)

Ladle into hot jars. Water bath 10 minutes.

Here's a good picture of the plain jelly and the color you get. The spiced will be more brown in color.

Fireweed recipe #2 - spiced:

4 c fireweed juice
1/4 c lemon juice
4 tsp calcium water (this batch also had the correct ratio on calcium and set nicely)
-bring these to a boil in a large pot-

In a separate bowl whisk:
2 cups sugar (this is 1/2 cup less than batch #1)
3 tsp pectin
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cinnamon (cinnamon is good for you, did you know that?!, this is an easy way to get it into your diet)

When juice is boiling add the sugar, pectin, and spice mix, stir vigorously while everything dissolves. 
Return to a boil. Remove from heat.

Ladle into hot jars. Water bath 10 minutes.

16 pints of jelly from 14 pints of juice/tea. 6 batches later.
Enjoy the fruits of your labor, you deserve it.
Oh, yeah, and today we also canned 14 half pints of smoked Alaskan red salmon. Fortunately, hubby did all that prep work and I just manned the canner. Yum.

Sat. 7/12/2014: Note taking on here for my own record...easier to find this than a recipe. We ran out of the fireweed jelly about a month ago. Two of my kids will eat no other kinds unless we are completely out of fireweed jelly, then they'd prefer not to eat PBnJs. I decided to make much more. Tonight, I told the 4 younger kids they could have ice cream if they each brought me a gallon of flowers. I ended up with 2 nice full gallons semi-packed and to each gallon I added about 3 quarts of water and cooked them in separate pots. It's late so I can't make jelly tonight, but I now have 3 one half gallon jars filled to the brim with the beautiful purple juice. I'll put those in the fridge after they are cool in the morning. One child still owes me a bucket of blooms, so hopefully I can get another 8 cups of juice made tomorrow. Our neighbor expressed interest in buying some jelly when she saw my kids picking on the road. I may end up selling some since I'll have extra. We shall see.
Sun. 7/13/2014: Got another gallon of blossoms today and made 8 more cups of juice. Checked my math and last year I had 14pints of juice, that equals 28 cups that equals 1gal and 3 quarts. I currently only have 2 gallons of juice made for this year, guess I will need much more if I want to make extra jelly. Our goat, Elka, kidded today. She had one boy one day before she was due. They're doing well.
Mon. 7/14/2014: Hired the neighbor girls to pick 4 gallons of blooms, they PACKED them so full I had to use a gallon of water instead of a half gallon to extract the juice. I ended up giving 2 gallons of blooms to my sister because I was running out of pectin and realized that I would have 4 gallons of juice to use with what I had. Did one whole gallon of juice for my first batch and used last years calcium water...bad choice. Should have not done so much in one pot, also should have made new calcium water. Had to re-batch the whole thing, none of it set up.
Wed. 7/16/2014: Made 2 more batches  (I'm doing 8cups at a time for one of my batches this year, this works great! just double the recipe) I'm starting to run out of jars.
Sat. 7/19/2014: Finished using all of the tea, made the last 2 batches today and re-batched the rest of the non-set jelly. Final count was 36 1/2 pints total (with 4 gallons that would be 32 pints of juice that I started with, 36 cups of sugar, 16 TBL pectin = 1 cup, 4 cups lemon juice, ~2 cups calcium water). Broken down into 18 pints of plain fireweed and 18 1/2 pints of spiced. That is over double what I did last year. I have already sold one 1/2 pint and given away 2 other 1/2 pints. I followed my recipes that I posted here exactly and they all set up except the one gallon batch using old calcium water.