Returning to the Garden

Gosh, it’s been such a long time!  About a year ago, I decided to vacate this space for a new home that just never found its legs, and thinking I’d settle in there (without finding an authentic voice), I kept putting off a return to this blog… until I feel like I just can’t anymore.  I miss writing and having an avenue for our chicken and gardening and family expansion that is coming so very soon.  Two weeks ago, we put in an order for another thirty chickens, hoping to find something we prefer to the Buff Orpingtons for meat.  We’ve ordered a mixture of Bard and Partridge Rocks from Murray McMurray and are eagerly awaiting expanding our flock.  We’ve also put in a seed order for this year’s garden, limiting it to our primary stock vegetables (those we can freeze or can and grow organically): peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, carrots and garlic (already in the ground and hopefully poking through the snow soon!).

But there’s bigger news.  Baby M will be arriving any day now, joining his older sister who has eagerly awaited his arrival for the past few months.  And in anticipation of Baby M and my almost five months at home with the kiddos, we’ve reinvested in a lot of the sustainable baby practices we did for A: preparing to breastfeed, restocking some of the cloth diaper supplies we needed, ensuring we’re ready for all that laundry, and purchasing a new baby carrier.  With A, I used a Moby (sparingly) and Jason got a lot of use out of our Ergo when she was bigger, but I really struggled with the Moby and I’m super-excited to get started with our new Sakura Bloom ring sling in Peacock, which came in the mail two weeks ago.

We’re counting down the days to spring and all of the new arrivals on our increasingly growing homestead, and I hope you’ll join us again for the adventure.

So happy to be back!

J

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Preserving the Harvest: Peas

One of the biggest factors that allows us to forgo takeaway so often during the very busy school year is the amount of produce we are able to put up during the late summer months.  While having a baby has definitely altered the shape of our days (and the amount of spare time I have), we are still going strong, preserving vegetables for the upcoming winter months.  I’ve posted previously about preserving green beans and zucchini and summer squash, but one of Jason’s favorite vegetables is peas.

Materials:

Quart Freezer Bags

Fresh-picked peas (you want these shucked immediately after picking or the pods get gummy and hard to manage)

Large pot for blanching (with large metal sieve, if possible)

Colander

Bowl or clean sink full of ice water

Cookie Sheets

Clean, absorbent dish towels

Before starting, make sure you have enough space for two cookie sheets in your freezer, as you need to flash freeze peas BEFORE placing them into bags.

  1. Pick your peas on a day when you have enough time to process them start to finish.  Pick the pods, shuck the peas, and get started preserving.  If you must, I’ve found that shucked peas are okay in the fridge, covered, for 24 hours before processing.

    Fresh Peas from the Garden!

    Fresh Peas from the Garden!

  2. Bring your water to a rolling boil.  Meanwhile, prepare your blanching sieve and pans (cover with a fresh dishtowel).

    Prepared materials.

    Prepared materials.

  3. Blanch peas (this is where I use the metal sieve) for 2 – 3 minutes, until the color changes to a rich green.
    Fresh Peas

    Unblanched Peas

    Blanched Peas

    Blanched Peas

  4. Place blanched peas in an ice water bath to cool.  I usually just lower them into ice water in a pot while still in the sieve, so I don’t have to strain ice out of them before drying.  Leave in ice water until peas are cool (3 – 5 minutes).
  5. Transfer peas from the water bath to dry dishtowels, then roll peas on dishtowels into logs to hurry along this process.

    Peas, rolled into a dishtowel to remove water.

    Peas, rolled into a dishtowel to remove water.

  6. When dry, spread the peas on a clean, dry dishtowel on a cookie sheet.Toweled Peas
  7. Place in freezer until frozen solid (6 – 12 hours).

    Frozen Peas

  8. Loosen peas and transfer into freezer bags.

    Loosened peas.

    Loosened peas.

  9. Remove air from bag and place in freezer.

    Peas, ready for the freezer!

    Peas, ready for the freezer!

These peas can be used in cooking all winter long, steamed or placed in the microwave and served plain.

Enjoy!  I know we will!

We Eat/She Eats and Monday Motivation

Somehow, another week has blown by!  I look back over last week, and how much we accomplished even though Jason had to spend the entire weekend working out at his dad’s house in preparation for its inspection, and I am so thankful we’re still balancing things.  Cords have been picked up and put away, more baby proofing has been accomplished, and I finally got to those pesky floors!  And, by some grace of luck, I managed to week and mulch our flower beds and stain the decks before we had company last Friday night.  But to get down to the purpose of this post… last week’s meal planning went great, and A ate what we ate (or what I had planned for her) every night of the week!

This week, we’re getting ready for a visit from my mom and brother (Amelia’s Uncle Sparky).  They’ll be arriving Friday night and staying through the weekend, and since Uncle Sparky lives in LA, this will be his first time meeting little Miss Amelia.  I can’t wait!

In terms of how things are going… I fully completed Week 3 of T25, and with the addition of more careful eating practices, I am down 1.5 pounds!  I’ve noticed some hip pain this weekend, but I think it’s just my body continuing to adjust.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed!  Eating healthily is so much easier with all of our own fresh veggies finally coming in!

Fresh Peas from the Garden!

Fresh Peas from the Garden!

This week’s We Eat/She Eats focuses a lot on what we can get out of our own garden at this time of year: onions, garlic scapes, zucchini, and cucumbers.  The tomatoes and corn are coming, albeit very slowly!  Amelia is also loving watermelon or watery-melon as I call it when I feed her, so we’re going through about one a week, and it makes such a great, healthy snack for Mama, too!

Monday:  Jason Working at His Dad’s House – Homemade Takeout
We Eat: Grilled Chicken and Cheddar Panini Sandwiches on Rye Bread, Crispy Fries, Cucumber Spears
She Eats: Grilled Chicken Bits, Cheese,  Avocado, Cabot Greek Yogurt with Fruit

Tuesday:
We Eat: Eating Well’s Easy Salmon Cakes over Salad with Cucumber Spears and Creamy Dill Sauce and Watermelon Cubes
She Eats: Cucumber Bits, Watermelon, Cabot Cottage Cheese, Leftover Chicken

Wednesday:
We Eat: BBQ Chicken with Homemade Sauce, Sautéed Zucchini with Melted Parmesan Cheese, Orzo with Herbs,
She Eats: Chicken Bits, Chopped Zucchini (sauteed but before I add the cheese) with Fresh Parmesan (unmelted), Bits of Orzo, Fruit (Mama needs to buy more watermelon!)

Thursday:
We Eat: Hamburgers on the Grill on Sandwich Flats, Sweet Potato Fries, Cucumber Spears
She Eats: Sautéed Ground Beef, Cucumber Bits, Watermelon, Cabot Cottage Cheese

Friday: Mom & Uncle Sparky Arrive!
We Eat: The Pioneer Woman’s Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs (without eggs), Salad, Bread, Green Beans
She Eats: Meatballs (chopped up) without Sauce, Pasta Bits, Green Bean Bits, Bread

And in case you were wondering what meals look like at our house… here’s Taco Salad from last week:DSC_0098

What are you and your little ones enjoying the most this summer?

Five for Friday

It’s been one of those weeks… I stripped our cloth diapers not once but twice; had to spend a whole day at work (blah – it’s summer!); because I went to work and A went to daycare, she was up five times on Wednesday night because she didn’t want the bottle and reverse cycled.  But A is down for a late afternoon nap and the weekend is almost here.  Here are five things I loved about today!

  1. The Weather: It’s a beautiful seventy-six degrees with a sharp breeze.  A & I spent the morning running errands and going on a coffee date with friends and then came home for a long nap.  After the nap, we went for a beautiful outdoor walk.  Hooray for a lovely, humidity free day and a super-happy, well rested baby!

    The well-rested baby in full-on crawler mode!

    The well-rested baby in full-on crawler mode!  She also stood up in her crib yesterday.  Slow down, A!

  2. My friend Lacey just had a little girl two weeks ago, so A manned her highchair, while I baked a batch of Joy the Baker’s Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.  You’ve got to love a good excuse to bake!

    Best. Cookies. Ever.

  3. I mentioned this above in my mini rant, but after boiling and stripping with RLR the cloth diapers once again smell good as new.  As easy as the disposables were over vacation, I’m glad to have A back in her earth friendly option!  They also give her a little more padding now that she’s starting to pull up on things.
  4. The chicks are almost ready to head outside!  I know the blog has been really chicken light these days, but our little ones are just about ready to head to the hoop house – and isn’t this Mystery Chick cute?

    These are our little ones from Murray McMurray this year... including the "mystery" rooster who has a nice pair of bell bottoms!

    These are our little ones from Murray McMurray this year… including the “mystery” rooster who has a nice pair of bell bottoms!  Can you spot him?

  5. Pizza on the grill!  I just made the crust (bread flour, beer, yeast and salt) and I’m looking forward to a nice evening meal with Jason when he gets home.

    Gratuitous Rooster in Repose Shot... What chickens do on a warm, breezy day...

    Gratuitous Rooster in Repose Shot… What chickens do on a warm, breezy day…

And a final, just to be thankful thought, I made it all the way through the first week of T25 and feel great!  Looking forward to writing Monday’s post already.

We also have a garden... which Jason pretty much takes care of.  Even I'm shocked by how much we planted and how well it is doing given the fact that I spend my days chasing A instead of weeding.

We also have a garden… which Jason pretty much takes care of. Even I’m shocked by how much we planted and how well it is doing given the fact that I spend my days chasing A instead of weeding.

Have a great weekend!

Work/Life Balance

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with balancing life and work because even on summer vacation (from teaching), my time is still so divided.  Jason and I are in the process of dismantling his father’s house and preparing it for first a yard sale and then the realtor, which has devoured our weekends when he’s not on call.  On top of that, we’re trying to use this as an opportunity to pare back on things in our own home – scouring out closets for what can be donated, sold or sent to the dump (as a last resort).  As a result, my first week of real “summer vacation” has been spent hanging out with A until nap time, during which I sprint to get as much done as possible.  We have a July 4 yard sale deadline, and I keep promising myself (perhaps foolishly) that after that things will start to calm down.

In the meantime, I’ve been going back and forth between how I should be spending my writing time – novel writing or blogging.  Is this the best space to be writing in?  I feel myself shifting more and more towards blogging about farm to table and the task of feeding a tiny human, but part of me doesn’t want to let go of the chickens and occasional garden notes.  After a shaky start (time, again), our garden is fully planted, and the peppers and tomatoes are slowly being coaxed up out of the ground by the warm June sunshine.  Our day-old chicks are now almost three week old chicks, and the laying flock is soldiering on under a less than ideal rooster (he’s a little rough and won’t bring them in at night).

What are your thoughts, dear readers?  What would you like to find here when you next return?

 

Simplifying Summer

I love this time of year.  The air is crisp in the morning, the garden is tilled and awaiting our seedlings, and the chicks will be on their way from Murray McMurray early next week.  But this year has been a bit more challenging than previous years.  Jason’s dad passed away unexpectedly from pancreatic cancer within weeks of a diagnosis, leaving our young family in a tailspin, complicated by our hectic work schedules, a back injury (mine), and seven month old A, who is a constant delight.

So now that my grading is finally wrapped up, and I only have two weeks left of work obligations, I feel like I can finally focus my attention on… everything else.  It’s hard to say where this blog is going.  As a new (if not excessively young) Mom, I am overwhelmed by just how many “firsts” A can rake up in a week, by how challenging some things have been, and by the overwhelming sense that even my best efforts may not, sometimes, be enough.  I’m looking forward to talking about how well cloth diapering has gone (nothing but cloth since her fourth day of life!), and how her first round of disposable wearing (during an upcoming trip home to see my family) will go.  We ordered a bundle from Honest Co., and I’m eager to see if they really hold up to the recommendations we received.  I want to talk about feeding solids – and what a strange, emotional, complicated task feeding a baby really is.  I look forward to covering this year’s adventures in chickens, though, admittedly, the chickens get a lot less attention these days.  And, the garden – how our plan to pare back and focus only on the essentials pans out.

I can’t promise daily writing, but I am hoping for a few posts weekly, perhaps following formats that I’ve liked on other blogs.  So please come back – hopefully new things will be springing up soon!

Planning the 2014 Garden

A few weeks ago, when the average daily temperatures were lingering around -22 (without the windchill), we placed our 2014 seed order with Park Seed.  Part of the reason we order through Park (despite my heirloom, seed saving dreaming) is their super reliable Tenderette and Soleil green beans, a staple of our winter diet (they freeze like a dream, and we eat them 2-3 times a week).

Young, fresh beans

Tenderette and Soleil Beans in Our Garden

I would like to say that A’s arrival has made us more cautious gardeners, but though we’ve cut back on some things (we might not have terribly over-ordered seeds as we have in past years), we still plan to fill both our primary garden 100’x50′ and our smaller garden 10’x100′, and if you were worried, we’re also preparing for a 2014 chick purchase to add more genetic diversity to our flock of Buff Orpingtons after a 2013 decline in hatch rate.

Chicks hatched in 2012 from our own birds.

Chicks hatched in 2012 from our own birds.

In planning our garden, we made the choice to grow more crops that we use all winter (carrots, beans, peas, onions, garlic, tomatoes) and fewer try-it-out-for-fun crops (though we will be planing parsnips again this year because we’ve really enjoyed having them!).  So what did we decide on?

2014 Vegetable Order

  • Green Ice Lettuce (Free Add-On)
  • Master Chef Blend Lettuce
  • Summer Glory Blend Lettuce (Free Add-On)
  • Green Towers Lettuce (Free Add-On)
  • Sweet Rainbow Blend Pepper
  • Orange Paruche Hybrid Tomato
  • Sugary Tomato
  • Costoluto Genovese Tomato
  • Mr. Big Pea
  • Lincoln Pea
  • Tendersnax Carrot
  • Honey Bear Squash
  • Summer Squash Medley
  • Soleil Bean (Yellow String)
  • Tenderette Bean (Green String)
  • Albion Hybrid Parsnip
  • Yellow Onion Set

In addition to this, we’ll purchase cucumber plants from a local grower because no matter how we try, we’ve never been able to get them to grow reliably from seed; whereas, every year we buy plants from the same mom and pop  greenhouse and they thrive.  Other than that, we’re hoping for another big crop of blueberries from the bushes we planted a few years ago.

A was more than ready to help when we placed our seed order a few weeks ago!

A was more than ready to help when we placed our seed order a few weeks ago!

What are you planting in your garden this spring?

Stepping Back Into the Garden

Fifteen weeks ago, our lives changed forever, as Baby A made her arrive three days late.  At seven pounds, fourteen ounces she was, from the first, a delightful little snuggler.  Now that we’ve settled back into our life together, and after much deliberation about whether this was the place to do it or whether I should start a new blog more devoted to the changes our life and lifestyle have taken, I’ve decided to return to the garden, not because everything is the same or because all of the pieces will fit as nicely and logically as they used to, but because this is the place where I’ve written off and on for almost two years.  And as A grows, and we can pay a bit more attention to the chickens and our crops, this will be the most reasonable place for all the pieces to come back together.  So I ask for you to be patient with me in the coming months as I rediscover my voice and stretch the edges of gardening and chicken blogging to include this marvelous new person we are just getting to know.

1545954_10201355545186620_1205248518_n

Returning to Blogging after a Long Hiatus

After a long hiatus, I’m happy to say that I think I’m finally back…

School has been incredibly busy this year, and given our other news…

DSC_0251

Abby will be a big sister in October!

…things have been much busier around here than they usually are in spring, and if you’ve read about past springs, things are typically pretty busy, anyway.

In the next few weeks, I look forward to catching you up on where we are in the garden (tomato and pepper seedlings were planted indoors two weeks ago), in the coop (currently selecting eggs for the 2013 hatch), and in the nursery (cloth diapering, anyone?).  So thank you for sticking around, if you have been periodically checking back in; and if you’re new, welcome!  We look forward to sharing our summer (and baby!) adventures with you over the next few months.

Homestead Update

When I went to Boston a week ago today, I had every intention of continuing to write regular posts, but between a hotel with limited wi-fi access and a weekend of wedding-related activities (and my 30th birthday!), not nearly as much got done on the blog as needed.  This time of year always feels a little breathless, as the first truly hot summer days descend in a haze of weeding, home reorganization and preparation for canning.  Throw in a wedding to prepare for and host, and everything that used to feel normal about my days has pretty much evaporated.  That said, I wouldn’t want anything else at this point.

Always a welcome sight at the end of a long day…

In the garden, things have finally started progressing at a rate that I’m excited to discuss.  This year, we’ve been plagued by a super slow growing season and the fear that not one of

Tomatoes … finally growing!

our seventy-something tomato plants would make it.  Apparently, our problem was soil temperature because as that has climbed over the last nine days, so have our plants!  I think one of the things I struggle most with on this blog is adequately cataloging our failure and my fear of failure, as putting it in words somehow makes it seem that much more eminent.  So in that vein: I’m worried about the peppers, which have been plagued by flea beetles all season.  We’ve been hitting them up regularly with a mixture of garlic, hot sauce, Dr. Bronner’s natural soap and water, and we’re hoping to see some progress, but it has been SLOW.  We’ve also really struggled with flea beetles in our cucumbers and have had to replace some of the plants (a complete repeat of last year).  We’ve planted nasturtiums with them to try to cut back on cucumber beetles, and – cross your fingers – we haven’t seen any yet!  What do you do to protect delicate pepper and cucumber plants, and how do you keep the dreaded flea beetle away?

One Week Old Chicks – Note the Feathers on the Wings!

And in the coop?  Chicks!  Our hatch yielded 21 of the healthiest, most active chicks we’ve ever had.  So healthy, in fact, that after six days in the back bedroom nursery, they had to be moved out to the coop.

Chick-mania!

This year, rather than constructing our modified coop brooder out of cardboard, I used some scrap wood from our earlier coops and the clear panels from an old cold frame that blew apart in a storm last year.  I’ve slowly begun to expose them to a bit more light and sun from outside (keeping a careful eye on drafts).

Abby keeping a watchful eye on her “babies”. Do note that at this stage, she is never left alone with the chicks. In about three weeks, I’ll be less careful about chaperoning her, but the chicks are still way too small to protect themselves, and I’m not sure she realizes they are chickens (and meant to be protected) yet.

Rather than keeping a thermometer in the coop with the little ones, we’ve been monitoring their activity and adjusting accordingly.  Right now, we have one lower and one higher lamp and lots of space for them to move around in, and we’ve only begun to see the first hints of flight!

Flight!