Monday, December 29, 2008

Conferences and Seminars

We have a busy month planned so I thought I would share the long list of conferences going on this winter in my area. I'm not sure how many Michigan readers I have but in any case maybe this will motivate others to look for educational opportunities in their area. I've included links when I have them and a little more about why each applies to our operation for those interested.

Jan. 3,4: MSBA (MI Sheep Breeders Asso.) Michigan Shepherd's Weekend
Where: Sheraton Lansing Hotel; Lansing, MI
Cost: $30/person or $40/family + $20 to join if you're not a member, assuming you didn't register before Dec. 26th.
Highlights: What is the optimum size for YOUR flock?, Recycling nutrients from manure (hoping we can apply what we learn to all our animals), Getting Lambs to Market on Grass.
Why it applies: We have 4 Suffolk ewes and expect our very first lambs in late winter/early spring. We'd like to learn a much as possible to help us produce high quality lambs whether they go to 4H kids for show or directly to buyers as meat.
More Info: www.misheep.org

Jan. 17th: Michigan Family Farms Conference
Where: Lakeview High School; Battle Creek, MI
Cost: $35/adult $25/children $30/MIFFS member
Highlights: How to Sell at a Farmers Market, Selling to a Grocery Store, Farm to School, Preparing to Sell: Business Aspects & Legal Requirements
Why it applies: The lines seem a little blurry when I try to research these topics on my own so I'm excited to hear a presentation that applies to Michigan specifically. My uncle owns a grocery store and he is unsure of the requirements for farmers like us to sell him our goods but there is potential for a future marketing opportunity. Legal issues are my biggest concern as we begin direct marketing so any knowledge gained on the topic will be piece of mind to me. I am also very excited to hear more about the new Farm to School program which may provide an outlet for farmers to sell products directly to loca l schools!
More Info: http://www.miffs.org/mffc.asp

Jan. 23,24,25: Michigan Veterinary Conference
This is something I'll be going to for work. I am a Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT) working in a small animal practice. If you'd like more info on the conference comment on it and I'll get you the link.

Jan. 28th: ACE - Agriculture's Conference on the Environment
Where: Lansing Center; Lansing, MI
Cost: $50/before Jan. 19th $20/students $75/at the door
Highlights: Marketing Your Farm in Your Neighborhood, Wind Energy in Michigan, The Role of Agriculture in Climate Change, Food Safety Related to Manure & Bio-Solids, Water Use in the Great Lakes Basin
Why it applies: It is a combination of my two favorite things: agriculture and the environment!! Unfortunately I don't think I'll be attending this one. It is one of the most expensive seminars and would require me to take a day off of work. Plus it is sponsored in part by Farm Bureau and I do not agree with their stance on a lot of issues so I question the integrity of the presentations.
More Info: http://www.maeap.org/modules.php?name=NavSystem&id=1&mt=2

Jan. 31: Northern MI Small Farm Conference
Where: Grayling High School; Grayling, MI
Cost: $45/1st person $30/additional $15/youth 8-18
Highlights: Daniel Salatin as Youth Keynote Speaker!!, Growing Pasture Poultry on a Small Scale and Now Taking the Next Step
Why it applies: I have a lot of respect for the Salatins (although noone is perfect) and plan to sit in on some of the youth sessions. I am very excited about the pastured poultry presentation as well because this is something I hope to integrate in to our operation on a small scale this summer. There are a lot of great books on the topics but I find myself asking, "What about Michigan blizzards? Are the laws the same here? Etc." so this should be well worth it.
More info: here

Feb. 4,5: Midwest Women in Agriculture
Where: Swan Lake Resort; Plymouth, IN
Cost: $75 by Jan. 16th
Highlights: New Generation Agriculture (multiple topics), Connecting Kids With Cows (agritourism for kids), Telling YOUR Story - Public Relations Training for Your Operation, Farm Safety, Wind Energy
Why it applies: There are several presentations where young farmers will give examples of how they made their family's operations work for them which is exactly what we are trying to do. I'm not sure if I'll be going to this one yet since I would like to find someone to go with me. Although a lot of our friends farm very few of the wives are directly involved with the business. I think a lot of the husbands like it that way too. ;)
More info: https://www.extension.purdue.edu/ces/Vermillion/AG/09_WomenInAg_Flyer.pdf


I'll keep you posted on future events and would love to hear of any other bloggers heading out to these conferences. Also, anyone wanting to meet up at the Women's Conference just let me know! Happy learning!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

How Do You Start Your Seedlings?

I am happy to be back to blogging after the holiday. I meant to leave a more upbeat post up over Christmas but have been having a lot of trouble with my internet connection and therefore gave up. I have some nice Christmas pics to post and I'd like to share what gifts we gave this year, as well as some nice things we received.

Today, though, I would like to discuss something that has been on my mind a lot, and apparently on others too. Let's talk about garden plans! The latest edition of Hobby Farms is full of tips and tricks for garden planning. Sharon Astyk posted awhile back about signs of a possible seed shortage so I sorted through what was left of last year's seeds and made my list for this year.

I order my seeds almost exclusively through Baker Creek Seed Co. at rareseeds.com. They are a great company to deal with and produce a wonderful catalog chuck full of good information. The real reason I prefer them is because they care so much about seed integrity and I trust them. Frankly, I don't have to time or the knowledge to sort through other catalogs and pick out the seeds that are non-GMO, "safe", etc. I have some basic knowledge of those concepts but feel good ordering there until I take time to expand my knowledge.

I did have a lot of seeds left from last year. Not because I wanted to but because the first batch of seedlings I started didn't do very well so I gave up on a lot of the plants that require early starting. Last year I used black plastic trays and a mix of peat, vermiculite, and perlite. I planted the seeds as directed and kept the soil moist. The trays sat on a big table near our cornstove so they were very warm. Then when the plants emerged I moved them upstairs to our bay window. The temperature was quite a bit cooler but they needed the light. I tried to rotate the trays regularly to prevent the seedlings from growing crooked but they got very spindly and almost none lived once I moved them outside.

I checked with the hometown greenhouse but the owner doesn't have any room to start veggies for me, she uses all her space for flowers. Last year I bought a flat of tomato seedlings and they produced well but they were definitely no heirloom variety. This makes me think there may be a market for any extra seedlings I produced.

I've looked at growing setups in catalogs and they all seem to be quite expensive. I've heard of people using those long tube lights (forgive me I forget the correct name for them!). Should I invest in some of those or look into a small greenhouse? I would love to hear what works for you! I'm not necessarily opposed to buy seedlings I just haven't found a local source of the types I want.

Keep in mind I'm in Michigan so I don't plant much outside until May or June. Tomatoes are my main concern, and last year I remember trying some broccoli and onions so we could have an early supply of them.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Respect on the Road


It sure is time to cuddle up and settle in around here. We've had one blizzard after another and it is still snowing. Friday was so bad that a lot of businesses in town closed. The other girls at work left early and so did I.

Blizzards like this affect our household a lot because Brian works for the road commission. That means that he came home at 10 PM on Friday, worked 7 AM - 3 PM on Saturday, and then 14 hours yesterday. Since he gets a lot of crap from people who think his job is so great, we're quick to point out the downsides! When the phone rings he has to go, regardless of what he's doing. He is allowed to decline, especially if he's had a beer or is out of town, but he rarely ever does. I am hoping now that he worked all weekend that maybe he won't get called on Christmas Eve. That is when my family's big Christmas is and it would be a real bummer if he couldn't go.

The picture up above is Brian's road grader. That is what he drives most of the time, pushing back snow from the sides of the road or scraping the berms in warmer weather. In the interest of safety for everyone, I have a few suggestions for dealing with equipment on the road:

-Don't pass unless you have LOTS of room. Road commission workers (at least around here) are not allowed to pull you out if you go in the ditch, and most will just laugh at you if you ditch it trying to pass them. Of course if you get hurt they will help, but if you're stuck plan to sit there awhile. Don't you think you deserve it!? If you have plenty of room go ahead and pass but do so slowly and cautiously.

-Stay a safe distance back. This means stay back far enough that they can see you in their mirrors (like a semi) and far enough away that flying snow, etc. is not going to hit you or impair your vision.

-Slow down when you see flashing lights. You never know when a guy is out of his truck fixing or adjusting something, and I'm sure you don't want it on your conscious if you hit him.

-If you don't have 4x4 and/or aren't completely confident you can stay on the roads - just STAY HOME!! Even if you stay on the road, constant traffic really slows down the process of getting the roads cleared. The county does have to plow a path for you if you are stuck ON the road, and that is just a big waste of time when most people who get stuck like that could have taken a much better route. Which leads to...

-Stick to the main roads whenever possible. Even if it is a few miles out of your way, the state highways will be cleared first, then primary roads, then secondary roads.

I hope this helps a little with your winter driving woes. I know it can be very frustrating when you get stuck behind a slow moving plow. Just please remember that those guys usually don't want to be out there any more than you do, and you won't get there any quicker if you're stuck in the ditch waiting for a wrecker.

Be Safe! :)

Friday, December 19, 2008

If The Economy Is So Bad....?


If the economy is so bad, why is it so incredibly hard to find good service? My husband and I continue to be amazed at the crappy service we receive from businesses. I guess since things are "so bad" I would expect businesses to step it up a notch and do everything they can to keep their customers. Here are three examples of disappointing experiences we've had lately. The first one is rather long but the other two are quick:

-We received some cash towards new appliances for a wedding gift. After watching sales for awhile I called the Lowe's about a half hour from here. I asked if they had any black or stainless steel gas stoves in stock with a storage drawer at the bottom. The woman assured me they had two in stock. After driving all the way there we were pointed to only one stove that fit our description and told that the floor model was the only one they had left and we could have it at 10% off if we liked. Of course it was dented and scratched!! When I mentioned my phone call ahead I was told that the girl who answered my call was from a different department and didn't really know what she was talking about. Anyway, after leaving to look at other stores we came back and said we'd take the dented one. The same woman rudely informed us that we'd have to take it the way it was because they crush all their boxes and their wasn't one piece of cardboard in the whole store that they could cover it with (and of course it is raining outside!). We told her that if she wanted to sell the stove she would find us something to package it in. After suggesting we go buy a tarp and us glaring at her she finally found some cardboard and saran wrap and wrapped it up quite nicely. Needless to say, we didn't buy any other appliances their and will never go back.

-We need two estimates on rebuilding our shed for the insurance company. The first company that came out was very professional and looks to be great to deal with. Another guy never called us back. A third contractor assured me he could come out and give us an estimate, then set up a time with my husband. So Brian came straight home from work to meet him instead of running some other errands that needed to be done. At the time he was supposed to arrive the man called and said that he had come out earlier in the day and looked at the building and it wasn't something he was interested in working on!!! We weren't so mad that he didn't want the job as much as that he didn't call earlier to let us know.

-Now we need an electrical bid. We called the company our neighbor works for. His boss was supposed the call us and come out this past Monday or Tuesday. No word from him yet.

I don't mean for this post to be all negative. You don't even need to read my examples above. The point is that I feel very frustrated when the country is constantly talking about the "economic downturn" and yet we can't get good service! On the other hand, yesterday I received a Christmas card from our wedding photographer saying "Thanks for your support". The small stores' shopkeepers that I patronize show genuine appreciation when I check out. The people at our bank are very helpful and called this week just to double check that we got the right cash back. The vet clinic that I work at has several appreciative clients that bring us cookies, breads, and chocolates this time of year. The local pharmacy even sent over a gift to say thanks for sending our prescriptions their way.

Those things are what I try to remember when crappy service starts to seem the norm. It really makes me think that there is still a lot of room for new businesses if they treat people right. I'd really like to hear about your experiences, good or bad, and please tell me if I'm crazy or does this stuff leave you scratching your head too. After all, doesn't anyone want our money?

Note: after re-reading this I feel the need to point out that I think we approach people in a friendly way and are generally well liked in our neighborhood. Lol. I didn't need anyone thinking we're crazy people who chase everyone away! :)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oh Christmas Tree Oh Christmas Tree...

Not much time this morning but I thought I'd post a few pics of our visit to the local Christmas tree farm on Sunday. We had fun posing and got some cute pics of our friend's mules. This will probably be our last Blue Spruce. At half the price, the Scotch Pine is sounding better and better all the time. We paid $41 for our tree this year, partially because they only allow you to cut trees that are 6' tall and we only wanted a little one. I would be interested to hear what the rest of you are paying in other parts of the country. Maybe I'm crazy but I think the price is getting a little high. Oh well, we had fun anyway! Here you go:













Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Twinge of Self-Sufficiency



I like to play this game where I try to stock up enough food and staples that I don't have to go grocery shopping for a long time. After a lot of practice I finally got to where the only things on the list were dairy products such as milk, cheese slices, cheese sticks, and butter. Apple juice also had a permanent spot on the list. After a few good sales we now have lots of cheese and butter in the freezer and many, many gallons of juice in the pantry. We're down to picking up a gallon of milk here and there when we stop at the local meat market for lunch meat.

Today when I came home from work I walked in to the kitchen and sat my tin I Love Lucy lunch box on the counter as usual. From there I looked over towards the fridge and could see that two lines at the top of the grocery list had writing on them. Darn! I thought, what could we possibly be out of!?!

bagels
cream cheese

Bagels - hmmph! The last package almost got moldy before I pointed that out and my hubby quickly scarfed them down as a week's worth of breakfasts. I knew that I could make them from scratch because I did it before after reading Heather's post about it that linked to a good bagel recipe. So instead of curling up on the couch like I had been hoping to do (I've been sick since Sunday night) I busted out the bread flour and made 4 fresh, homemade bagels. It was a lot easier this time since I have the bread maker now and can use that for the kneading and rising. I only made 4 because last time some got hard before they were eaten. A full recipe makes 8 so it was easy to halve it. I might try making a full batch next time and freezing them but I'm worried that they might not freeze well.

On to the cream cheese. Of course we have cream cheese. There are a dozen packages in the fridge drawer, all purchased for $1 each on sale and dated as far out as March. I've been making a dessert a week and cheesecake has become a real favorite. What the hubby wanted was the cute little butter dish type of spreadable cream cheese just like the almost empty one on the top shelf of the fridge. The one growing more mold than a petri dish.

Last weekend I had spotted a little recipe for flavored cream cheese in the Miserly Meals cookbook. It just called for mixing 3 oz. of cream cheese with 2 tbsp. of strawberry jam. Brian nixed the idea of flavoring it but I whipped 1/2 package in the mixer and put it in the (freshly washed) dish.

So...
2 PM: 2 things on the grocery list
7 PM: Empty again. Score! 20 points for the baker in the family.

Self-sufficiency feels good! :) I'd love to hear your story on how you've come to take less trips to the store, or come to rely on yourself more than you did.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pumpkin Pie Squares

Abbie over at Farmer's Daughter is hosting a Christmas Cookie Recipe Swap! I'm excited to check out everyone recipes. Here's my first contribution.



Pumpkin Pie Squares
Recipe taken from Farm Journal's Best-Ever Cookies by Patricia A. Ward.

1 c. sifted flour
1/2 c. quick-cooking oats
1/2 c brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. butter
1 (16-oz.) can mashed pumpkin (2 c.) <----2 c. was most of a bigger can for me, not sure about that
1 (13.5-oz.) can evaporated milk
2 eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
2 Tbs. butter

Combine flour, oats, 1/2 c. brown sugar and 1/2 c. butter in bowl. Mix until crumbly, using electric mixer at low speed. Press dough into bottom and 1/2" up sides of ungreased 13x9x2" baking pan. Bake in 350 degree (F) over 16 minutes.
Combine pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and cloves in bowl. Beat well, using rotary beater. Pour into baked crust.
Bake in 350 degree (F) oven 20 minutes.
Combine pecans, 1/2 c. brown sugar and 2 Tbs. butter; sprinkle over pumpkin filling. Return to oven and bake 15 minutes, or until filling is set. Cool in pan on rack. Cut into 2 1/4" squares. Makes 24.

My comments: I liked this one because it allows you to work very efficiently. While the crust is baking you mix the filling, while the filling is baking you mix the topping. I whipped these together the night before my hubby headed up north for Thanksgiving. This is a great thing to make if you don't know what others are bringing, there were other regular pumpkin pies at his family's but these squares were a little bit different and still festive.
Sorry I don't have a pic, I'll add one next time I make them. Basically they look a lot like pumpkin pie but you could add them to a tray of other goodies. As mentioned above, the 16 oz. can and the 2 c. didn't add up for me so I may have used too much filling. The bars may be a little firmer and not require a fork if you stuck to the 16 oz. can. Enjoy!

Oh and of course you don't have to use pecans, I used walnuts and no one complained.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Homemade, Last Minute, Cute, Kinda Green Christmas Cards!

Okay so this morning I started shopping around for Christmas cards online. I've done this many times in the past few months and always got discouraged because the recycled cards are sooo expensive. I was going to give up on that idea and instead created a cute card with some caricatures of my family on the front. I was almost at the point of entering my credit card number to the tune of $50 for 50 cards. That was $30 for the cards, $4 for some matching gift tags I'd fallen for, and the rest was all shipping and handling (just to get them here in 7-10 days - kinda close!). Anyway, one of the last options before checking out was to download the caricatures for unlimited use on your computer. The cost was $1.99 per caricature or $6.99 for the whole group of six. I was a little concerned that the company wouldn't allow you to purchase just the images without an additional order but after deleting the printed cards and gift tags, only the download charge remained!! No tax and no shipping, just $6.99 total billed to my card.

When I got home tonight I used MS Works and Adobe Photoshop to recreate the cards I would have had printed. I typed a nice paragraph inside summarizing our year and wishing everyone the best, and left room at the bottom for a personal greeting and signature. It took me a couple hours to get it right but I'm very picky. Plus, I don't feel the greatest - I think I'm getting sick - so I didn't feel like doing much else anyway.

Anyhow, here's what I ended up with. I printed them on 100% recycled cardstock (up to 30% post consumer) that I had left over from our wedding invitations. As I have to do now is find some envelopes to fit, which I doubt will be recycled. I'll use some of the many return address labels my hubby gets free in the mail from places like Easter Seals instead of printing new ones.

If you'd like to try this idea, I did it at VistaPrint, just click on "Caricatures" on the lower left hand column. Once I paid for them I had to call tech support to figure out how to download them. You go to My Account in the top right corner, click the See More... tab, then My Caricatures, then Download. Mine showed up as a .zip file on my desktop so I selected all the individual files out of there and pasted in to my pictures folder for easy access. That's sounds super confusing so if you try this and need help I can guide you through it a little better!

Let me know what you think!

Back


Front


Inside Top


Inside Bottom


Images were definitely more clear when printed!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday Stroll

It feels good to be out strolling again today. It was still very cold as we've been getting storms all week but at least the winds died down and the sun came out. I couldn't resist getting some more pictures of the horses while I was breaking their ice. The rest are mostly views from our front porch before the wind stopped.








Check out who else is strolling today over at Quiet Country House.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lemons

Wow - what a great blogging community this is! I can't express how wonderful everyone has been by leaving wonderful comments here. So, you can imagine how touched I was to receive The Lemonade Award - twice!



From my understanding, this award is meant for people who are positive, show gratitude, and of course: make lemons out of lemonade!

The rules for this award are that you post the graphic for it, write a post that links back to the giver, and then pass it on to up to ten others. Leave a comment on the blogs that get the award, so they know what's happened.

First, I would like to thank Joyce at tallgrassworship (haha does this sound like a Grammy speech?) for passing along the award and for spreading the word about the fire with the other APLS.

Thanks to Ruth at Everydaywoman as well for also passing this award my way. I don't think I ever commented back to you but you should know (& Abbie too!) that by sharing the story of your family's barn burning you really helped me to see past this. We are so lucky that our animals are okay - I'm sure it was very hard on your husband to lose that bull.

Also, I am relieved to see that I haven't come across as whiny on here. It is such a weird, vulnerable feeling that comes after something like this and everyone's comments have made me feel at ease.

And now for the fun part! I am passing this award along to:

Julie over at A Celebration Of Our Journey. She is a caring, creative mother and wife who devotes much of her time to making life better for her son, who has been diagnosed with Autism. I can only imagine the challenges she faces day to day and applaud all her hard work!

Heather at Simple-Green-Frugal. I have followed her blog for awhile now. She has mentioned some problems with her health but I would have never suspected that from her upbeat, encouraging posts. She constantly supplies good advice for living a greener life and comes up with the best local recipes. I'm glad she's around to motivate all of us!

Sharon at Casaubon's Book. Sharon is a very busy author and mother so I won't be offended at all if she doesn't post this on her blog. However, she definitely deserves this award. She offers a tremendous amount of useful information and advice for dealing with the problems of today's world. Recently, she has faced up to some negative press and turned it in to an opportunity to blow them out of the water with more than one thrilling blog post. Way to go Sharon. :)

I hope everyone enjoys the award, it did brighten my day!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Just Checking In

No real great content here, just checking in. I've had a very enjoyable weekend with 4 days off in a row. The only downside was that Brian was gone hunting in the U.P. but I did get in lots of quality time with the dogs. Today the 3 of them plus me and the cat all crashed out on the couch for a long nap. All I had to do was make the 20 ft. walk out the back door and gather the chicken eggs. The sheep and chickens are pretty easy to take care of this time of year, just have to refill the feeders and waterers every couple days.

I've started looking in to our options for rebuilding the barn, including hoophouse type structures. I'll be sharing what we learn about their pros and cons here, plus I just finished You Can Farm by Joel Salatin and started Keeping a Family Cow, so there should be some book reviews coming soon.

I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday weekend! :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Video of the Damage

Thank you to everyone who left kind thoughts for us on the last post. We do have insurance. We spoke with the adjusters today and one of them will be stopping by this evening to take some pictures. The insurance company will be sending a fire investigator out to confirm our suspicions that the cattle started the fire by chewing through the cord on their stock tank heater. Brian ran the cord through a thick metal pipe to prevent this problem but the cattle must have pulled on it enough and reached the end. It is heartbreaking to think that this could have been prevented, and we will be looking in to different methods of providing water in these freezing temperatures.
Our cattle are safely at a friends' with his cattle. We'll make long-term arrangements for them once we see how long it is going to take to rebuild. The building that burned was not ideal for our plans and so we may be redesigning it before we replace it. I feel that the threat of fire is just one more reason that raising animals on pasture is a far superior method.

Here's some video I took yesterday after the firefighters got the flames out. It shows the damage inside as well as the lean-to that the cattle were in.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Disaster at the Farm


















Don't know where to start - there was a fire at the farm here today. Half of our big shed is ruined along with the big lean-to we added on last fall. Thank god for our dogs, we were trying to sleep in this morning and they saw the fire out the window and barked until we woke up. It was too late to stop the fire but we saved all the cattle, the tractors, and the hay. Losses include all of the corn and oats we had kept to feed and heat our house, plus our planter and multiple gravity wagons/corn wagons. Our friends and neighbors have already rallied around us and helped in every way possible. We are so grateful.
I took some video of the damage today so I'll be posting that if I can get it to load properly. I figured this will be a part of the farm's history and we might as well record it to show our kids someday. It just feels like I've been punched in the stomach. I'll be posting updates in the coming days.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Homemade Laundry Soap

My Mom & I have been using this recipe for years now so I thought I would share it. It came from our local paper, author unknown.

Laundry Soap Recipe:

3 pints water
1/3 bar Fels Naptha soap, grated
1/2 cup Super Washing Soda
1/2 cup borax
1 quart hot water
2 gallon bucket

Note: You may be able to get your local grocer to order the Fels Naptha for you, or you can find it online. The grocery store should have washing soda and borax, looks near the stain removers and other laundry aids.

Step #1: Mix grated soap in a large saucepan with 3 pints hot water. Heat on the stove over low heat until dissolved. Do not allow to boil.

Step #2: Stir in Super Washing Soda and 20 Mule Team Borax. Stir until thickened. Remove from heat.

Step #3: Add 1 quart hot water to 2 gallon bucket. Add soap mixture and mix well. Fill bucket with more hot water, leaving a few inches at the top, and mix well. Set aside for 24 hours or until mixture thickens. Use 1/2 cup of mixture per load.

I like this mixture a lot and find it to work well on my clothes. My husbands really dirty/greasy jeans don't clean well in it but they didn't respond well to store-bought detergents either. We have pretty hard water, my Mom has soft water, and it performs well for both of us. I like that it is a liquid and that it lacks dyes and perfumes, since they sometimes irritate my skin.

Let me know if you try it or if you have any other laundry tips/recipes! :)

(Note: I took pictures of this entire process but they won't load right now so I'll try again later!)

Today, as I sit and look at my list of errands to run, I am thankful that we have the funds and vehicles available to do these little everyday tasks. One of the things on my list today is to drop off recycling. I am so lucky to live in a place where we have a wonderful recycling company and great people working there. I was very disappointed in our roadside pickup service so I'm glad to have found an alternate drop-off point. If you're local the place is Tuscola County Recycling.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Stroll

Here's found I saw today as I walked around the yard.

The garden freshly mulched for winter:




Lots of hay ready to be fed:



The last of the new landscaping, until spring:



Chickens happily eating apple scraps:



And then later, it snowed!!:



Check out who else is stolling today over at Quiet Country House.

Today I'm thankful for the space we have here to call our own. It is so nice to relax at home on a weekend and take a break from the rest of the world. I love having the yard to decorate the way I like and the house that feels more like home every day.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

How to Store Carrots, and Save them for Seed

Today it was supposed to starting raining/snowing at around noon. I was determined to get some work done outside before the bad weather hit so I headed outside about 10AM. First I finished landscaping a spot near our back door. Now I have lawn edging and stone around two sides of the house. I'll do the other two sides in the spring. I'm still amazed at the difference - it looks so much nicer. I'll have to post before and after pics sometime.

I really wanted to get the garden mulched today but that didn't happen. Both of our wheelbarrows are full, one has a flat tire, and I really didn't feel like opening up the big shed doors to lug out a bunch of hay for mulch.

So instead, I dug up all of our carrots. The book Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel is a great one to study in regards to food storage. Since the book said carrots can be left in the ground all winter in milder climates, I figured mine were safe out there for awhile. However, with lots of freezing temps in the forecast I needed to get them out before the ground froze. I think they were on the verge of getting too big, not sure how that would work if you left them in the ground all year.

Here is a picture of this year's crop:



After changing in to dry clothes (it did start raining on me) and warming up, I sorted and cleaned up the carrots. Any carrots that were affected by worms or too small to bother storing went in a bowl for the rabbits, along with all the green tops. I'll feed them a handful a day along with their regular diet. Most of the carrots I just snapped the tops off of, wiped them down with a dry washcloth, and snapped the long, thin tip off the root. I picked out 10 exceptionally nice carrots to save for seed next year. I just wiped them down and trimmed the tops down to an inch or two, leaving the tips long
Here's what I ended up with after sorting:


Seed carrots


Carrots to eat


Carrots and tops for the rabbits

According to the book, you can store the carrots by layering them in a box or can in damp sand, sawdust, or leaves. We have a lot of leaves but it seems like they would get very slimy and I don't like the idea of reaching in to slimy leaves for dinner. I also worried sand that sand might introduce bugs or, around here, remnants of cat poop. I felt safest using sawdust and our friends gladly supplied me with a huge bag full. It was actually more like wood shavings, which I think will work fine.
My husband just mentioned one of our coolers had lost the drain plug and sprung the hinges so he was going to put it in the garbage. I found it in the garage and it turned out to be the perfect container for storing carrots.
I didn't have a spray bottle to wet the sawdust with. Instead, I filled a pot with water and dumped in the shavings a little at a time. Then I could scoop out handfuls and squeeze them out. Per the book, I spread a 1 inch layer on the bottom, laid the carrots out in a single layer, covered them with another inch of shavings, and repeated. Like this:


Wetting the sawdust


One layer of carrots


Covering them with another inch of material


My workstation

When I was done I added another inch or two of sawdust and covered it all with a couple of layers of wet newspaper. The book says they should last until May or later if kept cool and moist. Specifically, they like 32-40 degrees F and 90-95 humidity. I'll be moving the cooler to our upstairs where it is not heated and should stay quite cold. If it gets too warm there I'll try the attic since that is not insulated. Frequent checks to keep the shavings and newspaper damp should help.
I stored the seed carrots with the rest and will pull them out and plant them again in the spring.

Feel free to share your storage techniques for carrots, or let me know if this helps you! :)

Again for the month, I'll be adding a note about something I'm thankful for to each post. Today was easy - of course I'm grateful to have all this great food! It is such a wonderful feeling being able to set aside food to feed us throughout the year. I'm lucky to have a place to do it and the resources to learn how.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bob Waldrop and Someday: A Tri-Cities Food Coop!?

So I attended a very interesting presentation Tuesday night titled, "Re-inventing the Family Farm". I found the flyer at the Greenstone Farm Credit office of all places, which made me a little leery to attend. However, the presentation was by Robert Waldrop, President and General Manager of the Oklahoma Food Coop. The coop is incredibly successful, more so than I would have ever expected.

Mr. Waldrop was hosted by Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU), almost an hour away from where I live. I had no idea there was so much great work in progress at SVSU. They are working on everything from vermiculture and hydroponics to alternative energy development. For more information on the projects going on there check out the Green Cardinal (the cardinal is the school mascot) and the last few posts on Bob Waldrop's blog. While you're on Bob's blog scroll down to the post about 20 Things to Do Now that the Election is Over. I found it very interesting and motivating.

So, back to the presentation. Really it was mostly practical advice and tips on how to start and operate a large food coop. I have considered in the past the idea of trying to start a small coop in my area but I decided my efforts would be better spent on producing the food and direct marketing on my own. Although I would love to help out with a big coop, I was really hoping for more information from the producer's standpoint.

The excitement came at the end for me when I spoke with Dr. Christopher Schilling, he is one of the SVSU faculty heading up this initiative and the man doing most of the research I mentioned earlier. I described our situation to him, i.e. that we have 74 acres we are cash crop farming and we are looking for a way to make the land more productive. I also shared that we are starting out with some freezer beef and eggs and that I would be very interested in being a part of any future coop. My interest was welcomed and encouraged.

It was so thrilling to be around a group with so much positive energy towards this subject. It is easy to feel discouraged as we try to get the farm going. The presentation was exactly what I needed to get me looking on the bright side again.

On a side note, I've also been slowly making my way through You Can Farm by Joel Salatin. I was a little disappointed when I read his Salad Bar Beef but You Can Farm is wonderful! I'll post a book review when I'm done. Between the book and the presentation I am feeling ├╝ber motivated.

If you'd like to share your thoughts, I'd love to hear them!

Oops - almost forgot. Today I am thankful for my ability to learn, and the freedom we have in the USA to do what we want with our lives and share information.

Monday, November 10, 2008

How to Buy Locally: 9 Easy Steps



I've been working on my post for the APLS Carnival for a couple days now and it turned in to me blabbing on about reasons why buying locally is good, etc.,etc. I decided to put together something quick and basic instead. I'll leave the philosophical parts to someone else.

Assuming you support the idea of buying local products here are 9 easy steps to get you started:

1. Get yourself some reusable bags.
Ironically, you may not find these locally. You could always make them yourself, or the organizers of you local farmers' market may have bags with their logo on them. My personal favorites are baggu bags, available on Amazon.com. There are several options out there so if you can't find some locally look around online. It is still better than using plastic or taking new paper ones every time. Plus, a lot of vendors don't even have bags.

2. Get organized! Find a spare little notebook in your desk or find a spot in your PDA for "local" contacts. When you find the one guy in 100 miles that grinds flour, you don't want to lose his phone number! It helps if you have a place to store business cards.

3. Find out what's in season when. Google the information for your area and print it off. If strawberries are only in for 2 weeks, you want to know about it. When they're gone - they're gone. This will help keep you from getting the call that your 2 bushels of peaches are ready the day before your wedding (like I did). If you're really going to eat local, you've got to plan around the seasons.

4. Have a plan in place to preserve some foods for the off season.
This goes along with #3. Keep an eye out for recipes you like and store accordingly whether it be drying, freezing, or canning. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Someone's Grandma would love to teach you to can. See my post about apples to get you started.

5. Check out sites like Local Harvest to find farmers' markets and growers in your area. Most states have a website devoted to local companies and products. Search for "Michigan made" or "Michigan furniture", etc. There are tons of sites devoted to finding local goods. Also scan your local newspaper and check store windows for signs that advertise "Local Products Here".

6. Go Shopping! Seek out fair prices but remember that isn't necessarily the most important thing. You'll generally be saving on food anyway by buying raw goods and transforming them in to meals at home instead of buying processed meals at the grocery store. Remember to let the producers and artisans know how much you appreciate what they're doing.

7. Expand your horizons. Pick a couple things off your shopping list each week and try to find a local source for them. Ask around. Chances are it is out there, it just may not be the most efficient option for you. For example, I would love to have local dairy products but right now I can't stomach paying $7/gallon for milk. In those situations, just keep looking!

8. Consider making or growing your own of some things you use a lot.
You'd be amazed at how easy it is to grow potatoes. They are very forgiving. And so on.

9. Spread the word.
Give local products as gifts or share them at a special dinner. Chances are your friends didn't know there were so many great things available locally. Plus, who doesn't love pure maple syrup on Christmas morning pancakes.

I hope this helped get you started. If you're already buying locally, I'd love to hear what works for you! Check out the APLS Carnival for more on local everything!

Update: Heather over at SGF has a great post up now about how to eat locally. Check it out!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday Stroll



So today I went strollin', and this is what I saw.



The leaves are so thick you can't see the grass in a lot of spots.


I've still got some peas trying to grow in the garden. I don't think they'lll make it much longer. Temps are supposed to be down to 27 tonight.


Here's a bigger picture of the garden, all done now. That's the asparagus there in the middle (I didn't want anyone thinking my weeds were THAT tall!)


Maci, enjoying the fall.


And the horses.


They were very happy to get a new round bale.

Check out who else is strolling over at Quiet Country House.

Also, thanks to Joyce, I'll be mentioning something that I am thankful in each post this month, in no particular order. What a great way to carry the Thanksgiving spirit all the way through! Today I am thankful for my dogs. We have 3: Bear, Sam, & Maci. I appreciate having them around because they are always in a good mood and happy to see me, even when I'm crabby and not particularly nice to them. They keep us from being lazy by waking us up every day - there pretty much set to go off at 5:30 even on the weekend. They help me feel safe when Brian is gone, and they are good cuddlers. Of course they do have there problems (like when Maci launched WWIII on my chickens :| ) but I love them all the same. Forgot to mention how entertaining they are, as right now I'm watching the cat bat the dog in the face.

So, what are you thankful for?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Living Like A Pioneer



So in honor of Crunchy Chicken's Pioneer Week I'm doing things a little different this week. The idea is to live as much like a Pioneer as you can by using local, non-processed goods and giving up some modern conveniences. For me this means no TV this week. I did watch the election coverage last night and I'm not avoiding my husband by leaving the room when he watches TV, but I am keeping my attention on my book (currently reading You Can Farm).

I've also been baking like crazy. Honestly, I just pulled the last breads out of the oven and now the entire length of the counter is lined with homemade goodies. Today I finally got my first order of locally grown & ground flours from Hampshire Farms. Perfect timing for this challenge! The flour is definitely more coarse than store bought. The whole wheat bread flour didn't work too well with the dough hooks in my mixer so I kneaded it by hand for the whole 10 minutes. I also got some pastry flour and cornmeal, so I made a pan of cornbread with dinner. I cooked pork chops from our local meat market where most of the meat comes from farmers in the area. On the side we had non-local whole wheat rotini noodles with some cheese melted on top and mixed in. Not organic and not local, but a big step up from the boxed stuff we have in the pantry. I also made apple bread for breakfast this week and an apple pie with my canned filling and made from scratch crust, along with homemade oreos for my favorite dessert.


Before heading in to the kitchen I rushed home to plant my garlic before it got dark outside. I learned how to plant garlic from Farm Mom but it was all sold out when I tried to order my own. Then Melinda suggested Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. I ordered 1 lb. of German White and 1 lb. of Music. I got about 30 cloves of each. I loosened up a patch in my garden and was so thrilled to see how rich and fertile the soil is already after only one season of mulching and adding compost. I came across several earthworms. Brian brought me a bobcat bucket full of compost and I raked that on top of what I had loosened, planting each clove 4-6" apart and about 2" deep. Then I raked over the holes and mulched the whole thing with about a foot of leaves. I'll see how many blow off, maybe I'll have to add some straw.

I also tended to the chickens and ventured out to the garden with a flashlight in the middle of baking to pull a carrot for my cornbread.

Here's an idea: the Laura Ingalls Wilder workout plan. Arms = knead bread. Legs = ride horses. Abs = hoe the garden. I'd be so fit. ;)

Check out Crunchy Chicken's page to see what everyone else is doing for Pioneer Week.

Thank you



Just wanted to take time out to thank all the people who worked hard on this election and helped promote our future President. If you baked cookies, held fund raisers, registered people to vote, or even put a sign in your yard - THANK YOU! In the blog world I know Eco-burban worked hard on this election and I'm sure there are many others.

On the other hand, if you promoted the opposing team - we're thinking of you too. I can't imagine what it must be like for someone who lived and breathed the campaign all these months to have a disappointing result. Please don't let it get you down, there are still plenty of ways to get your opinion out there and make changes in your community.

Even with the problems we have here, I am thrilled to live in a country were we have a right to freely express all our different opinions, and still be friends in the end of it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

BIG CATTLE (Sorry, just have to vent!)

So I got this little gem in my inbox today from a close friend:

***********************************

I'm sure those of you who aren't in the cattle business don't understand the

issues here. But to those of us who's living depends on the cattle market,

selling cattle, raising the best be ef possible... this is frustrating.

As far as my family, we don't eat at McDonald's much (Subway is our choice

of fast food), but this will keep us from ever stopping there again, even

for a drink.



The original message is from the Texas Cattle Feeders Association



American cattle producers are very passionate about this.



McDonald's claims that there is not enough beef in the USA to support their

restaurants. Well, we know that is not so. Our opinion is they are looking

to save money at our expense. The sad thing of it is that the people of the

USA are the ones who made McDonald's successful in the first place, but we

are not good enough to provide beef.



We personally are no longer eating at McDonald's, which I am sure does not

make an impact, but if we pass this around maybe there will be an impact

felt.



Please pass it on. Just to add a note:

All Americans that sell cows at a livestock auction barn had to sign a paper

stating that we do NOT EVER feed our cows any part of another cow. South

Americans are not required to do this as of yet.



McDonald's has announced that they are going to start importing much of

their beef from South America . The problem is that South Americans aren't

under the same regulations as American beef producers, and the regulations

they have are loosely controlled.



They can spray numerous pesticides on their pastures that have been banned

here at home because of residues found in the beef. They can also use

various hormones and growth regulators that we can't. The American public

needs to be aware of this problem and that they may be putting themselves at

risk from now on by eating at good old McDonald's.



American ranchers raise the highest quality beef in the world and this is

what Americans deserve to eat. Not beef from countries where quality is

loosely controlled. Therefore, I am proposin g a boycott of McDonald's until

they see the light.



I'm sorry but everything is not always about the bottom line, and when it

comes to jeopardizing my family's health, that is where I draw the line.



I am sending this note to about thirty people. If each of you send it to at

least ten more (30 x 10 =

300) ...

and those 300 send it to at l east ten more (300 x 10 = 3,000) ... and so

on, by the time the message reaches the sixth generation of people, we will

have reached over THREE MILLION consumers!



I'll bet you didn't think you and I had that much potential, did you? Acting

together we can make a difference. If this makes sense to you, please pass

this message on.



David W. Forrest, Ph.D ., PAS, Dipl.



ACAP Department of Animal Science

Texas A&M University

Phone (979) 845-3560

Fax (979) 862-3399

2471 TAMU

College Station, TX 77843-2471

*********************************

This was my reply (can you tell I'm trying to be nice?):

I think that's a bunch of crap personally. :P The USA's standards on raising beef are incredibly loose compared to Europe's. We get to use all kinds of chemicals and hormones and insecticides. Plus, blood & bone byproducts from cattle are fed to chickens whose byproducts are fed back to cattle which has the potential to spread disease just like feeding cattle to cattle. Mad cow disease can potentially be spread that way, that's why Europe outlawed all of that type of feeding. Just my two cents! :)

*********************************

How stupid! The whineass big cattle ranchers are getting mad because they're losing their market, so they turn it in to an "imported cattle is bad for you" bit. Oh please. Maybe they should wake up and learn to give the consumer what they want (through small-scale quality cattle raising) and then they wouldn't have so many problems. I am all for Made in the USA, but on this one I have no sympathy.

Thoughts?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

9 Things We Do With Apples



Sorry for the long gap in posts - I lost my internet connection for awhile this week.

I have apples coming out of my ears and there is no end in sight - STILL! I thought I would share some of the things that we do with them around here to preserve the harvest. Here's the list:

1. APPLE BETTY
This recipe was suggested by my mother-in-law and can be found in the Better Homes & Gardens "New" Cookbook (mine is definitely not new, more like 30+ years old). The recipe calls for 4 cups of apples so I peel and slice mine and freeze them in 4 cup portions. As you're peeling drop them in some water & lemon juice to preserve the color, then drain & freeze. I don't bother rinsing mine. Here's the recipe:

"Apple Betty Pie"
4 cups sliced pared tart apples or 1 No. 2 can (2 1/2 cups) sliced pie apples, drained
1/4 cup orange juice (I'll skip this if we don't have any)
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup butter

Mound apples in buttered 9" pie plate, sprinkle with OJ. For topping: combine sugar, flour, spices, and dash salt. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly, then scatter over apples.
Bake @ 375 degrees F for 45 minutes or until apples are done and topping is crisp. Serve warm with cream (real whipped cream or cool whip, I don't use anything). Serves 6.

2. APPLE SAUCE
This is where I use the most apples and here is how I do it...
Again, slice apples directly into bowl of water & lemon juice. When done slicing, scoop out apples and put in large saucepan with just enough water to avoid sticking. I cook mine on medium heat until the apples can be crushed with a potato masher or large slotted spoon. I don't run them through a food mill or anything, I found that to be a waste of time. My husband likes his applesauce chunky but even if you don't, I gotten it pretty well mashed this way. Them add sugar and cinnamon to taste and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of lemon juice. You can follow a recipe exactly if you want but since I use all the apples of our trees, and I don't know what kind they are, I just taste test each batch and adjust appropriately. I recommend the Ball Canning Book.
Once you add the sugar bring sauce to a slight boil again and then can in quart or pint jars, processing for 20-25 minutes. I guess you could probably freeze this too, although I try to only use the freezer for things that can't be preserved elsewhere. You could also make dried applesauce, which leads me to...

3. DRIED SLICES
This is a quick way to get rid of an abundance of apples. Again, slice in to water/lemon juice and then spread handfuls out on food dehydrator trays. You can also dry them in the sun or by hanging rings in your house but I prefer the dehydrator. I sprinkle each tray with cinnamon sugar and dry for 1-2 days. They should be dry throughout but still chewy. My husband and I both like these a lot better then we expected to. Actually, they are quite addicting.

4. GRANOLA BARS
I've been using these dried apples chopped up in place of raisins or other fruit in this great granola bar recipe. I also add them to my oatmeal-in-a-thermos (7th recipe from the bottom.

5. CHOPPED APPLE COOKIES
These are something that my hubby's Grandma always used to make. We're trying to track down her original recipe but in the meantime I'm planning to try this one.

6. CHOP & FREEZE
Hmm, maybe this is cheating. This is how I prepare the apple to use in #5, 7, & 8. I think it's quite ingenious if I do say so myself. First I peel them and cut them in slices or chunks. Then I use my Pampered Chef gizmo to chop them up, I like them fine to medium. I've been told a food processor would be much easier & faster. I intend to try that someday but for now I'm happy not using anything electricity. After chopping I pressed the apples in muffin tins and popped them in the freezer. When you're done you have nice 1/4 to 1/2 cup portions so you can thaw as much as you need according to each recipe. Here's some pics:




7. WAFFLES
I tried this recipe last weekend and it was great. I used fresh chopped apples because I had them but this winter I can use either the frozen blocks or I think adding applesauce would have a similar effect.

8. APPLE BREAD

This is my favorite on the whole list. I'll use 3 or 4 frozen blocks for this one. It is great to make on a Sunday and have a slice or two for breakfast all week. It is SO good and quite filling, even without any butter. I heat mine in the microwave for a few seconds. This recipe came on the back of my electric bill and gives credit to Bernice Hass:

1/3 cup shortening
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
2 c chopped apples
1 c sugar
2 Tbsp sour milk (or buttermilk, I use a little milk and vinegar)
2 c flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Topping: 2 Tbsp butter, 4 Tbsp sugar, 1-2 tsp cinnamon

Cream shortening & sugar. Add eggs & beat. Stir in sour milk, vanilla, flour, baking soda, & salt. Add chopped apples and nuts. Put in greased loaf bread pan. Add topping and bake at 350 degrees F for 40-45 minutes. MMmmm!

9. APPLE PIE FILLING
I've been canning a lot of this too. Here's the recipe straight out of the canning book, to make about 7 pints. I usually make a double patch and use quart jars. 1 quart will make a big pie:
12 cups apple slices
2 3/4 sugar
3/4 ClearJel(R) (I use cornstarch & have fine results)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 1/4 cups cold water
2 1/2 cups unsweetened apple juice
1/2 cup lemon juice

Blanch apples for 1 minute, set aside and cover to keep warm. Combine all ingredients except lemon juice & bring to a boil. Stir constantly and cook until thick & bubbly. Add lemon juice & bring back to a boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and fold in apple slices. Heat again until apples are heated through. Can & process 25-30 minutes.

The book does not have directions for using the filling but I would use it as you would when you bake a normal pie, adding the filling to the uncooked crust and baking the whole thing at once.


Well, there's my list. Let me know if you try any of these things. I would love to hear what you're doing with your apples. I hope I've suggested a few things that will help them last until next harvest.