Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Storing Carrots

We actually had so many carrots from the garden this year that we couldn't eat them all in just a few days. Amazing! So after a little online research and a couple of conversations with some hardcore gardeners, I decided to bury our surplus carrots in sand. Supposedly, burying carrots in a bucket of sand will keep the vegetables fresh for "a pretty long time". I'm not sure what "a pretty long time" means. None of my in-person resources really knew how long the carrots would keep in the sand. Their carrots were still crisp and described as "fairly eatable" a couple of months later when they were eaten up. So in the spirit of vitally-important-scientific-research, our family has taken on the challenge of eating a small amount of carrots each month to determine the accuracy of "a pretty long time".

We have a plethora of food grade buckets gathered over the years from different food and non-food projects. And finding the sand wasn't a problem. Everyone has sand in some form or another. But finding sand that was OK to be exposed to my food for an extended period of time was a little challenging. A lady at one of the feed stores (that didn't have the right sand) explained that I needed "natural" sand. Hmmmm. "Natural Sand"? Sand can come in an unnatural state? She went on to describe what I wanted was "sand box sand". Oooh. Sand box sand....of course! I guess my carrots would be OK if they were swimming in sand that might be found in a child's mouth.

#50 of sand box sand. (#50 is a lot. It's the only size sand box sand comes in. Anybody need any sand box sand? It's natural!)

Our carrots are a little, um, mature. I dug them a week or so ago and they have been patiently waiting for me (in yet another bucket) to find the right sand. Note the root formation along the body of the carrot and the small leaves trying to regrow from the stem? Maybe "hairy" is the better adjective. Some folks think hairy carrots are bitter and slightly tough. But we like them just fine! They don't seem bitter to me at all.

Sprinkle a layer of sand on the bottom of the bucket so the carrots won't be exposed to the cold, possibly freezing cement of our garage floor through the bottom of the bucket (our garage has been known to freeze in some winters). Then layer the carrots over the sand and sprinkle sand over the carrots, then more carrots, then more get the idea. Not unlike a big sand and carrot lasagna.

When I was finished, I had 4- five gallon buckets filled with sand and carrots. (Sorry, I don't have a picture of those buckets. You are just going to have to use your imagination.)

I'll keep you posted on the character and the flavor of the carrots as we eat our way through winter into spring. I know that everyone will be on pins and needles until we find out the results of our vitally -important- scientific-research. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


This is the first year we've had fair success with carrots. Our soil is mostly hard pan that we've been amending for several seasons. We had been growing carrots and onions and garlic in raised beds because our main garden is so full of clay these root vegetables have a tendency to grow wonky in the tough soil. (Potatoes don't seem to have this problem....thank goodness. I couldn't be without my potatoes!) But I need  the raised beds for veggies that are hard for me to grow out here in the bald naked prairie. The raised beds should be dedicated to special vegetables that are so challenging that I need to baby them and cover them and fret over them (like basil).  Plus, I just flat out need more carrots than our raised beds can supply. 

The crop was a bit small but any success comes with valuable information for next year. 
What we learned: Thinning is important. Thin those babies before they get big enough to attach themselves together. 

Entwined carrots (IE: lazy farmer) 

Water. I'm pretty sure that along with the carrots being too close together, the smallish crop could have been due to low water availability. Usually we don't have to worry about watering in the spring. Often the newly planted seedlings have too much water in the form of rain and the seeds are in jeopardy of rotting. But this year we had a fairly dry spring which produced spotty germination. Carrots take forever to germinate. So a dry seed bed plus otherwise slow germination makes for unpredictable results.


Ok... so now I know! 
I can't wait for next spring! I can feel LOTS of carrots in our future.

 Next post? Storage!!!

Friday, November 14, 2014


Our chickens are molting....hard. It's pretty "normal" for them to loose their feathers this time of year. 

The coop floor looks like someone took a knife to a feather bed. Lots of feathers EVERYWHERE.

They always seem to grow them back just in time for winter. 
But this year the cold weather took one of the hens by surprise.

She's just about naked!

 I don't think she's sick or hurting. Chickens isolated themselves from the flock when they are in trouble and she is happy to be with the other girls. 

 There are new feathers growing out. They are just taking their time making an appearance. 

So in the meantime, I've been increasing the protein in their feed. This will help to keep the hens from depleting all their energy stores by both trying to keep warm and growing feathers at the same time.

We might get a few more eggs out of the deal, too.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Side Bar....

On a completely unrelated note.....

My beloved is sick.
He hasn't been sick like this in years.
He went hunting with our boys this weekend and last weekend just as both boys were finishing a nasty bout of URI (upper respiratory infection) type sicknesses. The end of runny noses. Coughs. Sore throats. They weren't successful in the woods as far as providing meat for our already bulging larders. But they weren't in the woods just for meat. They were there to be together. My husband is quietly teaching our boys to be men. He models strength and Godliness through his actions and uncompromising steadfastness to his family, and his own moral compass. Oh and they really just like hanging out together, too. Unfortunately, Tim picked up the last of the potent germs that were lingering around our sons. And now he is puny.

The reason I'm bringing this up is that somehow women have painted men to be weak and sniveling and ineffective, when they don't feel well. We snicker behind our hands and roll our eyes and gripe about how men can be such babies when they are sick. We put on airs about how men are not tough enough to go through labor and delivery as evidenced by their inability to tolerate a bad head cold or other insignificant ailment. I'm not sure where or how this got started. I know many men are annoying to those who care for them during an illness. And I know many women who test the patience of care givers as well. As a nurse, I'm in a particularly interesting place to observe people when they are sick and vulnerable.

So let me state this now: my husband is not a baby, not when he is sick, not ever. My husband is a man in every sense of the word. He exhibits his strength when he shoulders a physically difficult chore such as changing not one but two flat tires in the dark on the side of a mountain with only the light of a cell phone. And he exhibits his strength when he tenderly, patiently, paces the house hour after hour (for the fifth straight night in a row) with a colicky infant.

Do his feet smell? Sometimes.
Do my feet smell? Sometimes.
Does his breath smell like roses in the morning? Never.
Does mine? Not hardly.

But week after week. Month after month. Year after year my husband shows his character by steadfastly, without complaint, leaving our house to work. He works at a job he loves, to take care of us; but he has to be away from us to work, which he hates. And yet~ he does the work.

I love my husband.
I admire my husband.
I feel in many ways I am better because I married a good man...... in sickness or in health.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Brrrr.....It's colddd!

Minus 1 this morning on my front porch. 
While we've been colder, it's not very often we get this cold in November. We've had such a mild fall, I think the cold snap took everyone by surprise, even though we knew it was coming. Just the sheer force of the cold on your body when out doing farm chores is a jolt. 

This is ice formation on the INSIDE of the window in the south facing office!


When I was little, living in Texas, I'd read about the temperatures being such that the windows on your house would have that fuzzy look to the edges and corners.

This looks like condensation, but it's ice :)

Or you'd see a show on TV that depicted a winter view of a house with the windows frosted over.

I have a little different perspective now.
Looks like it's chili for supper!

Friday, September 26, 2014



We had several nights of 22 degree temperatures early in September. Then record breaking hot, dry weeks after the early freeze.  Now, finally, we have rain. The highs are only supposed to be in the 60's. It's a great physical relief.

 Chickens searching for worms in the damp soil.

The animals seem delighted to be wet. 

Everyone is happy. 

This guy has been rubbing his face in the wet hay.


Dancing farm boys.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

We're expecting a change in the weather and I want the bulk of cleaning up the garden duties behind me before we get more rain or cold weather. Last year we had snow in the late fall that stayed until spring and some of the garden clean up didn't get finished. I don't want to be surprised again. So I've been working in the garden all day. And tonight we are having a pantry dinner!

This pretty much consists of only items from the pantry and/ or the garden. It is usually a quick throw-together fare that allows me to get supper on the table fast for starving teenagers who simply must eat NOW hungry farm kids. 

So here it is: 

1 quart canned chicken (I pressure canned last fall)

1 can diced tomatoes (I have a couple of quarts I canned last fall too but I didn't want a whole quart of toms this time :)

2 cans black beans (I'm working on pressure canning beans. Right now I love the whole soaking-over-night-for -a-great-pot-of-beans thing so I haven't really ventured into pressure canning beans.....yet)

3 cups white rice (I only have white rice in the pantry right now- it stores almost indefinitely where brown rice tends to go's the oil in the brown rice I think)

onions and greens from the garden

Cook rice in 6 cups of water. Chop greens and add to pot of rice just at the end of the cooking/ steaming process so the greens can steam too.
Chop onions and add the rest of the ingredients. Add the juices of all the cans if you like a wet-ish finished product. If you like your throw together, one pot dinners on the dry side, drain all the cans before you drop the contents into the pot. (But save the juices for another meal.....added to home made soup maybe?)

Here's the finished product. You can add a side salad and/ or loaf of crusty bread along if you'd like.

For us, a dash of Parmesan cheese and we have a meal fit for starving teenagers who simply must eat NOW hungry farm kids.  

Just a quick side bar:   I LOVE this enamel cast iron pot! I got it at Costco about 2 years ago for a fraction of the price of the fancy French cookware ($239.95 vs $78.99!). It has been my go-to cooking pot almost everyday since I bought it. It's nice and big and the color is the best! I smile every time I get to use it....every time!

Monday, September 22, 2014

I'm about to head out to the potato patch. Digging potatoes is one of my favorite homesteading chores. I love digging potatoes. It's like hunting for buried treasure. Plus, I could eat potatoes everyday. We often do. (My dad used to say it was my "heritage showing".)

This year we planted 3 types: an organic Russet type (I can't remember the name because I FORGOT TO WRITE IT DOWN IN MY GARDEN BOOK WHICH I HAVE JUST FOR THIS PURPOSE!), German Butterball, and Riley's Reds.

The way I dig potatoes is pretty simple: grab a big handful the dead/ dying vines and pull the vine out of the ground which pulls the attached 'taters out of the ground, too. Usually there are several left in the dirt but they are pretty easy to spot. Enter the shovel. But you have to be careful when digging with a shovel. A potato that has been accidentally sliced has lost its storage ability and needs to be eaten soon; usually within the week, or the potato will start to go bad. That's not too much of a hardship for my family.

These are German Butterballs. When sliced open, these are a pretty butter yellow hence the name "butterball". 
(I'm not sure where the "German" part comes from.) 

Potatoes are a very reliable vegetable crop. And here in NW Montana, it's hard to find a veggie that can actually produce an edible crop in our 90 day growing season. Across the blogosphere there have been many in depth discussions about the nutritional value of corn vs potatoes. Corn seems to have won the favor of many folks trying to provide their own food security. I guess it's because there are so many varieties and so many folks who just flat out love the taste of corn. (Bleck. I'm not a corn fan.) Corn has been an elusive crop for us. Our cool summer nights and wet springs make for rotting corn seed, poor germination rates and stunted corn maturation. But potatoes have been a dependable staple for our family. I literally plant them in the spring, keep them weeded in the first part of the growing season then harvest when the vines die back. We don't usually hill them and still have good production.

The only problem we have experienced so far has been with voles and pocket gophers.

Vole or gopher damage.

Sorry for the blurry pic. My little camera is old and starting to lose some of it's function. But you get the idea.

It was an all out battle against the tunneling creatures the first year we farmed here. We didn't want to use poison because our dogs accompany us into the garden. We'd trap a few and it seemed that more took their place. So now I just plant enough for all of pest and people. At least that's the plan until I can figure out how to get rid of them altogether. Maybe a cat?

Ooooo. The taker's lair! 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

I recently saw an article about the possibility of China processing some of the food sold here in the US supposedly because the price of the processing is lower in China than here. Processed chicken meat is one of those foods. So this year we are raising meat chickens for our freezer. We raised chickens solely for meat about 4 years ago. The experience had mixed results. 

In retrospect, I don't think we let them grow out as long as we should have. We ended up with small roasters and the food/ meat conversion ratio was pretty high; something like 6 lbs of food for every lb of meat produced. But because of the recent turn of events (IE; Chinese chickens at the super market), I was willing to try again. I had also decided to purchase the chicks mid- summer instead of early spring. Spring time around here is often cool and wet- potentially deadly for baby chickens. The chicks have to stay under lights in the garage for a prolonged period of time to ensure they are warm enough to survive and usually aren't moved out to the coop until sometime in June and only after they are completely feathered out.  Most layer chicks don't mature enough to start producing eggs until they are about 20-25 weeks old. We try to purchase layer chicks as early in the spring as we can get away with since it would be nice for the little hens to actually start laying eggs before winter shuts down their egg laying capacity. 

But we were buying meat chicks. Since these meat chicks were going into the freezer in about 8-10 weeks, I was't too concerned about racing against time to beat the winter months. So we purchased 25 little yellow fuzz-balls from Hoover's Hatchery in July.  They were only $1.40 a piece which was a pretty good deal since the feed stores in town were already out of their chicks and other mail order hatcheries wanted (sometimes) more than $2.00 a piece! Between shipping, handling and something called a "small order fee", we were still into these little guys for a little over $55 by the time they made it to our house. 

Cornish rock X roo at 5 weeks old almost completely feathered out. 

They all arrived healthy and happy and HUNGRY! Since they grow so fast, meat chickens rival teenage boys in their appetite. #20 of non-medicated starter feed and 3 weeks later they were feathered out and in the coop with the layer hens. 

 Several roos at 6 weeks of age. See the change in feathering in just one week from the above picture?

Now at 9 weeks they are huge. Early last week I weighed them. The average weight was 6.6 pounds. I weighed them yesterday and the average weight was 7.1. pounds. We plan to harvest them Monday at 69 days since hatch. Since the cutting/ freezing weight of the chicken is about 75% of the live weight, I'm guessing we'll have about 125 lbs. of chicken in the freezer for this next year! Yea!

 9 week old Cornish rock x roo next to 2 year old layer hens. 

That's one big chicken!

Friday, September 19, 2014

So, here I am after a 2 year hiatus (almost to the day). 

Cornish rock x roo 9 weeks old

What a better time to return to blogging than fall! It's been a good time off.

Onions and garlic drying on the north porch. 

This is my favorite time of year. The garden is over flowing, the animals are plump and ready for the freezer, fruit trees are heavy and dripping with apples and plums.....the perfect picture of the harvest months.....I wish! 

Yorkshire x gilt. She weighs almost #300!

This year we have had great successes and great failures like all homesteaders.

Provider green bush beans and Beefy Resilient Grex dry beans all drying down to use for seed in next year's garden.

The next several posts will highlight what has worked for us and what has been a failure. This is an important analysis for us in our constant pursuit of food security. 

Dairy steers cleaning up a little "training" treat of barley, corn and oats.