Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Homemade fly trap

I hate flies. I just can't help it. I know that everything plays an important part in the natural way of things, but I just can't stand them. Part of the problem is our lack of screen door; since our doors are open all the time in the summer, those darn flies believe the have a right to just fly on into my home. Damn flies! We've used fly strips and I've even bought a can or two of fly spray this year. I know, I know, how could I??? Anyhow, we decided to try a couple of fly traps near our front door and here's how one turned out. It's ingenious really and it's working wonderfully. Just cut off the top to a juice or pop bottle, invert the top, fill with jam and water and 1/4 cup of vinegar (to discourage the bees - as I do so love them!) and hang. Voila! The flies get caught in the bottle and drown. No more flying through Beka's house for you nasty little buggers!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Spray cleaner and the awesomeness that is Dr. Bronner's

For as long as I've lived on my own, I've made my own cleaners. As I know a lot of folks do as well, I'm not posting this to tell y'all the wonderful cleaning powers of vinegar and baking soda. I am posting this because I've found a new ingredient to add to the water/vinegar mixture to make your spray cleaner extra awesome. Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile soap is a wonderful product that you can use for anything, anywhere. We use it to brush our teeth and wash our dishes when we're backpacking; we use it to wash our hair at home, it's really a wonderful product. Dr. Bronner's soaps are vegetable based and completely biodegradable in addition to being organic and certified Fair Trade. Great stuff, Dr. Bronner's is. I drop a couple of drops into my vinegar/water mixture (you can add a few drops of ammonia for super hard stuff like oven cleaning) and it's cleaning magic. Happy cleaning!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Yummy Blueberry Syrup

Given that my mother works for Townsend Farms, we end up with our share of berries. Today the kids and I decided to stretch our cookin' muscles by trying a recipe we found in An Encyclopedia of Country Living Guide: Canning & Preserving Your Own Harvest, by Carla Emery and Lorene Edwards Forkner. Making blueberry syrup was surprisingly easy and enjoyable. The recipe is as follows:

Fresh Blueberries, picked over and rinsed (we used frozen as that's all we had available)
3 cups sugar
Lemon juice

Put the fruit through a food mill or whirl briefly in a food processor to a coarse puree. Measure that puree into a preserving pan, adding 1 cup water for every 4 cups fruit. Quickly bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes or until the fruit is completely softened; a brief cooking period helps to retain the fresh fruit flavor.
Pour the hot mixture into a jelly bag or a colander lined with dampened cheesecloth and collect the juice as it drains in a heat-proof bowl. Twist the bag or press the solids with a spoon to get as much juice as possible from the puree. Discard the remaining pulp.
Prepare a sugar syrup by bringing 2 cups water and the sugar to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves, Boil without stirring until the syrup reaches 260F on a kitchen thermometer; remove from heat. Sweeten the blueberry juice with sugar syrup to taste, adding lemon juice to balance flavors. Return the mixture to the pan and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely.
Syrup keeps well int he refrigerator or may be processed for 30 minutes in a water bath for stable shelf storage.
Variation: Just about any ripe, juicy fruit with good flavor can be made into a syrup following this recipe.

Copied directly from An Encyclopedia of Country Living Guide: Canning & Preserving Your Own Harvest by Carla Emery & Lorene Edwards Forkner.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jam, jars and freshly hatched chicks

Today we jammed! Hoods' strawberries happen to be the best strawberries ever grown and today we made delicious twice baked strawberry jam out of two flats of 'em. Hoods can only be harvested for about two weeks every June and my childhood is full of memories spent bent over in a field, picking flat after flat for my grandmother and her ingenious jam making hands. She'd make enough to slather my toast every day for the next year. They're small and succulent, those strawberries are (not my grandma's hands, those were large and strong) and are delightful fresh off the vine or stewed in sugar. Hood strawberries are a little bit harder to procure in these days of super market produce and California grown berries. My mom tracked down a local farm and paid the hefty fee for two flats of heaven. We woke early and began our jamming adventure by 8am today. As I've never canned before, today was a day of experimentation and burns. 9 hours in, we're left with 42 jars of jam, 5 scorch marks along my inner arm and a little bit more preserving wisdom.

At feeding time this evening, Nik was met with a happy surprise as he discovered that our broody hen Nineve - a black Australorp, had hatched her first little clutch of Delaware eggs. 6 of her 7 chicks hatched and are in perfect health. Nineve is a wonderful Mama, having forsaken any outside romping for the security of her nest for the past 21 days. She turned them dutifully every hour or so, fed only rarely and has now proven to be a protective caregiver to her adopted offspring. Yay Nineve!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kitties, Kitties and then some more Kitties

Awww man, I'm so bad! I just can't help myself! We've taken kitties before and found them new homes when they needed them and we've been good and never kept a kitty. I don't think we're doing so good this time.
Our first set of kitties in need was 9 years ago, with Che Guevara and Gael Garcia Bernal's mom. She had a liter of 2 boys and 2 girls behind my grandma's trash can. Okay, we kept the two boys but in subsequent rescues we didn't keep any! There was a stray and her 5 kittens about 6 years ago and then again 4 years ago with a mama named Bast and her litter of 7. Well, okay, that's where Daniel came from. But we didn't keep the other 6!

There was also a random kitty here or there, sometimes we fostered for the Southwest Washington Humane Society, sometimes we just helped a friend and their neighborhood stray.
This time though, we're just not having such luck. Not that people haven't wanted them, they're just to adorable to pass along. Our good friend Danielle befriended a neighborhood wild child cat named Jade, whom then promptly gave birth to 6 adorable kittens. Long story short, we ended up with 4 kittens and a mama this last Monday. Our intention was of course to find these beautiful little babies good homes and keep Mama Jade, as she's a great mouser.
What was that folks say about intentions? Anyhow, looks like three of these babies, promptly named Grey Paw, Frida Kahlo and Matt, are going to make their home with us as well. Damn! I can't help but hum the tune to Another One Bites The Dust. Intentions that is.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Saturday June 5, 2010

Today being the first nice day in what seems like forever, we predictably spent it outside working. No matter how much we do, there's always more to be done. Even as I sit here, mostly focused on not making an ass out of myself on my blog, I'm also cataloging tomorrows' labors. Buy straw and Timothy hay grass, rake out the "barn", do the goats hoofs, trim Meanie's (one of the 9 week old chicks - she's a real meanie!) wings, make some more laundry soap, lay mulch around the fruit trees, set up the outside area for the Freedom Rangers, bla bla bla bla...
But sometimes when I'm outside under the sun and barefoot in the mud, the peace comes and it's all quiet up in here. Just my hands working the soil and my eyes watching a barnyard drama or coercing one of my children into offering their assistance. Beautiful.
Daily and Wanda, our two young elementary educated (they were found at a school down the way) duckies spent their first day hangin' with the big kids. Unfortunately, they were all running around so fast, I couldn't get an adequate picture. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought that Daily and Wanda were running away from Mrs. Quackers, Gretchen and Cooper. But every time Quackers, Gretchen and Coop would stop to gobble a morsel of grub, Wanda and Daily would turn around with a question in their eyes and wait patiently. Very entertaining!
And Iggy, oh Iggy. What a funny bird. His crow is actually quite quiet and demure in contrast with the other roosters I've had the pleasure of knowing. He enjoys testing out his voice whenever anyone new ventures into the yard. It seems that he may be a little unsure as to the mechanics of crowing as he actually clears his throat before a series of crows! He's the funniest little man I've ever met!
I also finished planting everything in the Spiral Garden. The Three Sisters' Garden has been done for some time though I believe the crows are actually eating all the seeds, so I'll have to think of something. The Spiral Garden took a little more time. I started a lot of the veggies in my home from seed and I ended up having more room then I expected in the Spiral Garden. So down the road we traveled, to Iggy's old home and The Recycled Gardeners themselves, Debbie and Rick Edlunds. As I've mentioned in a previous post, Debbie and Rick sell vegetable and fruit starts. In addition to selling us a wonderful variety of heirloom and not-so-heirloom starts, Debbie took us around their barn and introduced us to their folk. 72 laying hens, 2 large Nubian ladies, 3 Toulouse geese and two stunning Blue Merle Aussie's. Wow! And we got starts??!??!!? Now that's what I call a fruitful visit! Anyhow, back to the goods. The Spiral Garden now includes 16 tomato plants of which 12 varieties are identified, kale, squash, broccoli, 4 different kinds of lettuce, mesclun, 5 squashes, shelling peas and snap peas, spinach, tomatillos (anybody got any good recipes?), thyme, oregano, sweet basil, purple basil, 2 varieties of cabbage, cilantro, parsley, red onions, chives, sweet onions, sweet and hot peppers. I wonder if I've left anything out. And it's all crazy mixed! Nothing in rows or clustered. Each and every plant is placed according to it's size and light/water needs. This is my first garden that I didn't follow the rules with. Lets see how it works!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Iggy Pop: Backyard Romeo

Iggy Pop, aptly named by Stella and Josh, came knocking on our door around 5 PM this evening. Turns out he's between gigs right now and wanted to come peruse our ladies.
Iggy was hanging out with Rick and Debbie down the street and was being, presumably, a little too noisy for neighbors and business. Debbie and Rick have an awesome set up right now, selling great heirloom vegetable and fruit starts on Fridays and Saturdays to the community. Although the love that Debbie, Rick and Iggy Pop shared was obvious as they said their goodbyes this evening, Iggy could no longer rule their coop. And, well, we really needed a roo! What kind of backyard menagerie are we running without a rooster???

When we brought Iggy back to the farm yard, Mr. Pop was immediately spotted and sized up by Jillby, who then escorted him all around the property and made the correct introductions. I don't know how much Iggy enjoyed the attention as he was soon headed for cover behind a tree where he assumed no one could spot him. Within an hour he was crowin' and struttin' with the rest of 'um. I think he'll be a great fit!

Fire starters

In the winter months, when it's too wet and rainy to hang our wet clothes outside on the line to dry, we end up stockpiling a literal ton of dryer lint. So much so, that we've taken to storing it in a 50lbs. potato bag.

While there are many wonderful uses for lint, we have just too much of the stuff to use up. We did, however, discover that lint is a wonderfully flammable substance; just throw a bunch in the fire pit and get blazin'.

We've tried taking lint on backpacking trips for an easy fire starter and have had mixed results. It holds up wonderfully in the sun and shine but if the weather is torrential, which it regularly is as deluge and storm are inconvenient realities when you're backpacking in Oregon and Washington, lint will get icky and nasty in your pack and hands. So we brainstormed, researched and today we experimented. With my trusty assistant Stella, we tried making three different kinds of lint fire starters. The first was lint, wax (I save all the wax from expended candles and whatnot) and molds. This worked really well and created a nice, compact little fire starter. As the wax still smells nice, we've decided to use these little fire starters as gifts to our backpacking friends. Next, we decided to jam a whole bunch of lint in an expended toilet paper role. It's a little too large for backpacking, but great for home usage or car camping. The last one we tried is my favorite and the one I'll most likely use in the future. Stella, with her expert tearing hands, ripped apart an egg carton and we stuffed lint into each little cup. We then poured a thin layer of wax on top to keep the lint in place. This method worked the best! The wax will keep the lint dry in the rain and the egg carton ignites easily.

Although we enjoyed this project and in the process, reused unwanted items, there is a better fire starter out there. Lighter, smaller and more accessible, with less work. I'm speaking of course, of a Nacho Cheese Dorito. Flames' up like it's soaked in napalm. And the Dorito is marketed as food!!! Question the establishment!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nature Journal

A major part of our "curriculum" here at the Blue Moon Urban Homestead is nature. We work outside rain or shine, most days of the week. I am so proud of the fact that although Nik and I were so young when we began our family, we instinctively knew how important raising our kids barefoot and natural was. Now, at 6, 8 and 10, the kids don't question why conserving our resources or working for a healthier way of life is important. They know, just like we do, how the grass, wet with rain, feels between their bare toes.
So when we introduced the Nature Notebook, no one was surprised or reluctant, as my boys sometimes are. I made these Nature Notebooks for the boys a few months ago but had been waiting for June to begin. Now Stella wants one, slightly amended. The boys each collected a blossom and a leaf stem from two plants in the yard. We then pressed them in a plant press. Note to self, need to make a bigger plant press! When the specimen was all dried and flat, Josh and Jason each placed them into a sleeve in the Nature Notebook. It took Josh 40 minutes of pouring over plant encyclopedias until he found his blossom. Jason's leaves only took him 10 to identify. Then they wrote the common name and Latin name beside the pocket containing their flower or leaf. Lower on the page they wrote some notes on their observations of the plant and the information they've found. Another cool accessory in the Nature Notebook is the Weather Journal. Every day for a month, at the same time every day, the boys comment on what the weather is doing. We've stated our theories about what we think will happen with the sun and clouds this next month and I'm excited to see who is right!

Mrs. Quackers

Welcome Mrs. Quackers! Our newest family member comes to us from La Center Washington. Her flock mates were presumably eaten by a predator and she was unhappy alone. I went to pick her up after work on Saturday and spent a whole hour hanging out with her human "Dad". What an amazing farm she came from! 20 acres filled with a massive garden, mini donkeys and llamas, goats and sheep. What a great home to come from!
So far, Little Mrs. Quackers has been super happy and has bonded with our other new duck, Cooper. The two of them are both young and happy and I'd like to believe, in love. Within the duck/goose flock, Coop and Quack are especially bonded. It's funny to watch them when I refill their pools every morning because Gretchen and Calvin are the no nonsense, loving yet protective parent types and Cooper and Mrs. Quackers seem to emulate misbehaving youngsters.

Mrs. Quackers is a runner duck; she's really fun to watch running around after Cooper! She seems to shy away from human contact at this time, but maybe that will change with the seasons.