A rainy day with no place to go

Not only are we stuck here with a stay-at-home order for our county, but it’s pouring rain so I can’t even go outside. I have nothing better to do than bake.

This morning started with a loaf of sourdough bread. I’ve been keeping a sourdough starter alive since early December and we bake a loaf about once a week. Today was a good day for another loaf. The thing about sourdough starter is that to keep it alive you discard of most of it and “feed” it with fresh flour and water almost every day. I save those “discards” in the refrigerator and use them for making other things – like sourdough waffles. Today, I skimmed off a cup of the discards and made sourdough crackers with rosemary and sea salt.

But what kind of a baking day is that? Bread and crackers sound kind of boring – we needed something sweet. So now we have a pound cake too. And it’s only 12:00.  What am I going to bake this afternoon? Maybe an angel food cake.  Our nine hens lay about 8 eggs a day now which gives me plenty of egg whites – and no place to go.

If this keeps up, I’m not going to fit through the front door by the time the quarantine lifts and the sun comes out.

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Sourdough bread, sourdough crackers, pound cake – and feeding the starter so I won’t run out of things to bake.

 

 

 

 

March – Are 168 Tomato Plants too many?

I may have started too many tomato plants.

I love this time of year. I get to play in the dirt in the dry and relative warmth of the basement. I work at a folding table with a bucket of potting mix and some little black plastic seed trays. This year I got a little carried away with how much fun I was having.

I have seven varieties of tomato seeds I want to grow – three are paste tomatoes (San Marzano, Amish Paste and Salvaterra), three varieties are for nice big slicing tomatoes (Brandywine Red, Beefsteak and Mortgage Lifter) – and just one cherry tomato variety. That’s not that much – right?  The seeds are so tiny and I thought they might not all germinate, so I put two little tiny seeds into each cell of the six-packs. One six-pack of each variety didn’t look like that much – so I did two six-packs of each. That’s just 14 little six-packs – not that much, until Chris did the math.  Apparently I planted 168 tomato seeds. The garden can only accommodate about 30 tomato plants – if I want to save room to grow the 60 pepper plants I also accidentally started, and the 30 Loofah sponge plants.

I put the trays on the heated mat under the grow light, and guess what? ALL 168 tomatoes came up. I should pluck the weaker of the two sprouts from each cell to allow the stronger plant to flourish; but I can’t just throw out 84 little seedlings. Once they get a little bigger, I’ll be busy transplanting 168 plants into individual pots – and at some point I’ll have to pick my favorite 4 or 5 of each variety and give the rest away.

I’d be tempted to plant them all – but I still need room for beans, cantaloupe, carrots, garlic, onions, potatoes, watermelon and lots of squash. I have seven varieties of squash too. I hope I use more restraint planting those than I did with tomatoes!

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Our neighbors may wonder about the plant light glow that emanates from our basement windows – but it’s only tomatoes, peppers and Loofah sponges.
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Yep – 168 little tomato plants
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I’ll have a lot of transplanting to do – but think of the amazing tomatoes we’ll have.

February – Where Summer Meets Super Bowl

We grow a lot of beans in the garden – mostly green beans. Last year, I decided to try to grow some dry beans. You just grow them – and don’t pick them! During all of those hot summer days  when I was busy picking fresh green beans and freezing them on a daily basis, I would look at those “other” beans and think – wow – this is so great! I don’t even have to pick them. They can just keep growing and dry up. How easy is that!

Until it wasn’t. All of a sudden they did dry up – and there were a LOT of them. Black and white Calypso beans, red Kidney beans, red and white Christmas beans, Black Valentine beans, purple-ish Cherokee Trail of Tears beans and dried Navy beans. But, they still needed to be picked (at least all at one time), set to dry a little more on a shelf in the greenhouse, and then shelled.

And now, it’s a cold, dreary February day with snow flurries and there is nothing better than our dried Kidney beans, frozen diced peppers and canned tomatoes – all from the summer garden – to make an awesome chili for Super Bowl Sunday!

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Dried summer beans.
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And a pot of chili for a cold winter night.

January – It’s time to garden – right?

We have several black walnut trees on our property. One tree in particular is huge, it slants at a precarious angle, shades my garden and drops those hard green balls all over the yard where we walk between the house, the chicken coop, the barn and the garden. Even worse, the tree has a substance called juglone which is toxic to my fruit-bearing trees and bushes like apples, pears, raspberries, blueberries AND toxic for some of my annual vegetable plants, too. So the tree had to go.

This was no easy project. Not one that Chris could handle with his chain saw. This required a crane, a crew and a monkey. It was both fascinating and scary to watch. Even getting the crane up the driveway threading precariously through our tall Linden trees had me holding my breath. Then it had to get turned around in the tight space between the greenhouse, garage and house so that it could back across the front yard and get positioned next to the tree. Then the monkey showed up – this guy who climbed to the top canopy of the tree with a chain saw in his hand, wrapped ropes from the crane arm around the branches and started cutting. The crane then swung huge limbs and 12′ lengths of trunk up and over our porch roof to the driveway. The crew chipped and shredded the small stuff and left Chris with MOUNTAINS of logs.

Now we have STACKS of logs and a shed full of split wood ready for the wood stove and the fireplace. We are all set for a toasty-warm winter in front of the fireplace, and I can’t wait to plant my garden with full sunshine!

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This tree has to go.
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The crane came rolling in – and it was just about as big as our house!
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This guy just climbed up the tree and started cutting.
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The “small” branches were cut into fireplace logs and little stuff got shredded
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One big branch to go – and then it’s just down to the trunk.
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The trunk was so long it had to be cut into three lengths and lifted to the front yard.
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Three big logs got sold for black walnut lumber.
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What a difference it makes having the tree gone.
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Enough wood to last for years!
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More logs to split – and a wood shed full of firewood!

December – Making Cookies is Exhausting

It’s that time again – time to make the cookies. We make a lot of cookies around here, mostly to give away because otherwise I would eat them all. And we make a wide variety of cookies from boring oatmeal-raisin, traditional chocolate chip, favorite chocolate covered peanut butter balls to “fancy” decorated sugar cookies.

While I can tackle most of the drop style of cookies, it’s always nice to have extra hands for making the decorated sugar cookies, and fun to have little (and big) hands helping with all the “sprinkling” of colored sugars, tiny snow-flakes and silver balls. I had help this weekend and we tackled a double batch! The cookies look beautiful, but I think we wore out the youngest helper.

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Arianna and Rebecca helped with the “sprinkling.”
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We made buckets and bags full of cookies!
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And then someone needed a nap!
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Happy Holidays!

November – Let the Sun Shine

We have an old stone farmhouse. It was built in 1853 with thick stone walls, deep window sills and small windows. We love the charm, but we don’t necessarily love how the stone walls stay cold in the winter, the lack of sunshine that comes in the small windows or how stuffy the house can be in the summer. Just because they didn’t have solar energy panels in 1853 doesn’t mean we can’t have them now.

We embarked on this process back in the spring – hoping for “free” electricity to keep the air conditioning cranked low all summer. That didn’t happen. The application process took a long time and PECO took issue with the plans. Eventually we got a modified plan approved and it was installed a few weeks ago.

The solar panels are on the roof of our the garage. It faces south, has no trees obstructing it and it’s not affecting the historic look of the house. It’s now connected to “the grid” and whatever electric we are not currently using gets sold back to PECO. I can’t wait to see that meter rolling backwards! And – the handy little app that came with the system says we’ve already saved the equivalent of 8 trees from our own power production.

Now we just need sunny days to keep us powered up – and on days that it’s not so sunny, we’ll just fire up the wood stove. Buckle up – here comes winter.

 

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Getting the rails up
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Then the solar panels
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Almost finished
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Now we just need a sunny day!

November – Move over Jimmy Carter

There’s a new peanut grower in town. Yep – we grew our own peanuts this year. I bought a small packet of peanut seeds – well – not exactly seeds, just raw peanuts in the shell. We planted them and they grew! Peanuts aren’t really nuts; they don’t grow on nut trees. They grow in the ground – like potatoes. Makes you wonder why no one has potato allergies – they grow the same way.

Our peanuts didn’t produce a whole lot – maybe slightly more than the amount we planted, but this is No Rhyme or Reason Farm. We do things for no rhyme or reason around here. Actually, the reason was to prove we could do it, and to show Arianna where peanut butter comes from (besides the jar)!

Will I grow them again next year? Probably not. But it has given me a new appreciation for where my food comes from too. It takes a lot of peanuts and a lot of space to grow enough peanuts for even one peanut butter sandwich!

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One of our peanut plants growing.
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Drying the peanut plants.
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Picking off REAL PEANUTS!