Sunday, March 15, 2015

Making Sauerkraut and 2 New Flock Members

As produce season nears, fermented foods have been on my mind more often.   This summer, I'd really like to preserve more of our harvest.   That being said, I really don't have any experience with water bath or pressure canning foods.  Fermenting foods allows you to store your harvest in a perfectly preserved state.   It also allows you to better digest the foods and increases vitamin level.   The best benefit of lacto fermented foods is that they are full of probiotics and help balance your gut flora.  To ease into this process I started with the most basic of fermented foods, sauerkraut.
To begin, you will need one or two heads of red or green cabbage.  I started with one medium sized head.  Cut into quarters, remove the core and slice into 1/4 inch strips.  Place the shredded cabbage into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with about 1.5 tablespoons of sea salt. 

You will have to pound the cabbage until it starts releasing its juices.  This juice mixed with the sea salt will the brine that you ferment it in.  I used the largest mixing bowl I own and a drink muddler work the cabbage.

Once you've produced enough liquid, transfer everything over to a large glass jar or ceramic crock.  You want enough brine so that all of the cabbage is submerged.  At this point you might want to lay some large cabbage leaves on the surface of the brine and then weight them down with a small plate or stone.  I used to glass top to an antique Perfect Seal canning jar.  Make sure all the cabbage is submerged or you will risk growing mold.  Lastly, cover the jar with a cotton cloth or coffee filter and secure with a rubber band.  You want the gases to escape but prevent dust from entering.  I placed my sauerkraut in the pantry for about a week and once tangy enough I moved it to the fridge.  If stored in a cool location, fermented sauerkraut can last for a long time.
In other news,  we have slowly been adding more member to our backyard coop.  Fennel was our second edition.  Concerned that Arnica was terrible lonely on her own, we made the long drive to pick her up a friend.  Fennel came from a small hobby farm that housed LOTS of free ranging chickens.  She is a point of lay Leghorn hen which means she hasn't started laying eggs yet but should be in the next few weeks.  Leghorns are known for being fantastic egg layers that eat little feed but pump out beautiful white eggs.  For this reason they are a popular commercial breed and tend to be flighty and don't like to be handled much.  It is said that with patience these birds can become social and snuggly.
When we bought her, Fennel had been bullied by the other hens.  Her tail feathers and backside had been pecked bare.  Since bringing her home her new pin feathers have been coming in nicely and she should be back to normal in a few weeks.  Unfortunately, other hens can't seem to resist bare skin or new feathers and she has become a target for Arnica.  Pin feathers have a blood vessel and if broken they tend to bleed for a long period of time.  The red blood causes a frenzy in the hens and they fixate on it.  We already had to pluck one of Fennel's tail feathers that Arnica broke.  Currently she is segregated in the coop while the other girls are locked out in the run.  At night, the hens are too tired to peck at each other and tend to roost nicely.  And so the trend will continue until Fennel's feathers grow back in.
Poor scrappy bum and short pin feathers growing in.
This weekend we drove out to the Shuswap again to pick up another lady.  The seller also had a small hobby farm and tons of chickens and turkeys running around free range.  She was certain that she had some spare hens that lay colored eggs but wasn't quite sure who she would be able to catch first.  Either way I was going home with a Cream Legbar which lays shades of blue eggs or an Isbar which lay mint green to olive eggs.  The seller had recently bought out a well known breeding company and I got a deal on my hen, plus I know she came from a great breeder.  As it turns out, the Isbar was nowhere to be found and this pretty little Legbar came home with us.  We couldn't be happier with another blue egger to add to the flock and our new hen is a feast for the eyes.  I am though, now obsessed with the idea of green eggs and determined to add an olive layer to my flock.  

We named our new lady Yarrow and she is settling in nicely to the coop.  Although she hasn't pecked at Fennel once she is still banished to the run with Arnica where they go about scratching in the grass and settling on the roosts. 

Arnica's back feathers are coming in well and already look much better than before.
(Check out that chicken butt fluff!)
I can see how keeping hens can be addicting and I've been dreaming about different coloured eggs for the past few weeks.  Currently we have 2 blue layers and a white layer. We have a brown egg layer on order for May (a breed I'm not familiar with) and there is a small farm animal swap coming up in a few weeks.  I am keeping my eyes open for an Isbar or olive laying hen and also for Black Copper Marans which lay a dark chocolate egg.  Dreaming is about all we can do for now as we have yet to get an egg from our two newest hens and Arnica has gone from giving us an egg a day to nil.  Apparently, the stress of a move can cause a bird to stop laying for up to six weeks.  Regardless, I know that in a month or so we should have a steady flow of beautifully coloured eggs coming our way.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A New Lady In Our Life

The past couple of weeks have been really productive around here.  I managed to do a giant spring clean on the house, purging out our two attic spaces and reorganizing the basement pantry.  I plan to do a lot of canning and preserving this summer so extra shelving and storage space will be needed. 
Last weekend A and I were able to drive the jeep up into the meadow.  The road along the way was icy and snowy but the meadows themselves bask in the sunshine.  Little shoots of greenery were coming up and the buttercups were abundant.  Its really the only place that we feel comfortable letting Little Dog run off leash.  The wide open space makes it impossible for her to escape and allows us to easily spot predators.

This past Saturday I lined up a meeting to pick up a young laying hen for our coop.  The hen was located in a small community about an hour away from us.  She was far away, over priced, and in rough shape but she is an Ameraucana and that means she lays the most beautiful bright blue eggs. 
Its It has been almost two years since we had been out to that community so I was looking forward to the drive.  The skies were blue, the sun was warm and signs of spring were all around us.  Small areas of the roadside were paralleled with antique power lines.  The glass insulators shone blue, green, purple and brown in the sunlight. If I could have reached those insulators I would have taken some home.


When we finally got our new lady home the first thing she did was inspect her coop.  We have a small corner perch, ladder perch and a hanging chicken swing to amuse her.  She ignored all the perches and immediately tried out her swing.

A beautifully clean coop.

Notorious chicken butt fluff. 

Our new little hen has been pretty roughed up from the roosters she was housed with.  Her beautiful green and black feathers have been rubbed bare from too much love.  I'm excited to get her under a good diet and have her feather grow back in glossy and rich.

Hilarious dinosaur feet.
The first day we had her our little lady surprised us with the most perfect baby blue.   It feels so satisfying to finally have our vision come to fruition.  We have another 2-3 brown egg layers on order which will be here in a couple of month.  In the mean time I am actively looking for other interesting layers to add to our home.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Springtime is Around The Corner

I hate the cheesy commercialism of Valentines Day, the cartoon red and pink hearts, the overpriced chocolates, and the cheaply made stuffed toys.  A and I have never been big into celebrating the Hallmark holiday.  Instead, we often grab a reasonably priced bottle of wine from the liquor store and enjoy each other's company at home.  Each year A makes me an amazing vegetarian lasagna from scratch and this year we enjoyed it with a cold glass of homemade apple cider from October.  Afterwards,  we curled up in the loft and watch the mid season premier of The Walking Dead.  It was perfect.  

Mother Nature seems to have given up on winter and the last month or so has been extremely mild.  Most of the snow in the area has melted back the lilac and rosebushes are swelling with large buds.
The mild temperatures have given a head start on the work we want to do around the property.  This year we plan to build a large woodshed and fully fence out lot to keep little dog in and the aggressive neighbourhood dogs out.  It will also be nice to let our hens out to free range once in awhile.  

The weather has been so mild lately that I fear I have left it too late to cold sow my spring seedlings.  I spent the afternoon planting seeds into compostable peat pots and placing them into their mini greenhouses.   The idea is that the seeds will lay dormant until weather warms considerably.  The seeds will emerge from the soil as nature intended, reducing the need to harden them off.  Not completely convinced of the idea and afraid of losing my seedlings to late frost, I've planted only a modest amount of cold weather crops.  I suspect that in a few weeks time I'll be planting seedlings in the traditional method but this has given me an opportunity to get my hands in some soil and perhaps a head start on some springtime veggies.


The mild weather is almost too warm for wool sweaters and mitts.
Our chicken coop is nearly completed at this point.   The heat lamp has been hung and the PVC pipe waterer and feeder have been installed.  Bedding has been laid and the enclosed run has been fitted with multiple perches and even includes a swing for the ladies.   At this point we are ready for hens.  We have been busy phoning around and putting out feelers for sellers.  Hopefully by next weekend we have some birds lined up.
DIY swing and ladder A made for our future girls.

A few weeks ago my sister surprised me with a small package in the mail.  Inside was set of chakra dream catchers she had made for me.  Included with the colourful chakra catcher was another small dream catcher made from wool, leather and fitted with a blue glass bead.  The chakra catchers were inspired from a Pinterest post I had showed to her ages ago and hers turned out lovelier than the originals. 
I'm waiting to find the perfect spot to hang these beauties so that I can admire them.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The New Year

Handmade gift for a friend's new baby boy.
Suddenly, as if without warning, January is almost over.   The seasonal holidays have come and gone in such a blur and I have had neither energy nor the creativity to write here.    The Christmas holidays crept up, as they usually do, and arrived before I knew it.  A and I were able to secure a few weeks off  work for a whirl wind trip to the coast to see family and friends.   Although I was much looking forward to our trip, the chaotic hustle of travel and environmental allergens of different homes and pets left me with a terrible sinus cold that I am still feeling the effects of to date.
Visiting the Marina where I wanted to purchase a locally made fisherman's sweater.

The holidays are always kept low-key. Gifts are generally tokens, hand made or consumable, allowing the emphasis to be placed on visiting rather than consumer goods.  We were able to spend a lot of time catching up, which is what the holidays are really all about.  when the rain broke, A and I were able to sneak away to one of my favourite places on the coast, a small salt marsh that houses one of the largest wild crab apple trees I have ever seen.  With the salmon run finished not too long ago, the area was covered in eagles feasting on the decaying fish.   The marsh is always a haven for wildlife and I'm never quite sure what I'm going to see when I venture there.  
A's childhood home, tucked inside a dense forest of cedars.

In Victoria, my family humoured me while I shopped for necessity items not found in our small city.  After the terrible hustle of the big box stores they took me to the various metaphysical shops in the area and we stopped in at a small gemstone store near my sister's condo. My only purchase was a palm sized piece of labradorite stone that glimmers with different colours when you hold it to the light.  A, who has always been fascinated with geodes, tolerated my indulgent buy.  

Back home we were greeted with a cold snap.  Our first morning back I awoke to -39 and a thick layer of ice on the inside of the windows.  The heated aquarium had evaporated quite a bit while we were gone and the moisture of which hung thich in the air.  It took a roaring woodstove and days to get the house warm again.
The remainder of the holidays was spent enjoying time off.   Afternoons were lazy, curled up in front of the wood stove with a book or wool in hand.   The new year always stirs a change in me and although I'm not one to put focus on resolutions, I do always adopt a theme for the upcoming year.  Last year's theme had me focused on creating - food from scratch, plants from the garden, clothing from wool.  This year's theme revolves around nurturing - whether that's tending to myself, my family, or the things around me.   I feel a shift coming and I am certain that I am ready for a new chapter in life.   I have opened myself up to the opportunity of new things to come my way.  
Salmon stream that runs through the marsh.  A startled eagle came off the riverbank, so close I could almost touch it.  He broke several branches off the trees before finally finding the open sky.

In my next life, this will be where my home is.

The boys, not interested in shopping, visited the local miniature exhibit.

What focus does the new year hold for you?

Back home with little dog almost fully recovered.