Monday, October 20, 2014

The Girls

Moved in for winter.
The reds and barred rocks- the only ones laying right now.

The whites- Chanteclers and crosses.

Each with a chantecler cross rooster.  I know, I know, inbreeding...  But they aren't big enough to butcher just yet.

 The third batch of chicks.  Sexable, but too small to do anything with yet.  I figure another month before I'll have to separate them, by which time, hopefully, the boys from the first batch will be ready to move into the freezer.

And the babies.  I think they'll have enough room to stay together until spring.

I still have four roosters outside.  One of the older roosters, and three from the first batch.  I'm hoping to put them in the freezer before it really snows, but I may have to move them to the old coop, depending on weather.

The geese are also waiting outside, though I do have a pen for them in the new coop.  They're just enjoying the last of the garden eats before they have to survive off grain and fodder for winter.

We've had a few snows now, but nothing sticking, and temperatures still fluctuating.  A lot of rain, too.  Roads are flooding all over the place.  I could have left the birds outside for a bit yet, but I didn't want to have to move them all by myself in the snow one morning.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Beef. It's What's for Dinner.

All winter long.  We decided to butcher Toothless.  He's been wrecking fences and escaping for the past few weeks.  He doesn't wander too far, just looking for longer grass.  But trying to put him away was getting more and more difficult.  He horned two of the boys.  That's it, buddy, you're done.


His chest was 7'4".  Wow.  Length from shoulders to rump, 6'3".  Approximately 1936 pounds.  That's a lot of bull.

We quartered the legs and hung the upper body (minus the head) whole.  I don't usually cut into the heads, but this year I took the cheeks and what I could get from the upper neck before giving the rest to the dogs.  The cheeks were almost three pounds each.

I cut the belly and fat out while Husband and the boys were still hanging the legs.  Temps are still a bit warm, so we won't be hanging him as long as previous years.  The belly, with the fat removed, makes nice jerky.  The thicker parts were cut for stew, and the fattier bits for ground.

 Cut into strips for jerky.  9 pounds.

 After soaking in the brine overnight, they're now drying in the oven.  It'll take a couple of days to get it all dried.  Recipe #1.
I went out to trim more fat today (day 3) and found one of the legs lying on the floor.  The cable had snapped.  I couldn't lift it by myself, so I cut off the majority of the rump roast.  I just managed to lift the rest of it up onto a stool.  Husband and the boys will have to hang it back up when they get home tonight.

In the meantime, I'm cutting roasts today.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Last Batch for 2014

My last batch of chicks for 2014 has hatched- 11 more balls of fluff.  One more black (barred rock cross), and two more reds.  The chanteclers are great producers.

They look dead, but they're just napping, lol.

I think I have too many chickens for the winter coop.  The four main pens should hold 8 hens plus a rooster each.  The fifth pen is smaller.  I think I'll use it for the geese.

So, space for 36.  I have 15 chicks from the last batch, 11 from this batch,- all too little to do anything with, and too many roosters!  Ten original chickens (8 hens, 2 roos).  And 9 chicks from the first batch that aren't quite big enough to butcher.  45.

9 heads need to roll.

The older roos, the red hens, and the barred rocks will be first in the freezer.  I need to get a new rooster next year anyway, for fresh blood lines.  The smaller birds can double up a bit for now, and then I'll need to butcher the younger roosters through the winter as they get big enough.

Monday, September 15, 2014


It really wasn't that bad. Of course the beans got hit.
But not hard enough to kill them.  I picked all the beans off the plants in one last ditch effort to store some away for winter, but there are still flowers, and the bumbles seem to be ok, so maybe...

The pumpkins that were under the greenhouse wall took it hard.  I cut them off and harvested the pumpkins.  Leaves went to the birds.

The potato plants were done, so I dug them up.  Best potato harvest ever!  I only planted one short row of potatoes- a few white potatoes that had eyes, a few Russian bananas that I saved from last year, and one 5 pound bag of yukon gold that I got free from the hardware store late in the season.  They were giving them away because it was really too late to be planting potatoes- or so I thought!

I hilled the row once this summer, when the plants weren't very big, and then I ignored it until the frost.  I filled two five gallon pails with potatoes.  I am stunned.  What was different this year?  I planted late- and I was lazy.  I threw all those seed potatoes in the ground as they were, never even cut one in half!  As I dug them out, I almost 'harvested' a couple of the seed potatoes too.  They were still pretty solid, and I think they grew through the summer.  They certainly did a better job of feeding those plants this way!

Notes for Next Year:  Plant potatoes after black fly season, leave the seed potatoes whole, hill once and ignore.

The rest of the garden held up ok.  Even the lettuce and swiss chard survived.

Inside Greenhouse #3, the beans got a bit of damage.  Too close to the wall, and I hadn't fixed the plastic that didn't quite reach the ground yet.  I was holding out for the hammer tacker to come on sale.  Husband picked me up a new staple gun after the frost, so greenhouses are fixed now. 

Pumpkins inside were fine.

Greenhouse #1, which I expected to be the worst, held up well.

There was a big hole at the back, and the plastic was off at the top both front and back.  The cucumbers took a little curl, but since the rest was mostly brassicas, they did alright.

The broccoli is loving the cooler weather.  It sprouted about 6" this week, and the first head is forming.

Greenhouse #2 was in the best shape, and only seems to have slightly curled cucumber leaves near the roof.  The tomatoes and peppers were fine.

This week's forecast has a couple of 0°s overnight and a -2°C.  Depending how many hours we hold those temps, it may be the end.  I'm adding pop bottles filled with water between the plants in the greenhouses.  It might be enough to pull us through this cold snap.  Better weather is expected to return in a week or two.

I'm also picking and canning like crazy.  You have to check out my "Summer Sauce" I've been working on.  It tastes deliscious and it's a great way to make use of all those odds and ends from the garden- like the cucumbers that we just can't eat fast enough!

Friday, September 12, 2014


Frost this morning.
Beautiful sunshiney day.  Go figure.  I'll be spending the day in the garden, surveying the damages.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Garden Update

The harvest is still coming in.

Mixed bowl of calendula, plantain and comfrey, tiny carrots, bucket of eating cucumbers, peas, swiss chard and spinach, pickling cucumbers in a row, dill, lettuce, free potatoes, pepper, rose hips.
The mixed bowl has become a healing salve for cuts and scrapes.  The potatoes are from a few volunteer plants that sprung up in the garden.  The plants were starting to yellow, so I dug them out before I misplaced them.  The rosehips have been added to berry juices through the summer, and now I'm picking for a batch of wine.
Side view.
 I'm quite pleased with my garden this year.  Despite the late spring frost, and still waiting for green beans, it's been quite productive.  A lot of puttering, and small batch canning, but more fun than work.

Crazy tomatoes and cucumbers in greenhouse #2.
 Cucumbers have been fantastic.  Every few days I make another batch of dill pickles, and we've had so many eating cukes (Straight 8's) in the last few weeks, I've started giving them away.
Cucumber vines all the way to the roof! (8'!!)
 The question is, how am I going to harvest them way up there?

Pollinators enjoying the still unidentified flowers.
 And in greenhouse #1, the sunflowers are reaching for the sky.

This one hit the roof and kept growing.  It would have been about 10' tall!
Greenhouse #3 is growing well.  I added a couple of buckets of water to help regulate the temperature over night.  The other greenhouses have buckets of water in the corners.
Greenhouse #3, pumpkins, melons, sunflowers
Tiny watermelons have finally appeared.
Greenhouse #3, watermelons, nasturtiums, green beans

Green beans are still flowering, still no beans!
Nasturtiums are doing great.  I've been harvesting the flowers to make spice.  The leaves and seed pods are also edible, but we haven't tried them yet.  I keep meaning to pick a few to add to salad, but forget when I'm in the garden.

The Algonquin Pumpkins are a win-win-win!  Lots of pumpkins on the vines, early fruiting, and continue to ripen after picking.  My research says to pick when the underside turns bright orange.
Algonquin Pumpkin
Underside of pumpkin
My tiny Far North Melons are also a keeper.  They seem to be stunted, but I think they're supposed to be that little.
Far North Melons
I picked 4 pumpkins and one melon.
4 pumpkins and a melon harvested
The pumpkins are in the cold room, while the melon made a tasty snack!
Far North Melon

Outside in the garden, the potatoes are monstrous.  I haven't hilled them well, and only planted half of a short row, maybe 12'.  Half of them are the Russian Banana that I grew last year, that never got big enough for anything other than seed potatoes.  The other half are Yukon Gold that I picked up free from the hardware store long after they should have already been planted.  The garden beans appear to be at the same stage as the greenhouse beans.
Calendula, Potatoes, Beans
More manure goes onto the fallow side of the garden almost daily.  It should be very rich and healthy next spring!
Manure spreading
The garden sunflowers are much smaller than the greenhouse sunflowers.  I don't remember if I planted all of the same variety or not.
Sunflowers in the garden
Lettuce is still edible, but the outer leaves have started to rot.
Watermelon radishes were not a hit.  Too mild for Husband.  I left them to go to seed, and hopefully the seed pods will make a bigger impact.
Radishes flowering
Mangels are very small this year, probably from lack of rain early in the season.
Peas are still producing well.  Shells are harder and rusted now.
Carrots are small and sad.
My Mennonite dry beans were hit with a late spring frost.  Four plants survived and have flowered, despite their stunted growth.  No beans yet.
Mennonite Beans
Swiss chard is coming in now, with just enough to harvest for dinner every 3 or 4 days.
Swiss Chard
Parts of Alberta got snow yesterday.  That usually means we'll get the cooler weather within 2 weeks.  I'm really not ready to quit yet this year (especially without ANY beans!), but I guess it's time I got the greenhouses sealed up tight, and started harvesting the garden more rigorously. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Free Chicken Feed

So simple...

A few days ago I watched this video.

How easy is that?  I went to Lawton's site, watched the full video, and the follow up videos.   So easy.  When the chicken's free ranged they were always digging through the compost piles.  It never occurred to me to give them their own compost piles after we beefed up their security.
#4 unloading a trailer of heavily worm infested compost.
We've always given the birds the kitchen scraps, and weeds.  I've done the maggot buckets- meat in a five gallon pail for flies to lay their eggs on.
Building up a nice pile of barnyard waste.
 I've given them sunflower seeds, sprouted trays of barley, wheat, and lentils.  I've given them ant infested logs and the occasional scoop of doggy stew.  I still pay way more than I want to for grains.

Minutes after we left the pen.

And all this time, the answer was right there in front of me.  Free for the taking.
Happy birds working their way through a free lunch.
So sad that I didn't see this earlier in the year.  I'll be aiming for a grain free summer next year.  For this year, I'll watch and see how long a pile of manure keeps them entertained. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Canning With Old Crown and Corona Jars

I bought this mixed box of old crown and corona canning jars this spring.  I had been wanting to try the old style jars for canning salsa, because no matter how much head space I leave, by mid winter my salsa tends to develop a tinny taste.  I had already removed most of the lids when I decided to take pictures.
12 complete jars, $3
I prepared the salsa for canning, then thought maybe I should read up on how to use these...  There's not a lot of info out there, and most of it says not to...  I asked Mom, and she said she never had good luck with them.  But I did find this, which said it's just like using tattler reusable lids.  Well, I read a couple of blogs by people who've tested the tattlers.  I went and read through those posts.  Ok.  I think I get the idea.  Just to be sure, I went and checked tattler's website.

I washed and sterilized the jars.
Jars ready to use
Of the 12, one jar had a bit of a dip in the rim.  It didn't really feel broken, but not quite right.  One lid had a small crack in the edge, and one ring didn't tighten- just kept spinning.
One 'broken' jar
 I scrubbed, then scalded the lids and gaskets.
Scalding lids
Uh oh.  My funnel is just a tad too big to fit inside the corona jars.  It just fit in the crown jars.  I removed the gaskets from the scalding water just before I started filling the jars.

Gaskets go on the freshly wiped rims.  I used a pair of tongs to lift the lids out of the scalding water and set them on top of the gaskets.
Setting the lids
I tightened the rings just finger tight, then loosened 1/4 inch.  Then into the canner.

4 quarts of salsa with old style jars, 1 regular pint.
As soon as they were done processing I tightened the rings as much as I could.
Out of the canner

There were a couple of interesting parts to this experiment.  I remember when I first started canning properly, instead of 'the way Mom did it'.  Mom and Dad would come over and see canning jars on the counter, and Mom would tell Dad, 'tighten those up for her'.  And I'd yell 'no' and rush to protect my jars, lol.  I'm guessing that was a remnant from the old glass lid days.  I think my grandpas must have tightened a lot of jars for my grandmas.  Dad always tightened moms jar rings after they had started to cool.  By the time I was old enough to remember canning Mom was only canning fruit and jams, freezing all the veggies- except for one tomato juice disaster that exploded all over the kitchen.

It's interesting that the gasket boxes say that the gaskets are for 'fruit jars'.  Most of the issues I read about involved pressure canning.  Perhaps they should only be used for water bath canning.

The other interesting thing, I think, is using 'new' technology to figure out the 'old' technology- the tattler lid method.  I'd still like to buy a few sets of tattler lids some day, but if the glass lids work for me, this is a much cheaper method of solving my salsa problems.

After cooling, I removed the rings and gently tilted the jars over the sink.
Finished product
First one was good (Yeah!).  Second one dripped.  (Ugh.)  Third one was good.  Fourth one dripped.  Hmmm...

I took the lids off the two drippers, wiped the rims, warmed the gaskets, and reprocessed.

When I took them out of the canner, the ring was TILTED on one of the jars.  Crap.  I straightened it and tightened it anyway.

This morning...  One sealed, one still dripping.  Not a big surprise.

I think the problem is the rings are worn out.  I will attempt marking them to tell which rings are on jars that seal, and if other rings repeatedly fail.  And I'll take a peak on amazon and see if I can get replacement rings.

As for the last unsealed jar, I will set it in the fridge and attempt reprocessing this afternoon with a batch of pickles.

Have you ever used these old style jars?  Is the method correct?  Any other thoughts about what might be going wrong?

UPDATE:  The last jar was sealed.  Four out of four.  They sat on the table over night.  The next morning I checked the seals again, intending to take them to the cold room.  Three out of four were no longer sealed.  I decided not to chance it, and reprocessed the salsa in pint jars with regular disposable lids.  Then I went on amazon and ordered three sets of wide mouth tattler lids.  (Shipping is much cheaper for Canadians through amazon than through tattler.)