Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Over 400 Eggs! (and none of them have been recalled)

In the past week or so, we went over the 400 mark on the Egg Count!  Today, the gals officially gave us egg number 426.  426 eggs translates to about 35 dozen eggs from 4 chickens since the end of March.

This is pretty good considering the unexplained Strike and the Tragedy we had earlier this summer which caused a bit of an interruption in egg production.  Also, Marshmallow stopped laying in mid-June which is a shame since she laid almost ostrich-sized eggs.  OK, they weren't that big, but they were huge enough to make me feel a tiny bit bad for her each day.  I thought for sure Farmer Ron would put Marshmallow on the (chopping) block instead of letting her free load, but then he is a big 'ol softie when it comes to his gals, chicken and human alike.  So for lots of this time, we've only had three hens laying.

We paid $8.00 for each of the gals.  If a cheap dozen of regular old eggs costs about $1.00 per dozen, we've covered the cost of each bird with a bit of change to spare thus far.  We haven't keep exact count of the feed expenses, but I think it's around $25.00.  So, we've got a bit to go before we come out even on the costs of the chickens in 2010.  If we normally bought free range and/or organic eggs, we would have seen our money back a long time ago as those eggs cost at least $2.00 per dozen.

However, we won't be calling it quits with the gals (aka. moving them from their coop to the deep freeze in the basement) until sometime in November or December (or whenever Farmer Ron and the Young'uns get tired of taking care of chickens in the cold).  This means we could get pretty close to coming out at least even when all is said and done this year.

Even if we don't come out exactly on the plus side of things, I still feel good about the chickens especially in light of all the chicken hub-bub in the news.  Since our eggs come from chickens we can see out our dining room window, I'm not at all worried about the Young'uns getting sick from eating one. Peace of mind is worth lots more than a few dollars.

Plus, I'm not sure how to put a price tag on the conversations the gals have opened up with neighbors or the pride and amazement of young visitors to the Farm when they find an egg in the coop all by themselves.  And then there's the sheer entertainment of watching the chicken chasing...that's definitely priceless.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Providence Tutorials - for Homeschoolers in the GB area

The Big Guy is, far and away, one of the best teachers I've ever heard and learned from.  This year, he's started Providence Tutorials for homeschool students in our area.  So far, four different tutorials are being offered for middle and high school students - Introduction to Literature, Jr/Sr Seminar (on wisdom this year) and a Great Books program with two different options offered this year.

Check them out and spread the word!

Go here to find out all about it!

Please forgive the self-promotion...we'll go back to regular blog posts now.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fruit Fly Trap - Cheap and Chemical Free!

Our homemade fruit fly trap. 
 Isn't it gross?  Can you see all those little buggers in there?
At least they aren't in my kitchen anymore!

I hesitated posting this because I'm basically admitting we've got bugs all over the kitchen here on the Little Farm.  It makes me seem like a pretty poor housekeeper...but here it is anyway.

We've got fruit flies.  In a pretty big way.  Ugh.  I hate these things. 

Every so often throughout the year, it seems we get a few fruit flies here and there, but not in August.  In August, when the weather is warm and we've got garden produce all over the kitchen and back porch, the things just seem to swarm.  Especially, when I've been out of town for a few days and one of the sons who was left behind, cuts off half of a banana and leaves the other sitting on the counter.  Um...not good anytime during the year, but fruit fly season it means a fruit fly convention.

A couple of years ago in August, while I was elbow deep in canning tomatoes, the fruit flies were driving me crazy.  I actually had a couple of kids come into the kitchen and try to swat them.  FYI- this doesn't work at all, but it is fun to watch.

When swatting didn't work, I turned to my good friend Google.  A quick search for "fruit fly traps" turned up my solution.  I didn't want something which used chemicals since the trap was going to obviously be in the kitchen around food and Young'uns.  Thankfully, the trap I found was chemical free, cheap and I could make it myself.  Music to my frugal, do-it-yourself ears.

So, just in case you've got a few of these little things driving you to distraction at your house, here's how to make your very own Fruit Fly Trap.

This photo was taken before we put some apple into the jar.
The shot above has the apple pieces.

Materials Needed:
-glass or jar of some sort
-sheet of paper (I used some from the recylcing)
-apple cider vinegar
-piece of fruit - apple or banana work best

What to Do:
Pour about an inch of vinegar into your glass or jar.  Place a couple of pieces of fruit in also.  Make your sheet of paper into a funnel and tape it in place.  Making the funnel is the hardest part of this whole deal.  You want the bottom opening to be large enough for a fly to crawl into, but small enough that it's hard for them to figure out how to fly back out.  The top of the funnel needs to be large enough to rest on the top rim of the glass and keep the bottom of the funnel about an inch or so above the vinegar and fruit in the glass.  Make sense?

Don't feel bad if it takes you a whole lot of attempts at making the funnel.  I've been there.  If you get really frustrated at making it.  Just call in one of your sons and they'll whip out a funnel that fits the glass perfectly in about 10 seconds. 

Once the funnel is made, set it into the glass and put the whole thing on your counter or wherever the flies congregate the most.  Let it set for a few hours and then be amazed!  Your jar will be full of the little pests.  It's exciting and gross all at once.  My kids always like to look at them.

Obviously, to get rid of the flies in your glass you don't want to take out the funnel in the house.  We take it outside - far far away from the back door - and pull out the funnel.  (Word to the wise - make sure you are VERY specific in these instructions if you let one of your kids take the glass outside to release the flies.  I know this from experience.)  The vinegar, fruit and funnel can be used several times.

Happy Hunting!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Canning: Dilly Beans

For Amy, because she asked.

When the green beans start rolling in, it's time to make some Dilly Beans, aka pickled green beans.  I know, you're a bit skeptical about these.  I was too the first time my friend Jess told me to come over and we'd can pickled beans.  However, I love pickles so I was game.  They are delicious!  The Young'uns love them even more than I do, I think.  They can go through a quart of these things faster than Brett Farve can come out of retirement.  So far this year, 8 quarts of Dilly Beans have been put into the pantry.  I'll post a photo as soon as my camera's battery gets charged up again.

I also freeze some of our green beans for eating in the winter.  I don't can plain green beans because I'd need to use a pressure cooker for those and, I'm a big pressure cooking chicken.  Those things still scare me a bit.  (FYI- the reason you don't need a pressure cooker to can pickled items or tomato products is that those things are very acidic.  Plain green beans or corn or carrots aren't acidic and need the pressure cooker.)

Dilly Beans

4 lb. green beans
8 dried red peppers or 8 t cayenne pepper
8 heads of dill or 8 t dill seed
1/2 c pickling salt
8-16 peeled garlic cloves
6 c water
3 c vinegar

Wash beans and trim off ends.  We only trim off the end that was connected to the plant.  Heat water, salt and vinegar to boiling in large pot.  Meanwhile, get your clean jars hot and assemble the garlic, dill and peppers together.  When brine is boiling well, take hot jar add 1-2 garlic cloves, head or tsp of dill, and red pepper or cayenne.  Pack beans into the jar.  You can pack them in pretty tight.  Just make sure you have about 1/4 inch head space between tops of the beans and the top of the jar.  Pour water/vinegar brine over beans again, leaving about 1/4 inch of head space.  Use a spatula to get out any air bubbles, wipe rim, put on lid and process in water bath for about 10 minutes.

You can use either pints or quart jars for this.  If you use pints, it should make about 8 jars.  Quarts will give you about 4 jars.  If you have long beans and are making pints, you'll need to cut them in half when you are trimming them so they'll fit in the jars.

These are pretty spicy.  In fact, around our house they are called Spicy Beans.  If you''re not a big fan of spice, leave out the hot pepper or cut in it half.  They'll still taste great!  Dill seeds work just as well as dill heads, but dill heads are prettier in the jars.  Red peppers also look better in the jars than cayenne powder. 

Let them stand for 2-3 weeks before eating them to give the flavors some time to mingle.

As far as canning goes, I'm not going to get into the specifics.  If you'd like to learn to can, give me a call and come over.  Otherwise, there are lots of great sites online which can teach you how to can. One to try is here.  I'll just say, it's much easier than you think it is.  :)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Frivolous Friday: The 14 Days of Homeschooling

A few years ago, I had a role in helping put together our homeschool group's (Green Bay Area Christian Homeschoolers...say that three times fast) annual Kick Off Meeting.  You know how sometimes those types of meetings can get a bit...I'll just say it...boring?  I mean I know they're necessary and good, but can't we have a little fun while we're at it?

So, we organized a bit of entertainment to end the evening.  It was titled the "Fourteen Days of Homeschooling."  FYI - the lyrics were not all written by me.  I found them online in several places and then tweaked them a bit.  Aren't all the gals who volunteered to perform great?  What a suprise to see which ladies stepped up.  It's always a good thing to laugh at ourselves from time to time.

Little did I know, there would be a video camera in the audience and said video would be posted to YouTube! 

So, if you're a homeschooling mom right smack in the middle of schooling planning - watch and give yourself a break.  If you're not a homeschooling mom - watch anyway.  It's pretty funny!

I'd forgotten all about this night.  Thanks Julie for reminding me!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cucumbers and More Cucumbers

This post is in honor of Ellie, who asked the question.

Chances are if you've got a bunch of zucchini right now...you've got a bunch of cucumbers piling up next to them!  They seem to go from almost ready to pick one day to gargantuan over night.

We do a few things with cucumbers here on the Little Farm.  If we get them at that stage where the flesh to seeds ratio is just right, we gobble them up raw!  We eat them for snacks and along side meals.  We dip them in ranch (OK, the Young'uns do this) or use them to scoop up hummus.  We slice them to use on sandwiches or tuck them into pita (homemade...I'll post the recipe soon.  It's really fun!) along with the hummus.

If the cucumbers are a little past perfect - meaning their seedy parts have gotten a tad out of control. After all it's really not very enjoyable to bite into a cucumber with big slimy seeds inside. We still use them in lots of the ways mentioned above but we cut out the seeds. 

This is done one of two ways.  The first is to slice the cucumber in half the long way and run a spoon down the middle of each side scooping out the seeds.  It's safest to do this in a bowl with somewhat high sides as sometimes the seeds have a mind of their own.  The second way I get rid of the seeds is to cut the cucumber in fourths the long way.  Then I stand each quarter on end and cut the seedy part off with a paring knife.  You don't get pretty round slices doing this, but the cucumbers still taste great.

Cucumbers without seeds are also great to use in salads!  I usually use the quartered cucs for salad.   We've made several salads with some combination of cucumbers, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, red onion, a little olive oil, salt and pepper.  However, our favorite cucumber salad around here is made with rice wine vinegar.

Cucumber Salad
serves 2-4

1-2 large cucumbers, peeled, quartered lengthwise, (seeds cut out if they're big) then sliced crosswise

1-2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill, basil, or Thai basil
2-3 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, toss to coat. Serve immediately, or make ahead (up to a couple of hours) and chill.  We like it best chilled and made with dill.  It's wonderful the first day, but not so great as leftovers which usually isn't a problem as it gets eaten pretty quickly.  You have to use rice wine vinegar.  White vinegar or apple cider of balsamic won't work.

Here's a bonus lesson on cutting basil and other leafy things.  You've got to chiffonade the leaves.  Say that with me, "chiffonade."  It's pronounced like "shif - un - nadh."  It sounds fancy, but is very easy and makes cutting up things like spinach or basil or swiss chard much faster. 

I just learned this tonight - chiffonade comes from the French.  Chiffon refers to "rags" or rag-like strips, as in those strips you'd make into a rag rug.  You're family is going to be impressed with all this new knowledge so be sure to call them into the kitchen while you're cutting the basil.  I do! 

To chiffonade:  stack the leaves on top of each other, roll them up like a cigar, and cut thin slices from one side to the other.  At this point, you're done chiffonading your leaves.  However, if you want them in smaller pieces (say for the salad above) just chop the little strips you've made again going across the strips.  Viola!  Now you've got diced leaves!

I've actually never made pickles or relish from cucumbers.  I would think those would also be great options for cucumbers which have gotten a bit large once the seeds are taken out.  We just never seem to have many left after eating them fresh.

Happy Cooking!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fragile Homeschoolers: Handle with Care

(This post isn't just for homeschoolers.)

We're getting ready to start our 11th year of teaching the Young'uns at home.  No wonder I'm tired.  Abby, the littlest Young'un, will graduate in 2026 only 16 years away.  Now I'm really tired.  But I digress...

When we started homeschooling, we thought about our goals and dreams for our kids.  I talked about our "big rocks" here.  I think about these things periodically as they help guide me in the decisions I make about what, when, where and why each child studies what they study.  In the early years, making these decisions is fairly easy.  A student needs to learn to read - I find a reading program.  Some adding skills are needed - we do math.  As the next child becomes old enough to start reading or adding, I do the same thing.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat.  To be sure, some tweaking occurs with each child, not every book will work with the same kid, but it's pretty much the same deal. 

However, there is always that oldest child.  The one who is inching ever closer to The End.  The End of high school and schooling at home.  The End of sitting down to most meals with us.  The End of being under the influence of the Big Guy and me.  I know parents still greatly influence their children throughout the said child's life, but once they leave home, it is different.  I remember.  It's an End.

Our oldest son, Nate, is going to be a junior in high school this year.  He's not sure what he'll be doing in two years - the possibilities of what God has for him are exciting!  We're trying our best to do all we can to get him ready for the next step.  Will it be college?  Quite probably.  But whatever it is, we don't want to send him out unprepared.

How will we know he's prepared?  Well, I'd like him to know how to do laundry and be a good steward with his money.  He needs to know how to communicate with others - old, young, male, female, co-workers, employers, professors.  A hefty dose of self-discipline and common sense would be great in his tool chest.  Also, the ability to sew on a button or change a tire or at least be resourceful enough to find someone who can do those things for him.  These things would all be helpful.

But I think he'll be most prepared if he's strong.  Strong in knowledge, yes.  Strong in skills, yes.  Most importantly, strong in his faith.  We want him to know what he believes, why he believes and live those beliefs. 

Now, here comes the shocker...we want him to be strong because we WANT him to be challenged by thoughts and people who don't believe the same as he does.  We WANT him (and all our children) to encounter professors or students or co-workers who think differently and hold different beliefs.  Do we want our children's beliefs and thoughts to change?  Not necessarily.  The Big Guy and I want our children to be able to listen to others, to examine their thoughts and lives and see how it all stacks up to Truth.  God's Truth.  We don't want fragile kids with fragile hearts, minds and faith.  How thankful we would be to learn our children have been strong enough to encounter "un-truth" and turn it towards Truth - towards Christ!

Susan Wise Bauer, her books and website, "The Well Trained Mind at Home," have been big influences on our homeschooling.  I've haven't been a frequent reader of Susan's blog, but the other day I stopped there and read her latest post called, "What Not to Look for in an Academic Department."  Bauer is a homeschooling Mom, wife of a pastor and college English professor.  In this post, she answers a question often posed to her, "Where can I send my homeschooled child to college where they won't be inundated with professors who don't think like we do?"  (I've paraphrased this question.)

I encourage you to read the whole post, but I'm including my favorite part here.  She has some great things to say about "fragile" students - homeschooled or otherwise.

From "What Not to Look for in an Academic Department:"

Eighteen and nineteen-year-olds should be mature enough to take classes from faculty they disagree with–or else they’re not mature enough to be at university.

Higher education isn’t just about absorbing information; it’s also about learning how to listen to someone with whom you largely disagree, pick out what’s valuable, and figure out how to respond to the rest. It is also –and this is even more important–about allowing yourself to be challenged. If you go into university unwilling to even listen to opposing perspectives, you’re not likely to benefit a great deal. You’ll be so busy defending yourself that you won’t be able to entertain the possibility that, in some areas, you might be wrong.

I myself have had a very frustrating time teaching students who come into William & Mary primed to resist the lies of “liberal faculty.” (That includes a lot of home educated students, who register for for my classes because they think I’m safe.) Every time I say something that strikes them as possibly “liberal,” all of their defenses go up and they tune me out. I can’t play devil’s advocate or dialogue with them–they immediately put me on the list of untrustworthy professors and stop listening.

And at that point they become unteachable.

I’m often asked how home educated students stack up against others in my classes. My overwhelming impression is that they’re more fragile. They’ve got little resilience; I can’t push at their presuppositions even a little bit. Maybe they’re afraid those presuppositions will shatter.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this...

Knocking Things Off the To Do List

I've been on a a bit of a blogging break...Zucchini Week was exhausting. 

Actually, my To Do List had some items on it which I'd procrastinated doing for quite a while.  Part of my reasoning was that I didn't have time...well, I did if I stayed off the computer.  Thus, the lack of posts over the past week.  I didn't accomplish everything, but the list is lots shorter now.

School planning is still on the list to be done over the course of the next couple of weeks.  Needless to say, homeschooling will be on my mind so you can guess the topics of some upcoming posts.

The garden is starting to crank some things out, too.  So, they'll be some more veggies posts, too.

Thanks for sticking around

Monday, August 2, 2010

Farm Report: Calypso Beans and Rain

In March, when Farmer Ron and I were drooling over seed catalogs, I saw Calypso Beans.  The photo of these black and white beauties was just...beautiful.  We'd never grown dried beans on the Farm before, but Farmer Ron, good man that he is, is usually willing to give most of my whims a go.  So, onto the seed order went a packet of Calypso Beans.

The seeds were some of the first into the ground in May and they took off fast.  Unfortunately, they were in one of the low lying spots of the garden and the Floods of 2010 hit them hard.  So the result isn't what we thought we'd get at the start when they seemed to be thriving.  Isn't a lot of life just like that?  Things start one way and finish another...

I digress.

Over the weekend, Farmer Ron (my hero) spent several hours in his Little Plots, pulling out all the flood causalities and getting the dirt ready to plant a few more seeds.  (We're hoping to make up for some of the drowned veggies while its still warm.)  One of the things he pulled were the Calypso Bean plants.  Tonight we (actually my son Jake) shelled the beans and what you see above is the result. 

Aren't they pretty?  All shiny and black and white.  I love the little white "eye" on each them.  Actually while going through botany with my younger kids this past year, I learned this eye is really called the hilium and it's where the seed connects to the seed pod.  You didn't know your seeds had belly buttons, did you?  I was excited the beans dried the way they were supposed to and didn't rot or anything!

After admiring the photo, you'll probably notice there aren't very many of those cute beans.  You're right.  We only got about 1/4 to 1/2 of a cup of them.  This is more beans than what we put into the ground; we did end up in the positive, but not by much.   What we got isn't nearly enough to make into a meal .  However, we'll make the best of it and put these new seeds into the ground and see what we get.  So, the cycle goes.

Sunday night on the weather report, I heard June and July had been the wettest back to back months we've had here since they started recording in the late 1800's.  Between June 1st and July 31st, we received over 16 inches of rain!  Our normal is only about 6 inches during this time of year.  All of this means our yards are still a gorgeous green color and my sons, who have jobs mowing other people yards, are making more money this year.  But it also means our whole garden, which is planted in a low, probably used to be swamp, area has not fared so well.  It isn't just Calypso Beans which have suffered.

Truth be told, I was counting on our plots to help feed my family in the coming months.  We'll get some good food from them, yes, but it won't be in the amounts for which I was hoping.  Disappointing, a bit disheartening, not the end of the world though.  Sam's Club is just down the road.

All of this sends my thoughts to farmers - both now and 100 years ago. For farmers in our area, these current rains have been a huge blow as large portions of their crops have failed to thrive.  Disappointing, VERY disheartening, hopefully not the end of the world for them.  For farm family 100 years, rains such as these and the same harvests they produced would have been devastating.  How and what would I have fed my family if my whole packet of seeds only gave me back a cup beans?  Sam's Club was not just down the road.

Here on the Little Farm we like to think of ourselves as farmers, but we're not.  We're just dabblers in the dirt in many ways.  Thank God for real farmers both past and present who in hope sow seeds each spring, in faith watch plants grow each summer and in love reap the consequences each fall.  Farmers are good people.