Thursday, February 11, 2016

New Lessons Learned About Yogurt and Buttermilk

A little reminder, using a dry erase marker on your glass jars helps you remember the date the milk was taken. This way I know which milk to use first and which to give to the chickens. The oldest of course. Feeding milk to the chickens saves financially as I do not have to buy as much oyster shell to increase their calcium levels. Egg shells are mainly calcium and we like hard egg shells. If I have an abundance of old milk then the garden gets fertilized with it.

I also label my buttermilk cultures and yogurt with the date cultured since they are in glass jars. When you do something like this week after week the brain gets muddled or mine does as to the exact day you did it last. Of course if you had a nice calm life you could do it on the same day of the week. What would that be like? 

Yogurt and buttermilk I've done quite well keeping going. Not perfect but pretty good. In doing so I have learned heaps. My yogurt quality has increased. One gal asked me when I first blogged about it if our goat yogurt turned out slimy like hers. She had quit making it. Ours was indeed a bit slimy but I've learned the solution to that problem and it wasn't through research. It was experimentation and time. I have learned that you need to warm your milk very slowly. I put my electric stove, I wish I had gas, on 2 and the milk takes nearly an hour to come up to the 180 F it has to reach. The length of time it takes depends on how much milk you are heating at one time. Then I either cool the milk quickly or slowly according to whatever is happening around here at the moment and when it reaches the proper temp, I add the culture.

I usually make yogurt and buttermilk at the same time, something new from the first blog post on the subject.  One pot holds all the milk. I pour a quart worth of the heated milk into a sterilized quart jar to cool as the buttermilk needs to be 85. The rest of the milk I let cool in the pan to 115 before adding the yogurt culture, mixing it in, and putting it in the yogurt maker jars.

The buttermilk jar when cooled to temp., I wrap with an old heating pad that does not have an automatic turn off switch. Mine is set on medium. I can do two quarts if I plan on making lots of recipes that week with buttermilk. My family LOVES homemade buttermilk pancakes and biscuits.

The texture of the goat yogurt done this way is smooth and creamy. Time spent culturing varies with the particular milk I'm using. This varies as to the period of time we are in the goat's lactation as the cream level changes. And what the goat's diet is also makes a difference. Right now they are getting orchard grass hay but later it will be a orchard grass alfalfa mix for later in their pregnancy.

 Sometimes it takes longer to reach the desired thickness and sometimes shorter. Keep in mind that store yogurt has gelatin or powdered milk to thicken it but I can do it pretty well with fiddling with incubation times. Greek yogurt is thicker because of the additives or some strain the liquids off of the yogurt to desired thickness.  Right now the cream level is really high at about 1/3, which seems to equate to a thicker yogurt. I sometimes make yogurt with milk that has run through the separator and then the cream runs through again once more which gives a heavy cream.  The lighter cream run off is then mixed back into the milk. 

Did you know that 2 percent milk sold in the USA is only one and a half percent less fat than whole milk? Yes, it was a great sell campaign that made it popular - not the facts. Buy whole milk and add water if you want 2 percent. You are just buying more water with 2 percent anyway. Better yet get a milk goat. 

I can use yogurt instead of buttermilk in many of my recipes and often do. Depends on how many fruit smoothies or buttermilk pancakes were made whether I have more buttermilk or yogurt in the refrigerator.

The other thing I have not done is to freeze buttermilk and yogurt. The learning just never ends. This is handy when the goats are dry as you just freeze milk and then culture once a month to keep things in reserve. Or better yet if you have the freezer room you just keep thawing milk and culturing.

The other thing I want to try is on this site where you use a powdered milk to mix with a culture and it keeps for a year in the freezer. This is often used to ensure a pure culture.
Things to learn just never ends. The problem comes in on how to keep everything going not just trying it once.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Bunnies in the Chicken Coop

I really should name these poor bunnies. Don't know why I haven't except our life keeps being turned up side down. A new and not good twist happened this past week but a wonderful thing happened also. You know the scriptures do promise us opposition in all things. We got good news from our financial advisor. We figured out how we could pay for this house more quickly and he was all for it though it meant not investing the money in the stock market.  The truth is he fell in LOVE with our place when he came to visit. He can't wait until we have a bit more decorating done and then he wants to bring his wife.
But back to bunnies, name suggestions would be appreciated as my mind is clouded and weighed down. There are two brown does that are called what ever endearment pops into my head as I pet them and feed them. They deserve better.
This doe is eating wheat sprouts. The bunnies smell them when I enter the coop and go wild. I had some spaghetti squash and I fed them that last week. They liked it. I don't. The chickens liked it too.
Livestock can be rather handy that way. The rabbits had cauliflower too and I don't like that either.  Wheat grass needless to say was a hit also. I raised a couple batches but have not gotten any more going. Last week my wheat sprout project came to a halt too.  Kirk and I thought life was going to slow down a little. Ha! Ha!
Hopefully our family will give us a little break and next week we can get our feet under us once more but until them I have Valentine's Day presents to wrap and deliver. I am not into Valentine's Day. But others in the family kind of like the thing and there is the school party where I need to make home-made graham crackers for. They said healthy snack and I always make graham crackers at Valentines time. Funny but it is the only time of year I make them -- strange.
My mind just won't stay put. We call it SQUIRREL, when it does that in a conversation. We burst out I the middle of one topic of conversation and say squirrel change the subject then flip back to the original. It is an ADD thing in the family which throws other for a loop but somehow we keep pace with several subjects at a time.
So squirrel, I think I will breed the two young does in March for early April babies. The weather has been incredibly warm, fifties as highs all week. Wonder if it will stay? Since we don't have snow pack in the mountains it could be a devastating summer. Our area relies on irrigation for crops in the summer.

Off topic again but I do want to say how much I love having the bunnies in the chicken coop. With the hens roosting at night and the bunnies snuggled up in their cages, the insulated coop never freezes. What a joy that is as the water never freezes either. That saves me greatly on work and broken waterers. Even when the temperatures were dipping into the single digits Fahrenheit at night, all we had was a few ice crystals in the water.   
I'm rounding up an old wood screen door to rework to fit the doorway to the coop. Went to check on one hanging on an old house and may have found another one. I will chicken wire it and put a flap on the bottom as the chicken coop door is also the chickens in and out door. The main wood door has a flap. There are just so.... many projects needing done on this place to rework it into a self-sufficient set up. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Updates and Eating Salad From My Indoor Garden

My tomato plant is taking off. This is one of the two I had from last winter. You might recall they were in pretty rough shape when I started to revive them. The plants struggled for the two months of November and December before the solstice when light was at a minimum. especially for us way up north. Now here is the plant today and it has really taken off. The  tomatoes that were only a small green dot inside the flowers are now filling out nicely. This tomato plant is in the window, not under grow lights.

This is one of the first cloning plants that I started. Pretty impressive growth rate compared to the seeds I started which are about 2 inches tall.

You will find me cloning every chance I get from now on instead of using seeds. That means I will be trying to bring in a pepper plant into the house along with a Siberia tomato just to try and keep them alive long enough to clone off of for the garden outside in 2017. They are two plants that could really use the jump start of root growth and size.
I was so impressed with the growth rate of the cloning project that I sacrificed the shaggiest tomato plant of the two I had from last winter to cut up into four more plants and started them. The cloned tomato plants and the ones started from seeds are under a grow light. I  am really impatient for red tomatoes. There is just no way of going back to store tomatoes when you can have garden fresh flavor in the winter too.
The peas are looking good and soon I will be able to snip a few of the leaves off for salad. I have never tried that before but this type of pea recommends giving it a try. Maybe you can do so with most peas for all I know. I see another experiment in the making, don't you? These are also not under a grow light but simply in the window.

For the second winter I am growing Tom Lettuce and loving it. We are so enjoying the fresh taste. This one is a winner because it is a cut and come again lettuce. That means I get three crops from it before it no longer produces. I have decided that most of my lettuces have to be cut and come again. They grow back so much faster the second and third time in comparison to starting from seed. With the very limited space in my sunroom it has to be used to its full fruition and a long waiting period does not accomplish that goal.
I just cut the Cardinale lettuce last night and though it is a bit slower than the Tom lettuce to grow, it looks like it might also be a cut and come again lettuce. I sure hope so. One thing I have learned from cutting the lettuce is to leave over an inch and better yet two of growth on the plant. DO NOT cut down to the nubbins. Plants are nourished from sunlight as well as from the soil.
The Argula and Spinach that I planted a couple weeks after the lettuces are growing nicely under the lights and had I not labels them well I would never have been able to tell the difference between them at this stage.

The garlic is growing nicely. The article I read about growing garlic indoors recommended trimming the green shoots down to four inches and then when they grow tall once more doing it again. at about four inches. The garlic is suppose to die back after this stage and the garlic cloves should be full. We shall see as a few plants had their first shoot cut and are growing out once more. The stems are quite garlicy tasting so they would be good to cook with. Since I had so few I just gave them to the rabbits with their wheat grass. That leads us to my next blog which should be up shortly on growing wheat grass for the rabbits.
Every couple weeks I get around to starting a few more plants for the sunroom. Next on the list is radishes. There are some that will produce in 18 days in ideal conditions in one of my recently arrived catalogues. That is just over 2 and a half weeks. That would be a great addition to my indoor garden. I may not get to a cucumber and eggplant this year but time will tell. So much to learn this body can not keep up with my brain.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Growing Peas, Carrots, Lettuce and Garlic Indoors

    (Tomatoes growing in the sunroom. The flavor is divine. We may never be able to eat tomatoes from the store again.) 
Wednesday when I went to the grocery store. I became VERY motivated about growing our own food. Cottage cheese was over 5 dollars a container along with a significant price hike in all other dairy products. Unfortunately it did not stop there and one of the shockers was cereal up over 5 dollars a box. Boxes that keep getting smaller along with bags of chips.

This fall I tried bringing in more money with sewing and lets just say it ended in disaster and my Addison's Disease in full blown anger from the stress and lack of sleep. The slap in the face turned me in a new direction. Why was I trying to make more money when I will never keep up with inflation. Kirk's work income has not. The answer has to be to watch our spending more carefully and make more of our needs ourselves. 
(Garlic is peeking up their heads.)
The area in which this would make the largest difference is in food production 12 months of the year. 12 months of the year though in Wyoming with a zone 3 growing season is not going to be easy. Yes, I know what the map says, zone 4, but they have got to be kidding. If you look at just the area around us you can see a big enough difference in temperatures, elevation, and growing season length that you can quickly see you need to figure out your own growing zone. 

I am presently studying winter gardening. Something I am told was common in our great grandparents day. Most of my books are from  milder climates but they still have good information in which we can adapt to our situation. I admit when they talk about it being tough in zone 5 or 6, I laugh out loud. With books in hand and searches through the internet I have been scouring the seed catalogues and thinking on how we can economically put in cold frames and greenhouses. The actual building won't begin until summer because right now we have a calf shed to tin.

 What I'm doing right now is planning. I'm looking at cold hardy varieties of crops. There are very, very few. Not surprising if you think about it. How many people do you know that garden in the winter? Demand equates to supply and no demand equates to extinction.
(We are picking fresh lettuce right before we eat, YUM!! Who knows how many vitamins are left in the lettuce you buy at the store after it has taken the long journey to your table?)

I am looking at locations in the yard where we might push a zone 4 or 5 growing area like the front flower bed which is on the south side and protected on the north by the garage and west side by the house. The south side of the house under the kitchen window might be a second place. We grew tomatoes and peppers this summer in the kitchen spot and found the season was extended for them by the protected, south location and heat that radiated off the house.
(Carrots, I think I planted them a bit thick. The seed was older and I questioned how well they would sprout. Oh well, I can thin them.)
I am trying new seed varieties in the house and with the night temperatures in the fifties in the sun room, I am getting an idea just how fast they sprout along with having a taste test. We have decided that we like Arugula with its peppery taste. I have three lettuces going right now. One I grew last year, Tom Thumb Lettuce, and a couple new varieties. Cardinale I am not impressed with so I will use up the seed and not reorder but Cimaron is doing very well and with Tom Thumb will go into the winter cold frames next winter for the second leg of trials. They are suppose to be cold hardy. I have others I am going to try first in the house to see their growth habits, texture, and flavor; how close together I can plant them and how quickly they grow.
(These peas are to grow between 6 and 8 inches tall with leaves that are great in salads along with the peas themselves.)
This first stage of experiments will give us a small bit of immediate relief nutritionally and economically. Plus it will test the limits of what I can grow and how much I can grow in the sunroom. This still leaves quite a bit up to outdoor gardening.

It isn't just lettuce that the sunroom is growing but Tom Thumb peas are sprouting, the garlic has peeked its head up, the spinach is showing its first leaves, and the carrots are up. More of the herbs has poked their heads through the soil and I have a few more to start. I am for sure going to start a cucumber but which one is not yet decided. I also am thinking about a zucchini and an eggplant just for the sunroom, not ones for the cold frames. 

I am having so.... much fun with my indoor garden. I think the satisfaction and joy is much greater with the contrast of snow covering the ground outside. It is a reminder of just how bland the vegetables from the store are. My husband emits a loud, MMMM!!!! when he bites into the cherry tomatoes with their burst of summer. I don't think we will ever be able to go back to bland.

It is not easy to find miniature varieties that are cold hardy. The second concern is how to coordinate the growing of crops for us to eat and the starting of vegetables in the house for planting the first week of June. It could get rather crowded and complicated with a few years needed to work out the problems.

Will all of this come to fruition? The motivation is sure there for each bite pushes us forward. Some things may have to be postponed to a more distant future. Isn't that the way of things? Some other more pressing matters will raise their heads but as long as we keep moving forward, though at times at a snails pace, we are still moving forward none the less and year by year we are becoming a little more self-sufficient.

Stay tuned for an update on the tomato project. The pictures will tell it all amazing difference. Plus I grew my first wheat grass for the rabbits and with the knowledge I'm tweaking my second batch to hopefully perform even better. The stackable cages came and the rabbits are indoors in the chicken coop. You just have to see.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Wheat Sprout Update

 Since I am doing updates I will continue and tell you about what I have worked out on sprouts. Once more the temperatures are dipping into the single digits and there is no green in sight, okay except the evergreen trees. Even though the chickens are free range there just isn't much to scrounge up.  I do find them in the hay stack pecking at the alfalfa leaves but with slim pickens, I think I need to supplement their diet. That means I am back once more sprouting wheat. It does not make sense to do so in the summer since they barely eat any grain during that lush time of year but now they are heavily downing the grains in the coop and the pocket book feels it. That ups their maintenance costs especially when they are laying fewer eggs because of the decrease in sunlight.

Just three plastic gallon ice cream buckets at a time though because it seems to be about all I can squeeze in time for. It is hard enough to keep them rinsed once a day let alone any more and keep up with the needs of the grandkids. This means that the stock does not get sprouts daily but a few times a week instead. This isn't all bad since it helps keep their interest peeked.

The change is that I am not only feeding the chickens but some to the goats and a handful to each of the rabbits. It satisfies their hunger with less feed in comparison to the same feed dry. With the increase in nutrients and lower costs it is a win, win deal.

Whitey, our buck, goes nuts when I pop the lid and he gets his first whiff of the wonderful stuff. With life waa.....y too busy recently I fed too much commercial feed and my rabbits are obese. One of my New Year goals is to feed the rabbits a little less packaged rabbit food and a whole lot more of a natural diet. That means for now a big helping of alfalfa / orchard grass hay each morning. I also started trying my hand at growing wheat grass this week. Just one tray at first. The blades are barely up so we shall see how that goes. I am hoping the kitchen garden will have some extra produce along with some from the winter and summer gardening planned in the future with rabbits in mind.

Most things are still in the planning stage but for sure rabbits will be a part of our diet. I butchered a few and was really impressed with how much meat I got in a short period of time. It also was yummy and needless to say nutritious.

Three new indoor rabbit cages came this week and when I have them assembled then we can put all the rabbits in the chicken coop. Yeah!!! for I will seldom have to worry about their water freezing or if they are comfortable enough when I know I definitely don't want to go outside. I have one rabbit hutch to rebuild and one already in a spot in the garden so that will bring the total to 7 cages. I would like a couple more outdoor ones and we shall see how that goes since the one outdoor one I need to rebuild is quite large.

I asked at the feed store today if they had any millet or barley for I have not tried sprouting those grains, alas, they did not have any. I will head the other direction in a few days to a different feed store for my favorite rabbit food. It put weight on far, far better than the other three varieties I tried. I will inquire there. They say that rabbits like black oil sunflower seeds. My goats do too and the chickens also. Maybe I should pick up a couple bags as two of my daughters are wanting totes made from the empty bags.

I think I will try oats again and start one bucket tomorrow. They were not quite as easy to sprout as wheat but variety is always a good thing. Maybe I should try some oat grass too. Hmmmm..... so many things to try and so little time. Good thing there is a time and season for everything under heaven because one simply can not do all things all the time.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tomato Experiment Update

Remember me?
Yeah, not looking so good. Though there were roots, the tomatoes and long branch took too much energy to maintain. It died, no great surprise.
Experiment number two was also a bust. The rooted spikes with a little leaf on it died also. That was a surprise. A wise goat appraiser once told me that I needed to do things myself to gain a true understanding. He is right. If the experiment is not costly, experiencing it for yourself does indeed bring a level of understanding one can not gain through words alone.
With a little research under my belt I tried propagating tomatoes or cloning which is another word for it. I took a short stem off one of the tomato plants and placed it in very wet soil. Putting it in soil instead of just straight water is suppose to work better. Also I gently scraped the bottom sides of the stem as instructed. They said it wasn't imperative but helpful. The top leaves look a bit pale but you can see some new dark green ones appearing. Roots begin to sprout at a week old I've learned. The sprouting of roots is due to the fact that the chemical auxim is present in tomatoes and in some other plants. Cut flowers die because the stems do not have this chemical.

This cloning method is something that allows you to keep your tomatoes, peppers, and some other garden plants going on forever from just one parent plant. 

I am disappointed that my tomato seeds have not sprouted yet. I think I might need to put a heating pad under them. Our house can be pretty cool. In this first stage of experimenting I have indeed learned that in the winter; propagating or cloning, which ever word you like, is the way to go.  My tomato plants look pretty rough right now since I do not have them under grow lights. That is one of the experiments is to see if they can make it on the naturally available light. Winter solstice is past so things should be looking up for them. My herbs last year looked pretty rough during December and January but really kicked into gear after that.

Stay tuned I have another indoor plant experiment in the works and several more I'm going to start next week.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hot Water Works LIke a Dream on Trees

The kiddos showing off the blankets their great-grandmother made them.

Not done with making Christmas presents and sending cards but at least we are back to getting some sleep. You will often find us crawling in bed with the kids at 8 or 8:30. This fall has left us in bad need of sleep. Kind of like Christmas Eve when we were awoke at 1:20 with a child wetting the bed. The same child that called us every day she was not here to inform us of how many days until Christmas.

Our oldest daughter who was sleeping with this grandchild then could not go back to sleep. I stayed up with her for a while after shooing all the other grandkids back to bed along with their mother. Then too tired to keep my eyes open, I went back to bed. At 4:30 a.m. my husband had to get up to go to work and it awoke one of the grandkids whom I then went off to sleep with, musical beds is a favorite past time around here. Then when most of the kids had awoken at 6:00, we began the 11/2 hours of opening gifts. We like to do it slowly. But no breakfast before presents because that is torture for kids and I am against such torture.

So now I am putting away Christmas decorations only because I have to get ready for school starting up next week and three birthdays parties. I rather regret de-decorating, as the kids call it. I am really enjoying the tree. It is so.... soft and green. I tried one of those tricks on Facebook and low and behold it WORKS! I buy my fresh trees the very beginning of December so I can get it right away in water instead of letting it continue to dry out. A fresh tree because they are a renewable resource and clean the air. Fresh because I can't stand the thought of putting a plastic tree in the landfill to take 50,000 years to decompose. I've imagined myself trying to explaining that to my Heavenly Father when we have the conversation about how I took care of HIS earth. Plus fresh helps support a farmer each year. I know, my brain goes where few men have often gone.
Love the backdrop for the tree!
 This year I figured I would try the Facebook trick because it just made sense beyond the lack of instructions.The tip was to boil water and then cool it for five minutes but the details were not in it. My Autism raised its ugly head as I wondered if they meant on a gas stove or an electric stove which an electric stove burner holds heat long after a gas does. They did not say take the pan off the burner so did they mean that? How hot your house is would make a difference also. Ours is rather cool. I know, I should have been a research specialist. In the land of confusion for lack of information, a land I know well, I just forged my own path because I could not bring myself to burn my poor tree. You can probably see now why we Autistic people shut down, overload of emotions and confusion because we process wa....y too much information. Keep it simple is not part of our network.
Changing my decorations to match the backdrop. Tree needs a twig star for next year.
So I changed the rules and went with hot tap water. The concept is that hot water opens the pores in the bottom of the tree. That is after you cut the bottom off of before putting in the water so you get past the sealed pores from dehydration. They did not mention that part in the instructions either. Cold water solidifies the sap and stops the tree from drawing up the water. That makes sense.

Nearly four weeks later and you can grip a branch on my tree and run your hand down the needles and rarely does one fall off. It is AWESOME!!! The tree sucked up water the whole time instead of the usual sucks up water for a couple weeks and then quits. I am definitely doing this with all my plants. Maybe not quite as hot a water but I am going to use warm water with my indoor garden I am starting. Surely roots like to be bathes in warm water instead of cold also.

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas Season!