Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A New Spice Container Set Up

 This is what my spice cupboard looked like - plastic containers. Yes, all but the lone powdered mushroom glass jar. Loved those plastic spice containers but of course they did not love us. I felt pretty guilty after I did the blog about BPA and BPS in plastic so I decided to start practicing more seriously what I preach. Realistically I know I won't be avoiding plastic all together, It is everywhere and face it, it is super handy. But especially where our food is concerned I need to steer further away from it. That will take time. The plastic spice containers, though they were not originally manufactures for such, are now delegated to the garage where they hold small bolts and such.
To change out my containers that housed the spices seemed a good place to start since I already had glass jars that would work great. As you can see I started out with the plastic tops since they screw on and off easier than the metal ones and the food rarely touched the tops. BUT they are slicker than well...., you know as they slip sliding around on the tops of the bottom jars. A few near accidents and I went to using standard metal canning lids.

What I discovered is that the metal jar lids stack really nice and the lip helps keep them in place. 
Alphabetical order seems like a pretty good idea in order to find them BUT..., when do I ever use chili powder and garlic with cloves, allspice and cinnamon? It meant a lot of moving jars around to find the spices I needed. And with so many jars on one shelf they still slip slided away. Solution - I rearranged things so that the spices were in three smaller cupboard shelves.  Yes, smarty pants, I know the spices are not in exact alphabetical order. I'm taking a realistic shot. In the general area of alphabetical is what occurs  with four young children underfoot; and cows and goats mooing for attention in the pasture. 

This may not be the end result but something that is working far better is to put cooking spices like garlic, chili powder etc. on one side of one shelf with Italian spices like Oregano, Basil, Winter Savory, Garlic, and such on the other side. I use those combinations together a great deal. Still another shelf has Parsley, Lovage, Cutting Celery, [powdered Mustard, celery salt(I want to be doing my own someday)], and bouillons plus some spices from the store like garlic salt, and Lawry's seasoning salt. 

Did you know that celery salt comes from the Lovage plant, not the tall celery we crunch on? I've got a Lovage plant growing in the front flower bed but being that it is its first year, it has not gone to seed. Alas, an experiment for another year and all part of my move toward self-sufficiency because I LOVE Celery salt. 

Baking spices like cinnamon, allspice, ginger etc. are on another small shelf and of course various kinds of oils, vinegars and balsamics on another. Do I have a lot of spices. Oh my YES! And I need to make room for flavorful things like jars of powdered green beans, zucchini, beets, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, onion tops, and spinach. I like lots and lots of flavor in my foods but then that also means a lot more vitamins too.

Are the jars a perfect solution? Maybe not but a much safer health wise than plastic containers.  

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Herb Garden Goals

     How long would a pound of oregano last you? Even with as many herbs as I use - a long time. So why did I do it? Herbs bought in bulk saves a lot of money and trips to the store. But I want independence -- as much a possible. I want the intense green color that freshly dried herbs give to a dish. Years of cooking for the very young and old including Dementia parents has taught me that appearances matter. Appearance invokes pleasure and appeal. 'Hmm.... that looks good.' does a lot to get them to eat. Aged herb's color fades and a lack luster brownish cast is what takes over. The flavor wanes also but can be compensated in part by adding more.

    I want to grow and dry more herbs of my own. I want a measure of self-sufficiency in my herbal world and avoid all those preservatives. I had not really given preservatives in my herbs a thought until I was redoing my herb shelves and pulled out a jar of home dried herbs that had gotten tucked in the back for quite some time - maybe a year. Wow, I could not believe how much the once deep green had dimmed. I took out some bulk spices of the same type I had bought years back and was amazed. Yes, they were paler with age but one whiff of my old bottle and one of the old store products told me that a ton of preservatives had been used because the store's product had a more intense smell. 

    In the last few months home dried herbs have begun to take over my spice cupboard. I open a jar, sniff and I'm inspired. 'Wouldn't this be good in ......' It isn't just me that this sensory pleasure effects for the intense smells effects the whole household. The family comes home and smiles appear, ' What smells so.. good?' Good food has gone a long way in helping our grand daughters adjust to staying the bulk of their time with us while their mother battles cancer. I've discovered the best way to get a kid up in the morning for school is to tantalize their nose which leads them to investigate what's for breakfast especially at 5:45 a.m. 
    So in the name of always reaching for greater heights I've set some goals for myself.

    1. Tweak my cooking to use mainly use herbs I can grow myself in the yard, in the house windows, and under grow lights. 

    Powdered Zucchini
    2.  Expand the things I use to spice up dishes to decrease the amount of herbs I need. Last year I learned to use homemade bone broth. It is wonderful and now it is really rare for me to use beef bullion. My usage of bone broth just keeps expanding and now I want to play more intensely with home dried vegetable powders.  Potato soup  with the addition of home dried herbs, and zucchini is awesome! The zucchini helped thicken the soup, added vitamins, and increase flavor. The preparation was simple. I cooked potatoes, carrots and onions in a small amount of chicken bone broth until firm but done and then added chopped ham, fresh milk, herbs, salt and black pepper, and powdered zucchini. 

    When our twelve year old granddaughter took a spoonful to test the broth for me, her eyes closed and a moan of intense pleasure escaped. If that is any indication of how much dried, powdered vegetables can do, this could be a very flavorful year indeed. Now I'm wondering why I did not add a bit of my homemade potato flour? It would have thickened the soup even more. When the other choice is flour or corn starch which add no great amount of flavor then hands down, vegetable powder wins.

    3.  Switch my herbs from plastic containers to glass jars to avoid contamination of BPA or BPS. Just did that.

    4. Keep a continual supply of fresh herbs growing and dry the surplus.There is something about combining fresh and dried herbs that reaches the perfect balance in a cooked dish that most of the time just using dried or just using fresh does not accomplish.  
    This is an area that is harder than I thought. For instance - basil seems to do really well potted in the house through two cuttings and then tries to die on me. It did this three different times. I've since read that it needs re-potted often. I'm trying that next. I also read that with time the flavor of the leaves diminishes but at what point is that? With what I've done so far, I've discovered that my needs are greater than my supply of basil, so next summer I will include basil in my front flower bed and oregano too.

    5. Goal number four has led me to goal number five. Keep a continual supply of herbs growing indoors. After all the four seasons in Wyoming are almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction. Fresh herbs in the garden is brief indeed.

    6. Grow herbs outdoors for drying purposes in order to keep the indoor herb garden small. This includes experimenting to see which ones we can grow in our zone 3 1/2. Presently we have only four varieties growing outside in a very limited number.

    Thursday, August 24, 2017

    Feeding Egg Shells to Chickens

    There is a bit of a debate whether or not if you feed egg shells to chickens.Will it cause them whether to begin to eat their freshly laid eggs? In my experience I have to say no, they do not. Not mine anyway. I have no problem with hens breaking and eating their own eggs but it is probably what they are eating which is whatever they can scrounge up in the yard plus a layer feed along with a grain assortment. So pretty much a smorgasbord to choose from which I think makes a huge difference.

    There is no science behind that opinion but then 'Why do kids eat dirt?' The doctors say it is a deficiency in their diet so I guess that is my research on the subject. LOL! I would not be surprised if boredom would not cause some to do so and emotional stress too. There there is the occasional ornery ole bitty who just is a pain in the _____ well, you know what. It would not matter how well you fed her for she would just go on breaking and eating eggs. In doing so she would teaches the others to do so also. If you have a bad behavioral animal it is best to send it down the road or to a much colder climate like the freezer.Most of the habits are learned.

    Since I've had a couple egg eaters in my time, I have been reluctant to feed egg shells to chickens. Probably silly since I've had chickens for over thirty years and two or three is hardly worth mentioning. What tipped the scales for me to get over my insane phobia was our financial crunch and lots and lots of chickens roaming the yard that I could donate to science. Surely not all of them would gain a taste for raw scrambled eggs I figured and at least thirty or so will become icebergs occupying the freezers until I have time to can them this fall. So the experiment began a couple months ago.

    First I baked the shells at 200 F. like I saw on the internet and crushed them only I used a blender when I found out how sharp dried, baked shells are on work worn hands. The result was not so impressed chickens. The army wasn't impressed with powdered eggs either. But wait, they didn't eat the outsides did they? Maybe that would have been an improvement or have I been watching too many M.A.S.H. shows?

    Next, I simply baked the shells, broke them into chunks, and served them up, which was more desirable, says the chickens, but still too time consuming. Time being something I have so little of made me rethink the whole thing. That and the eggs shells would begin to stink before I had enough to bake up. My solution for that was to occasionally rinse the shells but that seemed ridiculous. So, I decided to do like I now do with my mulch piles. Pretty much nothing but that is another blog. I simply put the cracked egg shells right in with the vegetable scraps in my scrap bucket in the kitchen. It goes out each day and I toss it all into a mulch pile - only there is no pile. Between the chickens and deer, only a few citrus shell rinds remain. 

    It is a very coveted pile and when the girls see me headed to the mulch local, they all come a running. What they don't eat, the deer who come through at dusk do. Pretty neat no waste system. To say I have completely eliminated using oyster shells would not be the truth. I put some in now and them more as a comfort thing. It makes me feel like I'm doing a good job. One day I might get over that. Meanwhile it has save me quite a bit of money and I really do like that.

    Saturday, August 19, 2017

    Tested PVC Pipe Chicken Feeders

     Use Pinterest? Then you have probably seen these feeders in abundance. The appeal to me was the space saving concept. My coop was crowded. Too crowded with things not chicken related so I've decided that all those rabbit cages have got to go. The chicken coop will be just that, a chicken coop. The rabbits will have their own housing facilities this fall but for now they are residing in the barn. This has made room for some brooder boxes and a nesting box that is for now just hen scratches on a piece of paper. I can tell you so far, the coop sure smells better. As for those pearly white feeders all standing like shoulders at attention snug up against the chickens coop wall on Pinterest, well, that is what this blog is about? Not how to make them as Pinterest can do that but on whether or not you should make them. I grew suspicious perusing Pinterest as picture after picture showed the feeders brand spanking new. Where was the beloved and used? Nothing but pearly white showed up so a few months ago I set out to discover whether or not these PVC feeders were a fad, or a fantastic innovation?

    We had some old PVC pipe lying around in the barn and with a joint and some aluminum strap purchased, I was in business. As far as assembly, they are easy peasy. We did not bother to glue the one feeder together but just pushed the pieces tight. Caution dictated that I start with one feeder first even though those smart rows of white were sure appealing. My first discovery was that the feeders don't really need to be very tall unless you want to fill them up with a whole 50 pound bag of feed. I made mine far too tall.

    My feed store friend said she babysat chickens and had to put fifty pounds of scratch into a PVC pipe feeder. She does not recommend it. It isn't about muscles after all I get big waves from strange men at the town dump and it isn't because of my beauty. Some guys appreciate a working woman willing to unload 600 pounds of barbwire in her floppy hat and shorts. I'm sure I was quite the sight on my last visit but that is not the only time I've drawn attention. It is the fact that feed sacks are floppy and the weight has a tendency to shift as it pours. There are ways around lifting the whole sack but in my experience, a smorgasbord approach computes to waste. I've learned that chickens are drawn to an easy meal and forget home on the range hitting the pocket book hard.

    My goal is to cut costs and for health reasons. I want the flock to be eating natural freebies, grass, bugs, annoying Magpies, oh wait, that's just one hen that hates them - well, her and I that is. Unfortunately, she's never caught one yet despite her determined efforts. All those calisthenics running around the yard dodging, diving and yes, even leaping into the air after bugs is so much better for their health. Healthy hen, healthy eggs. Besides it is great entertainment for us human beans.

    Another plus, I don't ever remember having such a low bug population. Then I have more chickens than ever before, DUH! And I can't help thinking it has got to be great on the garden. You know the one buried in weeds? So smorgasbord it will not be. But the potential for a large capacity feeder isn't such a bad idea. If the need arose and we had to have someone take over for a week or more it could be handy. My babysitters ... the fam, aren't impressed with my current four hour a day chore lists. I'm not either and as soon as the 12 boxes of fruit I just picked up is canned, we are lowering the livestock numbers. 
    My first go with the feeders, I put in a couple days ration and observed. My feed mixture at the moment is chicken scratch and pelleted lay mash. Some girls like corn, and some, like my pet chicken Vivian, likes millet best. Well actually she likes the ducks feed best but that's another story. Some of you know what's coming next. They do indeed flick the feed this way and that sorting through to get to their favorite grains. The bigger the pipe, the greater the head swing and the further the feed flies. Pretty soon the the floor has as much feed on it as in the feeder or maybe it is more. 

    My solution - just put a short rubber feed pan underneath to catch the spills. It worked but the pan gets some poo in it so the feed is not as clean as I'd like. Then again these girls dig through goat and beef poop so what am I complaining about - the waste issue of course. Chicken poo isn't quite so appealing as goat, and beef so they don't clean it up as well.

    How do I fix this problem? Would putting just one type of grain in a pipe work better and having multiple feeders like in the Pinterest pictures. Vivian loves millet. I'm wondering, maybe there are some local farmers who raise millet or wheat. Not many raise crops beyond hay here but there might be something I can find. If the girls have nothing to sort, we....ll. What do you think?

    Problem number two - it appears that the girls can't reach the back of the feeders and so don't completely empty them. I'm not positive on this as I've not withheld feed to make sure but they don't slick it all up. So I wonder, is it the exact same feed in the back of the feeder and new feed rolling over the top? Hmmm... will it eventually rot? For now I just scoop it out with my hands once in a while into the rubber feed pan below.

    Problem number three - You have to unscrew the band that hold the feeder to the wall to remove the feeders to clean them. You can only do that a few times and then the screw holes aren't going to hold. Still thinking on that one for a solution. Handy man I am not. I do like the way the slick PVC stays relatively clean though.

    Still all in all I kind of like these feeders if for nothing else but the space saving and the fact that the girls can't tip them over when they get in one of their tit for tat huffs and go screaming after each other. Doesn't happen often, but girls will be girls.

    You may think I stopped the experiment with feed rations. Oh no, I tried feeding in the morning and feeding at night before bedtime. Definitely at night was the better option. With it being warmer at night, the girls like to stay outside. The fox and coyotes really like that. The feed entices the girls in and I can then close up without having to round up whoever is missing. Catching chickens is not a favorite task though yes, I am quite good at it. I should be.

    So despite the draw backs, I think I'll keep my PVC pipe feeder and add a few more. What have you discovered with yours? I'm guessing I'm not the only one of my readers that has one. I'd love to know your experiences. I'm always looking for better ways to do things. 

    Tuesday, August 1, 2017

    Which Way Do You Milk?

    I've milked a number of goats over 32 years. Some my own but also a number of goats that were not. In our previous location I was called fairly often to do chores for neighbors. I've also milked not  animals not familiar to me until I latched on to their udders. If it is a horse or cow it can become exciting and needs to be done with skill and caution because of the potentially powerful kick that may follow. With goats, not so big a deal. There is a basic formula and the details the goat will let you know about in a hurry. One friend's goats let me know that were milked from the back while straddling the milk stand. For me pulling the udder backwards in this manner is awkward but who am I to argue. It just makes things more difficult and after all I'm only a brief visitor in their milking cycle.  Besides who wants goats that jump about and spill the milk?
    As for me, I preferred the traditional front facing backwards position. You can see I've been doing this for years and years as this was a long time ago in another location. Most of my goats have a preference for this method. In part because the person I occasionally buy goats from using the same traditional milking style. A word of warning, this works great for does fully trained to the milk stand BUT...

    But not so good with many new milkers which have a tendency not to keep their feet still. Flies, impatience, and being uncomfortable, all play into the their feet striking forward. Yup, right into the milk pail often ending up spilling the milk or standing in it. I can see you goat owners nodding your heads. We  have all experienced this. I've learned a few training tricks and milking positions that help prevent mishaps, enough for a whole other blog so you'll just have to wait in suspense. 

    You can see why the traditional method of milking is the number one of choice among most milkers. The teats are or should be positioned to drain straight down into the pail. 

    Yet, I do milk my does in varying positions at different times of the year and at different ages of the doe. During a heavy fly time of the year I put the pail behind the doe and milk into it so that when she kicks it is not liable to spill the milk. No matter what you do in a small operation it seems when fall peeks its head inside the door, the flies come biting with a vengeance. I train my does at a year old when they first freshen to stand in the middle of an open area - untethered - with just a little grain in a pan while I squat on the ground and milk. Most will even stand without the grain. Especially handy when you just want to fill a few baby bottles to feed kid. Warm from the tap is so much easier. And since I feed four times a day when the kids are newborn or especially small it saves time.  It also helps bring in the does milk much faster and at a greater rate of production. 

    That is if I don't leave the kids on their mother. Why I leave some kids on their mother and why I bottle feed others is another blog worthy post. 
    The third method is a modified version of the backwards facing position. I wrap my left arm around the goats right back leg and my right arm in between the legs. The bucket in the rear. This one is especially for Belle. Though I've modified many of her poor behavioral habits that she had when she arrived, this one is just not going away. She is the most bullheaded goat I've ever worked with. Not a high winding kick, just a low spasmodic kick, just enough to spill the milk. When she is especially bad, I tie the leg upward off the ground so she has to hold still or fall over. 

    Other times she gets a "Bell..e!" in a perfect rendition of the Disney step-sisters on Cinderella when they call her to come hither to prepare them for the ball. Hear it? To counteract this angering habit, the pail is in the rear but I'm facing backwards with my arms twined unusually through her legs. The only set back is you have to make sure and not bump her legs and cause a kick. I usually rest my left arm against her right leg, the one that kicks, which helps remind her not to kick and lowers the number of times that she does it. This girl will not stay for much longer.

    So.... which way do you milk? And why would be even more enlightening.