First Hike 2014

19Apr14_DSCF2378Not quite sure where we were, but we had out first hike of 2014 this past Saturday.

We were out exploring last Wednesday and found what looked like an interesting mountain to hike, so on Saturday we left early for the hike.  Like I mentioned, I have no idea what the mountain or area is called, I just know that it on either BLM or State land.  When I download my GPS data I will 19Apr14_DSCF2385look a bit closer at the map to get some names.  What caught our interest in this mountain was the color of the cliffs, which were a yellowish-green color. Looking closer we saw that is was some type of lichen that was only growing on these cliffs.

Anyway, the day of the hike was quite warm, starting out in the upper 40’s and getting up to the low 70’s with a nice cooling wind/breeze.  The hike up was steep but steady, climbing 1000 feet in about 0.65 miles.  The top of the ridge was approximately 5800 feet high, giving us a great view of the area surrounding us. 

Once we got to the top, it was a gentle 1.75 or so mile hike along the ridge to the end.  We could have continued on, and may come back for an extended hike in the future. But for now, we just want to do some short exploratory hikes first so see what each area surrounding us has to offer. 

One thing was we really enjoyed was the variety and abundance of wild flowers.  They were small, but very pretty.  I took quite a few pictures, but unfortunately, it was quite windy which made the flowers move, causing some very blurry pictures.  I am posting some of the less blurry ones, and hopefully will return with a better camera on a calmer day.

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I always find it amazing when I find a plant or tree growing where nothing else similar is growing.  This picture is of a tree attempting to grow on the very edge of the ridge.  There are no other trees growing within a mile of this one in the first picture.  We also have a picture of Micha and Misty on the ridge, and in the car the Wednesday prior as we were exploring the area.  Oh, if you Juneau people want to see what a real deer looks like, the last picture is for you!

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A Lot Complete–Much More to Go.

10Apr14_300_1775One of our many surprises with this property can be seen on the left.  This one of our many tulips that sprang to life this spring in one of our fields.  I am not sure how many tulips we actually have, but if you count the very small ones, I imagine the number is close to 40 or 50.  So far, we have orange, red, and white.  We also found a couple patches of beautiful blue Hyacinths.  If you split all of the Hyacinths they could number close to 75 or more.  We are in the process of10Apr14_DSC_1791 transferring the tulips and Hyacinths from their present locations to new patches that will be out of the way of the rototiller and mower.   I did not post pictures of the Hyacinths as it was very windy when I was taking pictures and they really did not turn out well.  Soon though.

We also knew that there  were several old and un-cared for grape vines on the property.  They were left to fend for themselves, and were basically a mess.  Two of them are too large to dig up and move, so I will build a trellis for them.  I dug up 4 and transplanted them to a new grape/berry garden that I am developing.  I have an additional 8 Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 or 6 table grape plants coming.  Additionally, two more apple and 2 Asian pear trees, and 6 berry plants are one the way.  This will give us 16-plus fruit trees, 19 or so grape vines, one almond tree, and at least 15 various berry vines. 

As I posted earlier, the fruit trees in the orchards are starting to bloom, and so are some of our trees.  On the 10Apr14_300_1764left is one of out very old plum trees blossom.  The trees has to be at least 35 years old, if not older, and not really doing that good.  To try to help it become healthier, we pruned it and cleared the surrounding area.  I will feed it later in the season.  I dug up one of this trees “children”, which sprouted from an injured root area and transplanted it to the (proposed) herb garden.  I am not sure if it is going to live, but I wanted to try as it was either transplant it or cut it down.

We also have an old almond tree that is simply beautiful in bloom.  If you have 10Apr14_300_1768never seen an almond blossom, the image on the right if for you!  We had almonds last year, but were really not sure what they were at first.  Since we now know what type of tree it is, and how beautiful it is, we will do what we can to help it continue to grow, but like most of the trees and plants on the property, it was not really well looked after.

While this is a desert, it does rain quite a bit in the spring.  What does rain bring?  Weeds.  Lots of weeds.  The image on the left is of the neighbors field of weeds – 10Apr14_300_1773blue mustard.  We have blue mustard, yellow mustard, cheat grass, annual rye grass, and a few others that were identified by the Marsing Cooperative Extension Service – very helpful folks.  For out fields, I attached the sickle bar mower to my BCS 852, and three very tiring hours later, we had a nice, neat field. 

For the past month, we have been putting in 8 – 10 hour days in the field, building coops, fences, and garden beds, as well and maintaining and modifying the lawn and house garden area.  Finally, the major work is done and we can start to cut down a bit.  Today, it was only a 5 hour day, putting the final touches on the coop, fence, and transplanting a few vines. The below pictures are of the finished fence, and coop – complete with chickens!  There were 13 chickens in the coop since last night.  I opened the door this afternoon, and 7 figured out how to fly down to the grass – I am going to check in a few minutes to see how many figured out how to make it back inside, as it is getting dark.

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It is now time to take a bit of a rest (until Saturday when I start completing the irrigation plan for and various gardens and start on the herb garden, which is a 30 foot diameter circle garden, and maybe find some time in the next 5 days to do my taxes – maybe!

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Sunrise With Morning Coffee.

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Tree Planting Complete

27March2014_300_1736Misty painted the chicken coop door – it looks very nice! 

We had a fairly intense wind and rain storm last night, and I was curious to see whether or not the coop would leak.  When I checked for leaks this morning I was pleased to see that there were no leaks and no wind damage.  Two weeks until the chickens go outside.

I planted the trees yesterday, and am fairly happy with the placement. I also dug up an small plum tree that was growing off one of the main trees roots, and transplanted it to what will become an herb garden.  I have doubts that it will survive or ever produce fruit, but I was going to dig it up anyway and figured I would give it a chance to live.  I took a few pictures of the trees that I planted and they are below.

The first picture is looking South towards the front of the property the next picture is looking West towards the house:

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We are also doing quite a bit of lawn and house maintenance in preparation for Spring and Summer.  One of the things is that we are try to to is to provide a cleaner look to the front of the house, so Micha is doing a bit of landscaping in the front of the lawn by the driveway.  Hopefully, this will help us not use as much poison to prevent weeds, and will also provide a nice place to plant our 10 new lavender plants. 

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In some fun news – we went to the DMV to apply for our concealed weapons permits, as we completed the legal and shooting portions in February.  The DMV was quite crowded, and they have a ticketing system that prints numbers for the cue that you are waiting for.  For us, of course, it was the concealed weapons cue.  What was interesting is that the cue for weapons permits was also the cue for those registering as sex offenders.  Apparently, a separate (additional) button on the ticket machine is $10,000.  As usual with Idaho it seems, the people at the DMV were very helpful and nice, and we were out of the office quickly.

Oh – and this is what I get to see when I am working outside – either sunshine or beautiful clouds:

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Finished the Coop!

24March2014_DSC1734Spring is here, and flowers are everywhere. Our daffodils are blooming, and the tulips are all up and should bloom shortly.  Better yet, the orchard trees are also starting to bloom.

Down the street a bit is an apricot orchard that is in bloom.  From the house the orchard, and several other apricot orchards that are in bloom, looks like a white carpet, so we decided to stop by and take a couple of pictures.  It seems that apricot trees are the first to bloom, with the others, including peach, pear, apple, cherry, and plum, following shortly after.  I am interested to see the pink apple blossoms as well as out two old and large crab apples. 

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So, the chicken coop is finally complete!  We finished painting it today, and I put the roofing on the nest boxes.  While I say it is complete, I actually have a few minor items left to do in the interior of the coop.  I want to 24March2014_DSC1725temporarily block the nest boxes so the chicks do not think it a good place to sleep and then lay eggs elsewhere, and there are a few small weatherproofing, bug proofing, and trim items to take care of.  I will be putting the chicks outside in two and a half weeks, so I have time to spare in completing the remaining tasks.

While I really do not enjoy building things, building the coop was often enjoyable due to the beautiful weather last week, it was in the upper 50’s and sunny, and the wonderful scenery that surrounds the property.  Today while painting, it was in the low 60’s and again, beautiful.  Also, I am extremely satisfied with the coop itself.  It should provide the chickens a good home where they can lay a lot of eggs for us and maybe a bit of soup or a nice BBQ dinner…..

As you may be able to see, the chicks are growing fast.  I am thinking of moving them to the studio in the shed, as they are very dusty in the garage.  As they loose their baby feathers, the feathers, in the form of dust and fuzz, to everywhere, and the garage is a mess. 

Next on the agenda is a fence for the chickens and the lambs that I will be getting in the next few weeks.  I have decided to raise sheep for meat, as they will have enough food in the pasture I am developing to not need much, if any, additional feed.  Also, in the next few days I will be planting 6 apple,  1 nectarine, 1 peach, 2 sweet and 1 sour cherry, 1 plum tree, a boysenberry and raspberry bush, transplanting three or four old grape vines, planting 10 new grape vines, rototilling all three garden areas, finding and developing an area to grow hops, helping Misty develop an herb garden, putting in an irrigation system for the trees, bushes, vines, garden areas, and who knows what else.  This does not include performing spring maintenance on over 15,000 sq. ft. of a very resource wasteful, but nice, lawn.  All hard work, but all extremely enjoyable to do.

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Almost Spring Update.

DSC_0011Spring (almost) seems to be here, with daffodils blooming, tulips getting ready to bloom, trees starting to leaf out, and green appearing everywhere.  With Spring comes all of the chores and projects that need to be done, meaning it is becoming very busy around the home.

First, the chickens.  We now have 13 chicks growing in the garage.  They hatched the last day of February to about mid-first week in March.  They are growing quite well, and will be put outside at the end of this month. The chick brooder is a very large plastic water trough for cattle that came with the property.  I installed a heat lamp as well as a Brinsea brooder which the chicks like to hide under.  I topped the brooder with wire to keep the cats out, and put a pallet on top of the wire.  The pallet provides a nice viewing platform for the cats.Spring2014_DSCF2336

I am nearing completion of work on the chicken coop.  I initially started the coop in the Fall, but I was unsure of what type of coop I wanted.  I knew that I needed an 8’ X 4’ (32 sq. ft.) coop, but could not decide between a tall or short coop, or if I wanted it on or off the ground.  I still did not know what I wanted last week, so I decided to simply start building and see what developed. 

As you can see from the below images, I choose (finally) to build a short coop that was off the ground.  The coop walls are 4 feet tall and the coop sits 2 feet off the ground.  I decided to build an elevated coop as it will be easier to clean and easier to collect eggs.  The coop is based on a set of plans that I modified a bit to better suit my needs and materials that I had on hand.  The coop if based on “The Daisy” coop by cleancoops.com.  I am vary satisfied with the quality of the plans, though I did find some of the instructions a bit unclear in a couple of sections, but nothing at all major.  Basically, a 4.85 out of 5, and a set of plans that I would very highly recommend to anyone wanting a spacious, strong, and if you know how to do woodwork, very attractive coop.

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As you can see, I build the walls and then attached them to the coop floor.  This was easier for me than building directly on the floor, as the shed floor provided a level base to cut and nail as well as a warmer, less windy spot to build.  All of the parts fit together well, and as the last image shows, the coop is almost done.  Hopefully, it will be done prior to the weekend and we can paint and decorate.  We are having a wind storm with up to 50 MPH gusts, and so far the coop has not tipped over or fallen apart, so I guess I did a pretty good job putting it together. 

In other news, I planted vegetable seeds last week, and the cabbage are already sprouting.  Not many seeds as compared to previous years, but still about 150 starts.  All vegetable seeds for this years garden, with one exception, are heirloom seeds.  I am also finalizing plans for the garden and will post a plan as soon as it is finalized.  Planning over 5,000 sq. ft. is not as easy as I expected, especially now that I also have to determine how to irrigate the garden.  there are also 7 fruit trees in the driveway ready to plant – 3 apple, one nectarine, and three cherry.  Still have two apple, two chestnut, and a peach to buy. 

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Summer Sausage–Part II

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The sausage is done!

This was a long smoke, but it seems well worth the effort.  First, a couple of comments about things to do differently next time. 

As mentioned in Summer Sausage – Part I, the sausage was too long.  This caused the sausage to be positioned hanging by the sides of the smoker, which may be cooler than the center.  So, shorter sausages in the future.  I also need to pack the sausage a bit tighter and pay more attention to air pockets.  There were a few fat pockets that formed due to light packing and air pockets.  Have more cold beer ready on smoking days – had to put some in the freezer to get it ready to drink.  And finally, take more pictures of the final product.

Now, for the good.

The sausage is great.  Perfectly formed, perfectly spiced, consistent color, texture, and taste throughout all of the sausages.  I tasted a sample from each sausage as I packaged them, and all were the same.  While I am not sure if this is the absolute best Summer Sausage I have ever had, it is certainly one of the top two, and I know every ingredient that went in these sausages, so I feel good eating them.

When I make this sausage again, I may change the spices a bit for half of the batch.  I would like to add more red pepper flakes, more garlic, and more whole and cracked pepper.  I may also add some buttermilk, which I forgot to do this time, to give the sausage a bit of a tang.

Also, the A-Maze-N Smoker worked great and produced about 5 – 6 hours of light smoke that flavored the sausage quite well.  If I use it to make something that requires heavier smoke, I will simply light it from both ends. 

ETA:  The yield was:  10.65 pounds

The below of a picture of the final product as I was getting ready to vacuum pack and freeze:

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Chicken Eggs–Hatching in 22 Days!

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Just received a batch of 25 hatching eggs including the below chicken types:

Easter Egger
French BBS Copper Marans
Swedish Flower Hen
Speckled Sussex
Blue, Black, Splash Laced Red Wyandotte
Lemon Cuckoo Orpington

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Summer Sausage–Part I

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One of the reasons we purchased a side of beef and a whole pig was to make various types of sausage, especially Summer and Polish Sausage. One of the things that has delayed the process was the lack of some of the ingredients and a way to smoke in my new smoker.

The problem with the new smoker is that it is not possible to cold smoke, or smoke at low temperatures. However, I found a product that will allow me to cold smoke so I purchased it.  The new smoker item is the A-Maze-N smoker, pictured05Feb14_Sausage_DSCF2282 below right, which is simply a 6 X 6 inch metal maze that you fill with the sawdust of your choice, light, and place in your smoker.  At this time, it is burning away and seems to be working, but we will see how good it smokes when we taste the sausage.    I also purchased all of the ingredients I was missing, so at this time we are now in the process of making Summer Sausage.

The recipe for this sausage is a combination of recipes on the Internet in order to get the salt and nitrates correct, and added ingredients that I thought would be good in Summer Sausage. 

Recipe Summer Sausage:01Feb14_Sausage_DSCF2263

Total Weight: 10 pounds

Ingredients:

6.5 pounds lean beef
3.5 pounds  pork butt

2 teaspoons Prague Powder #1
2 cups Soy Protein Isolate
6 Tablespoons Corn Syrup Solids 
1 Tablespoon Whole Peppercorns 
1 Tablespoon Cracked Peppercorns 
1 Tablespoon Cracked Mustard Seeds 
1 teaspoon Ground Coriander Seed 
4 teaspoons Minced Garlic
1 teaspoon Onion Powder

Smoke:

3 rows Hickory
1 row Apple

Casings:

2.5 X 24 inch fibrous

The process was pretty simple since the meat was already ground for me.  I mixed the spices, mixed the spices into the meat, let cure for 24 hours, soaked the casings in 90 degree water for 30 minutes, stuffed the casings, let those sit overnight, and place in the smoker.

05Feb14_Sausage_DSCF2269However, one of the things I needed to find out is if my recipe tasted good, and if I needed to add anything else.  To determine this, Misty fried a sample and we sampled it.  Basically, it was great.  This recipe would be wonderful as a breakfast sausage, and I am very hopeful that the smoking process will add a high level of complexity to this recipe. 

At 0615 I started preheating the smoker to 130 degrees.  At 0815 I placed05Feb14_Sausage_DSCF2285 the sausage in the smoker for one hour, then slowly raised the pit temperature to 150 degrees.  At 3:15 I raised the pit to 160 degrees, and at 4:15 to 170 degrees.  At this time, 5:33, the internal sausage temperature is 139 degrees.  So far, all is on track for a good smoke.

I did manage to make a couple of mistakes in this process.  As you can see from the image on the right, the sausage is a bit too long.  It seems my measuring foo is very weak these days.  I thought that a 16 inch sausage would fit perfectly in the smoker, taking into consideration the ends and the hanging string (I am sure there is a real name for that).  However, in the future I will do 12 inch sausage because these are simply long.  One of the issues is that they will not be colored evenly, which should not affect anything but the appearance of the sausage. 

Also, I really need a sausage stuffer.  While my Kitchen Aid worked well, it blocked some of the peppercorns and changed the consistency of the meat, especially the fat.  But overall, I am pleased so far. 

I will post Part II of this tomorrow, after we remove from the smoker, cool, and taste.  But, in the mean time, here are a few more pictures from the process:

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Sunset–01 February 2014

A view from the back deck on the 1st of February.

 

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