Thursday, January 23, 2014

Snow Days and Chickens

10:30 AM, Tuesday, January 21, 2014

11:30 AM, Tuesday, January 21, 2014

3:30 PM, Tuesday, January 21, 2014

8:00 AM, Wednesday, January 22, 2014
I'd forgotten an old New England fact during my years in Florida, salting the roads when the temps are in single digits doesn't work.  Well, it usually doesn't get that cold around here, so the road crews only have salt to work with, as a result we are now on our third day of no school due to six inches of snow.  I also hear that there might be burst pipes at some school or other weather related calamity.  Our road is clear, most in my area are pretty clear, but as long as some areas in the county are not cleared there will be no school.  My daughter is not complaining, she is over a friend's house sledding and then playing Wii. Her friend called to ask her to sleep over minutes after the robo-call came through announcing that there would be no school.  If they miss any more days then they will start losing days from their upcoming summer vacation.

Not coming out, nooooooooo waaaay!
The chickens are not amused with the snow.  In fact, it appears that Athena is quite out of sorts over it.  With the single digit temps causing them to spend their nights in the garage which isn't nearly as chilly as their coop, they have spent several nights in pet carriers.  In the morning, once the temps are in the double digits I bring them outside, feed and water them and leave them to do whatever chickens choose to do. A few minutes after I put them out she was on the back steps staring me down, seeming to demand that I bring her back into the garage. I stepped  out later when I saw that the coop door had blown closed and found Athena hunkered down in the pet carrier by the back door.  She was not about to put her toes into that snow!

She has a worried look about her.
The other three are running about the yard together, but she won't join them.  I put the water within her reach, so that she doesn't dehydrate.

I'm still ready for winter to end (I think Athena is with me on that one), but I get the feeling that this winter is far from done with us.  There are whispers of another storm on the way...I guess I have my seed and tree catalogs to entertain me in the meantime.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Plots and Plans

As usual, it is nearing mid-January and I am ready to be done with winter.  Yesterday, by some weather fluke, was in the mid-fifties and sunny.  I was driven to do something outdoors, but it is too soon to prune, the weather has been too wet to haul manure, it is too early and wet to I decided to yank out the honeysuckle that is smothering the azaleas. The honeysuckle really stands out with its evergreen leaves, so I set to it with the chickens at my sides eager to see what I was scratching up for them.

I pulled runners along the front, I crawled underneath the branches into a tunnel that has been maintained by children over the years, to reach what I call the mother nodes.  The mother nodes are the spots where the roots thicken and shoot out a zillion vines, usually what happens is I find it deep under the branches and tug with all of my weight and force until it gives and I suddenly find myself  under the bush in an undignified position.  I found a few, I know there are more.  The vines start in one spot and then travel 15-20 feet under the leaves and azalea branches to where they appear and start to climb and strangle its host.  There were vines criss-crossing the entire surface of the ground under those bushes.  I started thinking about chaos theory and all its applications as doing this.  I'd be on the north side of the bushes, tug on a vine and leaves on the southeast would bounce up and down with every tug.  The vine would also pull up several of the other vines that were above it in the tangle, popping them off their connection with their roots, which is why I am sure I missed some of the mother nodes.
Azaleas without honeysuckle vines. Yay!

A pile of honeysuckle vines

The entire process took about three hours.  I worked up a good sweat, felt the sun on my skin and now the azaleas can grow without being smothered and strangled.  It will take two or three more of these sessions to really beat the honeysuckle back, each one will be slightly easier than the one before.  I feel like I accomplished something!  It is sad that I really love honeysuckle, but it is so invasive that to have it I would have to sacrifice everything else.

 Before all the snow and cold there was one other somewhat mild day (sun was out, but it was in the thirties) when I hauled the stashed cardboard out of the garage and then made three trips to the horse farm to cover it, it needs one more manure load to be finished.  It will extend my sunny front garden another 10 feet or so. By my calculations, I have about 12-16 trips to the horse farm to complete before mid-April.
Front garden with manure and cardboard.
I'm hoping to minimize my use of the shady back garden this year, the front three or four feet get enough sun, but the sixteen feet behind that isn't all that great for vegetables.  I have a big bag of "Flowers for Shade" seed that I will try back there.

Roses will grow up this post.
I'm already looking forward to spring, plotting and planning what else to put in. In addition to the Kyung San Ban Si persimmon tree, two Chickasaw plums (Prunus Angustifolia, a native species) and three beach plums (Prunus Maritima) that I received from my husband for Christmas, we ordered more plants with a gift card. I will now need to plant two more tart cherry trees (pie cherries), some sand cherries (native species bushes) which will soon be our shrubs (we'll sell the boxwood and thuja on craigslist), everbearing strawberries, three Consort black currants, Joseph's Coat climbing roses for the front porch, seed potatoes  both Yukon Gold and Fingerling banana, and then horseradish.  Anyone available to come dig in late March or early April will be welcomed!
Consort Black Currant
Consort Black Currants
Joseph's Coat Rose

Chickasaw Plum
Kyung San Ban Si Persimmon

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bread and Serendipity

After Friday's demise of my bread machine I went on-line and priced new ones, finding that the new version of the one that just died seemed like a pretty good deal.   I went onto craigslist and ebay and found very little.  I decided to wait until I was near the store that had the bread machine in stock to skip the shipping fees, so I knew I had to wait until Friday of this week. 

Sunday, I checked the "free" listings on Craigslist, I've stumbled onto some very cool freebies over the years.  There it was.  A listing for a bread machine had been posted twenty minutes earlier and it was in the same bitty town in which I live.  I emailed that I wanted it and could pick it up as soon as I heard back from her.  Within two minutes she replied and I was rushing  to grab the machine before someone else got it.  As I neared the address I saw a couple in a pick up who were gesturing as if one was giving directions and the other drove hesitantly down the driveway of the house where the bread machine was located.  I turned into the driveway too, careful on the slick icy surface.  I pulled my car into the pull out on the side of the driveway and hopped out of the car.  The man in the truck asked if he had just parked in my space and I replied that I was just there to pick up the bread machine.  I was so happy when I saw a look of incomprehension on his face, he wasn't there to pick up the bread machine. The people in the house must have been doing a New Year's clean out, they were after something else.  We chatted for a second about scoring cool stuff on Craigslist and I scooped up the machine.  The man recognized me as one of his customers at a local fruit/vegetable and vegetable plant starts roadside stand, we laughed about it being a small world as I hugged the machine and worked my way back over the ice back to the car. I breathed deeply and laughed as I closed the car door, placing my precious on the floor on the passenger side, so it wouldn't tip over.

Once home I took a good look at the machine, downloaded its manual from the manufacturer's website and thought about its good and bad points. The pan had a trace of bread on it, but when washed the pan was completely unscratched, it had been used a couple times, at most. I was surprised at the chart of the cycles of the machine, they all seemed pretty short.  I think there was a race for marketers to make the bread maker with the shortest production time, great, except they hadn't consulted the yeast.  Yeast doesn't hurry.  So, I wasn't surprised when my first loaf did not rise as much as I would have wished. I have baked Sally Lunn loaves many, many times and this was the first one that was not spectacularly raised. I will probably use the whole wheat setting for my default on this machine, it has longer rise times, faster is not always better.  The next day I made pretzels, they were great and they weren't dependent on the machine for rise times. 

I decided to calculate the payoff time for my machine (Dad is no longer around to do it for me), it cost me five miles of driving to get the machine and five miles to arrive back home.  Ten miles, my car gets over 34 mpg and a gallon of gas is about $ rounding numbers a bit, the machine cost me about a dollar in gas.  The loaves of bread I buy are around $2.89.  It has paid for itself already.  If I do the Federal reimbursement rate it then cost me about $5.50, so considering I made 14 soft pretzels and a loaf of bread, even accounting for the ingredients, it has still paid for itself.

A very cool word, love the sound of it.

Friday, January 3, 2014

An Era Passing

An era in my life has passed.  After many years of dedicated service my bread machine kneaded its last loaf.  Eighteen years of mixing, kneading and baking peasant breads, pepper biscuits, Sally Lunns, challah, pizza dough and Pan de los Muertos it gave me and I shall remember it dearly.

I remember when I received it.  I was living in a little house out in the middle of the Salinas Valley in California.  One day the box appeared on my doorstep.  I wasn't expecting any package.  I hadn't ordered anything.  I was mystified by its appearance, until I opened it.

My mom had been singing the praises of home baked bread.  My dad thought she was crazy.  He did the calculations of how long it would take to pay off a machine by not having to buy bread and just rested his head in his hands and sighed.  That is, until he got hooked on freshly baked bread, and then he understood.

Now my mom was coming for a visit and she was not going to go two weeks without home baked bread.  The only issue I had with the machine initially was that no one else in the area was baking their own bread and the bread flour in the markets was so old that it was rancid.  One trip into the city fixed that and I was off!

That machine traveled all over the country with me, it crossed the nation to New England, it followed me to sticky Florida and then halfway back up the coast to DC Metro.

To be honest, the last couple of loaves weren't great, some of it was my fault, I was experimenting with wild yeast sourdoughs and it just wasn't working.  The monkey bread that I put in this morning was a pretty straightforward undemanding loaf, but a few minutes into the mix cycle I smelled the motor running too hot and noticed wisps of smoke rising from its vents.  Then I knew, it had come to its end.  The dough was completely unmixed and had to be mixed by hand.  I have spent the last couple of months trying to do a decent sourdough by hand (the loaves were very tasty, but like bricks), so I knew what had to be done to save the loaf.

Several hours later we mourned our old Black and Decker machine as we demolished the monkey bread (dinner will be very light this evening).


On another topic,  all four chickens laid eggs today, Ursula waded through the snow to get to her regular spot behind the bush, but the rest decided it was to cold for that and laid their eggs in the coop.
Paisley and Lucy fluffed up by the sand box.
Athena barely emerged from the coop all day.  Paisley and Lucy spent hours huddled together by the sandbox and Ursula the adventurer wandered about.
It is supposed to go down to 3 degrees tonight, the chickens have been given deluxe garage accommodations.