Friday, December 21, 2012

Doomsday

Alright, I admit it... I was a little anxious about today. I've grown up hearing about the Mayan Calendar and its ending on December 21, 2012. Of course, over the last ten years or so, other people have jumped on the bandwagon by predicting the end of the world at the hands of alien invaders, returning Gods, alignments with the centre of the Universe, and even the coming of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

When you have all these thoughts, ideas, and predictions embedded in your subconscious mind it is hard to not be a little anxious. I didn't know what to expect when I woke up this morning. I just knew there was the possibility of something extraordinary happening. And, you know what? Something did happen.

The sun came up, the clouds moved in, the wind blew around the house making it creak, and it snowed. Well, snowed then rained, then snowed again. By the end of the day it was raining again. It is the first real moisture we have had since October and more than we normally get in December. It is also much warmer than usual for this time of year.

Unfortunately, that means the carrots, garlic, and onions I left in the garden are going to rot instead of hibernate. It's to bad really. There is nothing more satisfying than going out into the garden on the first warm day of the year and pulling fresh root vegetables. I like to tease my friends, and then share my harvest with them. Not so this year.

But, all is not lost. With the warmer than average temperatures it may be possible I will get my seeds into the garden earlier than expected. As long as the seeds grow instead of drown then I will still get an earlier than normal harvest to share with my friends and neighbours. Maybe I'll get a good harvest of peas, kale, and lettuce out of the garden before most people even think to plant their seeds. We can hope, and keep our fingers crossed.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

First Snow and A Correction to the Salsa Recipe

We are getting our first snow today. The air has been warm, so the ground has been warming up again, meaning the snow will not stick but it has been coming down in waves of heavy and light since morning. November has been very dry this year, this snow being the first precipitation we have gotten all month. I hope December's weather is more normal though I expect it to be quite wet as the temperatures have been getting above 0º C every day so far.

I also wanted to add a correction to the salsa recipe I posted last. The 1/2 cp of garlic powder should be 1/2 cp of minced garlic OR 2 Tablespoons of garlic powder. The salsa tasted great freshly made but after sitting in the jars for a month the garlic taste over powers everything else in the jar. It will still make a good topping for chicken since the garlic will diffuse into the chicken as it cooks. You just may find it to strong as a chip salsa.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

End of Garden Goodness

I don't know how often this happens to anyone else, but every year I get a huge number of tomatoes after the first frost. Most of them are so green they are white, some of them are just starting to turn pink, and some of them are half and half. Many people look at that, shrug, and turn the whole thing under.

Rather than getting depressed and throwing away all these tomatoes I do the next best thing, I make salsa verde. It is the easiest thing in the world to make and even better it can be pressure sealed into jars for fresh salsa year round. The more tomatoes you get that are on the verge of ripening the better the salsa is.

Fresh Salsa Verde
15-20 lbs of green and partial green tomatoes diced
2 cps lime juice
1 cp dried cilantro
1/2 cp garlic powder
2 tspn of Cumi
2 Tbsn of Black Pepper
2 - 3 Tbspn of course salt
1 Tbsp pepper flakes or 5 fresh jalepeno

Place all ingredients into a large stainless steel pot and bring to a simmer.
While heating the salsa, wash and sterilize in boiling water 12 500ml jars, rings, and lids.
When the jars are ready, fill them with the hot salsa mix, wipe the rims, and add lids and ring.
Tighten each jar lid add to the boiling water of the canner, stacking them if need be, seal the canner and pressure seal the jars for 30 mins at 5lbs.

This is a tasty salsa and is not only good with chips, it can be used as a topping for chicken as well. As always follow the directions on the pressure canner.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Fall

Fall is here, and with it the chores. The garden hasn't produced for a few weeks now so it is time to pull all the plats and get the beds ready for next spring. Wood needs to be stacked and covered, made ready for the winter snows. The leaves from the chestnut trees have to be raked and tossed into the compost bin. And the chicken coop needs to be cleaned and readied for winter.

Besides the normal chores I also have several pieces to get sewn. These are commission pieces, part of my ever growing home based business. The Etsy part of my business is still slow, but locally I have been able to pick up several commissions for SCA fighting garb. I've also picked up a couple of non-fabric related commissions as well. A custom carved hair stick from apple wood and a wood and metal hairstick, which I haven't completed yet.

Besides my home based business I have also taken up the Scribal Arts in the SCA. I have created three or four scrolls, illumination only, and one of them was given to a person in Atlantia Kingdom. It is gratifying to know that a piece of art I created was appreciated by a group of people so far away. I've only been making scrolls for a few months so having one shared so soon into my practice is awesome.

So as usual I am keeping myself busy. Insanely so it seems, but in my case busy is a good thing. And, the fact that I am helping to pay the bills with my sewing just makes me that much happier. If I can keep it up I will actually be able to start saving some money to go towards buying us a small farm somewhere.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Another Weekend...

Another weekend, another batch of spaghetti sauce. We had enough tomatoes to do the sauce last weekend but we were busy attending an event on Saturday. Spaghetti sauce takes two days, one day to cook and another to can.

The last batch I canned in one litre jars, for those days when we have guests. This week I canned eleven 500ml jars just for PeterC and I. Maybe it was because I was hungry while I was canning but I think this batch of spaghetti sauce is going to be much tastier than my last batch.

I never make the same recipe twice. Spaghetti sauce is made using what ingredients I have on hand at the time. The only consistency is the tomatoes, the fresher the better. This weeks batch of sauce had onions, celery, garlic, a can of mushrooms, a cup of dried forest mushrooms, and dried spices. Compare it to last weeks which had onions, three cans of mushroom pieces, bacon, carrots, fresh basil, and dried spices.


I can't wait to pop a jar, add some hamburger meat, some more garlic, and serve over angle hair or spaghetti noodles with lots of shredded Parmesan cheese. Almost makes me wish I hadn't canned it all and saved some for supper tonight.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Canning Season Begins

Canning season is finally here. The cauliflower, onions, garlic, and kohlrabi haven't done very well this year but to tomatoes sure have. We've had enough tomatoes to give some away and do three batches of canning.

Last weekend we made spaghetti sauce with no meat. It is a long process because you have to run the tomatoes through a food mill to remove the skin and seeds, then put all the ingredients into a pot and cook it down until it is thick. After it was all cooked down we only managed to get 4 litres of spaghetti sauce.

This weekend we opted for something simpler. We did one batch of 7 litres of canned tomatoes. All you have to do to them is blanch them to get the skins off, put them in the jars, add salt and boiling water to cover, and process. The second batch this weekend were flavoured tomatoes. Not really stewed, as that requires some cooking, but canned as above only with a handful of fresh herbs and a chopped pepper or two.

At the rate the tomatoes are coming in we'll be doing canning every weekend until they finally stop producing. I think that is great! This is the first year we have had a decent tomato harvest from our garden. As you know homegrown vegetable, especially tomotoes taste second to none.


Friday, August 03, 2012

Behind Schedule

I know I've been rather lax in keeping my updates going these last couple of months. As it turns out I've been pretty busy with SCA stuff and my home business. I've not had several sewing jobs for other people in the SCA as well as a couple of simple wood carving commissions. But, it all takes time which is why I am a couple of weeks behind schedule here.

In my last post I was complaining about the lack of sale on Etsy. Well, the Gods of Commerce must have heard my wailing and gnashing of teeth because I made five sales in July. I haven't gone back and checked nut I am pretty sure that is a record number of sales for me on Etsy. You add in the SCA sales and I did really great business in July.

The rest of my life is still plugging along. We are still suffering drought conditions and we have been keeping the garden watered. Luckily, being diligent with the water has been working well for the tomatoes and cauliflower. From the looks of things I'll be canning tomatoes in late August, though not as many as I had hoped.

Even though I purchased my well labelled tomato seedlings from the nursery I ended up with two cherry tomato plants, one roma tomato plant, one beefsteak, and one pink lady. The other three have so far remained unidentified. The beefsteaks and the cherry tomatoes are the most prolific in the garden this year. The beefsteaks are mostly for eating on Bacon Lettuce and Tomato sandwiches since I find they are not juicy enough for canned tomatoes and take to long to cook down for sauce.

The cherry tomatoes? I've been getting a pint every other day and so far they haven't been lasting all that long. I've been eating them like grapes. Seriously. They are a fruit and home grown cherry tomatoes are so much sweeter and juicier than store bought ones, so it has been easy to keep up with the harvest so far. Eventually though the harvest will get big enough that I will have to start begging the neighbours and friends to take some off my hands.

Until then I will keep watering, picking, and eating as much of my harvest as I can.In fact, I think I'm going to pull some bacon out of the freezer. BLT's for lunch tomorrow, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, well you get the idea.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Drought

We have definitely been in drought conditions this last month. In the last 30 days we have been lucky to get 1 or 2 cm of rain in total. The ground is powder dry and the plants are suffering. Not just the garden, though it is suffering severely, but the flowers, grass, and even the trees are wilted and unhappy.

To keep the garden from dying outright we've been watering every day. It has made a difference. The onions and cauliflower that were dormant have now started growing again. The Kohlrabi which had started to wilt is turning green and the root ball is growing again. The tomatoes are blooming and several of the plants are covered in small fruit.

The flower beds have been dry too, but being less important than the vegetable garden I only water them once a week. The herb bed ranks up there with the flower beds so it has only been getting water once a week. The only problem with this schedule is that the blueberry plants are in the upper tier of the herb bed. Blueberries need a lot of water to thrive and put out flowers, which means they are living but not really growing and definitely not putting out any fruit.

I'm hoping August is wetter than June and July have been. If we have to continue watering like this the water bill is going to be far larger than the benefits from the vegetable garden. As it stands I have not gotten much out of the garden yet, but I am crossing my fingers that we get lots of tomatoes and onions even with the drought conditions.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Busy Month

This has been a very busy month so far. Thankfully it is almost over and with luck July and August will be a little less busy.

We've actually been extremely busy since we joined the SCA, but the summer months are always even more so. During a normal week we spend two days doing SCA related stuff. Armour Repair and Arts & Science on Mondays and Fight Practice on Thursdays. One week a month we also have Scribal Arts and the Canton Business Meeting. That is just the Winter schedule.

In the Summer months we also have events and demos to attend each weekend. This year I also set up a merchant booth at the two local events. I spent a great deal of my spare time making spoons, drop spindles, lucets, and nalbinding needles to sell at my booth. I also helped organize our annual Summer Seige, which required a lot of my extra time. It was worth it though.

My ETSY shop has been very slow and barely paying for the monthly fees to maintain it. The merchant booths brought in quite a large sum over the last two months, which will help keep my ETSY store open a few more months. I've also been doing sewing commissions for our local fight group, which has started to expand a little into the next Canton over, so that also helps with the income. But, as with all things it takes time.

The next couple of months look like they will be a little slower. We still have our normal schedules but the events are mostly to far away for us to attend. That gives us some breathing time on the weekends, though we do still have one demo and one event we have already agreed to attend. I've also been asked to teach carving at an event in Northern Outpost, our unofficial southern cousins in Potsdam, New York.

Other than that, it looks like we will be able to take some time to ourselves. Peter will be spending time with the horses, I will be spending time working in the garden and with luck canning tomatoes. Did I say we will be less busy? I guess I just meant less busy with the SCA.



Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Blessed Weather

We are finally back to somewhat normal temperatures here. Highs in the lower 20º C range and lows getting down to the middle teens at night. Makes life a lot more comfortable for me and the kohlrabi and cauliflower. Unfortunately, it is to late for the radishes.

Radishes are cool weather plants. As soon as it starts getting hot they stop putting their energy into making yummy root balls. Instead they put their energy into making leaves and seeds, which are inedible. The heat wave in May made the radishes grow tall, leafy, and start flowering. Now they are getting culled from the garden, which seems to be making the chickens incredibly happy.

Speaking of chickens we had another one become egg bound. That means the egg broke inside her and caused all kinds of nasty stuff to build up. Once this happens there is nothing you can do for a chicken, as most vets will not see chickens. Egg bound is a death sentence for birds and is a slow and very painful death. Instead, we took the humane route and put her out of her misery before the infection could get really bad and make her hurt.

The squash seeds we planted have not sprouted. The seeds were left over from a previous years planting, so fewer sprouts were expected, so we over seeded the hills. We have had no sprouts. That would suggest the seeds were old when we got them or possibly even hybrids designed to prevent seed saving from year to year.

Regardless of the reason for no sprouting, the end result is that we have to buy new squash seeds and replant. Normally I would not be overly worried about this, but around here the stores have a tendency to run out of the good seeds early and not restock. So, if I can not find Yellow Crookneck Squash anywhere I have to find another type of summer squash for the garden.

Maybe I can find some Pattypan Squash. The meat is not as tender or as flavourful as crookneck squash but the pattypan are usually very prolific growers. I like having very prolific producers in the garden so that we have enough for us to eat when we want but we can exchange with other gardeners for vegetables we didn't grow. Gives you twice the garden for half the space and work if you can find other gardeners willing to do an exchange like that.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Summer Heat

The weather has once again gone from cool to hot. Not just hot but really freaking hot. My hopes for getting radishes were dashed with the heat, and I fear my chances of getting decent kohlrabi as slim as well.

Radishes and all members of the brassica family; such as kohlrabi, cauliflower, and cabbage, are considered cool weather crops. Generally considered great crops for Canada due to the cooler air temperatures and lots of sun.

Unfortunately, over the last few years the summer temperatures have been getting hotter and more humid. The summer thunderstorms that used to keep our water tables full, our gardens watered, and worked to keep the daytime temperatures a little cooler have all but disappeared. Instead we get a few showers, just enough to wet the ground and raise the humidity, early in the day followed by a hot sun that cooks the plants in the ground.

Besides not being enough water to do the plants any good, the excess of humidity in the air encourages blight and mold to set in further damaging the chances of a good harvest. Once blight gets into your garden you are in the deep end. Without a long, hard freeze to kills the disease in the ground, blight will come back year after year to destroy your crops. The only thing you can do then is not plant the affected crop again.

So once again climate change raises its ugly head to make it harder to be self sufficient and to feed ourselves at home. Whether a natural cycle, a man made disaster, or a combination of the two Climate Change is bad for the home gardener and must be making it hard for the farmers to get decent crops. In the end it means food prices are going to go higher and we will be forced to eat more food imported into Canada rather than grown in our own back yards.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Companion Planting

Several years ago I purchased a book called "Carrots Love Tomatoes" that discussed companion planting.  I have been practising companion planting since then and I can honestly say that carrots really do love being planted near tomatoes.With the guide to companion planting ever handy I proceeded to plant my late spring and early summer crops last Sunday.

The one good weekend we got to build the beds was followed by several cool and wet weekends, and week days. You never plant your garden in the rain, especially not a cold rain. So when last Saturday dawned clear and bright I was hopeful of getting into the garden. When the day continued to get warmer I proceeded to the nursery to purchase tomato and herb plants.

Sunday was even more beautiful so we filled the garden beds with 2 parts soil to 1 part compost and black earth mix. Once the soil was mixed as evenly as we could we levelled the soil and planted the tomatoes, 4 plants to each bed. We ended up with 2 Big Beef variety, 2 Early Girl variety, 2 Early Boy variety, and 2 Roma variety. I had hoped that my attempt at growing Roma tomatoes from seed would be more successful, so I was very relieved to find Roma tomato plants at the nursery.

Out came my trusty companion planting guide and my bag of left over seeds from previous years gardens. I knew tomatoes and carrots were a good mix but I didn't want carrots again this year. Luckily I did have some onion seeds and some nasturtium seeds. Unfortunately not enough to plant the two beds. In the end I ended up with a row of onions and chives, a row of nasturtiums, and two rows of carrots.

This is the first time planting onions and chives with tomatoes so it will be interesting to see how well they companion together. It will be nice if the onions discourage bugs, like tomato moths, from laying eggs and eating my tomatoes. I know that is what carrots due, they discourage flying insects from laying eggs on the tomato plants. In turn the tomato leaves discourage carrot flies.

I also planted some kohlrabi and cauliflower plants. The seeds are supposed to be planted early in spring but only if the soil is not to wet. Since we had a wet last few weeks I am hoping the plants will do better, and not rot in the ground like the seeds did. The book said these plants were best planted with onions, so the kohlrabi went in with my shallots and multiplier onions, planted earlier this spring.

The cauliflower went into the bed with a couple of hills of squash, and more onion sets. If all the onions I planted this year come up I will be swimming in onions this fall. Luckily we eat a lot of onions, especially baby onions, in our daily meals. Any that make it to fall will be allowed to dry on the outside and stored for next winters use.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

New Garden Beds

We manage to get one warm, dry day last week and PeterC and I took advantage of the day. We ordered in some 2 x 12 boards, some soil, and some compost. The order didn't arrive until later in the day so we spent most of the day raking leaves and cleaning up the yard after yet another wind storm. I also managed to get my kohlrabi seed planted in the bed with my onions.

Once the order arrived, we pulled out the tools and started building. We managed to get all the beds built and the existing soil turned and piled into the centre. We ran out of time so we didn't get any of the new soil or compost added to the beds that day. Or any day since.

Since that one warm day last week, the weather has been very wet and windy. Today is mice and sunny but the air is cold. To cold to be working in the garden. So instead I am spending the afternoon replanting the few Roma tomato seeds that have sprouted, and hoping they will do well enough in larger containers until I can plant them outside.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Garden Blues

As I suspected, April decided to return to slightly below average temperatures and weather. Luckily, I was prepared for that in the garden. The crops I planted didn't really suffer for the cold temperatures. The radishes, which were about a 1/4 inch high just tucked themselves up for the cold and waited it out.

The tomatoes seeds I planted didn't fair as well, even though they were indoors. They grew very spindly and then the cats figured out how to get the lid off the seedling tray and ate most of the long skinny shoots. I've moved them to a new area but I think it was to little to late. So, I will be buying plants from the nursery again this year. Hopefully I will get healthy plants with no blight in the soil and will get a decent crop later in the year.

Because the weather turned cold again we have yet to get the old beds rebuilt. Each time we think we will get a good clear weekend the clouds move in, the showers start falling, and the wind turns cool. With any luck the beds will be rebuilt and ready to plant by May 24th, the traditional planting day for this area. If not then we may be planting into hills instead of raised beds again this year.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Early Bird - 2012 Garden

Monday was a glorious day and I just had to get outside and play in the dirt. I didn't have any plans, I just wanted to get my hands in the soil. I decided to clean up and hoe the soil in the two newer, and only raised, beds I have.

While cleaning out the first bed I found garlic. When I first found them I assumed they were a chestnut sprout and pulled for all I was worth. Up popped a cluster of lovely and very pungent garlic cloves. I quickly transplanted them back into the soil, in a nice row, with the hopes that they will continue to grow and give me lots of fresh garlic for pasta later this year.

I also found a couple of shallots left over from last year's planting. They were already sprouting so I left them alone. But, the planting bug had been awakened and I just had to plant something. It didn't matter that there is a good likelihood of another snow fall and possibly even another killing frost over the next few weeks. Planting, in the garden, had to happen.

I say in the garden because I had already started 30 Roma tomato seeds indoors last week. It made me feel a little better when I planted them but amounted to nothing when the bug struck on Monday. So I pulled out my seed saver and looked through all my seeds left over from past years gardens.

I found several variety of green peas and a packet of radishes. Both cool weather plants that have to be planted as soon as the soil is warm enough to till. I made nice little rows in the bed with the garlic and the shallots and planted the peas, after verifying that peas, onions, and garlic could be planted together.

The other bed was another story. I turned the soil and pulled all the weeds out. No nice neat rows for this bed. I just scattered the radish seeds over the entire bed. It was a full packet of seeds so I got quite a bit of coverage. Then I brushed the soil over the bed, patted it down, and called it done. If every seed sprouts and becomes a radish we will have a fair selection to eat and barter with in about 3 weeks.

My gardening bug has not been sated by this early rush to plant. If anything it is stronger than ever. I can't wait to rebuild my other beds into proper raised beds, with 12 inch sides. I can't wait to add compost to the soil and turn it in. I can't wait to buy a few tubs of earthworms and add them to each garden bed. I can't wait to plant more bulbs, seeds, and plants. Shallots and Summer Squash, and Roma Tomatoes, OH My!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Spring? Maybe!

The weather here has been up and down for weeks now. Cold one day and warm the next. Wintery and grey most days, but summery on some days. It has made it hard to acclimatize, and I have spent more than my fair share of days huddled up inside my personal space.

Yesterday was no different but it was fight practise night so we had to go outside whether we wanted to or not. The air was very warm but it was raining. Not just a light shower either. It was raining hard enough that we were soaked in the short walk from the house to the truck.

With the rain most of the snow was melted and we noticed the first hint of spring. The daffodils, in the bed next the foundation of the house, were sprouting. Their little green shoots with yellow tips were sticking out from the soggy, cold soil at least 2 inches. The birds were also singing for all they were worth as we trudged through the rain. By the time were were ready to come home the rain had turned into a hard blowing snow.

While Mother Nature was gleefully covering all the freshly uncovered grass and dirt, she could not hide the fact that Yes, Spring is here. Soon my crocuses and daffodils will be growing and blooming, the chickens will be venturing further from their covered yard, and the birds will be busy building nests and raising the first of many clutches of babies. Soon enough I'll be hiding inside from the heat but until then I'll be enjoying the ever warming and greening world around me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunshine on My Shoulder

Even though this winter has been warmer than usual there hasn't been a lot of sunshine. The skies have been grey and overcast pretty much since the end of November, with the occasional clear day. Today is one of those rare clear days and the sunshine is warm on my face.

Days like this put me in mind of the coming Spring. New life, flowers, grass, and of course the garden. I haven't finalized plans for the garden yet. I've looked through all the seed books that have arrived but for some reason I just can't make a decision.

The only thing I know for sure is that I will be planting shallots again. The shallots did very well last year and it was nice to have green onions from late Spring to later Summer, and actual shallots in the fall. The shallots also kept very well over the winter months, unlike my previous attempts at storing onions.

I think I would like to try garlic again though I might be better off planting porcelain neck garlic next fall. It needs to be in the ground for the winter before it grows in Spring. The summer garlic I planted last year didn't grow very well but I don't know if it was the soil, the water, or the fact that the chicken's kept digging the bulbs up. I know that last bit didn't help matters at all.

Maybe I can't decide what to plant because I know we have to fix the beds first. The boards on all three of our original beds gave out last spring. We planted anyway but the soil just kept spreading out instead of staying in the nice mounds we put it in in Spring. I plan on making the beds 12 inches deep, using 2 x 12 boards to build the sides. We will also make the beds 3 foot wide instead of 4 foot as the were before.

I'll also take this opportunity to add some manure and sand to the soil. Over the years the soil has been slowly getting less and less fertile so that has to be done as well. Now I know what I will be doing this Spring. Only after the beds are rebuilt and properly fenced will I even begin to think about what to plant this year.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A Surprise

I got quite a surprise when I went out on the front porch this afternoon. There were two orange cats, approximately 6-8 months old, acting like they wanted in. I, the soft hearted that I am opened the door and tried to talk to them but they ran off.

I know there is a colony of stray cats in the area. I've seen several big males dashing off into the bushes or skulking about the neighbours foundations. I know one of our neighbours, the couple that rescued Poofers for us, puts out food and gives them shelter, and catches them when they can to get them fixed. I did not know there were young cats looking for handouts.

I put a bowl of food out and a few minutes later I saw a very skinny, very young grey kitten start wolfing food. Even worse than young cats is very young kittens, starving. I tried to approach him but he is even wilder than to two orange cats. He ran across the road in front of a car, thankfully he got the the other side since the car didn't slow down even with me waving and yelling at the driver.

He must have been really hungry because he didn't take long to come back and start eating again. He let us open the inside door and talk to him through the screen but as soon as we opened the screen door he disappeared over the edge of the porch. We closed the door again, deciding patience was the better part of valour in this case, and not wanting him to tempt fate by running across the road again.

We took stock and remembered that we still had a small single level, wire cage in the garage. I retrieved it, scaring the kitten off once again, and an old heavy duty tarp and retreated back to the house. Inside PeterC and I wrapped the cage in the tarp, taping it down to hold in the heat and provide shelter, added a cardboard box with an old blanket inside, and placed filled a bowl with food inside before putting the cage out on the front porch.

While out there I saw the two orange cats coming off a neighbours porch, a thin grey cat on another neighbours porch, and a long hair grey and white hiding in the hedge. I don't know where all these cats came from but my heart just aches to see them outside. Luckily it hasn't been a very cold winter, though it has been wet and below freezing most of January.

I wonder if the weather has brought them all out or if this is a new influx of cats people have been dropping off and abandoning "in the country". I have made no bones about my dislike of people who don't take care of their animals, but drop offs are my personal pet peeve. Just thinking about people like that makes me grind my teeth and I rank them right up there with people who torture and abuse animals.

Based on how wild these cats are, I expect they are the descendants of the first batch of abandoned cats, the ones who haven't been caught and fixed yet. That does mean the neighbours are on the losing end of the battle, so ever the defender of the underdog PeterC and I will be joining the fight.

We've decided to buy a live animal trap and our vet already knows to expect new additions to the family at any time. Until then we are going to try to provide as much food and shelter as we can and hopefully tame the little ones down enough that we can bring them inside to a new permanent home.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Winter Snacks

In the winter we feed the chickens a little treat, especially on cold days. We cook up 1/2 cup of barley and feed it to them while it is still a little warm. Anyone who has used barley knows it expands when cooked, so 1/2 cp becomes close to 3 cps after making it a great cost effective treat.

We do this for a couple of reasons. First, the chickens really slow down laying in the winter and we have found that warm barley helps bring it up a little. Second, we have an egg eater or two in the flock and for some reason the incidents of egg eating goes down when we feed them barley. And third, everyone knows something warm in your stomach warms your whole body and outdoor chickens need extra warmth whenever possible.

Today I decided to add a little something extra, and got a rather interesting and somewhat disgusting surprise. Today when I cooked the chickens barley I added a 1/4 cp of yellow flax seeds. We add flax to a lot of our salads and stir fry meals and find them to be quite tasty so I thought the chickens would enjoy them too. I figured the protein would also be good for them, and I know the oil in the seeds is good for their eggs.

The discovery came when I turned of the heat and gave the post a stir. The liquid was thick, thicker than normal. Barley has a coating on the kernel, much like oatmeal, that causes it to clump together one it cools off. But this was still boiling and it was far thicker than normal. I assumed it was from the flax seeds, ignored it, and set the pot aside to cool before I took it out to the chickens.

After some time had passed I stirred the pot again and found the liquid was now the consistency of uncooked egg whites. Apparently it got thicker as it cooled and now the cooked barley and flax seeds were suspended in this mess. In essence I had created the perfect fake snot complete with boogers. This is something I never suspected would come from boiling flax seeds.

I wasn't going to waste the barley or the flax seeds so I took the pot out to the chicken coop and poured the mess into the wet food bin. At first even they seemed a little leery of this new concoction but after the first brave hen tried some and went back for more it became the normal feeding frenzy. I think tomorrow I'll just sprinkle the flax seeds on top of the cooked barley. No more snot for me or the girls.

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Year's Resolution

I gave up making New Year's resolutions a long time ago. Maybe it was because I chose goals that were unreachable or perhaps they were goals I simply didn't really believe in. Either way I found failing at my New Year's resolution disheartening and so I just stopped making them.

For the first time in years, after much thought and some goading from PeterC, I made a New Year's resolution. I decided I was going to change the way I have been keeping the accounting records of my business, Chestnut Tree Creations, on Etsy. For the last three years, since I opened the store, I've been tracking money spent on everything and money coming in from the store, but I didn't know how to calculate whether I was actually making a profit or not. If my old way of doing things was any indication I was $20,000 in the hole and that just didn't make sense.

Here is where the goading comes in. PeterC suggested I learn and use double entry accounting to record everything. He tried to show me how it worked but I wasn't able to grasp the concept. I have since decided that he and I speak a different language when it comes to mathematics and general concepts. We needed an interpreter who speaks both languages and could teach me to speak the same language as PeterC.

I, of course, headed to the internet. After two very frustrating days of reading page after page of accounting 101 and basic book keeping rules, I knew some of the terms but I really didn't know how they linked together. So back to PeterC I went, but again we failed to clearly communicate. I don't do well with simple hypothetical numbers, preferring real world examples. PeterC, like all teachers prefers to simplify the numbers to make everything come out all neat and tidy in the end.

Luckily we have a friend who is an accountant and he was more than willing to trade his knowledge of accounting practises for some custom sewing work. Our friend spent an entire evening going over basic ideas of accounting and he used examples from my business to give the ideas some real world meaning. It turns out he is a very patient man and was perfectly willing to repeat the same answers over and over again in different ways until I finally got it. So back home I went with my head full of knowledge and a ream of notes. I was convinced I would be able to set up a few pages of spreadsheet to track my business records.

The next day, it was way to late for me to work on the books the same evening, I pulled out my notes and found out that I only understood about half of what I had written. Oh, the writing was legible but the combination of words didn't make much sense especially when compared to the information in my head. But I did have enough information to at least know what I was looking for on the internet so I pulled up my spreadsheet program, my internet search engine, and started building a set of accounting spreadsheets.

A couple of days, and 18 spreadsheet pages, later and I had something that looked like it would work. I sent a copy off to our friend to look over and I made my first attempts at using the new books. That resulted in some changes and a few more pages to be added to my books, but over all I was pretty happy with the end result. A few days later my accounting tutor pointed out some changes that he thought should be made.

That was Saturday. Yesterday I sat down with my spreadsheet, his spreadsheet, and poor dear PeterC at my side and finalized my accounting records template. We ended up making several changes that resulted in 24 sheets in my workbooks, but I think it will be a more accurate way to tell which items I am loosing money on and which I am making a profit on.

My initial test entries, based on my year ending inventory, depreciation, and the few sales I have made already suggests that not only will the books work but I will even make a profit this year. It will be nice to see a profit, even if that does mean I have to register as a company and pay taxes. It will be an accomplishment and the realization of one of my goals - to own my own company selling things I make.