Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Read and Write

High Protector of Books- King George!

Well, it's that time of the month again when our internet time is used up and I have to go to coffee or the library to access the internet.  Unfortunately for me my budget is tight and there is no coffee house $$.  This means the librarians get to see my shiny face almost daily!  It's a good thing that the library is only a  couple of miles away from home. None-the-less I have kids and homeschool and pets and chickens and farming and writing my own book etc., etc., etc. to keep me busy so running to the library to blog every day is a little difficult.   This is to warn you that I may only have a couple of posts until the 11th of June when I receive the next allotment of precious internet time.  But I'm not just being lazy.

While I'm not online I will be perusing: Wild Mind- Living the Writer's Life by Natalie Goldberg, Fresh From the Garden by Sarah Raven, and Stocking up III by Carol Hupping.  (Strawberry season is almost here and I can't wait to replenish my freezer with smoothie berries, make jam - I brought up the last jar from the larder a couple of days ago- and try some other preservation and regular recipes as well as strawberry shortcake galore!)

I'm slowly progressing in my current draft of my book- The Follower.  My girls like it so far.  I will probably put a little blurb of it up one of these days but I am only on first draft.  My problem with writing on my book is I need undisturbed time to get "in the zone" and as a mother of 5... yeah, doesn't happen often.  Even when blogging my mind is never quite all "here" as usually someone needs something or has something to share with me.  It is a blessing, yet a day to myself would be luxurious!

Okay, I've got to get home and contemplate dinner. Burgers and watermelon sound good! Fire up the grill!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chicken Education

You know when you read books on chickens and the experts say not to buy them off craigslist or just any Joe Schmoe.  Yah... don't.

We went ahead and bought 8 chickens from an ad on craigslist.  At the time we thought we'd just work them and then stew pot them but now their work in the garden areas is done and my DH likes the 4 or 5 eggs we get a day from them (Or used to- more coming on that.) so we made a new home for them and won't butcher them until our chicks are laying.  But they are... well... they're not well behaved toward each other.

I believe they were cramped and bored and not managed well at their previous home.  They are very cannibalistic!  The 6 hens are missing massive amounts of feather everywhere  (they were like that when we picked them up) and the tiniest hen (lowest in the pecking order) is always trying to hide and get away from the others.  Today I went out to find her with her neck and most of her body through the fence barrier in the barn.  (A couple times she has made it through)  She was trying to hide but of course the others knew where she was and just kept pecking on her.  I pulled her out from the fence twice but she just would return to the same position and when I pulled her from the area and put her down on the other side of the pen (safe from the others) she immediately found something to hide behind.  Then when I pulled her from hiding I noticed a large puncture on her back under her wing.  Not a bloody peck but an actual puncture.  That's it!  She is now being housed alone in the brooder until we decide what to do.  Well, until we do what needs to be done.  She is going to have to be butchered.  I don't trust her with my chicks and I don't trust my chickens with her. 

I think it would be most compassionate to put her out of her misery.  I'd rather do the deed quickly then have her be pecked to death in the hen house. (This wound may heal but they'll just keep on her and she'll get another.) I'd be happy to keep her alone but I've read that chickens don't like to be alone so looks like we are butchering sooner than later. The rest of the flock seems fine with her gone. I'm watching the next one on the pecking order closely.  Hrummph!

Next issue:  Since we moved the chickens from the chicken tractor to the barn we have only gotten one egg for two days and finally today... a whopping TWO eggs.  I've started leaving the light on during the day to lighten the barn and keeping the big door wide open and have moved the nesting boxes around and filled them with nesting material (like in the tractor) instead of dry grass. I also threw a lot of cracked corn out in their yard to encourage them to hang out in the yard instead of in the barn. I'm hoping this gets us back to our 4 or 5 eggs daily.  If it doesn't I'll have to do more research or more butchering.

My baby chicks... the only problem with them is they haven't figured out to go inside the tractor house at night by themselves yet.   We have to pick them up and put them in.  I hope they figure it out on their own soon! My little one, Samantha, the one the bigs pecked on is doing fine even with her bald head. I do hope her feathers come back.

Ahhh.... the joys of continuing education in chicken raising!

Anyone got any input for me and my chickens?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Warning: Greenhorns Moving Chickens!

My family really should have its own reality TV show!  We spent Sunday prepping a home for our big chickens in the barn and then it came time to move them.  Two roosters and three hens got caught and moved individually and three more got moved in a box all at once.  The comical thing was the little peepers were out and about while we were doing the round up of the bigs.   It was so funny trying to catch them and keep them away from the peepers at the same time.

The best moment was when I was transporting a hen I had caught and I looked back at my son and husband who were trying to herd the big chickens into a corner.  The big chickens flew over the little piece of fence my hubby had set up as a corral, immediately started chasing the chicks and the chicks ran around the fencing and flowed out of the garden area into our yard.  It was one mass exodus of chickens and my husband and son standing flabbergasted.

Since I was already half-way to the barn I just shrugged and kept going.  By the time I got back, my daughters had been called over and the last of the chicks were being put back into the garden area.  Oh, to have had video of that.  Duck Dynasty doesn't have anything on us!

 Corner of the barn with makeshift roost of a 2 x4- they love it!

 Old "milk" crates being used as nesting boxes.  They don't really like those.

 Another 2 x 4 roost set up across the nesting boxes.  They don't really like that one either. I wonder if they smell remains of skunk odor from earlier this year?

 Their new yard!

Their grand doorway to and from the barn!  I was glad the previous owners had it already put in.

Now the peepers have the stylish chicken tractor all to themselves!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

New Project? Me A Cookbook Author?

I just found out that one of my sister-in law's families has a family cookbook.  My niece just turned 19 and was gifted one.  What!?  How come my family doesn't have a family cookbook?  Oh... cause I'm the only girl and I haven't put one together yet.  Sigh.  New project!  But it will be a fun one and a good one to pass down to my kids and my brother's kids.

I'm thinking of not only putting in recipes but stories and pictures too. Hmmm... who knew my first "published" work would be a cook book.  I wish I would have realized to do this when my grandmother's were alive.  I hope my mom is able to share some of their recipes.  I remember Norwegian things from my mom's mom and wonderful potato pancakes from my dad's mom (German ancestry).  Both sets of my Grandparent's parents immigrated to the USA so I hope there are some recipes that go back to their "motherlands".

I guess while I'm at it I should get with my mother-in-law and my husband's sister and work on a Lewis family cookbook too.  Ohhh for more time in the day.

Have any of you put out a family cookbook?  What did you include and who did you "publish" it through? How much did it cost?

I imagine that a Schuh family cookbook would look similar to this.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

My Babies Are Growing Up!

My little chicks are heading into their teen years.  They love being out of their brooder as long as the big chickens are kept away from them.

The older chickens we acquired have pre-developed habits that are bad. In order to protect our little ones we keep them separate.  I tried to introduce them and it didn't go well.

We are in the process of creating a permanent home for the big chickens and the little ones will move into the chicken tractor.  Once the little ones have grown (11 ladies and 1 cockerel) and are laying then we will bid farewell to the older chickens.

 This is "Snowball" our cockerel.  Our four year-old named him before we knew it was a him.

 This is Samantha, "Sam".  She is the only other chick we can tell apart from the others at this stage.  The first day we tried the big and little chickens together she got attacked and all the feathers on the top of her head were pulled off and she was bloody.  She was clearly traumatized and I thought we might lose her.  But I pulled her out and cleansed her wound with witch hazel and lavender essential oil (1 Tbsp. of witch hazel and a couple drops of lavender eo) dabbed on her head lightly with cue tips.  Then I put her back in the brooder with food and water and pulled out another chick to be her companion .  Later that evening I collected the rest of the chicks and put them all back in the brooder because I wasn't going to risk putting the chicks in the tractor with the big guys.

I had nightmares that night.  I thought for sure I would go out and find her dead in the morning.  I felt so guilty and was ready to throw in the towel with the animals because I really felt it was my fault for forcing the chickens together and expecting harmony.  Next morning I went out and she was doing much better.  And now, a week later, she is totally back to normal except for her bald head.  Poor thing.
 Here are Sam and Snowball together.  They seem to have a strong bond.

Taylor enjoys the chicks while the big chickens look on from the locked chicken tractor.  We just haul out the chicks in a cardboard box and corral them up in the evening and take them back to the brooder.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

5 Years of Leaves Moved In One Day

This homesteading thing... whew... it's a lot of work.  It may be a simpler life but it isn't easy.  We had an opportunity to help out our pastor recently.  He had been saving his very ample supply of yearly leaves in an ever growing compost heap... for five years.  This heap was a breathing, growing monster in the back corner of his yard.  He had dreams of setting up a great system but the time to work on it escaped him and it was apparent that it was time for the dream and the pile to go.  His fence and neighbor relations on the other side of the fence were falling down.  Enter the Lewis clan.

Would we like to have all that compost and leaves for free if we would haul it out of there?  Why yes, free stuff for compost, we will most assuredly come get it.  Little did I know that when my husband and I said yes to this that I would be required to come along and help along with all the kids.  My understanding of the situation was that it would be good father/son bonding time. 

So last Saturday morning all of us slumped out the door early with tools in tow; shovels, pitch forks and rakes. We arrived at Pastor's home around 10:00 am and didn't pull out until around 2:00pm.  We shoveled, forked, raked and hauled load after load into our be-tarped trailer and then traveled the 30 minutes back to our property very carefully as the trailer was riding low because of the weight of the leaves.

Then of course we had to decide what to do with all of it.  Do we dump it in a heap somewhere on the property, do we run it through the chipper and shred it so that we can mulch our fence lines or do we start new garden beds with it?  Secretly I was hoping for dumping it in a heap.  That seemed like the quick fix and I was exhausted.  But dumping it in the back forty would mean hauling it by wheel barrow to where we would need it thus actually creating more work.

We decided to make garden beds for next year.  We were able to back up the trailer to the general area where we wanted the beds.  We laid the leaves down for one and then remembered that we have a lot of cardboard left over from moving here last year.  So for the second bed we laid down cardboard and then covered it with leaves.  Then we called it a day.  We still have more leaves sitting in the trailer waiting for us to make at least one more if not two beds.  This way we will kill the grass, create more topsoil and not have to till or if we do till we won't be fighting growing grass which is a bugger to weed.

I came to two conclusions while doing all this work.  1. Farmers don't need to go to the gym. 2. Large families and farm work go hand in hand!  Without the help and hard work of our children we wouldn't have stood a chance getting those leaves moved.  Thanks kids!  I love working together as a family.

A special thank you to Pastor Sam and Miss Jill for giving us the leaves and to Pastor for helping us move them and to Jill for providing tasty refreshments and lunch!  We look forward to sharing yummy produce from our gardens with them!

 The start: 10 feet long and three feet high
 From the pile to the tarp
 Across the yard
Into the trailer
Finally full!
 A new home and more tarp filling and pulling
 The first bed done!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mosquito Part Three (Finale)

We've all felt the itch of mosquito bites.  Even with all the precautions mentioned in Part One, Part 2 A and Part Two B, you can still end up itching.  Lady mosquitoes (male skeeters don't bite) inject their saliva into your skin when they bite.  The saliva prevents blood clotting and allows the insect to feed uninhibited. It is the saliva that creates the bump and the itch.

The best method for relief is not to scratch but if you are like me then that isn't happening.  I have no will power in this area.  The options I choose from then are:

1. A baking soda paste- mix baking soda with a bit of water to form a paste and apply to each bite.

2. Bath in your tub with 1 cup of baking soda and 1tsp. lavender essential oil.  Soak for 15 to 20 minutes. (This is my favorite and feels heavenly!)

3. A drop of tea tree essential oil or lavender  EO dabbed on your bites will bring relief.

4. For a splash: 1 part apple cider vinegar mixed with 3 parts water.  Stand in tub and splash on areas that are causing you discomfort.

5. You can dab neem base oil onto your bites and also aloe vera.

Of course there are always the standard OTC remedies too: Benedryl (topical and pill), calamine lotion etc.

To purge your body of toxins from the saliva of the mosquitoes drink red clover tea.  It is actually a really yummy herbal tea with no stimulants. (Pregnant women or those having surgery should avoid drinking it.)

There ya go folks.  Have a great, mosquito bite free rest of spring and summer! I'm off for a baking
soda and lavender soak! Thank goodness these skeeters are only supposed to be around for a couple of more weeks. They are special type thanks to our spring flood. You can read about it here!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

God's Plan For Us!

Leviticus 19: 30
Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the Lord.

I am so thankful God designed the Sabbath.  I look forward to a day of rest!  My body and soul need it!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mosquitoes Part 2 For Real This Time

This is the post that I tried to do yesterday and failed because of technology problems. And as I sit here typing I am itching something fierce!  Western Michigan has a small mosquito problem right now.  It's pretty bad everywhere you go.  So what can you do to avoid the itch?

1. Wear light colored clothing, long pants, long sleeves, collars high, and leave as little skin available as possible.

2.  Keep a smudge or smokey fire burning near you. To make a smudge tie together dried lavender stalks, dried peppermint sprigs, dried mullein and dried catnip sprigs and light on fire.

3. Crush a handful of leaves of a mosquito repelling plant (see here) and rub on your body as needed.

4. Watch what you put in or on your body.  Lotions, soaps, shampoos and perfumes can attract insects. Eating sugary processed foods attract them also.  Eat a wholesome real food diet rich in nutrients to keep your body chemistry from attracting interested bites.  You can take vitamin B6 supplements but it would be so much better to get your B6 from real food: Bananas, potatoes, tuna, beans. Mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide you exhale so eat lots of garlic and onions too.  This is a case of bad breath being great!

5. Use a natural repellent.  Repellents block your pores so the mosquitoes can't sense the warmth and moisture of your body.  Though DEET is the most effective repellent it is a chemical cocktail of yuck.  Would you rub nuclear waste on your body?

To make a repellent take 2 cups of witch hazel, 1/2 tsp. each of citronella, lemongrass and lavender essential oils and 1Tbsp. of apple cider vinegar, mix together and put in a spray bottle.

To make a rub on massage type oil take 1/2 cup base oil, (I think olive oil would work good.  I would avoid coconut oil unless it is unscented.) 5 drops each of lemongrass, geranium and catnip essential oils and 10 drops of basil and eucalyptus essential oils.  Mix and use.  I do not recommend a spray bottle because the oil will clog the sprayer.

To make a balm take 3 Tbsp. of base oil (olive again is my choice), 1 Tbsp. of neem oil and 1Tbsp. of beeswax and heat together on a low heat.  Cool slightly (but not too much for the beeswax to solidify) and add 20 drops of catnip EO (essential oil), 10 drops each of lemongrass, rosemary and thyme EO's and 5 drops of cedar EO.  Pour into a container and let harden.  Rub on.

For the more adventurous herbalist try Joyce A. Wardwell's repellent salve from her book, The Herbal Home Remedy Book. She uses fresh plantain, lavender, peppermint and thyme to make infused oils which she then turns into salve with the addition of beeswax and cocoa butter. (Again, I would recommend an unscented cocoa butter.)  The entire process takes a couple of weeks though because the herbs need to soak in the oil.  It is a plan ahead project.

Well, I'm off to make some bug spray and soak in a lavender bath with baking soda.  I'll share about the bath on Monday.  Here's to an itch free summer!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Mosquitoes Part 2 (Friday Read & Write)

I am a little bit of a natural cosmetics freak and I had an entire long post written about natural mosquito repellants but wouldn't you know that my internet disconnected during the writing of it so nothing saved and when I went to add photos I lost most of the post. (I have a love/hate relationship with technology.)  So in keeping with Friday's theme of reading and writing.  Here are some of my go to books on the topic and tomorrow I will try again with the real post.

The Herbal Home Remedy Book by Joyce A. Wardwell
The Herbal Body Book by Stephanie Tourles
Organic Body Care Recipes by Stephanie Tourles
Making Aromatherapy creams and lotions by Donna Maria
Natural Beauty at Home by Janice Cox

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mosquitoes Part One

Since Creek Cottage Homestead has been inundated with mosquitoes lately I started researching the best ways to deter them.  Unfortunately it seems the only really effective way is with poisons/chemicals and that is just not acceptable to me.  There is not one "natural" solution that can be called the end all of mosquitoes.  There are, however, many different ways to deter them that when employed all together just might make outside living a little more tolerable.

1. Don't give them places to lay their eggs. Make sure to empty toys, birdbaths, kiddie pools every few days.  Keep your grass cut!

2. Employ predators: chickens, bats, purple martins and dragonflies.  Each species will help but don't expect them to totally clear up the population.  Chickens are limited to where you keep them.  Bats will eat the skeeters but will usually go for the biggest bugs it can find which might not be mosquitoes and it can take up to a year for bats to settle into bat houses. Purple martins are daytime eaters and mosquitoes are early morning and evening creatures.  Dragon flies need a clean, fresh, permanent source of water to live near and it is not recommended that you purchase them.  You either have the habitat for them or you don't.

3.Employ cultivated plants: Citronella/West Indian Lemongrass, bee balm/horsemint, marigolds, Ageratum/flossflowers (Ageratum is not to be rubbed on the skin.) Catnip, Scented geraniums, Peppermint, Rosemary, Lemon balm, Garlic, Clove, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree and Lavender.

4. Employ wild plants: Vanilla Leaf, Sagebrush, wormwood, mugwort, Pinapple weed, nodding onion, bergamot, snowbrush, sweet fern, cedar

The plants in three and four really work best when crushed and rubbed on your body but just their presence around outside areas where you like to gather may be enough to keep yourself at least slightly less itchy.  Take note of what you plant.  Some plants may not overwinter well and will need to be planted in containers so they may be put inside or in a greenhouse .  Any plant with attractive flowers will attract wasps and bees. It may be best to not put them on table tops or up close to where people will be sitting.

Tomorrow I will discuss how to avoid being bitten in Mosquitoes Part two!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Flowers and salads!

Last night's dandelion and lilac salad was a success!  I will not be facing church discipline or excommunication. I don't know that people will be rushing to recreate it any time soon but everyone tried it and found it surprisingly good.  Everyone but Farmer John.  Turns out that he doesn't like the smell of lilacs (You think I would know this after 20 years.) and "they taste just like they smell."  After he was finished eating there was a little pile of lilac petals on the side of his plate.  Seems the dandelions were fine for him though.  Next time I'll sneak dandelion greens into it too.  I only did the flower heads last night.

Regular vege salad with the addition of edible flowers: Lilacs and Dandelions.

I also used my available flowers in a more traditional sense.

 Dandelions flower heads floating in a shallow bowl of water.

Lilacs as the centerpiece of the table.

The other in season item I used for the evening was rhubarb from my garden in a yummy rhubarb crumble topped with homemade vanilla custard!

My rhubarb earlier this spring.
It is so much fun to "use what you've got" and be creative rather then running to the store and buying something.

The only downer to the night was the over abundance of mosquitoes that chased us off the deck and indoors for the evening.  Bat houses, homemade natural mosquito sprays and itch remedies will be fodder for another blog post.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Spring on the Homestead: Lilacs and Dandelion Trails

We first laid eyes on our homestead almost a year ago.  When I saw it, it was evident that the property was for me.  One of my big wants on my "list" was lilacs.  I wanted my home to have some thriving lilacs on it- the more, the better- and this property had one whole, long fence line of the shrubs.
They were beautiful and smelled heavenly.  Unfortunately for me we didn't close on the house until mid-June and the lilacs had finished.

But it is spring once more and those precious lilacs are mine- ALL mine! Not only do I intend on some very pretty bouquets in the house but since lilac flowers are edible I will adding the blossoms to salads and topping desserts with them.  I might try sugaring them... wouldn't they look pretty on a cake or pie?  I've also heard that one can make lilac wine.  I'm not a drinker but it might be fun to learn how to make flower wines. Hmmm... lilac tea too.

Its a good thing I'm hosting a ladies bible study tomorrow night.  I think I shall be creative with my lilacs and dandelions and see how my foraged treats go over.  It will either be a big hit or I'll end up in church discipline. LOL!


 My coveted fence line!

 A white lilac growing in one of the flower beds.  I wish I could bottle up the aroma!

Another lilac type of shrub in another flower bed.  This one however lacks any aroma.

A beautiful bonus: A path of dandelions leading back into our forested area.  I am a lover of the herb (dandelions are not weeds) and couldn't believe this beautiful path was on my property.  God is so good to bless us with this land!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday Read and Write

Yesterday's post was about cooking from scratch and not using processed foods, so I thought it might be appropriate to suggest some reading material for those of you who haven't quite got on the whole/local/organic/non-processed food boat or even if you have they are just great inspirational reads.

In defense of Food, Michael Pollan - Written in a evolutionary world view but still enlightening!

The Vintage Remedies Guide to Real Food. Jesse Hawkins is a whole living expert.  I recommend anything by her and her company Vintage Remedies.

Don Colbert, Eat This and Live!  Simple to follow.

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Folks, This Ain't Normal by Joel Salatin
Both Pollan and Kingsolver subscribe to evolution but Salatin presents a Christian World view.
Do you have any favorites to recommend?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cooking From Scratch!

When I was 17 I wanted to live in NYC, have a personal chef and a maid, jet-set around the world, be a big time fashion buyer for Saks or Bloomingdales or Macy's, not get married and not have kids.  Do you get the idea that I didn't gain a lot of cooking skills in my youth?  Not for lack of trying on my mother's part- I just wanted nothing to do with it.  Fast forward to present day (25 years later)...

I've visited NYC, once.  I most assuredly would not be happy living there. I fell in love at 22 and married at 23.  We have 5 children and one more in Heaven (stillbirth). I didn't even enter the field of fashion after graduating with a Fashion Marketing degree.  Can I tell you how down right catty that field is? I have traveled a fair bit- German speaking Europe, Italy, Australia, a good portion of the USA and hope to once the children are off on their own.

As for the personal chef and maid... I have those...their names are Me, Myself and I. My husband does his share and the kids are being trained in these areas as well.  But I am the manager of the home.  It was an interesting ride for me coming from very little knowledge in these areas to where I am now. I remember burning water (yeah- for real!)  I let it boil away to nothing and scorched the pot.  I remember calling my Mom and asking how one mashes potatoes and many other things.

Being a child of the seventies and eighties I grew up with processed food in the house but was lucky enough that my mom was of an older generation and still cooked a lot from scratch. (Though I remember a lot of microwaved meals in the mid-70's/early eighties).  For a long time after I got married I thought I was serving a good meal if I bought pre-made frozen lasagna, frozen garlic bread, and a bagged salad.

Now don't get me wrong! Those things have their time and place but I was serving stuff like that consistently and thinking I was feeding my family well.  I've learned a lot since then and still have a long way to go.  I  also still confess to not liking cooking but as a wife and mother I want to feed my family healthy, whole foods that are tasty. That means cooking from scratch!  Luckily I've found some wonderful cook books and helps along the way. These are my go to's...

 My first cookbook ever. I believe it was a bridal shower gift from my mother.  Oh, how she knew I would need it.  It is still my go to book today.  Simple, basic, from scratch recipes.

 This is a great one for help with seasonal eating and what to do with 10,000lbs of zucchini/tomatoes/ what ever you have too much of.

 Recipes and reasons to change the way you eat. 

 A chef's take on good, simple food- a good primer. Alice was a farm-to-table chef before it was cool.

 Good old country cooking!

The West Ladies also have a DVD for those who want some visual inspiration.

Here's my challenge: Pick one item/meal that you would usually purchase processed and learn to make it from scratch. (Like lasagna, or even just salad.)  You will taste the difference and love it. Happy SCRATCH cooking! If I can do it, trust me, you surely can! (Side note- you don't have to make the ingredients yourself- yet- you can buy the pasta, cheese etc. but one day you might just want it totally from scratch with your own homemade cheese, pasta, and sauce from your own tomatoes. The process  of not buying processed is addicting!)

Happy from scratch cooking!