Friday, April 30, 2010

We Got (Some) Moisture!

Yesterday afternoon we started to get a few scattered raindrops now and then which left everyone on pins and needles wondering if it would turn into something we could actually count as rain falling on our parched part of the state.

The evening hours brought us a steady rain, if a little on the light side. But, hey, we were mighty thankful for any moisture.

My hubby sat up late reading last night and this morning reported that it was raining at a wonderfully steady rate when he called it a night.

This morning the front deck was dry and there were no puddles anywhere to be seen but the air was heavy and gray and we could hear thunder off in the distance.

A few minutes ago, light and steady rain started coming down again so we're holding out hopes of more today.

Because of the extreme fire danger situation we've been under, this would be a weekend when no one would mind at all if it rained continuously! Keep your fingers crossed.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Garden Work Up Near the Tundra

I'm almost embarrassed to post these pictures of what my garden looks like since so many of you are eons ahead of what we're able to do this early in our season. It is early yet for us up here where night time temperatures are still dropping down into the 20s. Yup, we had 26 degrees very early this morning.

But on the other hand, I have had readers say they like to see how we manage to go about handling gardening in our very short growing season, so . . . if you wanna look at some bare soil, this post is for you.

Since we've gotten our fire wood supply under control, the next order of business has been getting the yard and garden ready.

We decided to take out one of our garden beds so that was first on the agenda today. Here hubby ("Smile, honey!") just finished removing the boards and had already taken a couple of wheelbarrows of the good soil away to fill in a low spot in the field garden. (Look how yellow, dry and crispy our grass looks in spots.)

Garden bed no more. All gone. Um . . . do we have any grass seed?

My two clumps of chives were in the bed we annihilated so they had to be transplanted to another bed. I think they look happy here, don't you?

This (sigh) is my herb bed. Looks deader than a door nail, doesn't it? Yeah, I think so, too. And I even covered everything with a heavy layer of mulch last winter. Drat. I have never had any luck with herbs. I think I need to do some serious studying up on the obstinate little buggers.

We got the field garden cultivated. The portion closest in the picture was already unbelievably overgrown with weeds. (You can still see a few die-hards that I'll have to hit with the small tiller a couple of more times.) So it was past time to get in with the cultivator. (Weeds do not seem to mind frigid temperatures at night.)

Oops, I just remembered I forgot to take a picture of the pumpkin patch. (Shucks, that would have been another bare patch of soil for you to see.) Since I'm cutting back on the garden this year (ahem, will someone be responsible for holding me to this?), we decided to sow the pumpkin patch in a green manure crop to enrich the soil. Today we planted it out in a mixture of barley and oats.

Not much happening yet in the raised beds. That's my one bed of salad greens under the cold frame that I planted 2-1/2 weeks ago. The radishes, arugula and spinach are coming along very nicely, but it looks to me that the five different varieties of lettuce are all slow. Which seems strange. Hmmm . . .

And lastly, a very weird happening on one section of our driveway. We are currently suffering from extreme drought conditions. So why, for the first time in fourteen years since we've been in this location, is there what looks to be an underground spring bubbling up and making a mess of this area in our driveway? We are getting heaving and holes, ridges and gooey mud that hubby's been trying to keep under control with a lot of shovel work. Tonight before dinner right before he put tools away for the night, he took the tiller out to this area and went over it which succeeded in turning up a lot of big rocks, if nothing else. Tomorrow morning? Rock picking. And then doing something to the area. I'm sure he has a plan.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Making Cottage Cheese

There are probably as many ways to make cottage cheese at home as there are to make butter. The method that I've always used is super-simple and turns out a product that is as good as anything you can buy. Actually I think it's even better!

The only caveat I'll throw in here is that I've never made the cottage cheese with anything other than raw milk. So I truly don't know what results you would get using store bought milk. I've used both whole and skim raw milk with very good results.

Okay, let's make cottage cheese.

Pour two quarts of milk in a large saucepan.

Over a medium heat, and using a thermometer, bring the milk just up to 190 degrees. I find this usually takes about 15 minutes. I give the milk a stir now and then during this period just to make sure the heat is getting distributed evenly through the milk.

Pour the milk into a ceramic bowl and add 1/4 cup white vinegar.

Give the milk and vinegar a stir and you will immediately see curds forming. Let this mixture sit on the counter at room temperature for 2 hours.

At the end of the 2 hours, using a large strainer, carefully pour the liquid and curds into the strainer. You can discard the liquid.

Using cold water, give the curds a good rinsing until the water coming out is clear.

Put the curds in a bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix in heavy cream to get the consistency desired. I usually use about 1/2 cup of cream.

Here it is . . . over 2 cups of cottage cheese from 2 quarts of milk.

We use it in any way you might use purchased cottage cheese.

I like to make a kind of a fruit cup to serve with breakfast. Put as much cottage cheese as you like in a serving dish, and add chunks of fruit of your choice: apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, etc. Pour a small amount of orange juice over mixture in the dish.

For lunch in the summer, I often serve a dish of cottage cheese with assorted chopped veggies. (I especially like this with French dressing drizzled over the top.)

As long as I have fresh chives growing in the garden, I always mix a bunch in with our cottage cheese. When I was growing up, in the spring time the grocery stores would offer cottage cheese with or without chives, but I don't think they do that anymore.

If any of you try it with store bought milk, I'd be interested in knowing if this method works. Whichever way you try it, I hope it works for you.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mission Accomplished

One of our first projects for this spring was to fill both our wood sheds with cut and split fire wood.

On March 28th we finished completely filling the first wood shed which is slightly smaller than the second one.

When the first shed was topped off, the second one looked like this. (Looong way to go there, folks.)

That was almost a month ago and although we said we were going to work on filling it every day until it was full, things (dang those "things") kept coming up that took precedence over our fun-filled wood cutting endeavors.

But we kept at it whenever we could and today we finally, finally got the second shed full.

Whew! Does it ever feel good knowing that between the two wood sheds we have about 18 cords of cut and split wood under cover with five whole months of good, warm weather for it to season in before we'll have to touch it.

Yup, it was a very good day today. Well, except for one thing. Eeeeek! I got my very first ever TICK!! (Shudder, shudder, double shudder. Eeuuw, I hates them things!)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Just Call Me Ms. Fix-It

But if you do, you'll be so far from the truth! I've been diddling around with my sick computer tonight, and I must have accidentally done something that helped, because for the moment at least, I seem to be back in business. Just keep in mind though that if I disappear without warning, it's because I truly have no idea what I did to fix the problem, and it came back.

The plan for the day was to work on splitting and stacking wood. Here's hubby making some minor repairs to the wood splitter before we started this morning.

When we came in for lunch, I decided to multi-task and get a batch of cottage cheese started. I put the half gallon of milk on the stove to heat up, thermometer firmly in place on the side of the pan so I would know exactly when to take the milk off the heat. Then (dang, can you see what's coming?) I came back in here to my desk to fuss and fume at the computer that was giving me fits. All of a sudden, I was aware of a rather unusual odor wafting through the house.

Yikes! The milk! I think I about gave the dog a heart attack as I hurdled over her making a mad dash for the kitchen stove where (you guessed it) the milk was boiling over the sides of the pan, down onto the burner and into the bowels of the stove.

Oh, well. Multi-tasking is way over-rated anyway.

On a serious note, the potential forest fire danger has reached a very high level in our part of Minnesota because of extremely dry conditions. There's a ban on any open fire, certain hiking trails have been closed, even welding is not currently allowed in the county and we've heard rumors that law enforcement is saying no one is permitted on any of the county's hundreds of miles of back roads unless you are traveling to or from your place of residence or have a specific purpose to be on the road. It's a situation all of us who live in a heavily forested area dread. The fire watch planes are flying over frequently and although we're glad they are here and doing their job, it's an eerie feeling to see and hear them. No rain is forecast until possibly the end of next week.

Keep your fingers crossed for us making it through this period without a serious fire. And if you know any good rain dances, we'd appreciate that, too.

Drat and Dang

I've been having troubling "issues" with my computer since early this morning and am thinking I'm going to have to take it in to see the computer doctor tomorrow.

So if I disappear for a couple of days (sure hope I can be back up and going sooner than that), know that I didn't die from those wonky cookies I baked yesterday. It's just that I may be unplugged until we can get the bugs out. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Shoulda Stayed In Bed

I had an appointment this morning at 10 o'clock and was all but out the door when something made me go back and look at the kitchen calendar which has all our dates written on it. Yikes! The calendar showed my appointment was at 3 p.m.! Omigosh, that's right . . . it was changed last week from this morning to this afternoon. Hrumpf.

Well, at least I realized it before I left home. But if you think that didn't throw me off kilter as far as my day's plans went! About face, change horses, restructure day and . . . trip, stumble, hiccup . . . proceed with some semblance of productive order. (Not very flexible, am I?)

I busted my derriere today to get two batches of cookies made and stashed in the freezer. A tragedy it would be around here if there were no cookies for a quick pick-me-up snack when we're working so hard physically outside all day.

The first batch was Gingersnaps, an old standby favorite that for some reason today didn't collapse into the flat cookies they are supposed to be. Stayed in little puffy mounds and are hard as rocks instead of soft and chewy. Hrumpf.

For the second batch I made Molasses Apple Cookies which just plain don't look right. They're kinda shiny, smooth and look like they're frosted with chocolate glaze. (Not what you wanna have on molasses cookies.) They are just not supposed to look the way they do today. The taste is okay but I can't figure out why the look and texture is strange. Hrumpf.

But all in all, the day ended up being okay. (Although the cookie gods were definitely not smiling on me. Mumble-grumble.)

I DID make it into my quilt studio for an hour tonight. And that's definitely a good thing!

Hard To Believe . . .

No, dear readers, I'm very happy to report that this is NOT the scene outside my window this morning . . .

. . . rather it was taken one year ago yesterday.

This is what the same view looks like this morning.

I've mentioned often in this blog what an early spring we've had this year (and are thoroughly appreciating and enjoying, thank you very much!), but the picture from last year proves that what we've experiencing this year is not the norm.

My daughter has a picture on her current blog post that is even more dramatic than mine. Go take a peek . . . it's amazing.

Monday, April 19, 2010

We Have a SMALL Orchard - Thank Heaven!

It took the whole day today with both of us working together to finish pruning the last seven fruit trees.

It would have gone a lot faster but we have two plum trees that seem to grow like weeds, and apparently were hiding last year because for some reason, they did not get pruned. Whadda mess! Have I mentioned that these two plum trees have never given us one single plum? Arrrgh!

Each year they have blossoms as prolific as possibly could be, but the blossoms wither, fall off, and . . . no fruit. From what we've been able to find out, we think the trees seem to be suffering from plum curculio, and we've about exhausted all organic, non-chemical remedies available. But we're not even certain that's the problem for sure. At any rate, we gave both trees a severe pruning today thinking we've either cured . . . or killed them. Stay tuned.

After dinner tonight, I went out and thinned a few rows in the salad bed.

Here is the bed before thinning. Two rows of radishes on the right and Buttercrunch lettuce on the left with another row of lettuce (Red Sails) to its right that is juuust barely showing.

And a shot after I finished destroying . . . I mean thinning them. You can't even see the little plants left, can you?

When I looked at the bed this morning, the spinach was just starting to poke through. Tonight it's 1/2"-1" high.

We're both pretty pooped tonight. Who knew reaching over your head with a pair of pruners all day could strain muscles you apparently don't use much otherwise? And let's not even talk about bending over to pick up branches from off the ground. (I may have to ask hubby to untie my shoes tonight.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Good Time Had By All

Even though I took some time off today (to quilt!), I did put three loads of rugs through the washer.

It was such a gorgeous day, I decided to hang them outside. Despite the fact that the sun was brightly shining all day, the temperature stayed cool. (We had a low overnight of 28 degrees and skim ice around the perimeter of the pond this morning.) So now at 7 o'clock in the evening, I've had to put the heaviest of the rugs in the dryer to finish them up.

I did get my blackberry pie made today also. Matter of fact, I put it in the oven at 5 a.m.

What can I say? I couldn't sleep (despite PLENTY of exercise and fresh air yesterday) so I got up and made like an early morning baker. (Do any of you remember that little advertising jingle: "At three in the morning when you're in bed, the Holsum bakers are baking bread . . . ")

Around about noon time I drove the guys to the hiking trail. Here they are at the trail head ready to take off. J, on the left, has a back pack filled with plastic jugs of water. He's trying to get in shape for a 40 mile hike he plans on doing in a month. (Does getting in shape for that sound like fun to you? It doesn't sound like fun to me.)

I spent the afternoon quilting. Fun, fun, fun! Six new summer placemats are pieced and sandwiched.

A very simple design (from a simple mind?) which went together in a snap. (Well okay, in several hours.)

The center of each one is a different fabric. I'm machine quilting them so they'll hold up through many washings. (We're sloppy eaters.) I have three quilted and am working on the fourth. Then to bind them all, and I'll be done.

Looks like another cool night coming . . . it's down to 38 degrees already. 68 degrees in here so I may go start a little fire in the wood stove.

Hope you all had a good weekend.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Super-Productive Day

Why can't every day be as productive as today was? If so, we might stand a chance of making it through our To Do lists once in a while. Nah, I think there's some unwritten law that forbids one ever getting to the end of a list.

Early today, I took off to run some errands. For a change, I had only four stops . . . instead of the usual 8 or 9 when I head for town. While I was gone, hubby took his chainsaw and spent some quality time with eight foot long maple logs back in the wood cutting area.

As soon as I returned, we had a quick lunch of apple slices and peanut butter and then headed out into the front yard. The "front yard" is a large area that's fenced in mainly to keep the deer out of the gardens but also so that our dog and occasionally visiting granddogs have a large area that they're free to run in.

You should know my dear husband is really good (I mean he is truly very conscientious) about regularly picking up dog poop whenever he sees a . . . ah, um . . . deposit. But today he said he was feeling a need for a thorough campaign (before the grass grows too high) to really clean things up. So taking designated pooper-scooper shovel and designated bucket for same job, we meticulously went over the whole yard area (in a grid pattern no less . . . hey, we were serious about this task) picking up any deposits that had been missed over the past winter. You can thank me now for not documenting this part of our day with pictures.

Then we took the protective mulch covering off the flower beds and picked up all the branches and twigs that had fallen into the yard over winter. Mulch was saved to be reused in the garden this summer but branches were hauled away to the burn pile.

I had pulled the mulch off the rhubarb plant several days ago, so we picked that up and hauled it away.

Rhubarb, beautiful rhubarb! The first fruit of the season. So, okay, it still has a ways to go/grow but it'll come along quickly now.

Then because we were seeing strawberry leaves valiantly trying to poke up through their heavy mulch, I decided it was time to remove their winter blanket.

We're still having temps down to freezing and a little below at night, but these guys needed to breathe some fresh air and let the sun hit them. (Why do the weeds grow faster and stronger under the mulch than the strawberry plants?)

While I was working in the strawberry patch, hubby ran the little tiller around the perimeter of the field garden to deter the sod in its quest to spill over its boundary into the garden soil. Zoey, the Wonder Dog, checks to make sure a proper job is being done.

Next we attacked the fruit trees that are in sad need of pruning. We only got three done (seven more to go) before it was time for me to go in to start some dinner.

But before going in, I had to take a couple of shots of the garden bed I planted last Sunday. Here in the left side of the bed you can see radishes (two rows on the far left), and arugula (on the right) coming on strong. In between are two rows of lettuce not doing much yet.

On the right side are two more rows of radishes and a couple rows of lettuce. The spinach has yet to make an appearance. As I've said, our night time temps have still been getting down below 32° so I'm very pleased with the job the cold frame seems to be doing of protecting the little sprouts.

Tomorrow? Hubby and a friend are going on a hike as soon as J gets here after church. I'll drive them to a starting point several miles away and they'll hike back through the woods. If they take the shortest route, they'll do 4.9 miles. If they are going good and decide to throw in another loop or two off the trail, who knows how many miles they'll rack up.

As soon as I get home from dropping the guys off, I'm going directly into my quilt studio and play there the whole time they're gone. Unless I decide to go outside to weed in the garden beds. Or make a batch of cottage cheese. Or bake a blackberry pie with some wonderful frozen blackberries friends gave us. Or make some necessary organizational phone calls for an upcoming event. Or wash a few loads of rugs. Or get caught up on my blog reading. Or take a nap. ZZZZZ-zzzzzz.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Not Much to Offer Today

It's been a little extra busy around here the last couple of days so I haven't had the time to do much but keep the regular, routine things going.

We are so badly needing rain. We haven't had any precipitation since our last snow fall which was a long, long time ago. The forest fire danger is standing at VERY HIGH. Current conditions are at record dryness levels. Not a good way to start a spring/summer season.

Hubby and I returned to our firewood chores today after a hiatus of several days while he did our taxes. Not really a high item on his list of "Fun Things to Do" but with his accounting background, he does a darn good job of them each year, and I know we come out better than if we took them to someone else to do.

Funny (well, sad really) how quickly my body falls out of shape for the hard work wood working is. A few days off and I feel like all the originally felt aches and pains of the wood working season are right back again. Good illustration that you have to keep using muscles or they atrophy. Okay, so it's not that serious, but they sure do lose their strength and tone quickly.

Yesterday I had a mad, wild taste for a Banana Cream Pie. Tried to fight it off but finally succumbed and placed the finished product in the refrig at 4 p.m.

Wanna piece? Can't have one. It's gone. G-O-N-E. We split the last big piece for dessert after dinner tonight. How do two people eat a whole Banana Cream Pie in a 26-hour period? Noooo problem. Unfortunately, I used all but the last little bit of my husband's coffee cream to make the whipped topping so that means I have to go up to the farm tomorrow to get more. I've tried talking him into drinking his coffee black, but he will NEVER agree to that.

Nothing peeking up through the soil in the one garden bed I planted last Sunday, but I'm sure hoping to see some radishes sprout soon. A friend who stopped over this afternoon said that his farming relatives in the southern part of the state have started planting their field crops already. I don't know if that's going to turn out to have been a good idea or not, but it certainly seems as if we up here in the northern part of the state are at least two weeks (probably more) ahead of spring in a normal year.

I think I have sawdust inside my clothes from neck to toe so I'm headed for a nice, long, hot shower tonight and then an early bed to rest my sore muscles. (With maybe a cold glass of wine first.) Only three or four more days of wood working, and I'll (maybe) be back in shape again. Oooof.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A First For Us

Addition to Post: Hey, All! I've written a guest post over on Dig the Dirt. Go take a peek and leave a comment if you wish. (After arriving on the site, scroll down in "Popular Member Posts" and click on Mama Pea. I believe you cannot comment on my post without being a member, but that doesn't entail too much.)

I know what I'm going to blog about today will seem ridiculous to those of you gardeners in more temperate climates (who have your tomatoes in the ground already, for Pete's sake!), but yesterday I planted out one of our garden beds. It was the earliest I have EVER put seeds in the ground here in northern Minnesota.

April 11th! In a normal year, we would still have snow covering the beds. Because of our winter's scant amount of snow melting so early this year and warm(ish) temperatures also gracing us earlier than usual, I've been debating for some time whether I should try some cold hardy veggies in one of our garden beds.

Yesterday the sunshine and 60 degrees got the better of me, and I just went for it.

I had my choice of about 21 beds to plant in, and I chose this one. Some beds have permanent plantings in them, and currently we're using three for compost making. This one didn't have too many weeds growing in it yet so I deemed it THE ONE.

I turned the soil over with my trusty spading fork (lots of earthworms --- good sign), smoothed it out with a rake, and started planting.

Here I am making a furrow for planting radishes with my pointy-little-furrow-making stick.

Ta-dah! The bed totally planted and watered.

Our beds are 4' x 8' and I plant in 4' rows. The soil in the beds is good enough that I plant very intensively with only 6" of spacing between the rows. Granted, some veggies require a wider spacing, but for salad greens and such, I get by very nicely with only 6".

I planted 5 rows of lettuce, 5 rows of radishes, 4 rows of spinach and 1 row of arugula. That equals SIXTY feet of veggies in a 4' x 8' garden bed. It truly is amazing what you can do in a small space if you have good soil.

Because it wouldn't be uncommon to have an occasional frost at night all the way through May, I got hubby's help to put one of our cold frames on top of the bed. Now all I have to do is remember to water the bed regularly, open up the frame for ventilation in the morning so the little greenies don't suffocate and/or get fried by the sun (the cold frames overheat very easily), and then be sure to close it up at night to keep chilblains from setting in.

Yup, way, way early for gardening outside in northern Minnesota. Will my efforts turn out to be worth it this year? Or will it have been an exercise in futility? Only time will tell . . . but I'm already salivating just thinking about those fresh-from-the-garden salads!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mr. Deer Comes A-Callin'

It's not as if seeing a deer is an unusual sight for us living up here in the Northwoods. This past winter we rarely drove in or out of our driveway without seeing one or two (or six) cross in front of us from one side of the woods to the other.

In the summer, we regularly have a small herd of deer at sunset each night grazing in our little hay field. They look just like a bunch of cud-chewing cows.

The deer were here long before us and we are encroaching on their territory, but without fencing they will destroy your trees, shrubs, flowers and various other attempts at landscaping. Inviting a group of their friends to have a luncheon get together in your garden or to gather in your orchard to prune your fruit trees to resemble walking sticks is something they truly enjoy.

There's hardly a driver in the county who hasn't, at one time or other, had an unpleasant encounter with a deer on the road. At certain times of the year, they seem so thick and intent on jumping out into the road in front of vehicles that no matter how carefully you drive, accidents happen.

We have a 7' high fence around our garden, berry patches and fruit trees. Our poultry pasture which includes our small pond is enclosed by a 4' high fence. I think we know of only one or two incidences in the past when a deer has jumped this shorter fence to visit with the poultry.

But for the past three mornings, this fella (lady?) has shown up inside the fence.

Is it the water that attracts him?

Or the tender new shoots of grass coming up in the mowed pasture?

He took a walk around the perimeter of the pond coming into sight of the chicken house.

The chickens spotted him and immediately set up an awful kafuffle which, in turn, put him on alert.

Then the geese waddled out to see what was going on and when they started screeching, Mr. Deer decided it was no longer a bucolic place in which to spend time. He was up and over the fence in a single bound, high-tailing it (high-tailing it? get it?) into the safe, quiet shelter of the woods.