The Winter, It Will Pass

We’re only a calendar month into winter but already we’re enjoying hints of the coming spring. The first hint is that Runnings has their seed display up! There has been moisture in the air, bluebird skies, and the excitement of springtime approaching! It has been a whirlwind of sourdough baking and chickens, puppies and our first two calves, housework and laundry and getting ready to visit my sister in Illinois.

Calving has officially started for us with the excitement (and puzzlement) of our first two calves of the year, beautiful full-term babies in spite of being born a solid month sooner than expected. That’s called a bull with initiative. The first calf showed up on Sunday, and the second one was found Monday. Both pairs are safely settled into the nursery pen on our end of the ranch. What a beautiful sight! Gorgeous, lanky-legged, satin-sleek calves tripping along daintily behind their protective mamas.

Puppies are (literally) underfoot during most of chores and throughout the day, finding everything absolutely fascinating. They watch attentively while chickens get fed, torment the cats, and come running in a black and white wave when they’re called. It takes about ten times longer just to walk up the hill to the house, with half a dozen puppies chasing my feet and scheming to trip me. All our females are spoken for and we are looking for homes for our two boy pups, Max and Teddy. We’re excited to see how they all turn out. They are so smart, it’s a little scary!

The chickens are already going gangbusters (for a flock the size of mine), with fourteen eggs today and a dozen yesterday. They have come through their first cold snaps beautifully with only a couple mild incidents of frostbite on a couple larger-combed hens, have been healthy overall, and I’m excited to embark on my second year of chicken keeping. I have learned so much this year, dealing with coccidiosis in my chicks, bumblefoot in a few hens, a few unfortunate dog attacks and resulting chicken first aid, and dealing with a crossbeak chicken who, after today’s beak work, is able to eat again!I’m very thankful for the customers I have and am looking forward to being able to provide eggs for more people this year! It was satisfying to know that my family always had eggs, even when the stores didn’t! And they’re better eggs anyway.

I hauled a bunch of loose hay up from the stackyard this week to give the chickens something to scratch in when they’re locked up and to help with mud when we get snow. The run looks better and the chickens love it. I’m excited to work on making chicken farming more sustainable this year and to try growing some fodder crops specifically for feeding my flock.

So we are off to a running start this year, excited for calving, excited to get planning my garden, excited to grow my flock, excited for what this year will hold. Spring really is just around the corner. The winter, it will pass.

Back in Business

As of today, I am back in the blue egg business! One of my Ameraucanas, which I actually was concerned was a rooster, left me this beautiful blue egg.

There’s just something about a colorful egg basket. And now I know my young flock is starting to lay!

Blue-Eyed Banshees

A tragic incident on Friday bereft me of my favorite hen, and has rendered Pearl unfit for and relieved of chicken duty. My very kind husband never once laughed at my copious tears for poor Amelia who got her little head ripped clean off and the next day he brought home three cats. Three beautiful, white critters, with toffee-colored point markings and the bluest eyes. And they are wild as little banshees. Considering that, and they fact that they will never lay blue eggs, I’m not sure it quite replaces my poor beheaded chicken, but I’m willing to be open minded.

They were born to a neighbor’s barn cat and haven’t really ever been handled. As long as I keep both my eyes and all my digits, the two girls will be mine, and the male, provided he’ll let me shape and mold his disagreeable disposition, will be sent up north to my mother-in-law who lost one of her mousers (supposedly a mouser; I’ve only ever seen them snoozing) about a month ago.

Amelia (in honor of the deceased chicken, may we always fondly remember the dead) and Madeline are capable of the most withering looks of disdain, with their slightly crossed and very blue eyes, and such scornful looks they don’t hesitate to cast in my general direction if I offend them. As long as I mind my manners and don’t talk too loud, they’ll deign to emerge from their little corners and frisk about at a royal distance. Occasionally one might sneak closer, but stop far enough away to remind me of proper etiquette and the fact that they don’t appreciate having been cat-napped.

I rather have my doubts that they understand yet that all parties on this ranch will eventually be expected to fulfill certain obligations, but I’ll let these blue-eyed banshees bask in the warmth of their deity and their self righteous indignation for a little longer.

Ranch Wife Musings: Good Mornings

“Good morning!” There’s a lot tied up in that little greeting, depending on the recipient. My husband gets the first “good morning” of the day, for obvious reasons. After coffee and breakfast, the dogs get a “good morning,” then the cats, the chickens, the horses, and sometimes even the garden. It just depends on how personable I’m feeling.

It’s hard to have a truly bad morning when it starts with coffee and is followed by the cacophony of grateful little noises of a passel of chickens and two-month-old chicks. This little chicken here is Bianca. She loves to be scratched under the chin. As an aside, my husband complains that I have more pictures of my chickens than of him. He is absolutely correct, and I gently remind him that they outnumber him and are uniquely cooperative. I also want to make a disclaimer: I really don’t like selfies, and pretty much the only times I take them are either with a chicken or with abnormally large vegetables.

In spite of some very chilly nights and actually resorting to turning on the furnace this morning for the first time this fall, the garden is as of yet unfrosted! This coneflower has been getting more and more beautiful for about the last week, and if the warmish weather continues, there are a few more buds trying to bloom.

The turnips got thinned this morning and the mature ones planted much earlier this summer got fully harvested. They’ll make a delicious turnip green soup!

Now to put the kitchen to rights after all the canning yesterday, tidying the house, drying herbs, and a long walk. Doesn’t get much better.

I love a good morning.

Fall Days

This time of year, the shortening days fill up swiftly with a never ending list of tasks to be done. They’re the pleasant, busy sort of tasks that can easily occupy a full day, and make a chilly, blustery, foggy day not seem quite so dreary! Much of yesterday and today was spent in a fog bank, making those inside tasks extra appealing. I actually thoroughly enjoy an honest-to-goodness fall day, whether that be sunny and blue skies, or drizzly and foggy, but I have to say I don’t enjoy freezing myself without due cause. So as the outdoor tasks slowly wrap up, the indoor tasks really take off.

The garden has mostly finished producing, so over the last couple of weeks I’ve been slowly clearing it out, putting away the sprinklers and garden hoses, saving and stacking the pots from our trees to grow tomatoes and/or peppers in next year, and sorting through my seed collection. It is a little sad to see the season wrapping up, but it is also exciting, because inevitably I’m already thinking about my garden for next year!

As I’ve cleaned the garden out, I’ve picked winter squashes and pumpkins, a little early, perhaps, after a terrible case of powdery mildew infested the vines. If it isn’t grasshoppers, hail, or an early frost, it’s powdery mildew. Oh, well. It didn’t really affect my squash harvest anyway, so what does it matter? Next year, the squash will get planted with better breathing room, which will help with the mildew issure. My kind husband helped me haul them all inside yesterday, since it sure felt like it could have frosted last night, and the whole corner of our dining room is now covered with Hubbard squash and pumpkins, and a couple of random others, a meat squash and two Lakota squashes. The meat squash seeds were ancient and only gave me one squash, and the Lakota squash just didn’t really do much. The Hubbards, however, did amazingly well, and will definitely be in the garden plans for next year! The largest of my Hubbard squashes weighed in at a wonderful 25 pounds, and I can’t wait to bake it later this fall or in the winter! Each vine isn’t particularly prolific, in general only producing one large squash, but each will produce a few smaller ones that can be picked young, during the summer, and sauteed like zucchini, only better than zucchini.

I’ve baked and pureed a number of the pumpkins to freeze for pies, roasted the seeds, and baked up some delicious chocolate chip pumpkin muffins (here’s the recipe if you’re so inclined). I put up a bunch of zucchini salsa and green tomato zucchini salsa, a great way to use zucchinis (I actually intentionally grow them big just for such a recipe), and have also dehydrated zucchini chips for snacking and shredded a bunch to freeze for zucchini bread and other recipies. We will eat really well this fall and winter!

There are some kale and chard plants that are still producing, and are doing better now that the grasshoppers aren’t destroying them, and I have beets yet to harvest, and turnips and carrots still growing. The zucchini plants have mostly petered out, what the mildew didn’t kill off, but there are still a good half dozen baby zucchini left to harvest, and hopefully we have enough warmth this next week for them to grow a little more. Maybe I’ll do another dehydrator full of zucchini chips!

I picked just about all of the green tomatoes out of the garden and spent today making green tomato salsa verde. Yes, yes, I know green tomatoes can be picked and will ripen over time, but I honestly just wanted to put a wrap on the tomato project for the year and didn’t want a million green tomatoes looking at me every time I opened the door to the spare bedroom, which serves as our pantry and freezer room. And the salsa is delicious. Every single jar pinged the first time, too, so that was extra satisfying. Sixteen pints of salsa verde added to the pantry!

The plum project (finally!) wrapped up last week, as well as the apple project, with pureed plums and chopped apples in the freezer for crisps, cobblers, and pies. Over the last month, I put up several quarts of plum pie filling, several of apple pie filling, several pints of plum jam, and many half pints of plum butter and spicy plum sauce (amazing on crackers with cream cheese…tangy sweet with a spicy kick!), as well as quart bags of dehydrated apples, which Brad and I really enjoy snacking on. With all of that fresh fruit waiting to be processed over the last few weeks, I had gotten spoiled, chopping a couple of the small plums and putting them on my homemade yogurt for breakfast in the mornings. I will miss that, but I tried some of the leftover plum pie filling on my yogurt this morning and, boy, oh, boy, it was delicious. Mm. Wow.

And with all of this harvesting, the chickens have been eating really well. Really really well. Spoiled little things. Pretty much nothing goes to waste! It is fun to watch them pick a pumpkin shell, what’s left after I bake it and scrape it out, down to the very last bit of rind, or devour overly-ripe plums and leave clean-picked plum pits in their feed pans.

These fall days fill up so quickly, and are over in a blur. But it really is just the best time of year.

Recipes | Pumpkin Chip Muffins

Fall is officially here. There is that unmistakeable something in the air, especially in the cool of the evening, that spicy sweetness unlike at any other time of the year. The shadows get longer as the days get shorter and shorter, which actually gets me excited for long, cozy fall and winter evenings, working on projects, reading, doing those sorts of things that are just about done away with during the long days of summer.

Baking isn’t what I generally gravitate towards in the kitchen, but with fall in air and fresh pumpkins being harvested out of the garden, what better thing to bake than these delicious pumpkin chip muffins! I don’t go for pumpkin spice, but this just tastes like fall to me.

Ingredients

2 c. pumpkin, mashed or pureed (or a 15 oz. can of solid pack pumpkin)

4 eggs

2 c. sugar

1 stick salted butter, softened

1 c. coconut oil, melted

3 c. flour

1 t. baking powder

2 t. soda

2 T. cinnamon

1/2 t. salt

2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

2 T. vanilla

1 c. finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Instructions

Beat together the first five ingredients, until smooth. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl and gradually add to the pumpkin mixture – Mix well. Add vanilla. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts.

Scoop roughly a quarter cup of batter to each cup in your muffin tin, either greased or lined with muffin papers.

Bake at 400 degrees F. for 15-18 minutes.

Cool for 10 minutes and then place individually on cooling racks. Recipe yields roughly 2 dozen muffins.

Notes

This recipe can be made with or without muffin papers, obviously. I much prefer using the papers, since these are pretty crumbly and moist when they’re warm, so it is a lot easier to handle them in a muffin paper. You can use just about as many chocolate chips as you want…I’ve done anywhere from 2 to 3 cups. It just depends on how chocolately you want them! I have also put a few tablespoons of cocoa powder in the batter, if I’m feeling the need for something extra chocolately. They no longer look like pumpkin if you do that, but they’re delicious all the same. If you want an extra kick of pumpkiny goodness, add a little more pureed pumpkin. Play with the amount of cinnamon and vanilla. I think my original recipe called for something silly like 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. I like to actually taste the cinnamon, thank you very much! You can also use white whole wheat flour for this, and I’m sure you could use regular whole wheat, although I imagine the texture and density would change.

These keep pretty well in the fridge and are delicious warmed up in the microwave for 10 seconds, with a little dab of butter.

Enjoy this taste of fall!