DIY Easter Egg Dye

Here’s a project for folks who like stuff cheap and easy.

It’s not that I have anything against store-bought egg dye kits, it’s just that I came across some dye recipes and they were crazy easy and we already had almost everything to do it.

Here’s what we used:

  • Shredded beets (about a cup)
  • Purple cabbage (about half a head)
  • Ground Turmeric (two tablespoons)
  • Red Onion Skins (some)
  • Yellow Onion Skins (also, some)

One at a time, we boiled the items in about a quart or so of water.  Once they were boiling, we covered them and let them simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the color was really vibrant.

DSC_0005Each color was strained through cheesecloth and cooled.

The eggs were hard-boiled and then cooled to room temperature.

Because some of the colors promised different results on white eggs vs. brown eggs, we tried both in these cases.

DSC_0006The eggs were fully submerged in the dye and then placed into the refrigerator to chill until the color was bright.

This ended up taking about an hour and a half or so (but I’m impatient and they probably should have been left longer for better results).

DSC_0001In the end, we got colors very close to the promised outcomes.

More than anything, it was really nice to do this from scratch.

I doubt we’ll be buying store kits again anytime soon.

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This is Pretty Sappy

Buckets on trees collecting sap.  VERY high-tech.

Buckets on trees collecting sap. VERY high-tech.

This is our third year of boiling maple sap for syrup.

The first year, we scored about 25 gallons of sap from a friend who just couldn’t bear to boil another drop.  We drove to her place, collected the buckets, and took them home to boil.

This was the ideal Intro to Maple Syrup Making.  We dragged the portable burner and the tank of propane out to the driveway and set the sap to boil.  As the volume in the pot lowered, we’d add another bucketful.  We did this over and over (and over and over) until we’d boiled those 25 gallons down to slightly more than two quarts of syrup.

That’s right.

The ratio of sap to syrup is a frustratingly small 40:1, meaning it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

And, it takes FOREVER.

Starting last year, we tapped our own trees and increased our yield significantly.  Even only tapping eight trees, we still managed to collect something like 50 gallons of sap (a little more than a gallon of syrup).

Indoor boiling--a carefully thought-out decision.

Indoor boiling–a carefully thought-out decision.

Because we forgot to fill the propane tanks and because the portable burner was buried under tons of stuff in the garage and because we are disorganized and kind of lazy, we “decided” to try boiling indoors.

It worked out fine, albeit crazy-slow; and that’s how we’re doing it again this year.

There are only two real downsides to indoor boiling–

One is that it is sloooooooooow going.  One five-gallon pot can take three or four hours to boil down, maybe longer.  Then, consider the infusions of sap that are added along the way, and you’ve got yourself a good two- or three-day investment into syrup making.

These guys would be stoked about the atmosphere in my kitchen right now.

These guys would be stoked about the atmosphere in my kitchen right now.

Unlike boiling sap over a large open flame or, better yet, in a proper evaporator, the indoor process just doesn’t generate the same quality of heat and doesn’t cover nearly the surface area.

It is, however, what we have available.

Two is that your home becomes the sap version of a Russian bathhouse, only without the fat men with back hair wearing nothing but waist towels.

My pores are so sweetly clogged

My pores are so sweetly clogged

And even the steam room effect is really not so bad now that the days are just warm enough to crack open the windows. After several months of dry winter air, a little moisture is pretty welcome.

So, we will continue to collect sap until the trees tell us they are done for the year and we will continue to boil the sap until it has all become syrup.

So worth it.  Thanks, trees.

So worth it. Thanks, trees.

Like honey from the bees, sweet syrup from the trees is just one more gift from this little farm.

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WTF, Chickens?

Back in January, I wrote about the plethora of eggs we’d been getting from our hens.

That was two months ago, and the ladies have only become more prolific since then.

Since we track our eggs daily, we tend to notice small fluctuations in numbers.  These fluctuations are typically indicators of how good we are at finding where the hens are currently stashing their goods.

Their hidey-holes tend to change weekly or, if we’re extremely lucky, every other week.

Just as we trick ourselves into believing we know all their stash spots, the chickens change them; a clutch develops in some hidden nook, and the neglected and undiscovered eggs begin to freeze.

For example, until recently, we knew the hens were laying in the following five spots:

  1. The mud room milk crate
  2. The dog carrier in the garage
  3. The bag of pine shavings in the garage
  4. The floor of the goat shed
  5. The chicken coop

Note that these are listed in the order of most-commonly used to least.

Over the past couple of days, our egg tally was starting to wane.  The difference was only a couple of eggs per day, but clearly the girls were on the move.

Since the garage has been the favored spot for the vast majority of our feathered mamas, I thought I’d start my search there.

Chicken baby bonanza

Chicken baby bonanza

I glanced in a few corners and behind a couple of hay bales.

Then, I looked on the floor between some hog fencing, some bricks, and a piece of scrap plywood, and found the mother lode.

By the time I went through this stockpile to determine which eggs, if any, hadn’t frozen, I realized that just a little closer to me, down in the blanket-lined-box we’d provided for the barn cat, was ANOTHER shit-ton of eggs.

IMG_8841

We are helpful.

And I don’t think they were laid by the cat.

But I really don’t know.

What I do know is that I found 54 eggs in the garage today.

Of those 54 eggs:

  • 15 were frozen and were thrown to the dogs for snacking,
  • six were not frozen, but were WAY too gross to keep, and
  • 35 were perfectly good, clean, lovely eggs.
Bonus material

Bonus material

I just wonder where they’ll be stashing them next?

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Branching Out

I am having a seriously bad hair day.

I am having a seriously bad hair day.

The one mature apple tree on our property needed pruning.

Almost three years ago, we planted five apple trees, four pear trees, and a peach tree in various spots around the farm. While these timber babes are starting to need the occasional trim here and there, they are, for the most part, still too young to need much in the way of maintenance.

The Big Guy, however, needs loads of trimming in order to ensure healthy growth and to avoid having branches break under the weight of fruit at the height of the summer growing season.

Interestingly, this particular tree seeems to only produce apples every other year.  This may be due to the type of wild apple tree it is, OR it may be due to the fact that it wasn’t regularly/properly pruned for many years.  Possibly both.

Furthermore, the apples it does produce are really, really terrible.

But, even really terrible apples are worthwhile.  For one, the pigs and goats LOVE them. For two, when cooked and sweetened, they make wonderful apple sauce.  For three, when juiced and fermented, they make a perfectly good cider vinegar.

Chimney, the apple tree gnome, in a prison of vertical shoots.

Chimney, the apple tree gnome, in a prison of vertical shoots.

So, we do what it takes to maintain the tree.

The easiest part is removing the vertical shoots that grow up from the main branches.

The not-so-easy part is climbing to the very top to do the maintenance that really needs the most doing.

The idea behind pruning is to allow the tree to grow in a way that benefits it.

I am NOT receiving Vitamin D right now.

I am NOT receiving Vitamin D right now.

Left to its own devices, a tree such as this will become a wild tangle of growth that will eventually criss-cross itself to the point of preventing sunlight to reach the lower branches.

This is would be like sitting out in the sun to get your much-needed vitamin D with a tarp over your head.

And that’s not good.

So, we remove any large branches that might be blocking too much light from reaching the branches below, any diseased or broken branches, any growing vertically or straight down, and any growing inward to the tree’s center.

Stilts, anyone?

Stilts, anyone?

All of this upkeep needs to happen annually to ensure the continued healthy growth of the tree.

And we’ve done that to the best of our admittedly-limited ability.

But we still can’t reach the top.

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Making (Not-Fancy) Beeswax Candles

Clean, beautiful beeswax

Clean, beautiful beeswax

After spinning out last summer’s honey, I was able to clean the wax cappings and get a little over a half pound of clean, beautiful beeswax.

I realize that’s not much, but it’s a little over a half pound more than I’ve ever gotten before, so I was pleased.

The process was time-consuming and messy (you can read about it here), but ultimately worth it, if even just to be able to make a few candles.

Now, there are many beautiful molds and kits out there for making lovely and elaborate votives, tapers, ornaments, you name it.  All I really wanted to do, however, was to create a few simple candles for our very infrequent and utilitarian purposes.

So, I kept it really simple, using entirely stuff I had around the house (except wicking; I had to buy wicking).

DSC_0017Ingredients:

  • Wicking
  • Pennies
  • Sticks or pencils (I used wooden skewers)
  • Hot glue gun
  • Beeswax
  • Coconut Oil
  • Scissors
  • Candle votive (I used 4 oz. Ball jars)

DSC_0020First, I cut the wick into equal-length pieces, measuring from the bottom of my jar to about two inches above the top of the rim.  This gave me enough extra wicking to secure at both ends.

I then hot-glued one end of each piece of wicking to a penny.  This will serve as the base and weight for each wick.

DSC_0021Next, the penny-weighted wicks were placed into the center of each jar and tied at the top to a wooden skewer (but you can use a pencil or a comb or a pregnancy test or anything you like) to keep the wick as straight as possible.

Over a double boiler (basically a bowl fitted over a pot of boiling water), I melted the beeswax.  For my half-pound of beeswax,  1/3 cup of coconut oil was added to the melted wax.

DSC_0025Once the mixture was melted completely together, I poured enough into each jar to coat the wicks and the pennies.  This allows the set-up to set up (!) and ensures that the wick is properly coated for a nice, even burn once the candle is lit.

The remaining wax-oil mixture is then poured into the jars until they are filled.  At this point, they need to sit, untouched,  for 24 hours.

After being allowed to sit, the candles will still be softish, but will be firm enough to cut away your stick-of-choice and trim the wick to about 1/4 inch.

After cutting away the stick and wick, allow the candles to sit another 24 hours before lighting.

DSC_0002When you do decide to light your candle, be sure to light the wick at the base, closest to the candle top.  This will help it burn more evenly.

I don’t know why.

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I’d Like to Tap That

applewoodfarm:

As we prepare to tap our sugar maples for this spring’s sap harvest, I reviewed last year’s post for information. Thought I’d be SUPER lazy and reblog it, rather than write a new one. For once in my life, I didn’t have something to add.

Originally posted on applewood farm:

IMG_2755 Hmm… could be anything, really.

Back at the end of September, I wrote about our time spent marking the sugar maples on our property.  It was a stroke of genius on our part, since it is REALLY difficult to determine tree types when they are completely devoid of leaves.

In the spring, identification would be impossible for us, but in the autumn, all we had to do was walk around with some twine and our eyes and look for the telltale sugar maple leaf.

Once located, we would measure the circumfrence of each tree to determine whether it was a candidate for tapping.

IMG_0472 Sinatra-loving timber

We looked for trees that were around 20″ in diameter (preferably larger) that had a well-exposed south-facing spot to hang a bucket.

There are some basic rules of thumb about which trees to use and how large they should be.  These rules vary wildly based…

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Goats, Beautiful Goats

There was a beautiful, sunny day last week.

I left work to let the dogs out and check on the other animals and was immediately struck by how lovely everything looked.

Something about the angle of the sun and the stillness of the day made everything (and everyone) look exceptionally photogenic.

So, I ran back inside for my camera.

DSC_0013Now, the pigs were sleeping and not getting up, and the chickens were largely hunkered down in the garage, but the goats… well… the goats were posing like it was a shoot for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover (livestock issue).

Especially our stinky, borrowed buck.  He was working the camera with everything he had.

All that was missing was a wind machine.

DSC_0015DSC_0022DSC_0030

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