Friday, May 27, 2016

Green House Got it Going On!

Times are still too busy to write much (Big Memorial Day weekend project in the works, and more to come on that soon), but I wanted to post a greenhouse update. The kale, arugula, lettuce and cilantro are all very happy and we are very happy with our salads. The starts are happy too. Basically, build a greenhouse and create all kinds of happiness. That's how it works.

Happy planting!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Garden is Planted!

The Garden is planted, let the growing begin!

(More soon, it is a busy time on the homestead.)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Homebrewing Nettle Beer

Something I have learned along the way in life is that a sense of adventure makes everything more fun. This is true for many things, including homebrewing and wildcrafting. Combine the two and you can end up brewing some pretty wild things while having fun along the way. I have wanted to brew nettle beer for a long time now, and just hadn't felt like I could pick enough quantity for a decent sized batch. This year, I decided to just go for it, so we found this recipe in the Guardian (Homebrew From the Hederow: Brewing Nettle Beer)  and multiplied it up to about 5 gallons.

Our scaled-up version of the recipe:

8.8 Lbs fresh nettle tops
5.2 gallons water
3.96 Lbs dark brown sugar
8 lemons juiced
.11 Lbs cream of tartar

Champagne Yeast

I must say, picking over 8 Lbs of nettles is quite an endeavor, and quite a lot of nettles. I had to really get into the nettle patch to fill my baskets, and did not come out unscathed, but the nettle stings were well worth it.

You would be surprised how long it takes to get 8 Lbs of nettles up to a boil. It took nearly an hour of heating to achieve 15 minutes of boiling. The backyard smelled delicious though.

Once we removed the strainer pot of nettles, we stirred in the lemon juice, sugar, and cream of tartar.

It ended up being a little much for the 5 gallon carboy and we had to use our 6 gallon, where the beer happily fermented away for about two weeks.

Reviews on the final product have been a little mixed. I really love it, but I also really love nettles.  It's not quite like beer, and is more like a refreshing cooler or tonic than a party beverage. The gravity reading came out at 5%, so it's pretty low-key. I personally love it because it tastes 100% like stinging nettles,  with an added bubbly kick. Just like springtime in a jar.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cape Blanco Camping and Spruce Tip Harvest

When you've got wildcrafting goals and camping goals, and only so many weekends, sometimes you just have to multitask it. We did just that a few weekends ago on a camping trip down to Cape Blanco State Park on the southern Oregon Coast. We had been talking about picking spruce tips for a while, and noticed that on the coast, they were coming out in full force. With another batch of our spruce ginger beer in the plans, as well as spruce tea and other good things, this was an exciting find. 

Fortunately for us (and maybe less fortunately for the kids) they had a lot of homework, so while they worked away at the table in our camping cabin, we were out filling empty bread bags and whatever containers we could find with beautiful, bright green, bushy spruce tips.

It didn't take long to pick around 8 gallons. We felt pretty accomplished for just being out on a weekend camping getaway.

When we weren't harvesting spruce tips and doing homework, we got out to walk on the beach and hike the trails. Cape Blanco is one of my favorite spots on the coast, and it's especially beautiful in the spring.

We got lucky with some low morning tides and clear weather.

We also got lucky finding rocks. 

With the tide out, we discovered that the point of the cape below the lighthouse is a perfect spot for tidepooling.

There were quite a few sea stars exposed.

As it turns out, we were not the only ones enjoying the beach that day. 

We returned from our weekend at the coast with spruce tips, cool rocks, completed homework and good memories. It was definitely a successful trip. From here on out, the spring will be busy on the homestead with preparing the garden and planting time, but when we kick back in the rocking chairs at the end of the day with a glass of spruce beer, we will remember beautiful spring days on the beach at Cape Blanco. It's a delicious life.

Here are some useful links with a little more info on Cape Blanco and spruce tips:

Thursday, April 21, 2016

It's Good to be a Cat

While we've been working hard around the homestead, Little Sadie and Sundance are just being cool cats in the shade.

It's good to be a cat.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Glass Window Greenhouse

As is the story with many DIY-ers, an up-cycled glass window greenhouse project was on my to-do list for years. I started saving a window collection when we moved onto this homestead three years ago, and responded to a few "free window" offers from friends who were updating the windows on their houses. I even found a snazzy antique grange door and stained glass window left here in our barn that I wanted to incorporate as key pieces. A lot of folks I know have the same window stash with the very same intentions as mine, but I am proud to say that this year we actually did it! We completed our glass window greenhouse project this spring, almost entirely out of re-purposed materials and now I'm not sure how we ever got by without it.

The window collection that I mentioned grew for a while in our shed, until we had enough seedling losses and mishaps that we decided the greenhouse was an essential. The project was fast tracked to the top of the list.

We started by identifying our location and maximum footprint. The spot we picked was close to the garden and next to a spigot fed by the spring. When Corey's parents were visiting, his dad helped us calculate out what windows to fit together for each side based on the footprint and drew up some plans. Then Corey got to work digging the four post holes and leveling out the floor.

Aside from setting the four support posts in concrete, the project took a pause there as the summer got busy, and resumed in the fall with putting on the clear corrugated roof, framing in the front door and framing windows in on the walls one layer at a time. We would make a row of windows of the same height, secure them to a 2x4 along the top, and create the next layer the same way above them. We were lucky at this point in the project to have another friend donate his unused window stash to the cause.

Because we were fitting a lot of different, funky shaped windows together, there were some gaps and a lot of shimming was involved. We felt like this was OK for this particular type of greenhouse because our climate doesn't get THAT cold, and the biggest issue with most glass window greenhouses is not enough ventilation. We ended up having to secure the shims in place with wood glue after they started to fall out when temperatures changed and things contracted.

We used an empty window frame for the door, which we later covered with greenhouse plastic. The door was set up to latch open, and a couple of the windows were hinged to prop open in summer.

The issue of the corners at the top were solved by filling in with 2x2 strips cut at an angle at the ends so they were flush with slope of the roof line.

By the early spring, we had gotten most of the shimming done and were ready to tackle the floor, raised beds and benches in time for planting time. 

We set in a concrete block for the step up into the greenhouse (it was built at the edge of a small terrace), and put down some black plastic on the floor. The idea was to deter grass and nearby mint from coming up inside. 

We built narrow raised beds out of recycled cedar decking boards around the perimeter of the floor and got them filled in with potting soil. Then we took some recycled bricks I had been saving from an intended project when I lived in the farm cottage at Empty Gate, and set them in on a layer of sand with more sand in the cracks in between. Once we watered them in a few times, it was a solid floor with good drainage from the slight downhill slope to the front of the greenhouse.

To fill in the gap along the top front, Corey made a frame covered in greenhouse plastic to latch open on hot days and get a cross breeze going.

For the frames, we used a couple of metal grid panels that we unearthed from the brambles along our fence. They fit perfectly on the sides. We fastened them with heavy duty zip ties onto sturdy "L" brackets along the vertical 2x4 framing. 

For the back bench, we just happened to find a metal shelf at the recycled building goods store that fit EXACTLY in place. We did the same "L" bracket and zip tie routine, and it was good to go for holding wet seed trays.

It was exciting to get those starts going and know that they were safe from the mice, slugs, marauding cats and other would-be seedling killers.

I wasted no time planting kale, lettuce, cilantro and 5 different types of arugula. I really love arugula in case you couldn't tell.

There is nothing quite like eating salads out of your own greenhouse in the early spring, and going out to plant and water seedlings in the morning. Now we can extend our season of home grown greens into the fall as well with greens and winter lettuces. Not to mention, it makes a great reading spot on sunny winter days. I may be biased, but I think everyone needs a greenhouse for better quality of life. Mine is certainly improved with a greenhouse in it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Healing Allergy Inflammation With Stinging Nettle Article

My latest article published in Organic Lifestyle Magazine is all about stinging nettles as a treatment for allergy related inflammation. Check it out!