Out here in Oregon, I enjoy the rough-hewn life of a modern homesteader and mountain woman, weaving outdoor adventures into the fabric of everyday living. Whether tending this McKenzie River homestead hearth or a campfire up in the mountains, I find great enjoyment in the work of a self-sufficient life. Gather around as I share my tales of camping, cooking, hiking, handcrafting, wildcrafting, canning, growing food, keeping chickens, and raising twin children. It is my hope to share some ideas and inspiration with other folks, to strengthen our connections with the land and wild places.
We spent some time over the weekend working with the earth and getting the garden prepped, just in time for Earth Day. With the help of a bargain rototiller we got over the summer from a friend's grandfather, our trailer load of aged steer manure, all of Corey's old newspapers, woodchips from the free city piles, and a bale of straw, we now have a beautiful garden taking shape for the season. I am enjoying standing back and just looking at it in the mornings before the busy days begin.
We left little islands around the chard, arugula, wheatgrass and kale that overwintered, and tried out some different types of rows this year, like blocks, and a keyhole garden in the center.
With the last of our storage onions being eaten this week, it felt good to get onion sets in the ground. I planted my favorites, Red Zeppelin and Walla Walla Sweet. We also got all the potatoes in and sowed some pea, radish and arugula seeds.
Since the greenhouse project turned out to be a little more complicated and in need of more windows than we had saved, we created a makeshift cold frame over this raised bed, that seems to be much more successful than the strawbale one last year that was basically a hotel and buffet for mice.
Everyone plays their part on the homestead. For some of us, that's working hard, and for some it's hardly working. I suppose we all need a catnap from time to time.
This includes the kids, who have been enjoying time in their hammocks on these warm spring afternoons. They have this "work hard, play hard" philosophy down.
It seems fitting that it should be Earth Day, with the earth waking up from winter everywhere you look. I enjoyed reading this John Muir quote this morning, courtesy of the Sierra Club this morning in honor of his Earth Day Birthday:
"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life."
April is a busy time around here, with everyone abuzz, especially the wild honeybees living in the woodshed wall. While they've been doing their job pollinating, we've been working hard providing them with plenty of things to be pollinated. The garden is tilled, paths are mulched, potatoes and onions are planted, peas are sown, and starts are going in a cold frame. All in a weekend's work.
More on all that to come, but for now, I'll just enjoy some rest and let it "bee."
A load of manure is a pretty exciting thing on a homestead. Seriously, I would never B.S. you. It means a healthy garden, abundant vegetables, and the most bang for your buck as far as fertilizers go. It all comes back to the nutrient cycle. Garden nutrients can be added with composting and chicken coop cleanings, but when your garden is large, and you have no livestock of your own, you need a little something extra. I had been out to a local dairy a few years ago to get aged steer manure for my old farm in Elmira, and it produced some impressive results. After enjoying a couple fruitful growing seasons from this garden, I figured it was time to give something back. Since the dairy was also near my favorite local brewery, Agrarian Ales, we decided to make a field trip of it with some friends and Corey's parents who were visiting from the Midwest. Let me tell you, we really know how to show folks a good time here in Oregon.
With the help of utility trailer Corey re-furbished this summer, we were able to leave the truck at come and save it a cleaning. Our utility trailer proved itself useful again, as we drove right up, handed the farmer our $10, and received a bulldozer load of premium cow patties.
Manure, like most things in life, goes farther when you share the load with friends, so we distributed it out between our trailer and our friend's pickup truck. We knew we were in good company, because a true friend in life is one who will shovel the shit together.
With our rich treasure in tow, we headed through the farmland north of Coburg to pay a visit to Agrarian Ales. Located on Crossroads Farm, a small family farm specializing in chili peppers, hop farmers and brewers Nathan Tilley and Tobias Schock craft their beers from farm to glass. They grow many of their own ingredients on site, and get the rest from other local farms.
Of all the delicious ales I sampled, Poblamo! (an amber ale brewed with the same fire roasted poblano chilies they sell at our local farmer's market) remains my favorite. It tastes like the garden, with a balanced pepper flavor and smoky finish.
The manure adventure did not stop there. We drove our steaming trailer into town to grab a bite of dinner with Corey's folks. For some reason, nobody would park by us in the parking lot. I think they were just jealous.
Once we got home with our prize, we hauled it by wheelbarrow loads to the garden. Let me tell you, it was smelling pungent out in our yard, but I kept telling the kids that was the smell of garden success. They didn't seem quite as thrilled as I did, but I think they got the picture.
This load of manure is going to go a long way towards building soil nutrients and a productive growing season. In addition, we have the fun memories of our manure field trip that none of us will soon forget. I'm sure Corey's parents will be telling the story to their friends back home for a long time to come.
Some friends came over to visit us on Easter, and I was feeling festive, so I decided to make some hot cross buns to go with our soup and veggie dyed eggs. I've tried my hand at these a few times before, and the dough is so sticky, they always end up kind of lumpy by the end. This time I was doing something right, because they came out very bun-like and delicious.
To make them, I simply used a basic dinner roll recipe from the Joy of Cooking, increased the sweetener, and added spices and currants. I skipped the icing crosses on the top and just cut an X into the top of each one before baking. Spread with a little pasture butter, they were delightful.
Hot Cross Buns
Scald 1 cup milk
Add and stir until dissolved:
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup currants
2 Tbsp lemon peel
Stir 1 package dry yeast into 2 Tbsp lukewarm water
Add milk mixture once cooled
Beat in 1 egg
Stir in 2 2/3 cups flour gradually, kneading in the last half. Knead until the dough can be handled easily and let rise in a covered bowl until doubled.
Shape into balls and let rise on a cookie sheet until doubled. Cut an X in the top or make an icing X after baking.