“To plant a gar…

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow…” – Audrey Hepburn

It’s about that time again!! Almost time to begin planning and plotting…  to start seeing the potential in that little piece of ground and calling the shots.

Can’t wait!

What are your plans for your garden this year?

Here Comes the Rain Again…

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Those sages of our time… the Eurythmics… at least had the forecast right for the Willamette Valley yesterday and today. Here Comes the Rain Again indeed.The winter rain has returned in earnest and I’m not really sad about it – normally I would be complaining something fierce. Whining about wet feet, wet clothes… wet head; but in fact, I’m very thankful.

For those of you that aren’t from the Willamette Valley and aren’t aware of the current conditions around here – we’ve been under drought conditions for the past several months – We had a pretty dry summer, and an extremely dry fall – thus far the winter is shaping up to be the same. In fact, we have a couple of really rare winter wildfires burning in parts of the state! All of those should be quantifiable indicators but the TRUE indicator that it’s really dry… is that the Californians that have come to Oregon for our incredible summers.. ARE STAYING!! No… seriously… they didn’t all move back at the beginning of October when the rain starts… like they normally do! They’re overwintering!

All joking aside – we have had a total precipitation in the month of January of 1.47 inches of rain. Ordinarily – we average around 6.5 inches… December, November, October, and September… all the same story… We have next to no snow pack currently, and the reservoirs are already the lowest I can remember seeing them in a very long time…

All of this adds up to the potential for a very dry summer.

… BUT – if there’s one thing Oregon can do – it’s surprise you. A few years back – we experienced Juneuary… where it snowed at the valley floor on the 6th of June. We’ve had other June’s where it has just POURED rain for most of the month… but the ordinary deal we have with the weather around here is that it gets to pour buckets of rain for like 9 months out of the year – and what we get in return is 3 good months of awesome weather. Year after year – we gladly make the trade…

However, this year – the weather didn’t get the memo.

It has really reinforced my need to get our water collection system up and running on the coop – get the gutter hung, piped to the barrels – and put that roof to work. Turns out It’s more difficult to to garden if you’re on water restrictions – it’s bad enough at this point, it might just impact what and how we plant this year if it doesn’t start shaping up in the next month or so… so somewhat new territory for us here at the Little House on 17th Street.

If there’s one thing gardeners and homesteaders for that matter are good at doing – it’s rolling with the punches.

Interestingly – all of the almanacs seemed to point to a horrific winter up here in the Northwest – so far, it seems as though all of that has headed southeast of us. Realistically, it’s not worth worrying over, but worth keeping an eye on for planning purposes… because garden planning season and the time to start seeds is right around the corner…

What are your favorite dry weather crops?

Which crops do you plant that don’t require heavy watering during the summer months?

Applesauce Yummies

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Here at the Little House on 17th Street – partly due to my recent endeavor at weight loss and fitness – but mostly due to Shannon’s preferred methods of preparing meals, we’re always looking for ways to smarten up some of our favorites. I like cookies – and in the old days I would eat close to a dozen at a time… (not all at once mind you… but one here, two there, three a little later… by the time I was done, the bowl was gone, and I had my Forever Alone face on…)

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It turns out – Shannon used to make these cookies before I had started working on my weight without me even realizing it. I had no idea they were significantly healthier than the recipe on the back of the Toll House Package – I knew they looked different, but they were pretty delicious – I couldn’t even tell there was flax in them!

The recipe we use is adapted from the Rodale Natural Foods cookbook, and Shannon sat down with the boys and made a batch last night… We love em, so we thought we’d share the recipe with all of you. They’re designed to be a sort of drop cookie, and they don’t really flatten out like Toll House and make the ‘traditional’ looking Chocolate Chip Cookie… but looks aren’t everything. They taste amazing.

Applesauce Yummies

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour (Sifted)
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 Cups Rolled Oats
  • 1 Cup Natural Unsweetened Applesauce
  • 1/2 Cup Honey
  • 1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
  • 1 Egg (We used 2 Tbsp Flax Meal to 1/4 cup boiling water as an egg substitute – let it cool till it goo’s… then toss it in with the rest of the ingredients…)
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 Cup Chocolate Chips (optional)
  • 3/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts (optional)

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees, while the oven is pre-heating, grease a baking sheet.

We’re not real big on pomp and circumstance over here… Mix all of your dry ingredients together, and in a separate bowl (large mixing bowl) mix all your wet ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well. Fold in your chocolate chips and walnuts if desired… then drop in teaspoon sized cookies onto the greased baking sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges start to turn brown.

Remove from the baking sheet and cool on wire racks. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

The beauty of this basic recipe is 4-fold:

1) It’s simple. Seriously – doesn’t really get any easier than this. (ok.. opening a sausage pack of Pillsbury Chocolate Chip cookies is easier… but then you don’t end up MAKING the cookies because you’ve eaten the entire sausage pack with a spoon… then there’s the inevitable shame spiral…) These are also cheaper than the bill from the therapist.

2) They can be fully customized into the type of cookie you want. Add anything you want! Hand in Hand with total customization comes the ability to alter – can’t do refined sugar or looking to reduce it? Cool – sub out carob for the chocolate chips. Can’t do eggs? Use the flax seed substitution we used. Can’t do gluten? Sub out the whole wheat flour for some other variety… the possibilities are pretty endless.

3) Did I mention that they’re really good? They’re also something you can feel good about giving your kids – as it’s got applesauce, honey, and other natural ingredients… (unless of course you added the chocolate chips like we did… in which case that means you have a problem… you hear that honey? A problem!! She needs an intervention…) All joking aside, these are better for you – they don’t have an entire box of butter, 3 cups of refined sugar and unicorn sprinkles… so they’re pretty good for you as far as cookies go – but they hit that sweet spot we all get now and again.

4) Less than 100 calories a piece. That means you can eat ten, six, three, one or two and not blow the budget.

Give ‘em a shot – our family loves em – we think yours will too.

Lacto-fermented Sauerkraut

Here at the Little House on 17th Street – we LOVE sauerkraut.

I could go on and on about all the benefits of eating lacto-fermented foods, the loads of probiotics, the digestive enzymes, the need for these beneficial bacteria in our diet today as everything is super-pastuerized for ‘safety’… but I won’t get into all of that here. Suffice to say, if you’re going to give this a shot – you too are convinced that you need to eat more fermented foods.

We have a somewhat interesting track record with sauerkraut here at the Little House. We have attempted it several times before, a couple times it’s even turned out ok… but now that we’re making Kefir – with its seemingly endless supply of whey, we can now make a sauerkraut has a boost of lactofermentation from the Kefir whey, which will give us a more consistent and predictable product.

Since I’m home with sick children today and can’t get anything else done – I decided to destroy the kitchen experiment…

In order to make this version of sauerkraut, you’ll need:

  • 1 head cabbage
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 2 small onions
  • 2 Tablespoons of Himalayan Sea Salt
  • 1/2 cup of Kefir whey
  • 1/2 gallon Wide-Mouthed Mason Jar
  • a large glass mixing bowl
  • Basic Kitchen Utensils – knives, wooden spoon, potato masher/meat tenderizer…

Once again, for the TL;DR folks… it should look a little something like this

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To get the process started – you’ve got to core and wash the cabbage really well before you start thinly slicing it for the sauerkraut. My preferred method for coring the cabbage is to slice it into quarters, then to angle cut the core out of each quarter like so.

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Once you’ve got the core out of the cabbage quarters, you can wash each one really well, and with the outside of the cabbage facing down, thinly slice the cabbage into ‘kraut’-like sizes. You may wish to cut the long strands in half once to make them more manageable.

Once that’s done – you’ll want to put the cabbage into a glass bowl so you can add the rest of your ingredients prior to putting them into the fermentation crock.

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Now you can concentrate on your other ingredients. The carrots and the onions, or whatever else you want to add to your sauerkraut. That’s one of the cool things with homemade sauerkraut and kimchi, you can really add whatever you would like. It’s all up to you.

I peeled the carrots and then used my food processor with the shred/grate disk to make them small enough to complement the sauerkraut, but as I was doing that, I had a thought (my wife informs me these are dangerous) – the vegetable peeler would work well giving you some long thin peels that would look pretty good in there. I suppose it’s a matter of preference – I went with grated this time around.

Once the carrots are done, using your hands – mix everything up. Yup… that’s right. Dig in!!

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Next came the onions, and they were probably the easiest to do – just make sure you slice them on the thinner side so as to not have some super thick pieces once they ferment. I halfed mine once they were peeled, and started at one side with the cut side down slicing them along the rounded side.

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Mix the onion into the rest of the vegetables really well, and make sure that it’s evenly distributed.

Next we have to sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of Sea Salt all over the cabbage, carrot and onion mixture, and mix it in really well. You’ll want to sprinkle the salt two or three times, mixing the vegetables and salt together really well in between those sprinklings.

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Sprinkle the 1/2 cup of whey over the top of the vegetable mixture and continue to mix. If you don’t have Kefir whey, you can get whey from quality dairy products with limited pasteurization, we used to get whey from Nancy’s yogurt – you can put it in a cheese cloth, and hang the cheese cloth over a bowl in the fridge letting the whey drip off – and then not only do you have whey – you have yogurt cheese and can use it around the house.

But 1/2 cup of whey should do us in this experiment.

Once that’s been added – grab your meat tenderizer, potato masher or the like, and it’s time to take out your aggression on the sauerkraut. You’re working on bruising the cabbage and vegetables, in order to allow them to mix with the salt, release some of their water, as well as start the wilting process.

So go crazy. Let that sauerkraut have it. SHOW IT WHAT’S UP! IT CAN’T TALK TO YOU LIKE THAT!! DOESN’T IT KNOW…. sorry about that… got carried away…

Once you regain your composure… you can smash and stir the vegetable mixture about every 6-8 minutes for 45 minutes to an hour.

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Once the 45 minutes is up – it’s time to put the sauerkraut into the fermentation container you’re going to use. We have a large ceramic crock we use for pickles, but that’s overkill for this particular project. A 1/2 gallon mason jar is the perfect size. Using a canning funnel, spoon the mixture into the jar, packing it down as you go.

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Pack it down really good – so much so that the fluid brine made by the smashing and stirring + the salt we added earlier can rise above the vegetables. If there’s isn’t quite enough brine to cover the vegetables, you can top off with a little water (chlorine-free) so if it’s tap – leave it sitting out for at least 24 hours for the chlorine to evaporate off. The chlorine can kill the beneficial bacteria in the fermentation vessel.

Once you’ve packed it down, we have to seal it. A friend suggested using a ziplock bag – pressed down into the jar and looped over the edge of the jar, and then fill the bag up with water. The water holds the cabbage down in the fluid, as well as expands the bag to seal the edges.

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Once it’s full of water, it’s ready to sit for a few days – a little warmer than room temperature is a good idea, but you don’t want to exceed the low 70′s, or go lower than upper 60′s. There’s a definite sweet spot – right around 70 degrees. Put the lid on the jar – set it aside for about 3 days. You should begin to see bubbles and activity in the jar at that point, and the primary fermentation is complete at that point. You could eat it right away – but it gets better with age. If you put it in the fridge for about 2 weeks, once the primary fermentation is done – it should be money.

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We’ll update you on this batch later next week. Here at the Little House on 17th Street, we’re going on Sabbath Silence. Have a great evening, and we’ll catch you all on Sunday.

Happy Fermenting!

The Results Are In…

Oregon Department of Agriculture has released their reports of the bee die-offs that occured this past year in West Linn, Wilsonville, Portland, and Hillsboro Oregon…

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Photo credit – Statesman Journal

http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20140123/GREEN/301230022/Report-shows-details-bee-death

The article confirms what many suspected at the get go – for those of you “TL;DR” folks out there… here’s the sum-up.

For the most part, in all of these circumstances, the insecticide in question - imidacloprid – was applied incorrectly. Dosages were wrong, application times not in accordance with packaged instructions, people applying in circumstances that they don’t have a license to apply for that circumstance… so it seems according to ODA’s reports that it was a situation of human error in the process RATHER than the actual pesticide itself causing the die-offs…

The fact is – these neonicotinoid pesticides are harmful to pollinators. There are other options… and other ways to go about it. The State of Oregon recently acted to ban 18 different neonicotinoid pesticides in the wake of this issue – but that ban expired December 24th… the good news is, Oregon is requiring an Oregon specific label that will go on these pesticides so that they can reduce the potential for this happening again – also enacting rules that don’t allow Linden trees (basswood) to be sprayed with these insecticides. Period. That will hopefully reduce the issues of the imidacloprid in the foliage and nectar which was killing the bees left and right in these situations.

What’s tough with putting the responsibility on the applicator is that there will always be some that don’t read the label, don’t dilute, and don’t follow the instructions, so the sad reality is, this will likely happen again. The labels will help, a ban would be better…

… but unfortunately, this is all too little too late for Jim Barlean of Barlean’s Honey – located in Milwaukie, Oregon… Jim lost the majority of his bees and his entire honey crop this year due to this issue – and as a backyard beekeeper, it’s concerning to me since we can’t really control where the girls are going… evidenced by the bright red honey discovered only a few weeks ago in my own hives from the cherry plant a few blocks away.

One of the best components of what I saw in ODA’s plan to combat this in the future was education efforts – showing people exactly what that random-stuff-they-bought-at-whatever-box-store-they-bought-it-at and are spraying all over their gravel paths, walkways, garden beds, fencelines is doing to flowers and the pollinators it’s being transferred to. Our pollinators have a hard enough go of it already and the toxic cocktail of pesticides, fungicides, and all the other ‘cides’ we’re tossing their way isn’t helping.

The documents that ODA has released to the Statesman Journal can be found below for your persual… There are 4 separate documents detailing their findings in each of the incidents that Oregon Department of Agriculture investigated.

West Linn Incident – Oregon Golf Club

Portland Incident – 200 Market Building

Wilsonville Incident – Jim Barlean

Hillsboro Incident – City of Hillsboro

… and then there were two…

Well… 

It was bound to happen eventually. Something got one of the chicks yesterday afternoon. We didn’t notice it yesterday, the birds went into the coop last night on their own accord, we came out and closed things up like normal – albeit a little later than normal as I didn’t realize Shannon had let the chickens out, so they didn’t get closed up until almost 9:00… This morning when she opened up the door – out comes mama, but only two chicks followed. Shannon looked all over the place… there’s no sign of feathers, or anything else that might indicate a struggle of some variety, it’s just gone. No peeping, no noise, no way anything could have gotten it last night while they were roosting…

We’re leaning in the direction of a hawk or something, yesterday sometime… just ‘pluck’ and gone… There were no peeps from random places in the yard, so it’s definitely gone… it’s a bummer though, and you can’t help but feel a smidgen of failure as their protector. Granted… I’m not their mother, I’m not even a chicken… but I still feel some responsibility for these little babies, yet in a broad stroke of irony, I am also ultimately responsible for putting them in the stew pot when their usefulness is past…

It’s interesting the dichotomy between caretaker and butcher… feelings on one hand, apathy and cold-heartedness on the other. I’m finding it’s a somewhat difficult line to walk…

“Along with mil…

“Along with milk and vegetables, kids need a steady diet of rocks and worms
Rocks need skipping.
Holes need digging.
Water needs splashing.
Bugs and frogs and slimy stuff need finding

Took the kids on a bit of a hiking adventure today in Grants Pass. These things simply needed doing…