Our new lifestyle, location, and DIY projects also required the acquisition of a few new tools:
Numerous pairs of work gloves
Loader, boom, chain harrow, and disk for tractor
T-post driver and puller
Floor scraper (ultimate tool for removing staples in carpet pad)
Paper log maker
“No Hunting” signs
The last six months have flown by, and we’re starting to get into a groove. If the weather is good, we will work on an outside project. Not so good, then we’ll do an inside project. We’ve also taken the time to explore our new surroundings with a few hikes and camping trips. We’ve taken up flyfishing (that’s a whole new list of equipment for another post), and visited many of our local breweries, restaurants and farmers’ markets. Life is good.
We are surrounded by wheat fields, so we know wheat grows well in our area. In early spring, Shawn planted a pound of wheat seeds in a row in our garden. For the longest time, it was the only crop in the garden that seemed to be growing.
By midsummer, the wheat was over two feet tall while the tomatoes and peppers were still taking their time to get their groove on.
This wheat thing is new to us, so once the wheat turned brown and the farmers around us began cutting their wheat and hay, Shawn knew it was time to harvest. He cut all the wheat by hand and hung it in the garage to finish drying.
Shawn did some internet research and learned how to build a DIY thresher. It is pieces of chain attached to a rod in a bucket. He uses his drill to turn the rod, and the chain beats all heck out of the wheat to separate the chaff from the wheat.
We cut the wheat heads off the stalks by hand. I’m thinking the Amish are more automated than we were. It took a few hours for both of us to remove all the seed heads. The chickens were happy with any we missed.
The final step was pouring the threshed wheat in front of a fan to separate the seeds from the chaff. The heavier wheat falls into the bucket and the chaff blows away. Shawn did this process a few times. The resulting product was over six pounds of wheat ready for milling into flour.
Shawn plans to plant an acre of wheat for next season, so we will need to work on our automation techniques!
When we lived in Sacramento, we would head to Apple Hill every year to get our fill of fresh apples and baked goods at the apple farms. I found a similar area in Washington outside of Spokane. In Green Bluff, in addition to apples, they grow peaches, cherries, berries, plums, and pears. We visited a few of the farms today for some you-pick peaches and apples. It turns out we are at the end of late season peaches and the beginning of early season apples, but we couldn’t pass up peaches for $1.10/pound and apples for $0.75/pound.
We learned the proper way to pick a peach. Pull down and it should come right off if ripe. Do not twist! Put the peaches in the box stem end down. The farmer’s 88-year-old sister-in-law was adamant about this process. I hope to be so opinionated and vibrant at 88. Now I need to figure out what to do with 18 pounds of peaches (aside from biting straight into them and letting the juice run down my chin).
We also toured the Strawberry Hill Nutrition Farm. It is a “nutrition” farm because it is beyond organic, focusing on healthy chemical-free soil. Verne gave us a tour of his 4-acre fruit and vegetable farm and he gave us tips of growing healthy produce. He plants nasturtium flowers with his squash to keep the bugs away. He said marigolds will make the squash bitter. He also had red painted rocks sprinkled throughout his strawberry field. He said the birds will peck on the rocks and be unhappy with what they find, so they will leave your strawberries alone. And his last tip: play classical music for your garden. It creates a stress-free environment for you, the plants, the birds, and the bees. And yes, there was classical music playing as we wandered through the garden and I was completely stress-free.
On our way out of Green Bluff, we saw this house flying three flags. The flag on the right says “Come and Take It.” I had not seen the black, white and blue flag before, so I looked up the meaning. It is the Thin Blue Line Flag.
The Blue represents the officer and the courage they find deep inside when faced with insurmountable odds. The Black background was designed as a constant reminder of our fallen brother and sister officers. The Line is what police officers protect, the barrier between anarchy and a civilized society, between order and chaos, between respect for decency and lawlessness. Together they symbolize the camaraderie law enforcement officers all share, a brotherhood like none other.
In Spokane, we visited Michlitch’s spice shop. As the sign indicates, they have everything but the meat. We sampled a few spice blends and left with two for making sausage (German and Jalapeno) and two lemon blends for chicken.
We ended our afternoon at the Iron Goat Brewery in Spokane. We learned that the brewery is named after the garbage eating goat sculpture in Spokane’s Riverbend Park. The metal goat sculpture has a vacuum inside that allows the goat to “eat” small pieces of garbage as part of a creative solution to eliminating litter. The statue will inhale just about any piece of refuse that will fit into its mouth. It was built for the World’s Fair in 1974 by Sister Paula Turnbull.
After a couple of weeks with days in the 90’s (and two over 100), we are starting to see fruit and vegetables ripening in our garden. We’ve picked some cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, Armenian cucumbers, onions, tomatillos, chilies, and plums. We’ve finally identified the mystery fruit trees: two are plum and two are pear. We’ll probably remove the pear trees because we aren’t big fans of pears and they are more dead than alive, but the plums get to stay. I tried one today and it was delicious.
Armenian cucumbers are popular in Fresno where I grew up, and they are my favorite cucumbers because the skin is soft and not bitter. My brother says I’m probably growing the first ever Armenian cucumbers in Idaho. I made a quick Japanese pickle salad with the first cucumber. The second one was added to tomatoes and onions.
Since our garden is not quite bountiful enough for canning yet, we took advantage of a sale at the local fruit stand. We purchased a box of Washington peaches, a box of Fuji apples, and a flat of California strawberries. From that we made:
4 quarts of unsweetened applesauce
4 pints of apple butter
4 pints of strawberry jam
The peaches are still a bit firm, so we will peel and can those later this week. The pigs and chickens are in heaven enjoying all the fruit and vegetable scraps.
The laying chickens have finally kicked it into gear and are laying 4-6 medium to large eggs daily. The yolks on the fresh eggs are a deep yellow-orange and very thick. They make great fried eggs. I’m getting experimental making frittatas. Last night’s frittata included eggs, milk, jack cheese, bacon, breadcrumbs, tomatillos, onions, chilies, and garlic. Shawn approved. We aren’t sure what kind of chilies we picked, but they weren’t very spicy.
Last night, Shawn processed the last of the meat chickens (a.k.a. Frankenchicks). He had to do the butchering at night because the bees and wasps are rampant during the day and very attracted to the meat and blood. We now have a freezer full of chemical/drug-free chicken that should last us through the fall and winter. Raising meat chickens was definitely a learning experience, but I think Shawn has it mastered now and next year should be a breeze. (Check out his videos on YouTube.)
Time to go see what the garden has to offer today…
I’ve never really had an interest in birds. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have a lot of birds in our suburban backyard in Elk Grove; just the annoying blue jays in our redwood trees. Now we have an abundance of birds in our yard.
I cleaned the kitchen window and repositioned the bird bath so I can take pictures of the birds. With the exception of the turkeys, as soon as I go outside they all fly off. We have had as many as five magpies in the birdbath at once. These are good sized birds. At first, they appear to be black and white, but up close you can see they have blue and green in their tail feathers.
We have a few hummingbirds in the yard, so I got them a feeder. I always think of them as cute little birds, but they can be mean. As I was watching the first hummingbird use the feeder after I hung it, another hummingbird swooped in and kicked the first bird off. The feeder has multiple feeding ports, but the bully bird wanted the whole feeder to itself.
The finches are still living in Tito the dinosaur’s mouth. There are other small birds that fly through the yard, but these two have decided to stay.
When we first moved in, we had three to four large turkeys that would wander through the yard on a daily basis. They have been enjoying the feed that the chickens leave behind when Shawn moves the chicken tractor. A few weeks ago, we noticed they have babies. We now have a “rafter” of turkeys. (See, I just taught you something. My blog is so educational.)
Other flying creatures that enjoy the birdbath are wasps, bees, and yellow jackets. Neighbors in the area have reported that the insects are having mass drownings in their pools in the current almost drought-like conditions.
Other Happenings Around the Homestead
I have a new stove! The knobs were falling off the old stove and we were using pliers to turn on the burners. Of course, the hole in the countertop was a quarter inch too small, so Shawn had to get out the saw and make it a bit bigger. I’m still cleaning up the superfine dust.
Shawn whipped up a batch of Italian sausage from the pig he butchered in his butchering class a few months ago.
Now that the weather has finally turned warm/hot, the garden is thriving. The wheat is almost ready to be harvested and the tomatoes and tomatillos have set fruit. One of the grapevines has grapes. Our mystery fruit trees are full of hard green orbs.
The pigs are growing at a rapid rate. Last week, Shawn introduced them to the electric fence. They learn pretty quickly after a shock or two on the snout. The electric fence allows them to have a bigger area to dig and root in which seems to make them happy.
Our chickens have started laying eggs. We have four eggs so far. They are small, but Shawn says they will get bigger as they lay more.
We are still painting and laying flooring in the house. We’re working on the basement this week. As usual, nothing is straightforward once you start tearing things up in an old house. The wood stove in the basement was installed over the carpet, so now we need to dismantle it and lay the new flooring underneath it. What were they thinking?
Since we live on the Couer d’Alene Indian reservation, we decided to check out their annual Julyamsh powwow at the fairgrounds. Tribes from all over the country come to compete in drum and dance contests. The dancers were all ages: from grandma to toddlers. It was very colorful, and the frybread tacos were tasty.
We also took a walk along the beach and through the park in downtown CDA. The best places in town to catch Pokemon.
We are off to the movies this afternoon to avoid what is predicted to be the hottest day of the year. You can do that when you’re retired.
While searching for things to keep a five-year-old entertained, I came across the Seven Stars Alpaca Ranch in Coeur d’Alene. According to TripAdvisor, the alpaca farm tour is the number one thing to do in CDA. The 90-minute tour is $10/adult and $5/child and very informative. The owner, Sonia, started with a brief lecture about alpacas (there are 22 different colors of alpacas), and then her husband Andy took us on a tour of the 40-acre ranch.
Malcolm got to see a variety of farm animals. We started with miniature donkeys. They are about the same size as Malcolm and he was a bit skeptical about petting them.
While everyone was oohing and ahhing over the cute mini donkeys, Andy called to the horses and they came galloping over the hill. They have standard and miniature horses.
Next, it was off to see the headliners: the alpacas. We were cautioned not to hug them or get in a stare down because they will spit.
We also got to see chickens, goats, sheep and a couple of llamas.
Andy and Sonia lived in Alaska for 30 years before relocating to CDA. Out in the pasture, they built a small replica Alaskan cache. They don’t store food in it, but their grandchildren enjoy using it as a playhouse.
After all that livestock petting, we had a trip through the handwashing station and were then invited to visit the gift shop.
It was a fun and informative tour and exposed Malcolm to some other animals not found on Papa & Grandma’s farm.
I like cherries. In the past, I would buy a pound or so at a time when they are in season and enjoy eating them fresh. But now I have so many cherries I don’t know what to do with them. From our two trees, we have picked 12 lbs of sweet Bing cherries, 13.5 lbs of sweet Alberta cherries, and 21 lbs of sour cherries. And there are probably still another 15 lbs of sour cherries on the tree.
I’ve canned cherries, made two kinds of jam, made a cherry cobbler, made muffins, made cocktails from cherry syrup, dehydrated tons of cherries, and made a cherry-balsamic reduction to drizzle on a fresh cherry pizza. We have snacked on cherries by the handful and cut them up and eaten them over ice cream. I’m running out of ways to use and consume cherries.
I made one batch of sweet cherry jam with the Albertas and one batch with the sour cherries. I’m not a big fan of high sugar jam, but I found Pomona’s Pectin for low sugar jam and it worked well. I used honey with the Albertas and it is a nice compliment.
The mini-cherry muffins were a hit with my little helper. The tart cherries nicely balanced with the sweet muffin.
After all that cherry picking and pitting, a cocktail was in order. Shawn and I experimented with ingredients, even going so far as adding some Kombucha for fizz. Our favorite is one part cherry syrup to 3 parts Maker’s Mark over ice with a handful of fresh cherries. The best part is eating the bourbon soaked cherries at the bottom of the glass.
While our son, Connor, was visiting we experimented with cherries on pizza. We’ve had a heat wave, so we gilled the pizza crust outside on the barbecue. We cooked fresh cherries in balsamic vinegar and then pureed and reduced the sauce. We topped the pizzas with goat cheese, fresh cherries, bacon, and herb salad mix drizzled with the cherry-balsamic reduction. Super tasty on a hot night!
The rest of the cherries were thrown into the dehydrator. They will be good for cooking and baking throughout the year, or just to eat by the handful as Shawn prefers.
We are lucky to have two producing cherry trees on our new property. We have been tasting the cherries daily to determine when they are ripe for picking. One of the trees actually has two different types of cherries: Bing and Alberta (according to our electrician Al). We picked 15 1/2 pounds of cherries in one day. They are mostly the darker Bings.
Knowing we would have a bountiful cherry harvest, we ordered cherry pitters and an Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator (made in Sacramento, California). We were skeptical about the 6-cherry pitter, but it works great. Shawn and Malcolm pitted the cherries while I sliced them and put them on the dehydrator trays.
The Bing cherries are very sweet, so a few pounds went into the mouths of the workforce instead of the dehydrator. The Alberta cherries are more reddish orange and not quite as sweet. After dehydration, the Albertas have a slight rose aroma and flavor. We still need to pick the rest of the Albertas because they weren’t all ripe.
I also canned some of the cherries in a light syrup. I added brandy to some and Amaretto to the rest.
This week, we will pick the cherries on the second tree. They are a bit sour. Al says the second tree is a Pie tree because you make pies with that type of cherry but you need to add sugar.
Funny story about the dehydrator. We had picked all the cherries knowing the dehydrator would arrive that day. I had the cherries all sorted and washed and ready to go. I met the UPS man in the driveway and had the dehydrator unpacked within 5 minutes of delivery. That’s when I noticed a plastic corner was broken off on the front. It wasn’t something that would affect the performance of the dehydrator so I contemplated gluing it back together, but that just didn’t sit right with me. Something that expensive should not be broken. So I called Amazon to get it replaced. After the call agent took all my information and promised a new dehydrator would be delivered in 2 days, I asked her how to return the broken one. She told me to just dispose of it. What??? That corner is getting glued back on, and I will be running two dehydrators at a time once the tomatoes and zucchini come in!
Our five-year-old grandson, Malcolm, is visiting from California for a couple weeks. Entertaining an active five-year-old is a challenge, so we thought a camping trip would be fun. It was also a good excuse to try out our new fly fishing rods. We headed to the Big Hank Campground on the Coeur d’Alene River where I went fishing with my brother a few weeks ago.
One of the many perks of being retired is camping mid-week. Big Hank has 30 campsites and only about half were occupied. Our site backed up to the Coeur d’Alene River and was very private.
The first day, we explored the river and ended the day with marshmallow roasting by the campfire.
The second day, we woke up to rain, but that didn’t stop us from going out fishing. Malcolm had been practicing his casting, and Shawn and I were itching to try out our new gear.
We found a deep spot in the river where the trout were jumping, but we didn’t have any luck that afternoon. While we chose to camp in an established campground, there is a lot of free camping space available. We checked out a spot across the road in a meadow. It involved crossing a creek. Our camp host shared that it can get a bit wild out in the meadow, but he keeps the riffraff out of his campground.
The last morning we went back to the spot where the fish had been jumping. There was already another fly fisherman there, but he invited us to join him. He had caught the “big one” the night before. I tried for a while, but still no luck.
After the other guy left, Shawn gave it a try. It didn’t take long before he hooked a cutthroat trout. It was about 8″. Malcolm was not thrilled that he didn’t catch a fish, but when you’re grandparents don’t put a hook and bait on your line your chances for success are greatly diminished.
Well, it’s official. I’m the wife of a pig farmer. This morning we drove to Cheney, Washington to pick up our two piglets. We borrowed a crate from our neighbor Katie, and then Shawn and Malcolm filled it with straw for the piglets’ comfort.
At Adam’s farm (The Backyard Butchery), we selected two females from the drove. First, the guys lured them to the fence with apples, and then they picked them up by the hind legs and put them in the crate. There was much squealing.
Back home, the process was reversed with more squealing.
The two sisters, Breakfast and Dinner, share a 16×16 enclosure behind the house with a plastic water tote for their shelter. After they calmed down from all the activity in their day, they started eating the grass and rooting around in the dirt.
Shawn and Malcolm finished off the pen with a gate.
I don’t think the cuteness will last too long as their mom was rather ugly; however, we should have some tasty bacon in November.