Fall in Northern Idaho

It was hot.  Then it was not.

We had mid to upper 90s in August, a week or so of 80s in September, then it dropped into the 60s mid-month.  On October 3rd, we had our first freeze.  That left us with a bunch of green tomatoes still on the vine, so we canned green tomato chutney.  I was a little skeptical, but it’s tasty.  Goes great with Indian food or over cream cheese with crackers.

Green tomatoes with red onion, raisins, dried apples, vinegar, and spices

We also harvested our onion crop.  We got quite a few, but they were small this year.  We will be better prepared next year and hope to get large onions like our neighbor’s.

The onions are small, but they have great flavor
Our neighbor’s onions were huge, 1-2 pounds each

Shawn grew some pumpkins, but like the onions, they came out small.  However, the few small pumpkins we got made a great puree and pumpkin bread.  He’s in the kitchen now whipping up a pumpkin pie!

Mini pumpkins make mini pumpkin bread loaves

We’ve also been doing more canning.  Our next-door neighbor got an elk and gave us some ground meat, so Shawn canned that with potatoes, onions and carrots.  While it tastes good, it was not pretty enough to warrant a picture.  I’ve been buying dried beans in bulk and canning them.  It’s very handy to have pinto, black, white, kidney and garbonzos readily available.

Soon it will be time to bottle our first experiments in fruit wine.  We will have a couple gallons each of plum, peach, and apple.

Improvements continue to be made outdoors.  We ordered seedling trees from the Pitkin Nursery at the University of Idaho in Moscow.  Shawn planted 20 Tamarac trees on the south end of the property and then potted maples, chestnuts and others for planting in the spring.  Most of our trees are evergreen, so it will be nice to have more fall colors in a few years.  We are also working on the planting area around the house.  We moved dirt to join to small hills.  Shawn plans to put a pond behind it.  I planted 120+ bulbs and divided and re-planted the existing peonies.  I hope I didn’t kill them!

Seedlings
New planting area behind the logs
Gratuitous pig photo

The kids and grandkids visited mid-October and the weather was picture perfect.  We went to Green Bluff for pumpkins and apples; we played at McEuen Park in downtown Coeur d’Alene, and we hiked the Cougar Gulch trail.  It was great having them visit!

Cougar Gulch Trail
We didn’t spot any cougars, but we found this old tractor

Cooler temps also mean more time spent in my new sewing room.  I made flannel jackets for the grandkids and started a new blue and white quilt.

While we are enjoying the changing of the seasons, we recently learned of another type of seasons in Northern Idaho.  Bug Seasons.  During the summer, we experienced yellowjacket season.  Now we are in stink-bug season.  There was also a brief two-week period of gnat season.  I’m sure you’re thanking me for not posting photos.

Fall in Northern Idaho

Six Months Later

It has been six months since we retired and moved to Idaho, and what a busy six months it has been!  I think we’ve accomplished a lot both inside and out.

Inside

  • Unpacked (mostly)
  • Removed tons of nasty carpet and wood flooring
  • Laid over 2,000 sq ft of new flooring
  • Installed new kitchen appliances
  • Replaced toilets
  • Painted about 70% of the walls, 16 of 27 doors, and 14 of 21 windows
  • Replaced numerous outlets and switches
  • Removed and replaced baseboards (in progress)
Living room before
Living room after (still needs to be painted)
Master bedroom before
Master bedroom after
Sewing room before
Sewing room after

Outside

  • Revitalized the old garden
  • Fenced and cultivated a new garden
  • Returned the old tractor to a working state
  • Felled numerous trees and trimmed others
  • Supplied power to the workshop
  • Built a chicken tractor and a chickshaw
  • Raised and processed 50+ meat chickens
  • Raised 9 laying hens and 2 roosters (we’re getting 8 eggs/day now)
  • Raised 2 pigs
  • Harvested cherries, plums, apples, cherry tomatoes, Armenian cucumbers, beets, carrots, onions, wheat
  • Canned cherries, plums, peaches, beans, chicken
  • Dehydrated cherries, plums, tomatoes, apples
Old garden before
Old garden after
New fenced garden
Meat chickens (Frankenchicks) before
Meat chickens after
Pigs in June
Pigs in September
Fresh eggs are a daily occurrence
Two of the many trees Shawn has dropped
Kootenai Electric installing the new transformer
Trenches and wire for power to the workshop

Our new lifestyle, location, and DIY projects also required the acquisition of a few new tools:

  • Snow shovel
  • Farm boots
  • Numerous pairs of work gloves
  • Loader, boom, chain harrow, and disk for tractor
  • Chainsaw
  • Chipper/shredder
  • Cultivator
  • T-post driver and puller
  • Oscillating multi-tool
  • Floor scraper (ultimate tool for removing staples in carpet pad)
  • Generator
  • Paint sprayer
  • Pressure canner
  • Dehydrator
  • Cherry pitter
  • Paper log maker
  • “No Hunting” signs
Posting our No Hunting signs along the edge of the property

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.

Farmer Shawn Grows Wheat

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.

The green row in the center of the garden is the wheat

The wheat dwarfs all the other plants

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.

I don’t know if it’s a bushel, but this is our full crop for the year

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.

Ready to thresh
Threshing
Threshed

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!

Fun With Food

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.

Apples washed and quartered
After the apples are cooked, the food mill purees the fruit and discards the seeds and skins
Applesauce
A day’s canning
Fresh strawberry jam on a homemade sourdough English muffin

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.)

The nighttime butchering setup
That’s a tie-dyed apron, not blood
Bagged and ready for the freezer

Time to go see what the garden has to offer today…

Bird Watching

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.

Our lovely electrical panel in the background

Still eating cherries…

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.)

This is most, but not all, of the rafter

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.

Eight pounds of Italian sausage sealed and ready for the freezer

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.

Tomatillos
Don’t be fooled, they are not as large as they may appear in this photo
Two varieties of beets

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.

I think this is what a happy pig looks like

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?

One of the 27 doorways in the house primed and ready for painting

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.

And then they invited everyone to join the dancing, so this couple did

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.

More Cherries, Cherries, Cherries!

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.

Sour cherries and sweet Alberta cherries
Cherry pitters. We may need to invest in the counter mount, hand crank pitter for next year’s harvest.

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.

Malcolm was a big helper. He pitted cherries and helped make dough for the cobbler.
Sour cherry cobbler
Sour cherry cobbler a la mode
Enjoying cherry cobbler after a full day of cherry production

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.

This concoction was too sweet, so we switched to Maker’s Mark

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.

Cherries, Cherries, Cherries!

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.

Our child laborer Malcolm
This bowl is about 5 pounds of cherries

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.

Cherries are the pits!
Bing cherries ready for 15 hours in the dehydrator

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.

Dehydrated Bings
Dehydrated Albertas
Ready for consumption and use in recipes

I also canned some of the cherries in a light syrup.  I added brandy to some and Amaretto to the rest.

These will be tasty over ice cream

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.

The Magpies are not thrilled that we have taken their tasty treats

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!

The Pig Farmer’s Wife

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.

Malcolm fluffing the straw (we did not cage the boy)

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.

Breakfast
Dinner

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.

You Can Make English Muffins?

Why yes, you can make English muffins.  I thought they came in a stack of six from Thompson’s, but then I saw a recipe for homemade sourdough English muffins and had to give it a try.  I used Shawn’s wholewheat sourdough starter.  I was a little concerned at first because it is super stinky, but the muffins came out with a nice subtle sourdough tang.

I made the dough last night and rolled and cut the muffins today
I learned that English muffins are cooked on the stove, not in the oven
They look like real English muffins!
Some are a little wonky, but you know they’re homemade
Tastes great warm off the skillet with a bit of butter

I’m learning to use my new pressure canner.  I canned a batch of pinto beans to practice.  I need to be ready when the garden explodes with more goodness than we can consume daily.  I’m counting on an overabundance of tomatoes.

The daunting pressure canner

Speaking of the garden, we are starting to see fruit on our trees.  We’ve identified the two cherry trees, but we’re still not positive what some of our other trees are.  Happily, the grapevines are alive and they are showing signs of grapes.

The green row in the center is wheat
Cherries of unknown variety
We think these are Asian pears
Grapes! I hope the deer leave a few for me.
The ever-expanding potted herb garden. All but one of the pots was left by the previous owner.

Shawn plowed a new plot for black oil sunflowers and oats.  He was busy all day discing with the tractor and raking and pulling out rocks by hand.  The chickens supervised from their current home under the pine trees.

They’re getting bigger…time to start laying some eggs!

Shawn left most of the dirt outside, but a bit made it in on his face

A busy day on the homestead.  I was also excited to learn that when my big brother comes to visit in a few days that he will be bringing my dad with him.  Time to get cracking on a few indoor projects to make our guests comfortable!

Planting Herbs with a Chainsaw

Friday, while at Lowe’s to pickup rebar for the new garden fence, I noticed they had herbs on sale: 5 for $15.  I grabbed some rosemary, chives, peppermint, and lemon balm.  The previous homeowner left some pots, so I thought I’d use them for the herbs so I can keep them close to the kitchen door.

Next thing you know, we have the chainsaw out and trees are coming down.  Then the weedeater comes out and grasses are felled at an alarming rate.  All this for five little 3″ pots of herbs.  We have a corkscrew willow and a mystery tree/bush that were planted too close to the house.  I leveled the mystery bush with the chainsaw, and Shawn thinned the willow.  We had to be careful with the willow because a pair of robins have built a nest in it, and we did not want to disturb that.  They stayed away while we were working, but they came back so I assume they are OK with their new open-plan housing.

Pre-chainsaw
Post-chainsaw. Look at that nice bench of herbs!
This butterfly had no concerns and stayed throughout the demolition

Since there is no end of projects to be done around the homestead, it has become common for us to start a simple task and have it morph into a project that requires power tools.

Other Happenings Around the Homestead

The fence for the new garden plot is almost complete. Just needs a gate.
WTH? There’s a hole in our house that wasn’t there before. This requires further exploration…stay tuned.
We almost bought a peony at the farmers’ market last week. It turns out we already had some!
Waiting for the red peonies to bloom.
I had to let this weed flower before I pulled it out
Another surprise in the bulb patch
This little bird has built a nest in Tito the t-rex’s mouth and is anxiously awaiting a love match
Hey, we have a cherry tree!