Category Archives: Uncategorized

Soil Analysis

We’ve talked here before about Steve Solomon’s books on gardening.  We love Steve, and especially appreciate the book The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient Dense Food.  We actually pre-purchased this book a month before it was released.  As soon as it arrived, we read it cover to cover.  This book explains in easy to understand terms the science behind agronomy and applies it to the backyard garden.  But it goes a lot further than that.  There are links to a website where you can download worksheets to help further analyze your soil results.  And then there is also a yahoo chat group you can join.  Steve hangs out on the forums and helps to answer questions.

Lab reports often come back with recommendations on the traditional NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and also calcium.  The problem is that your soil is more complex than that.  These worksheets will help you figure out your needed (if any) amounts of Sulfur, Magnesium, Sodium, Boron, Iron, Manganese, Copper and Zinc.

All of these are important to bring you soil into proper balance in order to produce optimal nutrition in the food you are producing.  The author’s way of describing this is by looking at an old barrel with vertical wooden staves.  That barrel will only hold it’s full potential if each of the staves are full in length, going all the way to the top.  If a few of those staves are shorter, only going halfway up the barrel, then the barrel will only hold as much water as it’s shortest stave would allow.

Here are our results in a PDF:  2016 Soil Sample Trends

The most alarming thing that I see when looking at the report is that our organic matter percentage has been slowly decreasing.  I intend to fix this by trying out a heavy layer of straw mulching.  I predict this should do two things: 1. it will help retain water, allowing the plants to grow more easily with less water input.  More root growth should help increase organic matter.  2. turning under that straw mulch should help incorporate a lot of organic matter into the soil.

The other thing I plan on doing this year is using more fertilization than I have in the past.  I usually use fishmeal at planting time, along with my home made compost.  And that’s it.  Nothing else for the year.  But this season I will try to make a tea with the fishmeal and then apply that to everything once every 3-4 weeks or so during the entire growing season.

Based on the calculations, the main amendment we’re adding this year is 1320 lbs per acre of gypsum.  This is the only amendment we’ve added for several years now and have seen it lower our pH and also reduce some of our overages in Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium and Calcium.  I know, it does seem weird to be adding calcium in order to reduce calcium.  You’ll learn in the book that calcium is a key to unlocking and accessing these other elements.  The extra calcium allows the plants to consume and therefore reduce the excesses.

Have you been doing soil tests for your garden?  Have you seen good results?

Thanks, Robert.

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The 2015 Livestock

We’re having so much fun with our new baby chicks and our piglets.  We got fifteen medium growth broiler chicks.  We prefer the medium growth because the fast growth chickens just get too fat too fast.  It seems unnatural and the full grown chickens seem uncomfortable.  The slower guys live more like a chicken should, in our opinion.

Medium Growth Broiler Chicks

Medium Growth Broiler Chicks

The piglets we got are either Duroc or Hampshire crossed with a Berkshire boar.  We love the flavors we get from Berkshires and we’re thrilled to be raising them again this year.  We keep one for our family to eat and sell the rest.  In the past, we’ve gotten the most compliments from Berkshire meat.

Duroc and Hampshire crossed with Berkshire boar

Duroc and Hampshire crossed with Berkshire boar

In addition to the above, we have about 30 laying hens which are a mixture of Red Star, Americauna, Speckled Sussex and Black Australorp.  All were chosen for their cold hardiness.  We’re pleased with the egg production as well as the foraging ability of these types.

Have you had similar experiences with these breed selections?

Thanks, Robert.

Young Living Essential Oils

Has anyone been wondering what the heck we’ve been up to? It has been quite some time since we put a post up here. Our homestead has kept us very busy. We have also been working on a new income source.

Courtney purchased a Young Living Essential Oil Starter Kit last spring so that we could make our own bug sprays. We quickly discovered that the oils can do so much more, from relaxation to supporting normal healing, from promoting healthy sleep to revitalizing healthy skin.  We have a saying in this house “there’s an oil for that…”

Young Living has adopted a business model that empowers their customers to be the sales force by offering a commissions to share about products they love. Sharing is a natural result when you love the oils.  Courtney has been doing this for the last 6 months or so and it helps provide some extra money for our family. For those willing to work hard and do what it takes, it can be very rewarding.  Hearing your friends say “I’ve had the best sleep of my life” is extremely gratifying.

If you are looking for a home based business opportunity with great income potential, check out the Young Living essential oils tab at the top menu bar. Courtney has provided some details on how to get started.

If you are just interested in essential oils and don’t want to be bothered by the business side of things, that’s OK. There is no continuing obligation after the first purchase.

We would also love to hear from you if you have questions or would like to know more, or even if you already use essential oils.

Thanks,
Robert

Some things I have learned about living in the country

As you know we moved waaaaaay out to the country.  We love it but we recognize there are some trade offs and here are some of them.

During the drive into town we get to see dozens of tractors, we also get dozens of goldfish crackers all over the floor of the van.

Neighbors are considered anyone within a 5 mile radius.  One particular neighbor has a very large stained glass picture of a ram’s head in their front room window.  Nice.

I have replaced noisy neighbors with noisy cows.

Dust has become part of the decor.

Sometimes my house smells like chickens, the live variety not the lemony-herb roasted kind.

Neighbors rallied together after a crazy driver was spotted on a nearby county road.  Police arrived, spoke with the offender and returned to inform us that “everything’s okay” the out-of-towner  was actually a “pretty famous bull rider.”  The police officer reassured us that he had actually seen him ride in person.  Ahhh, fears calmed.

No more little notes on our door about how irritating it is that our dogs bark on Tuesday nights from 6-7 pm.

The bad manners of the neighborhood dogs make our dogs look like saints, and that is hard to do.

Of the many things that can and do wake me up in the morning, flies have been added to the most wanted list.

I’m almost positive our local crop duster is no other than daredevil Evel Knievel.

It’s official city slickers are afraid of dirt – on their clothes, on their shoes, on their cars and on their kids.

My country friend recently complimented me on choosing the perfect color couch – Colorado Dirt Brown.  It’s the new camouflage thank you very much!!

We don’t wear white after labor day or before labor day.

Oh I could go on and on.  We realize it’s not the life for everyone but we LOVE it!!

Thanks, Courtney

We trotted our turkeys off this morning

We kicked of our day of thanks by joining the annual turkey trot in town.  We got up extra early, bundled everyone up and braved the 23F weather.  Robert has been training for a few weeks and he ran the 5K.  Go Robert!  I wore the baby in our Ergo, pushed our son in the stroller and walked the 2K with a friend and her kids.  It was a lot of fun and a great way to start off a day of feasting.

This year as every year we are thankful to God for the many blessings he has given us.  We are especially thankful to have our little girl celebrate this Thanksgiving with us and to run her first Turkey Trot.  I am sure this will be the first of many.

Happy Thanksgiving!   – Courtney

My Favorite Apple Butter Recipe

As you read in my post yesterday we are up to our ears in apples.  Free apples nonetheless.  What’s the best about free things is that you can experiment with new recipes and don’t have to worry that you are wasting your money in case you don’t like it.  So we tried three different apple butter recipes and I have combined them to create my favorite.

We tried Overnight Apple Butter from Martha Stewart and Amy Traverso, a spiced cardamom Apple Butter also from Martha and Classic Apple Butter from The Art of Preserving.  All were great but I combined the best of each to create my own and here it is.

My favorite Apple Butter Recipe 

Makes 5 half – pint jars or 2 pint jars (with a little extra)

4 lb apples, peeled, cored, and cut into rough 1 inch chunks

1 1/2 cups sweet apple cider

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup lemon juice (shhh, I cheat and use bottled)

2/3 tsp ground ginger

1 cinnamon stick

1/3 tsp ground cardamom

1/3 tsp ground nutmeg

small pinch ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a crock pot and set to high for 1 hour, then turn down to low and simmer all day or all night.  You are looking for consistency more than timing.  You want it to be brown and thick.  It usually takes me overnight and then several hours in the morning to cook down sufficiently.

After several hours cooking you can crush apples with potato masher to speed the process along.  We like ours chunky so I don’t bother putting through a food mill but you could do that.  It’s just one more thing to wash though.

Remove cinnamon stick, ladle into jars and leave  1/4″ headspace.  Process the jars for 10 minutes (high altitude 20 minutes) in a boiling water bath.  If you don’t can often check out a canning book to learn the detailed process of preparing jars and lids, etc.

Some more tips:

A large crock pot will hold a double batch.

Borrow a neighbors crock pot like I did to make your canning efforts more efficient.

I realize that there are no 1/3 tsp measuring spoons, we scaled this recipe down from another.  Just estimate the amounts.

I use Penzey’s spices and I always need to use less than called for on spices because theirs are so fresh and strong, especially the cinnamon.

Cardamom is my new favorite spice, so don’t leave it out!

Half a cup of lemon juice seems like a lot but we used sweet apples and I don’t like it really sweet.

Thanks,  Courtney

What to do with all those apples

First of all, I am so sorry that we have not been diligent about posting often.  With a new baby and visitors it’s been difficult to get to the computer.  We’ve also been busy collecting apples from trees in town.  And being the industrious homesteaders that we are, we had to preserve every last apple that we collected.

Here’s what we have made with the FREE apples we have collected:

15 gallons hard cider (ready in 6 months)

2 gallons apple cider vinegar (also ready in 6 months)

10 quarts apple juice

10 quarts dried apples

18 pints of apple butter (3 different recipes – I’ll share my favorite in another post)

5 pints and 5 half-pints apple cranberry relish (for Thanksgiving of course)

gallons and gallons of fresh apple cider that we drink daily

All of the above was made from the fruit of roughly 4 trees.  Only one of which was cared for and had nice, healthy, large fruit.  We had several unknown green apples varieties, probably Granny Smith, and 3 different red apple varieties.  We were told one tree was Red Delicious and Winesap and the other was unknown but reminded me of a Gala or Fuji apple.  I personally thought the green apples were best suited for cider, the red delicious made great crunchy dried apple chips and the others were perfect for spiced apple butter.

Hope this inspires you to process some of those apples you have laying around and maybe even make the cider press that Robert has made.

Thanks, Courtney