Saturday, November 26, 2011

Redoing the Chicken House

The winter chicken house

So, I've been ready for winter for a few weeks now and today, while it was raining I decided to redo the chicken house.  To give myself at least a little credit for my tardiness, I was offered a corn crib on Thanksgiving day.  One of my cousin's inlaws asked me if I hauled it away, I could have his old corn crib.  It was in his way and he didn't have the time to take it in for the money.  I went over with the trailer yesterday to see if it was anything I wanted. When I saw it an idea just popped into my head.  Two panels of it together would make a nice dome house for my chickens to have an outdoor run this winter.  I had some old greenhouse plastic that was too cloudy for a greenhouse, but it would stand up to the cold and wind of winter. I brought it home and set it up in about an hour.  I butted the one end up against the coup itself and the other end I put on corrugated plastic panels.  Even with it raining and the wind blowing it was 14 degrees warmer under the dome than it is outside.  My biggest worry may be that it will get too hot in the spring sun.  I may have to take it down early so I don't roast my chickens.  Now my chickens won't be forced to stay inside once the snow flies, they can run out under the sun and scratch in the dirt.  If this works I my use the other panels to set up similar houses throughout the barnyard for some of the other fowl to get out of the snow.  Little mini greenhouses for the birds.  LOL
The new winter chicken run

Left over panels

Chickens are still too nervous to try out their new run.:-)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Because I come from a huge farm family, for Thanksgiving we have two turkeys and two hams for our dinner meat.  One of the turkeys has been turned into stew on the back burner of the wood burning stove but the other one I have turned into turkey hash and broth.  Here is the broth canned for use later this winter.  The hash is going to be put into casings, smoked, and hung in the meat house for the winter.   Never waste anything organic.  Even the bones will be ground up and put back into the garden soil after they've dried.  My cousin has the ham and is making split pea soup for the final weekend of the deer hunt. 

The closer we live to The Earth, the less waste we have, the less garbage we create, the less money we spend, and the more aware we are of where our lives come from and go to.  Thanksgiving comes to Earth Children more than just once a year.

The Migration

Fall migration of our water fowl is an amazing event to witness.   Every year families of ducks, geese, and swans swing down the Mississippi River, headed for places where the water doesn't freeze.  Some of them will fly down into South America but most will go just far enough to avoid the ice of winter.  This year has been warm later than usual and they are still with us.  It takes a combination of factors to make these birds continue on their journey.  Yes, the length of the days plays a part in this seasonal adventure, but the weather plays an important role as well.  These birds can feel the wind, the humidity and the pressure changes.  They will wait until the big storms come blowing in and then use the wind of these storms to help carry them on their journey.  This way they don't use as much of their own energy but share the burden of travel with The Earth, Herself.  Then, in one mighty rush, the whole pond will lift off, winging their way into formations, being propelled by storm winds on their way.

Knowing this give us earth centered humans an advantage.  If we see huge flocks of water fowl taking to flight, flying away, not just in exercise circles around the water, we can surmise that these birds are feeling an approaching weather change.  It's time to batten down the hatches ourselves.

Meanwhile we can enjoy these short time visitors, marvel at their beauty and grace, and wonder at the flights that they have done for thousands of generations.  The hunters among us, be they human, or coyote, or eagle can gather up some much needed food for the winter.  And we can wait like all of Nature waits, for Old Man Winter to arrive in force, carrying our winged friends out of our waters but not out of our hearts.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Mead, the very word conjures up images of Vikings pounding long tables and demanding the serving wenches to bring more of the golden liquid.  Even today it seems like an exotic drink saved for renaissance fairs and fancy parties. 

But in reality mead is one of the easiest wines to make.  I've been making it since long before I was legal and never knew what the big fuss was about.  One of my friends showed me a book fill with wine recipes and warnings and dire predictions of what can go wrong and a list of ingredients that were impossible to get except through a mail order catalog.  And then the equipment that was needed to make it made me wonder how people in the Dark Ages could have even known what mead was much less ever tasted it.

No, mead should not be a mysterious culinary treasure reserved only for those who have a cabinet full of wine make chemicals.  It is a drink that is beyond simple to make.  Some wines you need to add a sugar to it to feed the yeast.  Mead is made with honey, a sugar, and so really needs nothing besides water, honey and yeast.  If you are buying a yeast that needs "yeast nutrients" figure yourself conned.  Sugar, honey, maple syrup, sorghum...heck, think sweet and it will probably feed the yeast.

So, to make mead go out and scrounge yourself up a 5 gallon food grade plastic bucket.  Clean it with bleach and the let it set for 12 hours or so to get that nasty bleach smell out of it.  Then in a stainless steel pot heat up a gallon or so of water to boiling.  Really, precise measurements are not needed.  Just get it close.  A little more is better than a little less.  Once it's boiling pour in 3 to 4 pounds of good honey.  If you raise bees, you honey will be the best.  Stir until the honey is dissolved.   Turn off heat.  In you 5 gallon bucket grate up a little ginger or throw in a couple of cinnamon sticks.  This isn't really needed but I like a bit of bite to my mead.  Then slice up 3 or 4 organic lemons, peel and all, into the bucket.  If you don't have lemons do it with oranges or even a grapefruit or two or mix and match.  What you have, what you can get, put it into your mead.  Now a great addition is a strong cup of tea.  Tannins in tea help give the mead more body, but if you like sweet wine, don't worry about it. 

In case you just can't understand what I am saying here is there is no 'one recipe fits all' here.  I have made good mead with nothing more than honey, water and yeast.  The rest is just gravy, or to put it another way, the rest just adds another layer of flavor.  If you don't like that layer, forget about it.

So then you dump your honey and water mixture over whatever you've put into your five gallon bucket.  Cover and let cool until just above body temperature.  A little over 100 degrees F, if you need to be precise, is the perfect temperature for yeast to start growing.  Then sprinkle some yeast over the must (that's a wine term for all the stuff you put into that 5 gallon bucket).  What kind of yeast?  What kind do you got?  Don't use brewers yeast, but if you've got bread yeast and can't get to a wine store to pay outrageous prices for a fancy sounding yeast, use the bread yeast.  Don't mix this in, just sprinkle 2 or 3 tablespoons or if you are using single packages, a couple packages over the top of your liquid.  Cover this with a dish cloth and let it bubble for a week to ten days.  If you forget about it for an extra day or two, don't worry too much.  Here is one thing you shouldn't do.  Once you pour that yeast over it until the 10 days are up, don't move it around or stir it.  Just put your bucket in a warm place in your house and don't do a whole lotta touching.  

The must is probably going to be bubbling allot here, and that's what you want.  It may even look a bit yucky at this point but mead has a way of working itself out.  Now, while this is bubbling go to your local tavern and ask them to set aside a gallon glass jug or two for you when they use up the wine.  Be polite and go get it as soon as they call you so they aren't tripping over what to them is garbage.  Clean it out the same way you cleaned out your bucket, with a little hot water and bleach.  Then, when your must has slowed down on the bubbling either filter it into the glass jug (called a carboy in wine making speak) or rack it into the glass jug.  racking is like siphoning gas from your car except you get a mouth full of mead instead of gas fumes.  If you decide to rack your wine, keep the end of your siphoning tube about an inch off the bottom of the plastic bucket.  This is where all the dead yeast goes and that can make your mead cloudy.  Over the top of your glass jug put a balloon or unlubricated condom--both with a couple pinholes poked into them or some kind of airlock.  At this point your mead isn't bubbling enough to keep bad stuff out so you want to keep air out, but you want to let the gasses in your mead escape.  Let set for a month or so, longer if your balloon is blowing up. 

If you have a second glass jug you can filter or rack you mead a second time.  The more your filter it the clearer it will get so it looks nice but it won't effect the flavor.  When all the bubbling stops filter or rack your mead into clean mason jars, clean bottles you have salvaged that can be corked, or any clean glass containers you can close.  At this point I wouldn't put the covers on too tightly.  Mead is very slow to finish fermenting and it will keep giving off gasses until it is done.  If the covers are on too tightly the bottles can explode.  Give it a month or two more before you put those covers on tightly.

Now comes the hardest have to wait for mead.  Because it is made from a sugar, mead takes a looonnnngggg time to age.  Minimum of nine months.  Yeah, you heard me, you can't drink this for nine months at the earliest and a year is better.  Put it down in the basement and wait until next year to try it.  While other wines are more complicated in the begining you don't have to wait as long for them but mead is easy in the beginning and you put your time in during the waiting.

But Oh, is it worth it.  Really, it is hard to make a bad batch of mead.  It may not taste like the last batch you made, even if you follow your exact recipe (bees make different honey from year to year), but you will most probably love what you have there. 

So rile up your warrior blood, pound the tables for the serving wenches, and enjoy mead made by your own hand.  People will be amazed at your skill in the spirit making department, and you'll be practicing a skill that has been used since long before the Egyptians created their great cities along the Nile.

To Begin Again

Hmmm, where have the days flown?  It couldn't have been two months ago since I started this blog, could it?  Time seems to be going faster and faster. 

The farm is about as ready for winter as it could possibly be.  We've never put up this much food, my compost bins are overflowing, there is enough animal fodder to feed for the winter, everything has been insulated, covered, or put away...are we ready for winter?  Well, ready or not, winter will hit us in just a few short days.  Snow by Monday.  That's hard to believe when it was almost 60 degrees F today.  But there is no getting around it, soon the house will be the refuge from the stinging cold. 

The looms are all warped, the wool has been cleaned and the first of it spun, the knitting needles are loaded, and the firewood is stacked high by the back door.  The wood stove in the kitchen is crackling merrily and the leftover Thanksgiving turkey carcass is cooking down into broth in the big cauldron set over the back burner. 

The quiet time will be on us soon.  The falling snow dampens all sound but those of the clacking of the loom and the popping of the fire.  The moon reflecting off the snow will make the nights seem brighter.  Shadows moving across the pastures will conjure up stories of The Great Hunt and Ghost Riders.  But the loom weaves peace as well as fate and winter is as sacred of a season as all the others.  So we'll crack open some homemade spirits and gather friends and family near to tell stories of old and the knitting needles click together, the looms swish out new fabric and our lives are woven together through good times and bad.  Winter is here and we celebrate this season with the love of family, both blood and soul.