I'm trying to make the best of it and have been quite productive lately. I got a lot of outside work done during that warm week, while the sun shone. Now there are many seedlings to attend to indoors. And I spend a little time outside during the warmest parts of each sunny day. Otherwise I've been keeping my hands busy inside while I bide my time, however resentful of the vanished warm weather. Here's a rundown of the projects I've been working on lately.
I painted the nesting box we made all from scrap wood. Bright colors of course, because if the wood needs protection from the elements, I might as well use colors that make me happy. Now that we're more or less set up for the broody hen, I'm eager for her arrival. Still no firm date for that yet.
I finished two new two planting templates - a cool looking hexagonal one for the three sisters planting, and another one for the garlic planting on 6" centers. I've been using an 8" planting template for the garlic, but after getting carried away with some 350 garlic plants last fall, I've rethought my spacing for this crop.
I also worked on finishing a few projects started with the help of our WWOOF volunteers. The first is a greens feeder for the chickens. The idea here is that you plant greens the chickens like to eat under the feeder. The plants then grow up through the caging and the girls can eat what pokes up. But they can't tear the roots out of the soil, so the plants in theory should re-grow and continue to feed them for a long time. Since we move the hens daily throughout most of the year, I plan to use this in the yet-to-be-constructed hoop house which will house the girls next winter. In the meantime though I'm also hoping it will shield some tiny catnip seedlings from the ravages of cats - both ours and the neighborhood ne'erdowell toms. The caging for this project was repurposed from a tomato cage that will be replaced with a trellising system this year.
The second is my solar cooking station. This still needs a bit more work, but it's good enough to supercharge our seedlings with tons of sunlight at the moment. It mounts to the scaffolding for our solar heating array. A piece of rebar supports a wooden countertop from the back, and a wooden upright supports it in front. It's reasonably easy for me to set it up or remove it by myself. I'm hoping that the solar array doesn't completely shade it out in summer. I'll watch this, and if need be, lower the station a bit to get it out from under the shade. All of these projects - templates, nesting box, greens feeder and solar cooking station - were made with salvaged lumber and other free materials. Only the paint, screws, nails and some other hardware were, in some cases, purchased.
|Hand carved wooden spoon and a spoon blank|
I carved a wooden spoon (from a spoon "blank") using the awesome woodcarving tools that my husband received recently as a gift. It's a rather addictive occupation, despite being tough on novice hands, and definitely one best pursued when the weather is fair enough to allow all the shavings to fall outside. Last year we broke our last two wooden spoons, so it's nice to be able to make some for ourselves. This one isn't very large, but it could be used with smaller cooking pots. I put a nubbin on the back of the handle end so it won't just slip into the soup if I set it against the rim of the pot.
Based on a good tip from The Urban Homestead, I made a baking soda shaker from a glass jar with a metal lid. This is for dish washing, as baking soda is a mild and non-toxic abrasive. Just take a nail and make lots of holes in the lid, then fill with ordinary baking soda. The gaffer's tape bands around the jar were my own tweak. They're there to provide a better grip to wet hands.
Also, a couple of knitted dishrags. These are made from cotton butcher's twine and based on a pattern for a baby blanket I made many years ago. Look for large spools of this stuff in a restaurant supply store. It's much cheaper than buying the small rolls of a thinner gauge kitchen twine in a supermarket. I recommend you get a couple of spools. Keep one someplace clean for kitchen uses, and the other one with your garden tools. You'll find a thousand uses for it outside, but it's not easy to keep the twine clean if you take it to the garden. These dishrags can be made fairly quickly on days when you're cooped up inside. They don't wear out as quickly as scrubby sponges, and if you throw them in with the laundry they won't abrade your clothes. Also, they're thin enough to sterilize just with sun exposure. Google for a thousand pattern options. And I'm sure there are crochet patterns as well if that's your fiber art. I may experiment with dying these later as I have a dying project in mind and these could just be added into the soak.
Pelmenyi. These are meat dumplings from central Russia. I've been meaning to make them for ages now. Some unpasteurized whey graciously donated by Sandy, defrosting my freezer, and unfriendly outdoor temps, were the impeti to finally undertake the project. And they are a project, believe me. It would be much more fun and go so much faster to have another set of hands to help with assembly. But I'm on my own this week. My recipe uses the whey plus one of our eggs in the dough, and three kinds of ground meat (pork, veal, and lamb - discovered while defrosting the freezer, and all local and pastured, of course) plus onion and spices in the filling. Traditionally these are kept in huge sacks on balconies over the many months of the Russian winter where there's no danger of thawing or spoilage. They are boiled and then served either with vinegar, or with the super high fat content smetana, to which our closest equivalent is sour cream, though it contains only roughly half the fat of smetana. Green onions are sometimes added as a garnish with either topping.
Unfortunately, while working on the greens feeder I manage to bash my thumb with the hammer. I've never been unlucky or clumsy enough to do this before, and I can assure you that it's an experience I neither recommend nor care to repeat. It didn't seem like that hard of a bash, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. It hurt like the dickens, and still requires a lot of caution when doing everyday tasks. I'm really hoping that I don't lose the nail, 'cause that would seriously screw up the fast approaching heavy spring workload.
It's very satisfying to see a few things made with my own hands that will endure and be useful for many years, mostly with very little expense. My head is full of little homesteading projects I want to undertake this year. Last year about this time I had the sense that things were finally starting to come together on the homestead. And indeed, things did run better last year; more things turned out the way I hoped. I have that sense this year too. It's a good feeling, though hard won. If my productivity holds up (and I freely admit that it's extremely fickle), it could be a great year for progress on the homestead. We'll see.
I will probably do a post on the three sisters' template around planting time. If you simply must have more details on any of the other projects, leave me a comment and it may inspire me to get into the nitty-gritty.