Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Family Chocolate Cake (by Noah)

     As many friends of our family know but most of our readers don't, our family has a recipe for a very delicious chocolate cake that my dad and I like but my mom has grown very tired of because we wan't it for every single birthday of ours. Yah it is that good so now many of you are probably dying with curiosity about the recipe for our cake. (well not the dying part but you get what I am saying right?)Ok well here we go are you ready for the best chocolate cake ever?!

Prepare 2, 9 inch diameter pans with wax paper on the bottom to reduce stick. Then preheat your oven for 350 degrees and get a timer set for 30 minutes (note do not start it yet!)

     1/3 cup butter OR margarine (note not both)
      1 2/3 cups white sugar
In a bowl with a kitchen-Aid

     3 egg whites Or 2 whole eggs (note not both)
Beat Until Smooth

      1 teaspoon vanilla
      1/2 cup sour cream OR yogurt
      3 square (3 oz) of melted unsweetened chocolate

Mix Together Well in Separate Container
      2 cups all purpose flower
      1 1/2 teaspoon salt
      1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Mix Together Well in Another Separate Container
     1 cup milk
      1 tablespoon vinegar (this curdles the milk making the cake slightly sour so if you don't like sour take this out)

Add the flour mixture and milk mixture a little bit at a time into the bowl with everything else. Then when that is done put 1/2 of the batter in each pan then start the 30 minute timer. Then take the icing and cover the top of both cakes with a thin layer of icing, stick them together cover the sides and you're done. (note don't touch the metal pans with your bare hands)

What is a cake without icing? That is even worse than bread without butter! Well when the cake is almost done start this recipe.

     1 cup melted semisweet chocolate chips.
Combine with
      1 cup sour cream OR 1 cup plain yogurt

By the way something you should try is putting a layer of cherries between the2 halves and double the icing recipe.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lawn to garden conversion: the fruit trees arrive!!!!

The words I'd been waiting to hear. "Mom, there's a box on the porch and it's bigger than you!

Since we moved into Several Gardens Farm, the front yard has always been a bit of a question mark for us. It's gracefully sloping green lawn looked nice until the first time David almost fell of the side while trying to mow. Anyway, we are farmers, not lawn people. We wanted it to grow. But it's steep and huge, and at first it wasn't obvious what to do with it. Over time, I had an increasingly strong vision of turning it into a pleasure ground where we would wander around eating fruit of a dozen varieties, while the scent of herbs and nectar providing flowers wafted up to us from the low growing cover at our feet. I wanted so much fruit we willingly shared with all the birds, and so many flowers we could hear the garden buzz when we went outside.

For more of the back story of grass removal and soil prep, see the lawn to garden conversion tab.

Yesterday the trees came in the mail.

Here they are, all wedged into the box that was taller and wider than me.

We got them from Raintree Nursery, where we have had excellent success in the past.

We loved their packing. All the trees were lashed together, with a small, delicate plant tucked into their branches for protection.

The smaller potted plants were bagged and taped together.

Then there were bags of shredded paper at the edges to soften any impacts they might meet along the way.

The plants were in great condition.

While I dug holes for them, I soaked all the plants in buckets of water.

I felt a bit silly doing it. To the left is the park across the street from our house.

The tennis court is underwater. We joke that we have a great park -it has a tennis court and a pool, all in one.

We've had lots of rain this week. After an extremely dry first half of the winter, precipitation was welcome, but it was still uncomfortably wet.

But you never know how dry the plants may have gotten in transit.

So I put them in to soak.

The trees stayed together.

Blueberries and other less spreading berries went into one bucket. The raspberries got another. Raspberries need a part of the garden where they can spread without getting in any other plant's way.

 My apologies for this horrible picture of the peach tree.

I planted it in the greenhouse. Peaches are very prone to peach leaf curl, which causes them to lose their leaves under damp conditions.

I am going to see if growing it under cover can give me a healthy, curl-free peach tree.

The olive is another experiment.

They do well in regions as cold or colder than Seattle, but they do like summer heat, which we aren't famous for.

I planted it near the south wall of our house, high up on the hill to give it the best drainage we have available.

Last summer we mulched the whole planting area with several inches of wood chips. They have been grow all through with white mycelia, the underground part of mushrooms and other fungus. Fungi in the soil is supposed to set up good growing conditions for trees and long lived perennials.

If so, we are in good shape here. The wood chips formed a mat held tightly together by all the mycelia.

After the peach and the olives went in, we planted all our big trees. Future big trees - here's Noah with a quince tree. 

It's roots are in a hole, waiting for us to fill in with soil. I am of the school of digging a hole just big enough to spread the roots out a bit.

I don't add anything to the soil when I plant, but I've been amending the soil to get it ready for the trees.

Once the tree is positioned, we shoved and scooped soil in around the roots, packing it in tight.

Soil can fluff up when you dig, and leave air pockets against the roots of your plants. Then they can't grow.

Watering is really important - even if you plant in the rain, as we were doing. It's also important to stomp the soil in around the new plant.

So we brought our hose out and watered everything in. 

Noah earned his name today. 

He worked on and on through the pouring rain, until we finally got a few sun breaks near the end.

More fungus. I know no one else wants to look at this, but seeing it made me happy. Our mulching worked. Our wood chips are being broken down, slowly and without heat or sudden bursts of nutrients, by the fungus that came with them or was already there. Jubilation!                                                          

In all, today we planted:

 2 Apple trees - varieties Bramley and Karmijn de Sonnaville
 1 Pear - variety Rescue Pear
 1 Quince - variety Van Demen
 1 Flowering crab apple tree, variety Pink Cloud
 2 Plums - varieties Schoolhouse and Stanley
 2 Sweet cherries - variety Black Vandalay*
 1 Pie cherry - variety Evans
 2 Nanking cherries - a bush cherry - total experiment
 2 Paw Paws - varieties seedling and Pennsylvania Gold
 1 Persimmon - variety Nikita's Gift
 1 Peach - variety Q-1-8 (I know, great name)
 3 Grapes - varieties Einset and Interlaken
 Assorted blueberries, serviceberries, raspberries, olive and white and pink currants.

*Note about Black Vandalay cherries. We sampled these at a fruit picking event, and all three of us, without consulting each other, decided they were our favorite. MUST. HAVE. THIS. CHERRY.

I'm personally most excited about the crab apple. It's a double flowering crab. I've seen what I think is the same tree in a park in central Washington, in late May, absolutely covered with bees of many species. When I stood back from the tree, I could see them flying in and out like a busy airport. I want this in my yard!

But we are also excited to have some varieties we've sampled and loved, and that are not available at the fruit stand. We'll keep you posted as the trees leaf out and the hill (hopefully) springs into life in a few months.

shared on: frugal-days-sustainable-ways , Farm Girl Friday

Monday, February 3, 2014

The goat who couldn't leave

A bit of recent history, to establish the scene.

February 2 was a bright, cool, sunny day. I did a bunch of weeding, cleaned the barn and finally, months after the ducks are gone, I cleaned and aired out the massively overbuilt shelter they slept in.

Later that same, glorious day, the Seahawks won the Superbowl.

Everyone in the greater Seattle area went crazy.

Until a few years ago, our neighborhood of Boulevard Park was unincorporated, not part of any city. Old habits die hard, and folks in this neighborhood celebrate most big events with huge firework displays. It started midway through the third quarter and went on for hours.

The sky was a spectacle, with huge fountains, rockets, etc., and of course the noise that goes with it. I went out to check on the animals; everyone seemed calm.

The next morning when I went out to feed them, the hens and Meggie came running. And I heard Lightning's voice, but couldn't find her. Until...

How did she even fit in there?

There she was, peeking out of the duck pen. At first I thought she was being shy. Maybe the noise had scared her and she was reluctant to come out.


But soon it became clear that she couldn't get out the way she came in.

I tried coaxing her feet out, but her belly was getting squeezed and she was freaking out, in a confined area.

Trying to drag or entice her out seemed like a recipe for her getting injured.

There is a second door out into a little fenced enclosure. It's a bird sized door, about the size of a sheet of paper. But she tried several times to get through it. Sorry, dear, no.

At this point I was dearly regretting the massive size and overbuilding of this structure. It was designed as a portable 'chicken tractor' to be rolled from place to place, so that chickens always have new ground to forage. But like many things, we tried unsuccessfully to combine two incompatible qualities - solidity and portability. The enclosure is raccoon proof. But it is also so heavy, its wheels have buried themselves in the mud and it's going nowhere.

Luckily, there was one more option to try. The back of the pen has a third door, bigger, for cleaning. But it wasn't raccoon-proof, so we moved the water trough in front of it to block it.

 I love our water trough. It provides all the water the animals need for 9 months of the year. It stands under the downspout from the barn, capturing water and keeping the ground around the walls from turning to mud. A spout at the bottom lets us water the plants, or just drain it.

Unfortunately, for all its merit, the trough is a huge obstacle right at the moment. Nothing can get in or out without moving 125 gallons of ice water!

 I opened the spigot at the bottom. Usually I do that, then go do other tasks - sometimes for hours. I didn't like that plan. Then I took the big pump. It can drain about 2 quarts per pump. But that is still a really lot of pumping. Ultimately I bailed the tank out, bucket by bucket and finally flopped it over on its side. It took a lot of 4 gallon bucket fulls to drain that puppy!

And then - the lock was rusted shut.

Finally I was able to pry open the lock, dig the bottom of the door out of the muck and free Lightning!

Here she is, stretching her legs. Her body language is not as exuberant as normal. Her ears are down and her tail is tight against her legs. She was about as unhappy as I've ever seen her.
But I didn't realize until a few minutes later what the big problem was. She had been waiting all night for this.

My potty trained goat wouldn't pee in the coop and she wouldn't pee on the grass or the soil. It had to be in the wood chips. Once she started it was like she was never going to stop. I didn't realize how trained she was.

Now I have the door closed again. I would like to think that Lightning has learned not to do this, but she's a bit of a risk taker and I don't want to go through that process again.
Meanwhile, Lightning has already moved on to her next adventure. (This is an old picture but I had to run after extriacating her).

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