Sunday, February 28, 2016

Paper pots for planting seeds!

This is my second attempt at starting seedlings indoors.  When I did it once before, I thought I could start seeds under the light of a south window.  Not so.  It wasn't nearly enough light to get seedlings to grow stocky enough to plant into my windy garden spot.  So this year I've been doing a little research and found a dandy article on the methods of starting seedlings at Mother Earth News.  I used to pick up that magazine at the library in the front entry where folks would leave their magazines to share for free.  Here is the article I learned so much from: Best Tips For Starting Seeds Indoors.  One of the tips was to make your own pots from paper cups or from newspapers, and since we have lots of newspapers, I opted for that.  I spent a good hour rolling pots and ended up with 63 pots for my seed planting.  Here's a video for a very simple newspaper pot

I bought a 4 foot hanging shop light that has florescent bulbs.  I'll put that above my trays of pots and hope that I will have plenty of light for young seedlings to get a good start.  I'm planning to plant tomatoes:  Sweet 100s, Heirloom Beef Steak, Better Boy, and Early Girl.  We have such a short growing season that I like to have some early tomatoes as well as some that take a little longer just in case we can get a few huge tomatoes late in the season.  I'll also be planting:  broccoli, Brussels sprouts (experiment), cabbage, peppers, and maybe some cantaloupe.  I want to start some flowers too:  moss rose, snapdragons, marigolds, and petunias. 
(Illustration By Elayne Sears)

Another great tip I found was how to make your own liquid fertilizer  for young transplants.  Since I have chickens, I can use some of that manure mixed with wood shavings and add in grass clippings and a few other things into a bucket of water.  I had always heard that chicken poop was "too hot" to mix into the garden directly, so it makes sense to make a "compost tea" with it to use as fertilizer.  I've also read that some people take their weeds, throw them into a bucket, add water and sunshine, and let it steep into a tea that works as fertilizer.  Not even the weeds need to go to waste!

I will wait until about March 10th before I start planting my seeds because our last frost date can be as late as the end of May.  By starting my own seeds, I will have more choices for the types of plants I can grow instead of relying on the greenhouses to make those choices for me.  I hope to save a little money on my garden costs too.  Wish me luck!

Do you have any seed starting tips to share?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

From birth to standing up in minutes!

 (born outside)

 (brought them in the barn)

(a set of triplets from another ewe)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Beginning butterflies and lambs...


I've begun my new online class on Craftsy and it's been fun!  I'm taking "Embroidering Texture and Dimension by Hand" by Sue Spargo.  Sue is a wonderful teacher.  I love to listen to her speak in her South African accent, and I love to watch her hands handle the materials and threads as a true artist.  I'll be making several of these butterflies, using felted wool scraps, embroidery floss, ribbons, beads,  and who knows what else I might come up with.  I'm learning some new stitches along the way which is always fun.  Thanks to my dear friend for her lovely gift of the class!

On another note, we're drawing near to the end of our lambing season.  We docked our first bunch of lambs today.  Here they are!  They're growing so quickly, and they are so healthy due to the beautiful weather we've had.  February is usually a very cold, nasty month for us, but this year it's been mild and unseasonably warm -- windy, but warm.  I'm thankful for it.    Our losses have been very small.  We've had a few bum lambs, but very few of them.  All in all, it's been a good, bountiful lamb season.

37 Ewes
29 Ewe Lambs
36 Wether Lambs
65 Lambs Total
(176% lamb crop on this bunch)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Beef Butter...

I've been rendering beef fat today.  We recently had one of our bulls butchered and processed so I asked the butcher to save back some of the beef fat for me.  He asked if I was making soap or something.  Well, I'm not planning to make soap, but I'm rendering the fat into tallow for cooking and for my creams.  Have you ever had French fries fried in beef tallow?  Oh yummy!   I recently heard about an all natural cream that is being sold online by Vintage Tradition which includes beef tallow as one of the main ingredients, so of course, I had  to try making some for myself since I've been experimenting at making body butters, creams, and salves for a few years.

Rendering beef fat or any other animal fat is an old process that has mostly gone by the wayside, but I think it might be making a resurgence with the popularity of healthy, natural foods and beauty products.  In the pioneer days of our country, nothing went to waste when butchering a beef or any other animal.  And that included the fat.  The white fat was rendered down and strained and the fat was saved to use for cooking, frying, baking, for pie crusts, for candles, and also for skin cream.  It's been said that animal fat is very much like the oils in our own skin and so it makes sense that tallow creams would be very soothing and healing to our human skin.

A few months ago I made a couple small jars of "Beef Butter" (my name for it) to see what I thought of it.  I really love it!  The recipe I used can be found here at the Vintage Tradition website.  The entire process, from rendering the beef fat to the making of the butter, is included so you can try your hand at it too.  I thought it was very good of them to share their process.  Basically, the recipe is to mix 8 or 9 parts melted tallow to 1 part olive oil and add essential oils to your liking.  Since beef tallow alone is very hard and waxy, adding the olive oil gives it a more creamy texture.  There are many testimonies of how the tallow balm has improved skin conditions like diaper rash, psoriasis,  poison ivy, and cracked lips.  Evidently, it works!

My own testimony is this.  I have very dry feet.  I have one foot that tends to crack right at the ball of the foot below the big toe.  It can be very painful and hard to walk on when it does this.  I would sometimes put some super glue on it to keep it from cracking deeper.  Well, since I made the Beef Butter, I've been applying it somewhat regularly to my feet (but I often forget) and I have not had any cracking since using it.  I also use it on my 53 year-old face.  It soaks right in and leaves my skin very supple and moisturized.  Of course, it also makes a good hand cream and over-all body butter.  A little bit goes a long way.  I like that it really soaks into the skin and doesn't sit on top of it like commercial lotions do.  I have come to really hate that feeling of lotion suffocating my skin since I've been using my own natural oil creams and butters.

So today I've rendered down a quart+ of beef tallow and made three small jars of Beef Butter for myself and to share.  A couple of my grandkids have rough, dry skin and one has eczema that flares up from time to time.  We'll experiment with Beef Butter and see what happens.  Have you ever tried tallow oils for your skin or for cooking and baking?  Please tell!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Valentine cookies, Raisinets, and Pistachios....

Soon it will be Valentine's Day.  We aren't big celebraters of the day, but we like to give a little chocolate and nuts to each other.  Today Hubby and I shopped together for groceries, and I threw in a bag of Dark Chocolate Raisinets (from him) and he chose Pistachios (from me) for Valentine's Day.  Yeah, we are weird like that.  In addition to this lavish display of love and affection, I did have a little "heart fun" by baking one of my favorite cookies -- iced sugar cookies with red hot centers.  I really like a red hot candy with every bite of cookie, so you might spot a cookie or two in the pic below that I WILL eat!  I totally made the cookies for my grandchildren and their families, but I saved a few back just for us.  (That's romantic, isn't it?)

When I was a girl we had a local bakery downtown that  made these delicious heart-shaped sugar cookies with red hot centers for Valentine's Day.  I think they were a nickle apiece back then, and I couldn't wait to walk to the bakery after school to buy myself a heart cookie.  I never forgot those hearts and when I got old enough to make my own cut-out cookies, I made sure to bake up some of those beauties to celebrate Heart Day.  The recipe is my mom's, and if I do say so myself, they are The Best Sugar Cookies Ever.  Yes, they really are.    You should try them.  Want to?  Ok.  Here ya go!

Sugar Cookies

1 c. butter
1 c. Crisco shortening
1 c. powdered sugar
1 c. white sugar
2 eggs
4 1/2 c. flour (plus a little more for rolling out)
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cream of tartar
1 t. vanilla

Cream together butter, shortening and sugars.  Add eggs.  Add dry ingredients and then vanilla.  Mix well, scraping down sides of bowl.  Chill in the frig for several hours.  If rolling out dough for cut-out cookies, you may need to add a little more flour.  You don't want dough too sticky.  

Divide the dough into four chunks and roll out on a floured cupboard for cut-out cookies or roll dough into 1 inch balls and flatten with a sugared glass bottom.  You may also like to sprinkle some extra colored sugar on these.  Bake at 350* for 8-10 minutes.  Do not over-bake.  You barely want a golden tinge on the edge.

If you like, you may frost the cookies with an icing mixing:  powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and a little almond extract.  Make as thick or thin as you want.  Add sprinkles.  This recipe makes a large batch, approximately 4 dozen cookies or more.

**Famous Christmas, Valentine’s Day or Easter cookies.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


 (a single)


I've been gone for five days to attend my nephew's engagement party in Kansas, and while I was away, the ewes decided to start having babies.  I don't know how they could do that without me, but they did!  I'm so thankful that we are having wonderful weather so far.  Today we reached 55 degrees with sunshine, but of course, there was only one set of twins born today -- on the best day of the year.  They tend to want to lamb at night for some reason.  Hoping for lots of good, warm days ahead.

We've had four sets of triplets so far and lots of twins.  Busy mama sheep!

The grandkids came over the day after I returned home and we had a big Valentine making event here.  We watercolor painted, cut and glued, applied stickers and doilies, and stamped with rubber stamps.  Glorious fun for little hands and big hands too.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Birds of Winter...

The first snapshot you see are Sharptailed Grouse in flight.  They look like the B1 Bombers of the bird kingdom.  The picture below is of a single Sharptail.  Note the feathery legs.  I wish you could see how sweet their faces are, but this picture doesn't give a very good facial shot.

You know the next bird -- the Bald Eagle.  He is very majestic looking, but some say that they will sit on a perch all day long and not hunt.  We see them a lot right now along the roadside eating dead animals.  We have a few on our place and one pair appeared to be building a nest last year.  I wonder if they will work on it again this year?  It is said that that they may build on a nest for years before ever laying eggs.  I've only seen young eagles once.

The next group of photos is of just one little Eastern Screech Owl.  He (or she) is just about 7-8" long.  As you can see, the first photos show this owl looking rather round and fat, but when I walked by it again with the cats underfoot, he skinnied-up and raised his ear tufts to look mean.  I thought it was rather funny since the cats paid him no attention whatsoever.  Earlier this winter, JLynn saw the screech and no one has seen him since.  The very last photo is one that JLynn took.  See how fluffy and full he looks?  After we saw the screech owl today, CarpenterSon told me that he had seen a small owl in the shop on top of the tractor.  Now why wouldn't he mention that to me?  Or come get me?  They know what a bird-lover I am!

I hope that we are seeing two screech owls.  The one JLynn saw looks a little different than the one I saw.  It could be the light, but it could be that one is male and one is female.  The male screech owls are smaller, so the book says.  The one I saw might be the male.  For fun, click this link, scroll down and listen to the sweet sounding call of the Eastern Screech!

What types of winter birds are you seeing?  This year we've had only sparrows at the feeder.  No chickadees, no woodpeckers, and no nuthatches. 


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