Thursday, March 27, 2014

Another New Addition!

Ducklings!

We have five new babies to love!  We've never raised ducks before so this will be a brand new adventure! We're in love already.  I don't think there is anything quite as loveable as that baby duckling face.  They are the sweetest things, and such a joy to watch.


They're still quite small, only about 12 days old, so they're being kept in our bathroom under a warming lamp until the weather decides to warm up just a bit more at nighttime.  They also like to take a swim in the bathtub everyday.  They are funny to watch as they play around in the water.  The kids get a big kick out of them.


video



We have one White Pekin, one Buff Orpington, and two Khaki Campbells, all female, and one Mallard male.  The White Pekin duckling is growing much more rapidly than the other breeds.  She's really beautiful!  The Khaki Campbells are the better egg layers of the flock - up to 320 eggs per year!  I think that's awesome and I can't wait!  I also can't wait until they're big enough to go outside on their own and swim in their pool.  And, so I can have my bathroom back in useable shape.  It has been a chick nursery since early February and now we've moved the chicks out and the ducklings inside.  I'm ready for a good bubble bath myself - minus the ducks! 





Sunday, March 23, 2014

Chick Overload : At 5 Weeks!


In case you couldn't tell, we are thoroughly enjoying our chickens this year.  Our White-Crested Polish chicks are the show-stoppers.  Everyone loves watching the "hair" develop.  They're so funny to watch, too.  I mean, how can you not absolutely love a couple of characters like this?













Our Buff Orpington Ladies are quite beautiful, and are the biggest of the hens at this stage.





Miss Barnevelder is looking quite pretty in her dark colors.













I love the speckled pattern of our Speckled Sussex.




Those are our Red Cochins in the background.  Their feathers are still developing and they don't have quite as much feathery action, as does our White Cochin, on their legs and feet just yet. 




Our Blue Cochin, it turns out, is actually the White Cochin I just mentioned.  Either way, she's a beauty!  Look at those beautiful full-feathered feet and legs.








Friday, March 21, 2014

Zazu


Rest in Peace, my beautiful boy.  I'm so glad you were ours. 

You will be missed. 











Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Kombucha!

 I had been reading about kombucha and its health benefits for quite a long time before I decided to brew some here at home and give it a try.  I figured that if I could detoxify, improve joint health, promote gut health with probiotics, and boost our immune systems with one seemingly easy drink per day it would be worth the effort. Let me tell you - it is fantastic!  My husband and I both love it and look forward to it every single day.  It's like a soda, but so much better!  It's not too sweet, it's deliciously fizzy; it has become my favorite new drink!  (Aside from coffee, of course.)  Not to mention that brewing my own by the gallon, for pennies, versus paying upwards of $5.00 for a 16oz bottle of kombucha from the grocery store is very motivating!

Honestly, Shaye from The Elliott Homestead, and her posts about making her own kombucha are what made me order my very first SCOBY, or the symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.  Also known as "the mother," I was a little terrified when I received the SCOBY in my mailbox.  It was odd, strange, and just downright weird!  I actually set it aside for a week or two and just stared at it, wondering if I really wanted to go there. 

If you read Shaye's posts, read them both and let the information combine to give a clearer picture of how to proceed with her version of kombucha.  I carefully read through her versions along with both a recipe that came with my SCOBY and a version I found in a cookbook.  Since it was so completely foreign to me, I was very carefully proceeding with this little project.  I certainly didn't want to contaminate anything!


This is a combination of recipes and instructions for how to make kombucha that have become my own version of this delicious drink.  Here's what you'll need:


  • a SCOBY
  • 8 regular size organic tea bags  {I have used oolong tea (a partially fermented combination of green and black tea, green tea, and black tea.  You can also use white tea, but don't use any herbal teas as they're said not to do well in kombucha.}
  • 1 cup of white sugar  {I know, white sugar isn't what you expect in a health drink, but the truth is that the sugar is consumed by the bacteria in the brewing process.}
  • 6-8 quarts of water  {I like to use my filtered well-water and would suggest that if you have city tap water, you may want to filter it well before making kombucha.}
You're also going to need:

  •  a 2-gallon capacity glass container for fermenting the tea  {Although my glass jar has a spigot, I don't use that part and you can use any glass container you wish.  You won't need a spigot.  I also use a one-gallon size mason jar container, not pictured.}
  • an 8-10 quart stock pot  {You can also use a 5 quart pot to steep the tea, then add the additional water to your brewing container at the end of the process.}
  • bottles {you'll need these about 10 days after you begin your brew, so if you don't have them now, don't worry, you still have time.  My kids like those Starbucks drinks in the glass bottles and I began buying a pack each week at the grocery store as a treat for them and I saved all the bottles.  The labels are easy to peel off and a little baking soda will remove any bit of stickiness that may remain.  Any other glass bottles with screw-on lids work well, too.}
  • mesh strainer and cheesecloth {You'll also need this to filter your kombucha after it has fermented}
  • kitchen funnel {This will make easier work of pouring your strained kombucha into the bottles.}
  • OPTIONAL - a bottle of 100% grape juice or cranberry juice  {You can use this to give a little extra flavor to your kombucha, plus the delicious punch of a few extra days of brewing.}






After gathering your tea bags, stock pot, water, and sugar, you can get to work.  First, add six to eight quarts of water to your stock pot, pour in your cup of sugar and stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and toss in your tea bags, put on the lid, and let it cool completely.  Hot or warm tea can damage the SCOBY, killing some of your beneficial bacteria, and you don't want that!

Once it is completely cooled, remove the tea bags and pour the tea into your glass container.  Next, drop in your SCOBY!  It may sink, it may float, it may hang suspended.  All are normal so don't worry.  Your tea needs to be able to breathe during fermentation, but you don't want any little critters getting into it, so use a tightly woven piece of cotton - like muslin - to cover the container and secure it with a rubber band.  Cheesecloth isn't woven tightly enough, even if you double it.  

That's it.  Now you need to find a warmish spot to sit it for about 7-10 days.  I prefer letting mine hang out for about 10 days, the fizzy quality is best by then.  Although during the warmer months of spring and summer it may be ready in 7 days since a warmer room temperature will help speed up the fermentation process.  (Don't try to artificially heat it though...you'll kill all the good stuff.  It's an exercise in patience, especially when you discover how much you'll love it!)  You want to be sure you wait until you get the fizzy quality.  I don't think I'd like flat kombucha nearly as much!


*****

Seven to ten days later, grab the bottles you've been saving, and let's get to work.  You can taste the tea and make sure that it seems carbonated and acidic enough for your preference.  The taste reminds me of a fizzy, honey-sweetened water, a mild and delicious flavor.  And, every time I allow it to ferment for 9-10 days, it turns out perfectly. 

First, you'll want to bathe your bottles and lids in a pot of boiling water to sterilize them.  Sit them all on a workspace while you filter your kombucha.

 

 You can see how the SCOBY has grown to cover the entire surface of my tea inside the container.





You'll want to reach in there with some tongs or even your clean fingers and remove that thing right now.  You'll notice how you still have your original mother SCOBY and a new one, a baby.  This will happen with each brew.  You'll soon have tons of baby SCOBY to hand out to your friends if you can convince them to brew their own.  Always keep your extra SCOBY in a ziploc or other container with a little of the kombucha brew to keep feeding it.






After removing your SCOBY, you'll want to set up a mesh strainer lined with doubled cheesecloth through which to strain your entire container of kombucha.  I usually strain mine into an empty pitcher since that makes it much easier to pour into the prepared bottles. 






I fill my bottles to about 80% full of my kombucha brew then top it off with 100% grape or cranberry juice.  Grape gives a more noticeable flavor, while cranberry is milder in flavor.  To me, cranberry makes kombucha have a dry wine flavor and that's not a bad thing.  Grape, however, has more sweetness to offer and is probably our favorite addition. 





Now, if you add the juice, you'll have another exercise in patience.  Put the sealed bottles out at room temperature for three more days.  Yes, three more days.  You'll be so glad you waited.  During these three days the kombucha will go through another mini-fermentation with the added juice and will form a very light film across the top of the tea inside the bottles.  And, that is exactly what you want.  After the three days have passed, transfer them into your refrigerator to chill.  When you're ready to drink, skim the film from the top of the drink if you prefer, or you can just ignore it and drink it all up.  On the other hand, if you prefer the light, fizzy, honey-like flavor of plain kombucha, leave it just as it is.  Fill the bottles to the top and put them in your refrigerator immediately.  Once chilled, they're ready to drink.

Now open a chilled bottle and taste what you made with a few simple ingredients and a little bit of patience.  I am such a do-it-myself  kind of girl and being able to make this is hugely satisfying!  This is one delicious drink.  I'm brewing double batches now and I really want to double my double batch, but I'd need more Starbucks bottles and the kids are already jumping off the walls.  I'll collect them in time I suppose, or I could just order these instead.  Anyway, you should get to brewing right now!  You'll be so glad you did!





Now that you've fallen in love with kombucha, you just need to remember to reserve a cup or two of kombucha and your SCOBY (mother or baby) to add to your next batch of brew.  Soon you'll have a continuous supply of deliciousness!  And, without the guilt of soda!

If you're local and you'd like a SCOBY, let me know -  I have plenty to share!  If you're not, and you really want to give it a try, I'll try to seal one up for you and drop it in the mail, just let me know. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Signs of Spring

Seeds are being started, the ground is being tilled.







Mocking birds have begun singing in the trees.








Azaleas are beginning to bloom, bulbs are pushing forth, and trees are showing color.








The afternoons are longer and the light is brightening.







Blue skies are making a more regular appearance.








After such a long and colder than normal wintertime, I am overjoyed to see these signs that tell me spring is nearly upon us.  I'm thankful for the lengthening days, for birdsong, for the smell of freshly turned soil, for seeds that will nourish us in the coming months, for the gentle spring rains that wash everything with life, and for the renewed energy I find within.  God's timing is perfect in every season.  For all these reasons and so many more, I am ever grateful.






Saturday, March 15, 2014

Rustic Garden Trellis

My husband and boys went outside yesterday to come up with some sort of trellis for our climbing snap beans using the materials they already had on hand or that they could find in the woods. They cut down many little branches and pruned out some overgrowth, then they started construction.






After burying some logs as posts and nailing smaller branches across the logs horizontally, this is what they came up with.  I love it!  It's so rustic and looks perfectly in place in the garden.  This will give us three large trellises on which to grow our snap beans.   This garden space was previously our entire garden, however, this year we have added on quite a bit more.  This is now only the space for growing our snap beans and zucchini.



The garden has increased in size so much that it's probably five or six times larger than ever before.  We're taking on quite the gardening challenge this year!  I hope I make wise mulching and weeding decisions to save a lot of back-breaking work during the summer months.  I'll get up a full post with pictures about our gardening endeavors this year.




{Claire and Emma were having a water war with spray bottles (they hold much more water than those little water guns!).  They chased each other around for a long time and ended up with wet hair and clothes and somehow got down to just socks on their feet.  I have no idea.}





This spring feels full of promise and I'm sure it'll be full of time spent outdoors with lots of garden maintenance to tend to, not to mention all the new animals we've added to the little home-front this year.  We even have a new baby animal delivery due this week!  I'll keep you posted!


Friday, March 14, 2014

Beach Day!


Last Monday was the warmest, sunniest day we've had so far this year.  It was tucked neatly in between two cool, rainy days and I couldn't resist getting out of the house.  I knew it would be good for the kids to get out in the fresh air and sunshine.  Packing up and taking off for the beach did not disappoint!





It was a warm 72 degrees with little wind.  Even the kids got into the water!  I was just so happy for them and so thankful for the break in our weather so that they could get outside and absorb some sunlight and spend some pent up wintertime energy.  My mom even came along with us.  It was an absolutely perfect day.





I'm already itching for our next beach day.  And, our next round of warmer temperatures. And, for a growing garden.  And, for our chickens to lay eggs.  And, and, and,.....    :)