Wandering Cherry Meadow

A 3 Acre Homestead Renovation Project

Making Chicken Bone Stock or Broth from Scraps

Want delicious chicken stock (mostly bones) or broth (more meat) without buying it at the store pre-made but also without using enough ingredients to make a gourmet meal to do so?

French Dinner

French Onion soup made with homemade stock is the best!

TL;DR:

  1. Instead of buying fresh produce to make stock, freeze kitchen scraps from veggies (onion skins, garlic skins, extra herbs that I’ve over picked, produce that just started to go south that you don’t want to eat it fresh, chicken bones or other bones from meat like pork chops, steaks, fish).
  2. Throw them in a soup pot that’s actually probably intended for pasta filled with water and boil then simmer for at least an hour, but overnight or longer if the urge tickles your fancy (richer flavor the longer you go, but my mom’s choice to go 2 days seems a little excessive to me).
  3. Strain out all the used and abused discard for compost or yard waste.  (If you use a soup pot that’s likely actually intended for pasta, you can just lift the colander out, which leads to next to no mess and less spillage).
  4. Freeze or refrigerate your ample delicious stock until ready to eat.
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Kitchen scraps make me a tasty snack! Frozen celery discards, onion skins, and leftover roasted chicken. Numnumnum.

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Chicken Waterer with Gallon Milk Jugs and Nipples

Flew the Roo enjoying the newly set up watering jug.

I originally watered my chickens with a $30-something metal hanging waterer I got at the feed store (which you can see at this post about the Mama Heating Pad Brooder).  In under a year of use, the metal has already started to deteriorate from the constant water exposure.  Due to leaving it on a cinderblock, it doesn’t usually get dirty unless someone goes crazy and decides it’s time to overturn everything in the coop, but generally speaking the water quality has definitely gone down with time and so has cleanliness.

 

Enter the chicken waterer nipples.  My bestie at Shady Side Farm deserves full credit for this post, since after she very kindly brooded two Black Jersey Giants for me and decided I should take her Cuckoo Maran rooster too since roos aren’t allowed where she lives, she set me up with a milk jug chicken waterer and left me with extra nipples to make more.  Making more so was stupidly easy, I regretted not doing it sooner!

 

To get the birds used to it is pretty easy if you have a few birds who already were raised using the nipples, and that’s how they got water to begin with.  The other birds will watch and copy.  If you’re starting fresh like with my older birds, I gradually had the waterer run low with the only water being from the jugs.  If they’re particularly slow, you can dip their beaks into it like you sometimes do when you take chicks home so they know where water is, but mine have always been pretty quick on the uptake.

 

Materials:

Chicken waterer nipples (25 pack found here or 5 pack found here for about half the cost of 25 – my friend got 25)

Thoroughly cleaned out milk jug

Something to poke a hole with (drill bit, I used a tiny knife – just careful not to cut it too wide!  5/16″ is recommended)

Something to hang the jug with – I used leftover hay bail ties

Nipple attached to milk jug on opposite end of handle.

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Mycology 101: Growing Oyster Mushrooms on Cardboard

So I’m sure you’ve noticed that aside from my initial post, most of my posting hasn’t been related to renovation whatsoever.  You know why?  My roof is leaking again in the same spot we’ve tried repairing multiple times!  Sneaky leaky.  Fortunately, we noticed it right before I painted over the area!  Ah, my ever stalled kitchen, when will I find a roofer I trust?  If you’re in the Seattle area and know someone who likes working with over sized skylights and their flashing, hit me up!

 

If I’m not renovating, I’m homesteading!  Back in the fall, I found some beautiful chanterelles growing outside in my front yard, and since then my mycological interest was peaked.  Maybe it was picking up over $100 worth of mushrooms in a week across multiple weeks as the rains were agreeable just by walking into my front yard, or the fact that local, foraged mushroom prices at the grocery store are ever-growing, or perhaps even that the freshest mushroom I’ll ever get from the market is still far older than the mushroom I picked before cooking.  While I’m sure there are more mushrooms in my yard I can grow given they sprout up all over my lawn and fallen stumps, the only ones I’ve been able to consistently identify are chanterelles.  Knowing I couldn’t clone the mycorrhizal relationship the chanterelle mycelium has with my giant evergreens inside my house, I decided to look for mushrooms I could cultivate and grow at home.

 

After some “light” reading of Paul Stamets’s books Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms and the backbreaking The Mushroom Cultivator, I decided all the techniques and options listed were probably fantastic, and found them as a good reference guide for the basics, but realistically they suffered from two main problems.  That is, the idea is you need a substrate such as straw or wood chips to be completely clean from contamination.  Easy enough.  Boil things!  Or pressure cook them.  Both are good.

The problem is, I live in the Pacific Northwest.  Short of a lab environment, trichoderma infests everything it can.  In fact, I even had a bag of mushrooms from a lab that was infested with trichoderma.  So I needed an alternative.

 

After having purchased my mom and friend bags of oysters for their Christmas gifts, and growing some shiitake and lion’s mane myself, I tried to figure out some alternatives.  I found something about growing oysters on coffee grounds from various sources, including someone trying to sell you the information that could be conveyed in 30 minute videos.  The idea is that the coffee is already pasteurized, so as long as you use it the same day, it should be fine.  Maybe.  Unless you live in the Pacific Northwest and need to use more science than that.  During my multiple attempts that ended in moldy glory using the mushroom butts from my mom’s oysters to start colonizing some coffee grounds, I did realize they seemed to be doing just fine on the cardboard I started them on.  I’m sure it’s less nutritious than using coffee grounds, but what I can say for certainty is it didn’t grow mold.  That alone made it a winner in my eyes.

 

So, how to grow oyster mushrooms on cardboard?

 

  1. Get oyster mushroom stem butts (the very base of the mushroom, sometimes has some of its substrate on it still – note, grocery store mushrooms aren’t always the best source here.  If you know someone who grows them, found some in the wild, or have some left overs from a mushroom growing kit, that’s probably the best way to go)
  2. Boil cardboard.  I did it for like an hour after all my previous mold woes, but honestly the mold isn’t going to go hang out on the cardboard, so don’t fret that much.
  3. Tear the cardboard into single layers after cardboard cools enough to touch (don’t have to do this step, but mushrooms grow much more quickly if you do)
  4. Place cardboard in a container – such as a plastic bag or tupperware
  5. Snuggle oyster mushroom butts between two layers

 

While the mycelium is moving into its new home, it does better in slightly dimmer locations, but honestly, oysters are pretty hard to kill unless you invite trichoderma over for a party, so don’t fret it too much!  Photos below!

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There Ain’t No Party like a Seed Starting Party!

IMG_20170304_121248.jpg Homemade kombucha, potstickers, and seeds!  My kind of party.

You know how you get an unreasonable amount of seeds in each little packet?  And you look at the packet and think, “Hmm, yeah, I could have 30 early tomato plants since supposedly you guys are only good for a year, but I really want a bunch of different varieties to grow in succession so I can be rolling in tomatoes in their prime…”  And then you end up with seeds saved for next year, which is fine, but the germination rate is a bit lower, and you still really didn’t want 30 of one variety.

This is where the seed starting party comes in.  My mom, my bestie, my sister, and myself all collaborated this year with our seeds and our niece to have a wider variety of tomatoes, peppers, and mystery vegetables.  While I’m sure I could have had the 150 ground cherry plants all to myself, with deciding to share our seeds we could have 4xs the variety of plants without having to spend 4xs as much on seeds and wasting what we didn’t use.  For my friend who is allergic to cooked tomatoes and thus storing them is very unlikely to go well, this was a particularly good idea.

This week (and, well, the last couple weeks) are when it’s time to start your tomatoes and peppers in the Pacific Northwest indoors.  I’ve never actually started from seed before, though the idea of spending $3 for a packet of seeds instead of $3-5 per tomato plant seemed pretty appealing.  Of course, given I live in the Pacific Northwest and all my windows and skylights in my house face the north (great planning, home designers!  Then again, I guess there’s nothing but giant trees on the south side…), seed starting is a little more complicated than throwing some seeds in the dirt and calling it good.

TL;DR Version: Fungus fuzz sucks, line light better than square light, online had better prices for seed starter trays, plant trays without holes, grow lights and such for starters, local hardware stores (Lowes, Home Depot, McDaniel’s Do-It-Center, etc) had better prices for seed starter mix.

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Time to Prune Apple Trees – Winter Workup!

Late winter is generally the best time to prune apple and pear trees since they’re dormant.  This has two benefits.  The one that benefits you is the fact that there are no leafs in the way, so it’s easier to see where your branches are and get in there to chop things up.  The one that benefits the tree is that it’s stored sugars for spring growth won’t have to spread throughout the tree and instead will focus on smaller areas that haven’t been pruned off for growth and fruiting.  As far as a general how-to, Wiki-How has a pretty good article on pruning apple trees in particular, but it neglects to mention the suckers that grow along the root base.

Pruning itself is important, particularly if you have severely overgrown trees such as mine on my lovely inherited foreclosure home.  The reasons I have to prune include 1) downward branches growing into the ground (though I’m sure the deer, bunnies, and my goats have enjoyed the bark), and 2) a windy day broke one of the main scaffold branches, and the other one looked pretty well on its way to being the next candidate, so I needed to chop it up to avoid disease.

I won’t go into the details of how to shape up your tree (especially since while I know the theory behind it, the practice definitely escapes me, aha), but I have noticed a lack of photos of actual trees as you go through the steps.  So!  For all my fellow human beings who don’t quite get what those vague drawings are referring to…

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How to Get Dried Joint Compound / Mud / Limestone Out of Your Sink

Recently, I made a terrible mistake. I asked my husband to clean our mudding supplies. In part of our unending quest to remove the excessive texture on our walls, we regularly slap joint compound on a few walls and call it a day. Sometimes, that slapping happens when it’s nearly lunch time, so while I go to whip up a nice meal, I hope everything will be cleaned properly with lots of water by my dear husband.  “Properly” means most of the mud goes in the junk bucket and only trace amounts have to be wiped off our tools or rinsed off our paint roller. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and the next day when I next used the upstairs bathroom I found it to be rather clogged, dried, and next to impossible for me to do anything about. It wasn’t visible on the top, but as I ran the water to wash my hands, the sink was quickly overflowing.

I had tried a few different things. Vinegar, baking soda and vinegar, boiling hot water, and my bathroom plunger. None of those quite did the trick, though since mild acids such as vinegar dissolve limestone it was definitely a step in the right direction.  Short of having to buy a snake to go down the drain, I decided to try out a small sink plunger. The ones I had found at the local home improvement store didn’t offer great suction (which, like the crazy person I am, I had tested on every single wall I came across while I was there), so I decided to order this questionable looking thing from Uncle Amazon instead.

…Yeah, doesn’t remind me of anything inappropriate at all.

Okay, creepiness aside, it’s a suction machine.  I tried cleaning out my sink again today since I really didn’t want to have to replace a P-trap I had just swapped out when I moved in, adding a bit of vinegar into the sink to erode the limestone, and I used the hand plunger.

Ta-da!  Fixed!  For slightly unpleasant photos and steps, click read more!

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Self-Propagating Onions – Egyptian Walking Onions Planting Time!

My buddy at Shady Side Farm and I were discussing my onion woes.  Mainly, every seed packet I saw convinced me I’d need to buy multiple packets of seeds each year, and then hope they store well, because I eat a lot of onions.  Hundreds.  They are the backbone of cuisine.  I eat a lot of shallots too, but fortunately I can buy some of those from a fancy grocery store and then drop them off in the dirt like I do garlic to make baby food.  Onions, however, I’ve only found ones I need to wait to flower then collect the seeds, which leaves me with nothing to eat since the stalks are stiff as tree bark, the seeds are, well, seeds, and the bulbs are mush.

Fortunately, however, my dear friend suggested Egyptian Walking Onions.  They self-propagate, have lots of edible little bulbs on top, bunch at the bottom, and have tasty onion greens.  Not only that, but I’ve heard they spread like wild fire.

After trying to find a place to buy them and getting lots of complaint reviews about the bulblets being dried out, mushy, or otherwise not fertile and full of life, I finally found a source online.

They arrived just a few days after I ordered them and in great shape.  I actually ordered two separate sets!  One of ten and one of twenty because I thought they were different varieties, but I can’t tell at all if that’s the case by looking at them.  I was really grateful the place I ordered them from sent me an extra 10, since I paid for shipping twice and I greatly suspect that perhaps they are actually all the same.  This works out, since I plan on giving some to my mom for her garden, though I’ve been warned to be careful with these guys since they spread rapidly.

Since they can be planted in the winter, I tried to dig some holes out of my excitement, but unfortunately my ground is still frozen from Friday’s snow!  Ahh, I’m so excited though.  Please let me know if any of you have had any luck with these plants!  My excitement photos are below!

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Boiling Maple Sap to Syrup with a Thermometer – Maple Sugaring at Home Anywhere – Part 2

This is a continuation of Maple Sugaring at Home Anywhere – Part 1 where we covered the surprisingly simple process of how to collect sap from just about any maple tree.  Now, it’s naturally time to make that sap into syrup!  Sure, you could drink it straight, but who wants to read about maple watering when you could be maple sugaring?

The way I’ve decided to do this involves boiling inside a kitchen and using a thermometer to check the temperature.  I personally use a digital meat thermometer that I find works really well, but really I’m sure any kitchen thermometer is fine.  Sure, the kitchen is my mom’s instead of mine since I don’t have a hood or downdraft at the moment in my under construction kitchen to take care of the steam problems, but a kitchen is a kitchen!

Maple sap becomes maple syrup after boiling it to about 7 degrees over the temperature water boils in your area.  Since I’m about sea level, I boil the sap until it reaches 219 degrees since water boils at 212, though this can vary depending on where you are.  If you accidentally over boil it very slightly, say to 220 degrees, all is well, just know it’s likely not going to pour out through a filter, and it will have the consistency of thin honey.  Delicious, delicious honey.  It takes roughly 3 hours to boil 1 gallon of sap down in a giant pot.  It’s a great activity to do while making complicated or extravagant dinners.  There will be humidity as a result of the boiling, but processing in smaller batches doesn’t make this much of an issue even in the Pacific Northwest, though some people prefer to process their syrup in large batches or to boil their sap down enough to put it in containers until they’re ready to boil it down to syrup with more at a time for the final processing.  I personally do it in smaller batches until they’re completed since I like eating waffles with some freshly made maple syrup.

Now, I’ve read about a number of ways to do this, and most involved expensive equipment.  Namely, a refractometer.   While this probably works amazingly well, as someone who only recently started, I wanted to make sure I liked it and that it went well before I got involved in buying any materials I can’t use for anything else.  So!  Kitchen thermometer it was!

Too long; didn’t read version:

  1. Collect sap into a boil-friendly container
  2. Boil on stove or outdoor burner (for hours) until the temperature reaches 7 degrees above the boiling point of water
  3. Skim foam off while boiling whenever you notice it getting frothy
  4. Filter (if you didn’t over boil) through a coffee filter into a container.  If over boiled, just pour in and embrace the woody flavor.

Alright, now down to the details.

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Maple Sugaring at Home Anywhere – Part 1 – Sap Collection

I recently started making my own maple syrup at home in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s surprisingly easy to do and is one of the few hobby farming activities I’ve done that should pay for itself within a couple months.

I love maple flavored anything.  I always have, and I always will.  Since I was a small kid, when others had brown sugar in their oatmeal, I wanted maple syrup.  When I made snickerdoodles in college, the coating was always maple sugar.  When I decided to make my own sugar, the answer was naturally maple.

Previously, I had mistakenly believed you had to have a sugar maple and likely be in Vermont to have much luck in this adventure, but thanks to ignoring everything I read initially on the internet, I realized it wasn’t really that hard.  If you had any maple trees that weren’t dainty little dwarfs, you were probably fine.  I believe the tree I’m currently tapping is a Pacific Northwest native, the vine maple.  The tree is quite large compared to most vine maples in the area, and I suspect it’s quite old.  It also fortunately is directly next to my parent’s pond.  I’m not sure if it’s the amount of water it has access to, the fact it’s an old tree, or what, but despite everything I’ve read it typically gives 1-2 gallons of sap a day depending on weather conditions.  Keep in mind, boiled down to syrup, 1 gallon is only about 4 ounces of syrup or half a cup.  2 gallons is about 1 cup or 8 ounces.  This varies, of course, depending on the tree you’re using.

This post aims to go over how simple it is to start collecting sap.  All you really need is a spile, a bucket, a maple tree, and weather that’s below freezing at night and over freezing during the day.  The next will cover processing the sap without buying expensive equipment to measure sugar content.  While I think the below package is probably the most economical option I’ve found if you’re interested in 3 spiles and stainless steel setups, for those wondering if it’s right for you, I personally purchased a single bucket, lid, and spile (links below in read more – though know I have no love for the included book) from the same company for starting out.  That said, it works great, and hasn’t even blown out in our recent terrible winds!

 

Too long; didn’t read version

  1. Find a maple tree, the wider the trunk the better
  2. Wait for the weather to be freezing at night, above freezing during the day (PNW winter weather!)
  3. Drill a slightly upward aimed hole to fit your spile in the tree
  4. Tap your spile into the tree gently with a hammer
  5. Hang bucket on spile
  6. Check to see if bucket is full as frequently as you like,  but at least daily
  7. Boil sap until it’s syrup, skimming off foam if you don’t want it to taste woody
  8. Pour into container and refrigerate – or consume immediately if you have no self control like yours truly!

Materials for Maple Sugaring – The Economics

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Mama Heating Pad Brooder – Brooding Chicks Without A Heating Lamp

Aussie and Blue heating in to nap under mama heating pad.

My first year of raising chicks, I naturally didn’t have a broody hen to take care of raising chicks. Instead, I raised them indoors. Since it’s almost chick days at the local feed store, I thought I’d share what I did for their heating needs instead of using a heat lamp.

My original brooder box set up in an old water heater box.

After reading a number horror stories about heat lamp fires, heat lamps falling and killing the chicks, seeing the chicks trample each other under the heat lamps in feed stores, and hearing them chirp relentlessly since they didn’t have darkness to sleep comfortably, I decided I wanted to see if there was something else I could do. After searching around backyard chickens, I heard of something called an ecoglow brooder from brinsea.  It seemed like a great product that used radiant heat to warm up chicks hiding underneath like they would their mamas, but it was so expensive for such a small one!  I would likely need the $150 version for my chicks since I had 9 chickens and 4 ducks at the time, not to mention later when I needed to swap to another heating method for the ducks when their trampling ways became a problem I would have suffered the expense again.

So I decided I needed an alternative.  After searching the net, I eventually heard rumblings of people who used heating pads as brooders.  It seemed fairly simple.  People found a heating pad worked really well as long as it didn’t have the auto off function.  I personally purchased this sunbeam extra large heating pad because it was 1 ft x 2ft, making it plenty large to brood my chicks, it was under $20, and it didn’t have an auto-off function.  It also worked well using the highest setting for the first week, then medium.  On top of that, during the winter when my chicks were chickens, I used the same heating pad to help keep my water unfrozen when weather was under 20 degrees F in my barn.

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