My attempt to move from Southern California and create a happy and sustainable urban homestead in North Dakota, with some musings on life with deaf dogs, a gluten free spouse, and the occasional mischievous garden gnome. Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy.



Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween to All!!!

I keep in touch with Michelle (she fostered our puppy for two weeks down in Texas) on Facebook and always look forward to the incredibly unique and hilarious Halloween costumes she makes for her bulldog Pearl.  This is one of the best homemade dog costumes I've seen this year and I had to share it with everyone.  
Thanks for the laugh Michelle.  And sorry for appropriating your picture of Pearl. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Adventures In Leaf Raking

Alycia is a pretty smart cookie, but sometimes she doesn't understand basic equations.  Equations such as:
Leaf Raking + Forecast of High Winds = Sad Panda
Alycia really wanted to rake leaves, and in fairness so did I, there were tons of leaves to be raked.  But I understand the nature of wind and how it can affect leaves (it blows them far away and flattens leaf piles), and also have a strong respect for Mother Nature and her desire to humble us.  Despite all my protestations, Alycia was determined to rake leaves into piles in preparation for the leaf sucker machine that was alleged to swing by during the week.  As such I left Alycia to do all the leaf raking whilst I busied myself with chores that wouldn't be blown away by the 20 to 30mph (with gusts to 45mph!!) winds that started in the afternoon and picked up overnight.
Alycia raked this area clean of all the leaves yesterday.  The winds happily returned the leaves overnight. 
This area was also leaf free yesterday.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Homemade Ketchup/Catsup/Katsup/Kyatsoop

Due to the large amount of Roma and Amish Paste tomatoes that we planted in Spring, we recently had a proliferation of tomatoes that I no idea what to do with.  Our freezer is already overflowing with (among other things) chopped/quartered tomatoes that Alycia froze over the Summer, and we've still got a ton of pasta sauce that I made last year that we haven't worked through, so what to do?  Well I've always wanted to make my own catsup...
This is actually about half of the final tomato haul of the season that I used to make catsup.  And to clarify, these are only the ripe ones.  We harvested all the green tomatoes when we ripped out the tomato plants and cleared the raised beds over the weekend, and the green tomatoes are now sitting in a cardboard box in the cellar.  If given a dark, dry place and a few weeks, the green tomatoes will eventually ripen.  They definitely won't be as tasty as the ones that had time to ripen on the vine, but they're certainly better than store bought, and more than adequate for pasta sauce or chopped up and frozen to be used in soups, stews, chili, etc. 
Sorry for the tangent.  I took all our 'maters, heated them up, and added a few ingredients:
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
And brought everything to a bubbling simmer for about 10 minutes.
I pressed the tomato mixture through a strainer, which was actually a decent amount of work.
And catsup came out the bottom of the strainer, as though by magic.  OK, not really magic, more like a combination of gravity and elbow grease*.
For those not familiar with the phrase "elbow grease" (probably anyone under the age of 20), please note that this is just an expression and that I actually don't have any elbow grease, my elbows are remarkably clean and non-greasy, and even if I DID have elbow grease, I certainly would not have added it to my homemade catsup. 
I had to cook it down for a few hours to remove all the liquid and thicken up the mixture.  The recipe said it would only take an hour, but it took me more like 4-5 hours to cook down.  

Some people feel that making your own condiments is some kind of sign of larger issues, or as my Brother-in-law put it "Dude, you made your own ketchup?!?!  You have WAY to much time on your hands."  Yes, yes I do.  And it's wonderful.   

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rich People Create Jobs...

...and five other myths that must die for our economy to live.

Mother Jones Article

Some interesting reading, if you have a few minutes, from the super Liberal-Commie-Pinko magazine Mother Jones.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

More Nephew Pics

A few more pictures from the family visit last week.  I'm still waiting for the rest of the family to get their individual and collective act together and send me their photos from the trip. 
Dinner time gets messy.  Actually, just about every meal with this little guy got messy.  But that was OK since...
...we had a very attentive doggy clean up crew waiting on high alert.  High alert.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fall Garden Clean Up

This weekend was a big garden clean up weekend.  We had to get the raised beds cleaned up, veggies pulled out, and everything prepared for the hard freeze that's coming this week.  For me, fall garden chores are more urgent than Spring garden chores.  Why?  I know in Spring that no matter when I start seedlings or seeds that they'll start growing when they feel like it, so there's no sense of urgency to get anything done.  I know that un-staked tomato plants will still produce tomatoes (though they will make a huge unruly mess, more on this in another post), so there's no rush.

This year, cucumbers started from seedlings and extra seeds (that were four or five years old) that Alycia threw in the ground both started producing at the same time.  Zucchini, pumpkins, and watermelons all languished in the ground for weeks before starting to grow.  The message from Mother Nature?  You can bust your butt and get things planted right after the last frost, coddle seedlings with little mini-greenhouses, or casually throw seeds in the ground, everything will grow when it's darn good and ready. 

Fall chores spurn me to action, the hard frost hangs over my head knowing that it'll turn those "just-starting-to-turn-pink" tomatoes into frost mangled mush if I don't get them inside where they might have a chance to ripen.  And experience has taught me that potatoes and onions are much easier to harvest from ground that isn't frozen.  This should be intuitive, but sometimes I need to learn things the hard way.
Alycia snipped and pulled the remaining pepper plants.  We're hoping that, like the tomatoes, we can store the peppers in a cool dry place and they'll ripen a bit more.  If not, they're still tasty even though they might be a bit green.
We harvested onions out of this raised bed as well.  The only hard part was removing the marigolds.  Even though they were still full of blooms, they were unlikely to survive the mid-20's that were forecast for a low temp Tuesday night and Wednesday night.  It's also easier to remove everything in the raised bed at once so I can cover it with a thick layer of grass clippings, shredded leaves, and mulch for overwintering.
Sad, empty raised bed.  'Till next year.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Family Visit

We had most of the family out for a visit last week, their annual fall trip to North Dakota is becoming a well loved tradition.  In addition to the usual cast of characters, this trip included a new group member, our new nephew Jacob. 
Jacob and his Dad enjoyed our rocking chair and took time to give puppy lots of pets.  The puppy loved Jacob, giving him constant kisses and wagging her tail non-stop the entire time.  Puppy was closely supervised with him, as Alycia and I are super cautious, but Jacob has five doggie pals at home and does well around them
Jacob and his Dad pose for the camera while puppy pants nearby, exhausted from all her kissing and wagging.
Breakfast time for this little red-haired munchkin.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Watermelon From the Garden

We've had some family (actually pretty much the whole family) in town since last week, and as such, normal blogging activities have been suspended to play tour guide, short order cook, deaf dog wrangler, and 8-month old baby supervisor (though truthfully my only real contribution to the baby's care is to say "Poop!!" Beavis and Butthead style, which little nephew Jacob really enjoys.  I can already tell he has a discerning taste for the arts).  

Regarding garden matters, this was our first year of planting watermelon in the garden.  And while it wasn't an unbridled success, we did get two nice sized watermelon from one plant.  Our fall weather here has been exceptionally warm and dry, which I think allowed for more time for the fruit to mature on the vine. 
Our first watermelon, and it was a doozie.  We got it as a start from the Bergeson Nursery in Fertile, Minnesota and I believe the variety was a "Sweet Favorite".  It was indeed a sweet watermelon, and very seedy, but seediness is forgiven for seriously sweet flesh and intense watermelon flavor.  
Our watermelon cut in half, ready to be sliced up for consumption.  And consume we did, it was quite tasty. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

California and Bust

There's a great article in Vanity Fair this month on California's money woes, the economic issues in the US, and the tremendous problems we're facing as a nation.  It's always sad to see my former home state quicken its circling of the proverbial drain.


Vanity Fair Article - California and Bust

Here's one great quote from a well written article:
"The problem with police officers and firefighters isn’t a public-sector problem; it isn’t a problem with government; it’s a problem with the entire society. It’s what happened on Wall Street in the run-up to the subprime crisis. It’s a problem of people taking what they can, just because they can, without regard to the larger social consequences. It’s not just a coincidence that the debts of cities and states spun out of control at the same time as the debts of individual Americans. Alone in a dark room with a pile of money, Americans knew exactly what they wanted to do, from the top of the society to the bottom. They’d been conditioned to grab as much as they could, without thinking about the long-term consequences. Afterward, the people on Wall Street would privately bemoan the low morals of the American people who walked away from their subprime loans, and the American people would express outrage at the Wall Street people who paid themselves a fortune to design the bad loans."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Tomato Cage Update

In case you missed it or need to get caught up, you can read previous posts about my homemade tomato cages Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

These homemade tomato cages were an unbridled success, fully supporting the two plants (an Early Girl and a Polish Heirloom) with minimal training of the plants and effort on my part.  Both tomato plants are spilling out the tops of the cages, 6 feet plus in height and have produced an average crop with almost no fertilizing or attention from me.

The cages do make it slightly more difficult to harvest the tomatoes because you have to reach in between the small squares of the re-mash grid, but that's really the only downside. 
This is the other half of the tomato box, the Roma and Amish paste tomatoes, pretty much a complete mess.  I did stake these with the regular tomato cages (the only thing I had left) and the weight of the plants collapsed them in about a month.  This is the "do as I say, not as I do" mea culpa of our blog post today.

The lesson from the tomato caging this summer has been that I need to make a dozen or more re-mesh cages for all my tomatoes for next year.  They worked so well that I want to stake all of my tomatoes (eating, heirloom, Roma/paste, and cherry tomatoes) with this method next year.  Making new tomato cages will be a good fall/winter project for when the weather turns nasty and cold since I can work on this in the relative comfort of the garage.