Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Different Pace

The pace of life on the farm is very different than life in the city. I'm sure you've heard that before. It is so easy to get lost in what's going on outside, things that you never notice if you spend all of your time indoors. When I head outside to do something I'm sure it takes me twice as long because of the things I discover along the way. Every day there's something new or something changing and I'm learning very quickly to never go anywhere without my camera.

One of my favorite discoveries so far has been this tree. Someone planted trees to close to a fence line so the tree grew around the t-post and now the post has become a part of the trunk. I wonder how long ago that happened, how long it took to get that way?

Another great thing to discover are the living creatures on the farm. Some of them are a nuisance, but I find them all fascinating. One evening we walked up to the top of the property and along the canal. I found some very interesting things in the thistles and reeds that grow along the canal. Click on the images to make them larger so you can see what I found:

And the owls never cease to amaze. I go out every day in search of feathers, and every so often I get to see the owls. It never gets old. They are so beautiful. In flight, hiding in a tree, or perched on a fence post, I'm always intrigued by what they are doing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vintage Door Headboard

We recently discovered the coolest store in Montana, the Home ReSource store in Missoula. It's like the Habitat for Humanity Restore we used to go to in Oregon- but better. They have a little bit of everything you could imagine for home renovation. Every day there are new treasures to find, and each visit you come up with new projects that you want to do.

I wanted to create a unique headboard for our bed and we found the perfect thing at the Home ReSource store: 3 old doors that just happened to be around the same height, and were already painted colors that we liked and matched out room

You'll have to excuse my lack of construction knowledge and terminology, Brian is definitely the builder of the two of us. First we cleaned up the doors, washed them, scraped off loose paint, and attached some new hardware where doorknobs had been removed. Brian also had to cut a few inches off one of the doors so that they were all the same height.

It was easier to assemble the headboard in our bedroom since we have a king sized bed and the doors were heavy. I'm not even sure they would have fit through the door assembled. Brian used straight bracket thingies to attach the doors together, and L brackets to join the headboard to the wall. Easy Peasy.

At some point we might add a header to make it taller and a piece of art behind the glass, but for now we're really happy with how it turned out.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dilly Veggies

We don't do a lot of pickling in our house, I'm not really sure why. We love dilly beans, but I think it's easy to forget that we have them when they aren't really a staple food in our diet. My husband also isn't a fan of pickles so I didn't feel like I could justify making a huge batch just for me.

We've been making dilly beans for a couple of years now because we do love them, and love to give them as gifts. The Food in Jars Recipe is pretty close to what we do, although we do use dill weed instead of seed.

This year we got a great deal on a giant bag of beans at the farmers market and they also had giant bags of cucumbers. We decided that for $20 we were willing to experiment with pickles. Maybe Brian would like them more if we make them ourselves?

Dilly bean and pickle recipes are very similar. I got recipes from my friend Sue and from Food in Jars and decided to take elements from both.

Follow the Water Bath Canning Method for prepping the jars and canning the goods.

Since we got cucumbers late in the season they were a bit bigger. We decided to keep the smallest ones whole, and experiment with different shapes for the larger ones. Some were quartered and some were sliced. The quartered cucumbers packed best in the jars.

Brine: Some recipes call for cider vinegar, some for white. We decided to experiment with them. We did some with white, some with cider, and some with a mix of both vinegars. The brine is half vinegar and half water with 5 tablespoons of salt for every 8 cups of liquid. We basically just heated batches of the brine until all the jars were full, since we weren't really sure how much we were going to need.

Spices: Some of the dill weed we bought had gone to seed so I spent some time separating out the best dill weed and pulling the seeds off the rest. Instead of crushed red pepper we decided to try using some dried De Arbol Chile peppers that we had in the pantry. Since we used several different jar sizes, here are the ratios of spices we used for each:

Pint Jar:
-1/2 tsp dill seed or 1 spring dill weed
-1 garlic clove
-1/2 tsp pepper corn
-1 dried chile

Quart Jar:
-1 tsp dill seed or 2 springs dill weed
-2 garlic cloves
-1/2 tsp pepper corn
-1 dried chile

1/2 Gallon Jar:
-2 tsps dill seed or 4 springs dill weed
-4 garlic clove
-1 tsp pepper corn
-2 dried chile

Now we get to wait. One month from the canning date we're going to have a tasting to see which vinegar we liked the best. Check back for the reviews!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Owl Soap Opera

The day we came to view the house I looked out the window at one of the many willow trees along the south canal. It it was a very large owl. I figured it was one of those fake owls used to deter other birds. "That can't be real", I exclaimed. Brian and our real estate agent came over to see what I was looking at and as soon as they did the owl turned it's head and looked right at us. We all gasped. Brian claims that our agent planted it there to add to the romanticism and appeal of the country.

As we were moving in we got to know our resident Great Horned Owls. We had discovered 3 that liked to spend time in the trees around the house and the remnants of a 4th owl at the base of one of the trees. The owls had built giant nests in every tree that would support them, so there are a lot of places for them to hide. There was the large owl and two smaller owls, whom I assumed were the large owls children. The smaller owls are in the picture below. I named them Domino (at first he was called Mr. Crankypants because he always looks mad) and Fawn (because of her doe eyed look).

Drama really took ahold on our first official day sleeping in the new house. I discovered the top of a skull of an owl under a tree. I knew it had just been killed because it was covered in blood and bugs I was landscaping under that tree the day before. There was no other evidence of the owl at all. No feathers. No body. Nothing. A scavenger must have taken it away.

I walked around the property to see if I could find any evidence of the dead bird. What I found was Fawn flying around frantically from tree to tree, crying and screeching as she flew. She was clearly distraught over the death of the owl. It took a few days, but we discovered it was the large owl that had been killed, because Domino was still around. What we learned later is that the only real predator of great horned owls is the great horned owl. There must have been a fight over territory or over a lady owl.

After that day we never saw Fawn again. Domino has stayed around the property, hanging out on his regular branches. There were also some hawks hanging out for a few weeks, but they have since moved on.

Since we've moved in I have started a feather collection. Most of them are owl, but I have a few from the hawks and other birds that like to hang out around the house. Lately there have been so many more, I think Domino is molting. A lot of them are smaller and fluffy, but occasionally we will find large wing feathers. I go for walks around the property every day now just to search for feathers, and I rarely come home empty handed.

This mornings walk was a very eventful one. It is a very windy morning and the dogs and cats decided to walk with me. Right as I was passing the large maples on the way to the shop and large owl swooped out of a maple and across the canal to the most popular owl tree. It had to fly low to avoid branches but it was very close to the cats. Sierra (one of my cats) got spooked and wasn't sure if she should chase it or run away so she half jumped at it and then looked around frantically for what was going on. Brian and I both were wide eyed and agreed in unison that it was time for the pets to go inside.

As Brian herded our menagerie of pets back into the house I wanted to investigate this owl. There was no way it was Domino, he is much more cautious than that. This owl seems very confident, perching on a branch out in the open that leaves him very exposed. I walked over to where it had landed high in a tree and it was clearly a new owl. I looked around and sure enough, Domino was hiding in another tree. I walked over to Domino and I could tell that he was not pleased. He was making very small screeching noises in the direction of the other owl. As I'm sitting here in the living room typing I can hear him out there calling to the other owl.

I'm not sure what this means for our little farm, that I had liked to call an "owl haven". I can only hope that it means that Domino is going to get a girlfriend that he can make cute owl babies with, and not the opposite. I would hate for him to share the fate of the late senior owl.

Stay tuned for the next installment of The Young and the Restless Owls.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Farming Doesn't Start in the Garden

I wish that someone had told me that when we bought a farm we should allot a generous budget to a books fund. I know lots of people who are fans of libraries, I am too, but for something as ongoing and involved as farming I really need to have reference books on hand. The internet also has a wealth of information, but there's just something special about having a "Go To" book in my own personal library.

The book I'm reading right now is the Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman. I figured that buying the house at the end of June, settling during July, and having family visits from August-October, winter was the first season I would get to think about gardening. As I learned from the book, I'm probably wrong, but I'm still going to try.

We have a shed in the middle of the property (north of the house, southwest of the shop) that we have no real intention of using as it is now. It's a metal sided, wood floored shop that has definitely seen better days. It smells of animal urine, has had wasps take nest in it, and I'm pretty sure that the smell and my dogs interest in getting under it means that skunks have taken up residence under the floor. It was also assembled to close to the cherry trees so that branches rest on the roof, and to close to the raspberry bushes so they get no sun. It has to go.

My idea, and the main reason I bought the Winter Harvest Handbook, was to move the shed frame to the front (south side) of the property where it would get the most light and replace the metal siding with plastic, or greenhouse siding. I want to repurpose the shed.

That is still the plan, but the capability of using it this winter is in question. According to the book (that I'm only about 50 pages into) we should succession plant, or plant the same crop several times, so that we can get that crop over a longer period of time. Their recommendation for their zone in Maine (the same zone as ours in Polson, MT according to's Zone Finder) would be to plant cold hardy vegetables in August, September, and October so that you can harvest throughout the winter. Well, August is almost behind us and the first half of September is booked. The soonest we'd get to this plan is the end of September- that leaves October for planting. Perhaps we could get one round of winter veggies in this year? I guess we'll find out...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Jams: Peach/Huckleberry and Apricot

It may sound silly, but one of the things I knew I was going to miss the most about Oregon was blackberry season. It was a huge consideration for me when deciding whether or not to move (that and wild mushrooms and fresh off the boat tuna) Blackberries grow like weeds in the Willamette Valley and we would spend many weekends picking berries to can, freeze, and ferment.

I was very pleased to realize that I didn't have to give up berry picking, rather, I just had to switch which berry I would obsess over. In Montana the berry is huckleberry. They are much smaller than blackberries, grow closer to the ground, and involve slightly more difficult terrain, but they are worth it.

We came home from an hour or so of picking with about 8 cups of berries, plenty to make into jam all by themselves, but we decided that we wanted to save some for other purposes (mainly huckleberry pancakes). We chose to mix them with peaches and used Food in Jars Peach Jam recipe, substituting 3 cups of huckleberries for 3 cups of peaches.

Brian was also invited to pick apricots from a coworkers tree. We were not expecting there to be so much fruit! We came home with enough for two batches of jam.
For the first batch we chose a simple Apricot Jam recipe, but for the second I wanted to be a little more adventurous. I chose Apricot Jam Recipe with Noyaux, Spices and Bourbon. It was very unique and I got to try new things. I'd never cracked open an apricot pit to use the kernels in cooking before and it uses the candy method instead of pectin so I had the pleasure of standing over it and stirring it for what felt like forever. I'm now a huge fan of pectin.

The only changes we made to the recipe was we couldn't find cardamom pods so I used 1/3 tsp ground instead.

I liked the recipe, but I think I'd make a few changes next time. Ours boiled down a bit to much so we only got 5 half pints instead of 8. I think I would use the pectin method next time to save time, and get more jam. The lemon flavor came through a little strong, so I think next time I would use a little less lemon and a little more spices, maybe a little more bourbon too. All in all, it was a great recipe to try.

Monday, August 20, 2012


This past week has been all about canning, and I don't see it slowing down any time soon. My mother in law Gwen has been in town visiting so she and Brian were in the kitchen this time around, but this coming week is my turn. Check back to hear about our adventures with apricot jam, peach/huckleberry jam, dilly beans, and pickles. Right now I've got to get back in the kitchen for a round of apricot jam with bourbon in it. Yum!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Nosy Neighbors

One of the greatest things about living in the country, in the middle of agriculture land, is the lack of neighbors. You can pretty much do what you want and you won't disturb anyone. You can use a chainsaw at 10pm, or garden naked at 10am. No one is going to notice.

I quickly learned that while I might not run into any humans while wandering our property, I am certainly not alone. If I am in the yard anywhere near the south west corner of the property, I am bound to attract a large audience. The cattle at Glacier Red Angus are a curious bunch, and they're just about the cutest audience an aspiring farm girl could ask for.

The dog aren't quite sure what to think of these new nosy neighbors, but they sure seem to be getting along so far.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The First Harvest

We made the final move to the farm at a really strange time of year. It was mid-July and the rhubarb that we had discovered when we toured the property in May had passed it's prime. The cherries on the trees had turned red and were immediately snatched up by a sneaky flock of birds right before we moved in. We didn't have time to net the trees, and I hadn't had a chance to learn how to use the shotgun.

The one thing that was still producing, and most people in Montana consider a weed, were the raspberries. We have discovered small patches of raspberries all over the property. Most of them are small and in poor shape because they are shaded by a shed (the shed deserves it's own entry- all in good time), but I was determined to find some worth eating. I LOVE raspberries!

I set out with my farm hands (dogs Manny, shown under the raspberries in the picture above, and Cloverdale) to see what we could salvage. Most of the plants were low to the ground and the berries were covered in dirt so I used an old frame (what the heck is it really for?) that I found on the farm to support the plants temporarily until we could come up with a permanent solution.

I quickly learned that not only was I competing with the birds, sun, and time of year for the last ripening berries, I also had to compete with my dogs! I have never seen a dog forage for berries before, but there they were, plucking the berries right off the bush! I worked as quickly as I could, shooing them away as I went, for a bowl of berries that I coveted as our first harvest on the farm.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Layout of the Land

We knew the farm was the perfect place for us once we realized how unique it is. We looked at several properties with similar amounts of land, even more land, but none of them had the same feel as this one. None of them felt as 'big".

Our farm is long and skinny. It is nestled right in the middle of agriculture land. Our neighbors are cattle and alfalfa fields. There are two canals running through the property; one at the north and one at the south. It is on a slope, facing south and from the top of the property you can see some of the Mission Mountains. We have discovered lots of edibles (more on that later) and there are cottonwood and maple trees everywhere, shading the house, and blocking the view of the only houses that are visible from the property. It truly is amazing.

The only downside to living near cattle is that we have 2 dogs that need to be contained. Letting them roam free would end in disaster. Our first major project would have to be installing secure fencing. 1000 feet of it. I'm really glad that Brian knows something about fencing, because I certainly didn't know where to start. He's designed the braces, calculated the distance between posts, and figured out everything we would need. I'm just acting as the "muscle", although it's more likely that I am the "entertainment". We keep pausing the fence building to work on other projects, but it's slowly getting done.

Here is a birds eye view of the property, the stages of fencing (phase 2 will be when we get farm animals, more on that later), and where we hope to have the garden, chickens and bees.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Beginning of a New Adventure

If you would have asked me 5 years ago where I thought I would be now, Polson, MT would have been the furthest thing from my mind. 5 years ago I was graduating college, I had just married my husband Brian, and we were living in Chico, CA to be close to my family. I had always imagined that I would end up in a large city, like San Francisco, and done who knows what for a living. I've never really had a sense of direction in the career department.

Instead of settling down in the big city we somehow ended up in the relatively small college town Corvallis, OR, population 54,520. I think this is really where we started shaping our values. I had developed a love of fiber arts (knitting and spinning) and we both have always loved learning how to do things for ourselves. We learned more about self sufficiency, the "home arts" of canning and cooking from scratch, and developed a desire to learn more and do more. Corvallis was definitely the place for that. I really thought we would be there forever.

When a job opportunity became available for my husband in November 2011 in Polson, MT it was exciting and scary. It was a great career move for him (from Physical Therapist to Physical Therapy Department Supervisor) and we would be closer to my father whom I've never really lived near, and closer to my birth place that I knew very little about. There was just one problem: Polson has a population of about 5,231 people in the winter, and closer to 15,000 in the summer. We were going in the wrong direction! I didn't want smaller, I wanted bigger!

Polson is a beautiful place. It's at the base of Flathead Lake, has incredible views of the Mission Mountains, and is less than 2 hours drive from Glacier National Park. As nervous as I was, it really didn't take that much convincing. I'm pretty much willing to live anywhere because I know if we hate it, we can leave.

Well, that all changed in June, 2012. We bought our first house. And not just any house. We bought a small farm on 5 acres. That's where this blog comes in. As much as I wanted to live in a big city, the thought of having my own small farm is so exciting I can hardly stand it! I planned on writing about it immediately but this past month has been so busy, exciting, eventful, and all around crazy that I am just now getting around to getting some thoughts down, as I stand in my living room, about to paint it.

I think a lot of my entries in the first months are going to be memories of this past month. I suffer from instant gratification syndrome and it kills me that we weren't able to work fast enough to get a garden going and get bees and chickens. But we've done so much more, things that I am very proud of, and I hope you enjoy reading about our journey as much as I enjoy telling about it.

For now I will leave you with a teaser photo of our back porch on the day we moved in: