Our 2022 garden: first corn!

I just had to start out with this bit of gardening excitement.

When checking the plants in the sun room this morning, I spotted our very first Kulli corn seeds germinating!

When I took the picture, I could only see a couple in this larger bin in the plant shelf. After uploading the photo, I spotted several more and … oh! I just spotted one more that I missed when putting the arrows in! It’s two pots to the left of the single arrow in the middle.

These are in the smaller bin that recently got moved to the platform we made over the swing bench, at the west facing window.

I am just so thrilled! For the new folks who just started following this blog (welcome! I’m happy to see you!), Kulli is a Peruvian purple-black corn, also called maiz morado, that I’m trying to grow in our zone. I thought I was trying them last year, but the information from where I bought them kept changing, and it turned out they were developed for cold hardiness in the US, but were not actually acclimated Kulli corn, as I originally thought. I found some Kulli seeds at Mary’s Heirloom Seeds, in Texas. They are supposed to be good both as a fresh eating corn, and as a flour corn. They are also used to make a drink called chicha morado, and as a dye. I have not been able to learn much about their native growing conditions, since Peru is so mountainous, and it’s hard to compare to our Canadian growing zones. This is why I am starting them indoors – not typically recommended for corn – to transplant. Plus, they take 120 days to maturity. Our growing season, from last frost in the spring to first frost in the fall, averages 100 days.

This is a pet project of mine, in that I would like to acclimate the variety to our growing zone (if that’s even needed). These will be kept well away from other varieties of corn. Starting them indoors also means they will pollinate earlier than the other varieties we’ll be growing this year. Between those two factors, there should be no cross pollination.

We’ll have to take extra care when transplanting these, to protect them from the critters.

I saw my first ground hog running around, when I did my rounds this morning. I also saw a racoon in the kibble house about a week ago and, of course, the deer area always around. I’m not sure which critter destroyed our black corn last year, that had been doing so well.

Must protect the corn babies! 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Setting up the sun room, and those are probably a total loss

Well, I hope this works.

The girls and I had to do a fair bit of clean up and pick up from what the cats and skunks knocked about while we had the run room doors propped open. Then one of them stayed out to tend the burn barrel. I’d gotten it going this morning, then covered it to smolder, but the cat litter sawdust just can’t dry out enough for that to work very well.

It’s just too wet out there for anything to dry, even in the burn barrel!

We got the shelf in the corner of the sun room ready to hold seedlings. Only the bottom three shelves will get used, because the eaves shade the top shelves too much. We’re going to see how using the scrap pieces of insulation on the shelves will help.

I cut another piece of rigid insulation to cover the three shelves we’ll be using, then covered one side with heavy duty aluminum foil. The foil is adhered with ordinary white glue, watered down enough that I could apply it with a cheap, dollar store paint brush. It took two overlapping lengths of foil to cover it and, just to be on the safe side, the overlap has a strip of aluminum tape over it as well. Much to my surprise, I found that at the dollar store, too! The back just has strips of duct tape holding the foil edges.

I found a way to hang up the new shop light I picked up at Costco. If we needed to, we could set up the second one on the other side of the foil covered sheet as well. These lights are designed to be hooked together, too, so one can be plugged into the other.

The problem is, we don’t have any way to safely set up the ceramic heater bulb overnight. When we used it before, we used the frame of the mini-greenhouse to hold it securely away from any potential fire hazards, but that’s being used for seedlings in the living room right now.

The aluminum foil will help reflect light from the window, but we will have to be careful during the day, to makes sure it doesn’t reflect too much heat, too. We want a solar reflector, not a solar oven. I’m hoping, however, that it will help keep the shelves warmer than the rest of the room during the night.

We’ll be testing it tonight, with the tree seeds.

Which I am sure are a total loss.

After transferring the seeds from the slide lock baggies into the toilet tube pots, they went into the mini-greenhouse. There is a little fan in there to keep air circulating but, because of the cats, we can’t open it up like it really should be.

Which is probably why this happened.


It’s a good thing these are a total experiment. It is possible the seeds are still viable and may actually germinate, but my goodness!

Now that they’re in the sun room, and not enclosed in the mini-greenhouse, the mold might dry up and die off. The seeds themselves are supposed to develop a tap root long before the leaves break ground, so I was still not expecting anything to be sprouted. Who knows? Some might still survive. There is that one slender bit of green growth in the tulip tree bin, after all. No idea if that’s a tree seedling, or some weed that managed to get into the seed starting mix.

We’ll monitor things for a day or two, then will probably move the onion and shallot starts into here, as they can handle cooler temperatures better than anything else we’ve got sprouting right now. Even just moving these two little bins has freed up a fair bit of space. After that, we’ll have room to move things out of the big aquarium greenhouse, and use that for the next batch of seed starts.

Little by little, it’ll get done.

The Re-Farmer

A tasty fail!

Yesterday, I tried a bit of an experiment.

I decided to make some little beef pies in muffin tins.

This is something I’ve made before – the first time, in Home Ec class! My experiment was with the dough. We’ve been trying to find ways to use less butter in our cooking. We don’t use margarine or shortening, so when it comes to cooking and baking, it’s either liquid oil or butter. With oil, it’s easy to have a variety. Not so much with solid fats.

So for the meat pie, I wanted to make a hot water dough (which is sturdier, for heavier fillings like meat), using oil instead of butter or shortening.

This is the finished result.

As you can tell, the muffin tins didn’t happen!

The dough simply would not hold together and was very difficult to roll out. I think I added too much flour, but the oil made it so slippery! In the end, I had to put half of the dough in the pie pan and roll it as thin as I could, right in the pan. After the filling was added, with about an inch and a half of space around the edges, I rolled out the other half of the dough as best I could, then brought it over, wrapped around the rolling pin, to cover the filling. Some repairs were needed, as the top was spread over and tucked around the filling. Then the edges of the bottom crust were pulled up to seal it more.

It actually turned our really delicious. I didn’t get the hand pies I was after, but that’s okay!

The filling was ground beef, browned (in butter, of course), adding onions and garlic early on, then cubed carrots half way through. The last thing added was the cubed potatoes, along with some beef stock. It was left to cook, covered, until the potatoes were just barely done, then uncovered and stirred until the liquid was all evaporated. A touch of flour was added to absorb any remaining liquid and thicken it. I ended up with more filling than fit in the pie, but it tastes good all on its own, too.

I have some hot water dough recipes that include things like egg that I might try. Maybe that will work better.

The good thing about experimenting like this is that, even when it doesn’t work, it still tastes good!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2022 garden: winter sowing experiment

I was inspired by WolfSong to try something new – and help with that urge to be planting something already! Winter sowing.

Today, I finally got some seeds started.

We’ve been keeping a variety of plastic bottles and jugs for potential garden use. We’ve got mostly the blue water bottles. The distilled water we get for my husband’s CPAP used to come in the same type of jug as milk does, but suddenly all the brands seemed to switch to those blue bottles, all at once. Which was a problem, at first, because many of them no longer had handles of any kind. It made it very awkward for my husband to fill his CPAP humidifier, as the sides would collapse inwards as he poured. He ended up transferring the water to an empty jug with a handle, to keep from splashing water all over his CPAP!

People must have complained, because the next time I had to buy distilled water, the bottles had handles attached to their tops.

We have 4 different types of jugs, including two styles of juice bottles. I decided to try one of each.

I’ve been cutting plastic containers to use in the garden for some time, and it’s a real pain, so today, I took the easy route.

My wood burning kit includes a knife tip. The heated tip makes it SO much easier!

I started by cutting drainage holes in the bottoms, and air circulation holes at the tops, by inserting the knife through the plastic, then giving it a bit of a twist to widen the hole.

Then the jugs were cut most of the way around. With each jug having a different design, they each were cut at different spots.

How much was left uncut to create a hinge depended on how much of a flat area there was. Which, in the case of the blue jug, meant none at all, but that plastic was soft enough that it could still work. The juice jugs are a heavy plastic, making them the most difficult to cut, while the water jug that is the same as milk jugs is such a soft plastic, the melted plastic of the cut edges actually stuck together again in places, and they had to be recut!

I’m hoping the blue bottles work the best, because we’re going to have so many of them.

Just to be on the safe side, the hinges were reinforced with strips of duct tape. For the jugs with distinct handles, the hinge was placed just under them, while the one with indentations to create a handle had the hinge placed above, so the container wouldn’t squish into itself if grabbed by the handle.

The handle of the blue jug is at the cap, so it didn’t matter on that one. I just followed one of the lines, just above the middle.

That done, it was time to put some soil in them.

They all fit in one of the baking trays we got last year, to make it easier to carry seedlings around. Especially the ones in the red Solo cups. Those have come in very handy. I plan to get more They are very inexpensive at Costco.

I had the seedling mix potting soil recently picked up to use for this. Once the soil was in, it all got thoroughly watered.

The water almost immediately all drained into the tray.

I watered them more, drained the water out of the tray and used it to water the soil again. After doing that a few times, I used a spray bottle on the soil surface, while leaving the bottoms to sit in water.

Even then, only the surface became moist. The soil mix was still bone try below.

I spent a bit of time, working on moistening the soil before leaving it to sit while preparing the seeds.

I had already decided to try starting kohl rabi indoors, as our attempts to direct sow them outdoors last spring failed completely. It was the same with the kale. All I can think is that something ate the sprouts as soon as they emerged. It was the second year I’d tried kohl rabi, and the first year’s attempt also failed, with only a few plants surviving, only to be decimated by cabbage moths and flea beetles.

So this time, we’ll go with transplants and, if it works, we’ll be making sure to protect them from both critters and creepy crawlies!


Okay, I do remember, while going through our seed inventory, looking into the packet for Early White Vienna kohl rabi, seeing a few seeds, and deciding to keep them. Until today, I didn’t realize where was only five seeds left!

Once the seeds and their labels (strips of masking tape) were ready, I used a chopstick to make evenly spaced holes in the soil for the seeds.

Then I used the spray bottle to water into the holes, because it was still so dry under the top layer!

Because of the different shapes, they each fit a different number of holes in the soil for seeds. The jug with the indented sides for a handle meant it had space for only five holes, so that’s where I planted those five, lonely White Vienna Kohl rabi seeds. Being 2 years old, we may well have none at all germinate, but who knows? The white jug had room for the most seed holes, so that’s where the Russian Red kale went. The last two got the Early Purple kohl rabi seeds.

Once the seeds were in, covered, watered with a spray bottle, labels affixed, it was time to close the containers.

I used packing tape to close up the jubs. The tape is enough to hold them together while the jugs are being carried, but to also be easy to remove, later on.

At least I hope they’ll be easy to remove!

The tray was drained again, then it was time to take them outside.

There we have it. Four different jugs, sown with kale and kohl rabi.

I’m leaving the caps on, since they have air circulation holes, but if the holes turn out to be too small, I might still take them off. We shall see.

I had originally planned to leave the jugs somewhere else, but decided that first spot was not visible enough. I had to consider things like cat and deer traffic, as well as where we shovel the snow from the paths. Hopefully, this spot will be easy to monitor, and they won’t get knocked about by critters. They will also get lots of sunlight, too.

Not that you can tell in the above photos. It wasn’t even 6pm yet, but it was full dark when I set these out!

I still have kale and purple kohl rabi seeds left. I might try starting some indoors, when we start other seeds, then direct sowing the last of seeds. That would give us a chance to compare all three methods.

It should be interesting to see how these do!

The Re-Farmer

Recreating Mom’s soda cheese: the taste test

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Well, here it is! The final product in trying to make my mother’s baking soda cheese.

Did it work?

Well… sort of.

First of all, this is not at all like what I remember my mother’s cheese looked like. That was a semi-hard cheese that could be sliced. This… is not. It’s more like a cream cheese in texture, but it wants to crumble more than spread. It can, however, be spread.

As for the taste… I have a really hard time describing it. It’s a young cheese so, of course, the flavour is very mild. Which means it would lend itself very well to the addition of herbs and spices and other flavours. As it is now, with just salt, there is a sort of tanginess to it that I can’t put my finger on. It somehow manages to be both mild and bold tasting, at the same time!

Oh!! I just realized what it reminds me of. It’s very similar to a Boursin.

All four of us have had a taste, and we do have a consensus.

It’s very good. Delicious, even.

In fact, as I write this, I’m enjoying it on a slice of oatmeal bread, with a cup of Irish Breakfast tea.

What I should probably do is take some to my mother, so she can try it and tell me how it compares to what she made. After all, I only ever saw the finished product once, and that was many years ago. Based on my memory of it, I did not succeed in recreating it. However, the finished product is very good.

With the cost of milk these days, compared to a container of Boursin cheese at the grocery store, we’re not really saving any money by making it ourselves. If I were to compare to the cost of a block of plain cream cheese, we’d be losing money by making it ourselves.

Is it worth making again?

Absolutely. And we will, probably in larger quantities.

It may not be as I remember my mother’s soda cheese looked like (I can’t compare the taste too much, since hers had been flavoured with caraway seeds), but that’s just more reason to keep trying!

The Overview

Okay, so let’s look at why it might not have turned out like my mothers. What differences were there?

First up, quantity of milk. I’m now convinced that my original notes, which said “about 5 gallons” of milk was accurate. My parents still had a few cows at the time I visited and saw this cheese, and it was just the two of them, so they would have had a LOT of excess milk.

Second, she used raw, skim milk. My parents always ran the milk through the separator. While I’m sure they must have done it once in a while, I don’t remember my parents ever setting aside whole milk. Until it finally closed, my parents sold their cream to a local creamery for a bit of extra cash (though they sometimes took payment in butter!). Skim milk was for home use. Cream was for selling. I used the type of milk we usually buy; homo milk (3%). We never, ever buy skim, because we all find it incredibly disgusting. So what I made has a higher fat content than hers would have, plus our milk was pasteurized and homogenized. Hers would not have been.

Other differences include my hanging the cheese to drain, when my mother had just set it aside; my curds may have been drier than hers. She melted her curds in a frying pan before pouring it into a mold. Chances are, the frying pan she used was cast iron. If so, that too would have made a difference. She would have made hers in the summer, when the milk would have soured much more quickly. Even the natural yeasts in the air might have made a difference, and while my mother would have ensured everything was clean, she could not have sanitized things to the extent that home cheese makers can, now. The salt I used also would have been different. She would have used ordinary table salt, which would be iodized. I used non-iodized coarse salt that had been run through a coffee grinder to powder it.

There’s also the fact that she may not even remember some details, or had not thought to mention some because, to her, they were just so obvious she couldn’t imagine them not being done.

There are so many little things that could have made a difference, but until I actually take some to my mother to try, I don’t even know just how different ours is from hers! For all I know, I could be remembering her cheese completely wrong, or the cheese I remember is not the one she remembered and gave me her instructions for. We could have been talking about two different cheeses completely, and not known it.

I guess that’s just how it can be. I’ve had an interest in recreating ancient recipes for many, many years, and this sort of reminds me of that. When the ancient recipes were written down, they weren’t at all like modern recipes. Often, they were little more than a list of ingredients, with no or few quantities. The writer assumed the reader would already know the details. My mother just used what she had, in the quantities she had, done in the ways she knew.

I’m just fortunate I can still actually ask her for details, even if she can’t always remember them.

The Re-Farmer

Recreating Mom’s soda cheese; final steps

Part One
Part Two

After sitting overnight, tucked away in the oven, it was time to take out the cheese and do the final steps.

This is what it looks like this morning, after stirring.

It… looks like dry cottage cheese.

The next instructions were:

Add salt to taste, if desired. Add colour if desired. Add herbs/spices, if desired.

For this first attempt, I am only adding salt.

If you look closely, you can see the salt on the curds in front of the spoon. My mother would have just plain table salt, since that’s what she would have had. I stole some of the powdered salt my daughters use in the popcorn pot. It’s just coarse salt that has been run through a coffee grinder, so it can be added to the oil that popcorn is popped in, and actually stick to the popcorn as it pops. That got very thoroughly mixed in while I started the next step.

Put to frying pan on low heat, in batches, and heat. Mix while heating.

The more the curd got mixed, the more dough-like it got in consistency.

Then, it actually started to melt!

I know that’s what my mother said, but I still felt surprised by it!

I even had to change spoons. By this stage, the texture was a bit like cake batter.

When melted completely, pour into form.

I didn’t know how long it needed to be stirred, but my mom said to pour it, so I just kept going.

Just look at this! It really did get to a pour-able consistency, unlike any other cheese I’ve ever worked with! At this stage, it was like well stirred sour cream in consistency.

I then poured it into a loaf pan I’d scalded and had ready. This level if what 1 gallon of milk was reduced to.

Leave to rest until cool.
When cool, ready to slice.

This is the stage we are at now. I covered the loaf pan with a narrow wooden cutting board I have. I considered covering it with plastic wrap, but I wasn’t sure I wanted the condensation build up, and the board would keep the dust off while also allowing a bit of air.

I’m hoping that, as it cools, it shrinks a bit, so it’ll be easier to remove from the loaf pan.

I did taste it after pouring it into the mold (I admit it. I licked the spoon!). The salt definitely improves the otherwise bland flavour. There is another flavour in there that I just can’t identify or describe. I’m hoping after we do a taste test, later, someone in the household will be able to describe it!

I am really looking forward to trying this!

The Re-Farmer

Recreating Mom’s soda cheese; the next steps

Okay, so the curds have been hanging for about 5 1/2 hours, and I’ve moved on to the next steps in trying to recreate my mom’s cheese.

Now, my Mom had said to just set it aside for a few hours, or overnight, so hanging it may have changed things a bit. I don’t know. But this is what it looks like after hanging for most of the day.

Also, it’s a good thing I covered the whole set up with another cheesecloth, because the cats REALLY wanted to get at this!

The next instructions are:

Put solids into large pot.
Add about 1 tsp baking soda and mix thoroughly.
Leave overnight.
Will rise like bread.


Looking at how little there is in here, I’m starting to think that my original notes, saying about 5 gallons of milk, was accurate. There is not a lot in here, and when I saw my mother’s cheese, it filled an ice cream bucket, so there’s no way it was only 1 gallon.

Which means I’ve been using the quantities for vinegar and baking soda for 5 gallons, not 1 gallon. Yet, 1 tsp of vinegar to sour 5 gallons seems like way too little. Mind you, she would have been making this in the summer, and the milk probably would have soured quickly, with no vinegar at all. Knowing she was pretty loosey-goosey on the quantities to begin with, it’s really hard to know. Considering how long it took to sour using 1 tsp of vinegar to 1 gallon of milk, I suspect it’s actually the correct amount, and that I would have needed more, if I were using more milk.

This is after very thoroughly mixing in the baking soda. Yes, I used 1 tsp for this amount.

The curds feel like a cross between cream cheese and cottage cheese. I spent quite a bit of time mixing it, because I wanted that baking soda to be worked in as much as possible.

My mom said to leave it overnight, which means she would have just left it on a counter, but I have put the covered pot into a warm oven, because of how chilly that part of the house gets.

She commented that it will “rise like bread.” That makes sense, since we should be seeing a chemical reaction between the acidic milk soured with vinegar, and the alkaline baking soda. It’s something I’m used to when working with sourdough, but with cheese? I did get the sense that the curds were starting to feel “fluffier” by the time I finished stirring in the soda, but that could be just my imagination because I am expecting something like that.

I did taste the curds before and after adding the soda. As I mentioned before, it has very little flavour right now, but I did feel that the baking soda … softened… the flavour, if that makes sense.

After it has sat for the night, salt, colours and herbs and spices can be added. For this first attempt, I will be adding some salt, but that’s it. If we make it again, we’ll experiment with adding herbs and spices or whatever.

I am incredibly curious to see what it looks like by morning!

The Re-Farmer

Recreating Mom’s soda cheese

I am currently in the middle of an experiment.

Growing up here, as a subsistence farm, we had cows for milking and for beef. Even with 7 of us, we were milking enough cows to have excess milk. I remember my mother making cottage cheese (which I did NOT like), but that was the only type of cheese I saw her make until some years after I’d moved off the farm. I’d come out to visit, and saw some semi-hard cheese in an old ice cream bucket for a form. It was slightly harder than a cheddar, sort of tannish yellow in colour, with caraway seeds in it. It was quite tasty. I asked my mother about it, and she said she had made it.

A few years ago, I asked my mother about how she made this cheese I remembered. Unfortunately, she thought I was talking about cottage cheese, and the more I described it, the more perplexed she was.

After moving here, I was having a conversation with my mother about making and preserving food, when she mentioned a cheese she’d made. It was the one I remembered! I quickly took advantage of the moment, and got her to describe to me how she made it. I knew it had to be different, because my mother did not have access to rennet or any of the bacterial starters. She didn’t have a food thermometer, either.

Getting any sort of information like this from my mother has always been difficult. I remember the first time I tried to get a recipe for a soup she made. I remembered some of the ingredients, and asked her if she remembered how she made it. Instead of answering me, she started mocking me for not knowing how to cook and not knowing how to make soup. Never mind that I was already married and a child, by then, and had been feeding the family just fine.

I never did find out how she made that soup.

This time, I did manage to get the information down then, after I got off the phone with her, re-wrote it into more cohesive instructions, since the conversation bounced all over the place. When I was finally ready to try it, I was perplexed by some of the quantities, so I called her to clarify. Did she really start with 5 gallons of milk, or did I make a mistake writing it down?

Finding out was like pulling teeth! She kept avoiding answering the question, and kept saying, “you mean you’ve never made cheese before?” in total shock. Then giving me instructions on how to do different parts. I kept going back to the quantity, and asked her if she had used 5 gallons, only to be told how I should just use one gallon, because 5 gallons is such a lot… *facepalm* Then she talked about how she’d never made it using milk from a store, and how I could use lemon juice instead of vinegar, and on and on. It took a while, but I managed to explain that I have made cheese before, I did only want to use 1 gallon, and if the instructions I had was for 5 gallons, I’d have to know that, so I could adjust the other quantities.

What it came down to is, my mother never measured. She used whatever amount of milk she had, and went from there. I did know that. What I needed was some sort of approximation, because there is a heck of a big difference in quantities involved.

Finally, she told me she used about 1 gallon.


Once I had that clarified, I finally got a batch started. Here are the instructions I got from her, highlighted in blue, with my own commentary.

Milk – about a gallon
Add 1 tsp vinegar to make sour. May take all night.

This part actually ended up taking almost two days. The milk was supposed to rest at room temperature, but with how cold our house is – especially the kitchen – I put it in a warm oven.

When sour, put in pot/roaster into oven to warm (lowest heat) until forms curds and whey.

We finally reached that stage this morning.

This is how it looked.

I have no idea if this is how it’s supposed to look.

Drain through cheesecloth.

There is nothing about cutting the curds or anything like that, first. Just to drain it.

I did give it a taste at this point. It doesn’t have much flavour to speak of. The texture was a lot denser than I expected it to be, considering how it broke apart.

Set aside for a few hours or, preferable, overnight.

This is the stage we’re at now, though I’m cheating a bit. I dug out the stand I made to hang jelly bags or drain yogurt cheese, tied off the cheesecloth and hung it.

After taking this photo, I covered the whole stand and bowl with another cheesecloth, to keep out the dust and cat fur – and cats!

Since I got to this point so early in the day, I will likely continue after a few hours, rather than leaving it overnight, because…

Put solids into large pot.
Add about 1 tsp baking soda and mix thoroughly.
Leave overnight.
Will rise like bread.

… it will sit overnight again, after this stage.

As for the whey, I think it’s time to do some more bread baking! I love using whey as the liquid. It adds so much flavour!

The next instructions have me wondering.

Add salt to taste, if desired. Add colour if desired. Add herbs/spices, if desired.

This is all stuff that’s supposed to be added after the baking soda gets added, and after it rests overnight. Which seems odd to me, but that’s how she did it, so that’s how I’ll try it!

Put to frying pan on low heat, in batches, and heat. Mix while heating.
When melted completely, pour into form.

… melted?

It can melt at this stage?

I am really perplexed by this.

I’m not sure what I’ll use as a form just yet. It will depend on what I see when the time comes

Leave to rest until cool.
When cool, ready to slice.

If I hadn’t see my mother’s cheese, I would never guess that these instructions would get that result. As it is, I am still unsure of what I’ll actually get!

So this should be an interesting experiment. I hope it works, because it’s really easy to make, even if it does get spread out over several days.

The Re-Farmer

Starting a Ginger Bug

No, I’m not talking about our furry Ginger Bug! I’m talking about using the actual roots.

In keeping with our stocking up on the assumption we’ll have a month or two where we can’t get out to do any sort of shopping, we’ve been thinking not only of essentials, but those little things that improve on quality of life. One thing that we considered is liquid refreshment. Drinking plain water gets boring, fast – and we buy our drinking water. We really should have tested our well water by now, but to get the full testing done is very expensive and time dependent. We’d have to take a sample and drive it to the lab in the city as quickly as possible. Even just getting a sample bottle requires going to another town. One I haven’t been to since I was a kid and went to a cattle auction with my dad. So that will just have to wait again.

Our usual default drink that isn’t plain water is tea, and my older daughter has already taken care of that department. She went through the sale section of David’s Tea and ordered 13 different types of tea! They should arrive in the mail this week.

The other thing we do enjoy is pop (soda). Usually Coke Zero for my husband and I, while our daughters prefer Ginger Ale. I actually don’t like Ginger Ale on it’s own, but love it mixed with fruit juice. There’s something about that carbonation that really hits the spot.

Which is why I’ve decided to start fermenting our own pop. It’s supposed to be all healthy and everything, but really, I just want to make a thirst quenching fizzy drink.

To start the process, we need to make a ginger bug and get the fermentation process going. I meant to start one a few days ago, but got busy with other things, so I finally got it started last night.

The basics of a ginger bug is fresh ginger root, sugar and water.

I looked at a lot of websites and videos, and there is a lot of conflicting information, of course. Some say to leave the skin on the ginger, because that’s where the yeast it, while others say to peel it, and it’ll ferment just fine. Some say to grate the ginger, others say to use a fine shredder, and still others say to just chop it up. Some were very specific about using a wooden spoon to stir the bug, while in some videos, I saw people using metal spoons to stir. Of course, the quantities and ratios of ginger:sugar:water are all different. With all this, everyone seemed to have very successful ginger bugs, so I figured things were pretty flexible! Then there is the container to put it in. As an open ferment, some cover the jar with cloth or a coffee filter, while others keep it in a sealed jar. Which, to me, seems to really increase the risk of an explosion.

So I just sort of took it all in and did my own version.

I decided to chop the ginger into a small dice, going with the sites that said it made it easier to strain the liquid out later. I don’t like floaties, if I can avoid them! I left the skin on, because peeling ginger is a pain in the butt.

As the ginger bug needs to be fed, I chopped extra and put the excess in the fridge.

I decided to use:

3Tbsp ginger
3Tbsp sugar
2 cups water

I put the whole thing in a 750ml jar to have room to add more ginger and sugar, and for stirring. I also used some of our purchased water, rather than our well water. If I were to use our well water, I would have boiled it and let it cool to room temperature, first.

I could have used an elastic to hold the coffee filter on, but I find a canning ring is much handier.

The jar itself is now stored in a cupboard. Not because it needs to be tucked away, but to keep the cats from knocking it off the counter or something!

It not needs daily tending and feeding until it gets fizzy.

Which means it will get stirred every morning, then fed every evening.

While that is fermenting, we need to think about what to make with it! Of course, we can make basic ginger ale, but as I mentioned, I’m not really a fan of plain ginger ale. Apparently, you can use sweet tea as a base, so that’s always an option, though I am leaning more towards things like cranberry juice or pomegranate juice. I don’t normally buy juices; I find them way too sweet. There are many options, though, and I’m looking forward to experimenting!

The Re-Farmer

Crunchy walkabout, and a garden experiment

Today, I did something I haven’t done in quite a while; check things out beyond the outer yard. Everything beyond the fence surrounding the outer yard, plus the old hay yard, is rented out, and somewhat less than half of that is used for pasture.

This first photo was actually taken from within the outer yard.

Everything is bone dry and crispy, and you can see the haze of smoke from wildfires that are nowhere near us! Keep in mind that the camera automatically cleans up haze, so the view was actually smokier than this.

This photo was taken at the “gate” by the barn. You can see the renter’s electric fence wire ends here. The only green that shows among the dormant grass is dandelions, and even they are burnt red.

This is facing the areas behind the old barn. By the time the renter rotates his cattle here, this grass is typically 2, almost 3, feet high.

This old pond is typically a source of water for the cattle. I walked to the deepest part, and even there, the ground is bone dry.

Also, we would normally be able to see the neighbour’s tree line in the distance, about a mile away. In the photo, it’s just barely visible as a shadow.

This is the deepest areas of what used to be a gravel pit, but which became another dugout to provide water for the cattle. At the far end is a marshy area that eventually reaches as far as the roadway by the pond.

This is in the deep part of the old gravel pit. Most of the tracks look like they were made by deer, but I think I saw some that looked like there were claw marks. All the tracks are old. There hasn’t even been mud here for some time.

This pit used to be quite a bit deeper. Since it wasn’t being used for gravel anymore, there’s at least a couple of decades of pond sediment, decaying plants and cow manure building up at the bottom. One of these years, I would like to have it, and the pond, excavated again. Since we moved back here, this is the first time I’ve seen the old gravel pit completely dry. Even in last year’s drought conditions, there was still water in the lowest area, making it one of the few sources of water for wildlife in the area.

Here, I’m standing at the “end” of the gravel pit area. Behind me is more marshy area that extends to a “creek” that is part of the municipal drainage system, but tends to have water only with the spring runoff.

Heading back towards the house, I checked out an area that is mostly rocks and broken concrete that is overgrown with hawthorn and other bushes. This is the only thing there that has berries on it, and they’re not doing very well.

The white that you see on the leaves is dust kicked up on the gravel road, every time something drives by.

There has been a lot of road dust this year.

Another view of the pasture area, looking towards the pond.

Walking through all this, not only was everything crispy and crunchy, but ever step I took sent masses of grasshoppers flying. With things this dry, I don’t think even the grasshoppers can eat it!

There is but one area of relatively lush, green growth.

The septic field.

This is out towards the barn. Unlike a gravity field, our system pumps the greywater from the tank by the house, all the way out here. You can see the white pipe that is the outflow. It just sprays out from there. There is an entire low area beyond this that, in a wet year, forms another pond. It had been fenced off to keep the cattle out, since any water there would have septic water in it, too, but those fences have long since fallen down.

After I finished my walkabout, I set up the soaker hose at the squash tunnel, then decided to try an experiment.

Our green peas in particular are pretty much toast. Or should I say, toasted. They are still blooming and trying to grow pods, but between the heat and whatever is eating them, we aren’t going to get a crop from them.

The Dalvay peas are sold by weight, not seed count. Which means we had a LOT of seeds left over. Part of why I wanted to plant so many peas and beans near the corn, and to do it in this far flung area, was for their nitrogen fixing qualities.

So I decided to take the leftover seeds and plant them with the sweet corn.

Interestingly, not long after I started, I realized I was hearing the sound of a small engine vehicle moving around on the property. It turned out I was not the only one who decided to check conditions today. The renter had come over on his utility vehicle and was checking out all the pasture areas.

If he does rotate his cows here, I suspect he’s going to have to provide both food and water for them. Last year, he only had to provide water.

One of the things I’d like to do in the future, if we ever have the money to do it, is get those two water fountains going again. It would mean replacing our pressure tank with a much bigger one, as there had been in the past, and hiring someone to make sure all the pluming and the tanks themselves are in working condition. We don’t have cows of our own, but they would be good for wildlife, as well as the renter’s cows.

That’s something for the dreams list! 🙂

I was almost done planting peas when my daughter came out to set up the sprinkler. Using a sprinkler feels like such a wasteful way to water, but for this area, we simply couldn’t water them as thoroughly as they needed, any other way. The other beds don’t have the same issues. It’s remarkable how different soil can be, even in a short distance. Since we started using the sprinkler, the corn and sunflowers have been doing visibly better.

There were so many peas left in the package, I was able to plant one pea for every corn in the block-and-a-bit visible in the photo. In these, I had planted a couple of seeds of corn a foot apart, then thinned them later. In the last block, I just planted a corn seed every six inches. Most of them germinated, so there wasn’t the space to plant one for every corn plant, so I planted one every 1 – 1 1/2 feet, depending on the spacing.

I still had enough seeds to plant more among the surviving Dorinny corn. Then I still had enough to plant with the Montana Morado corn (which seems to have been replaced at Baker Creek with Mountain Morado corn). And I STILL had seeds left over! Only about a dozen or so, but wow, was Veseys ever generous with their quantities!

Now, these seeds had been left behind in a storage bin we keep by the rain barrel next to the pea trellises. Which means that they’ve been out in this heat all this time. It’s entirely possible they won’t germinate. Or only a few will germinate.

Though planting peas for a fall crop this time of year, to get a fall harvest, is something that can be done in our zone, this year is so hot, we might still have the same problem as with the ones I planted in the spring, even if they do germinate. However, that’s not what I’m planting them for. I’m planting them for their nitrogen fixing qualities. Corn are nitrogen hungry plants, and our soil is nitrogen depleted. Yes, we can use a high nitrogen fertilizer, but having a plant that will do that job is preferable. Plus, if they do germinate, the corn plants will provide shade for them, while also providing a natural trellis for the peas to grow on, as with beans in Three Sisters plantings. We only have bush beans, though, so they won’t climb the corn. People had been talking about the Three Sisters method of planting in some of my gardening groups. Some people found it worked well. Some found that the squash made getting at the corn difficult, or that there was just too much competition for nutrients, and some found peas worked better for them than beans.

So we shall see how this turns out.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, all of these far flung beds are temporary. We’re basically breaking and amending the soil in perpetration for future plans. With what we are learning this year, we are already adjusting some of those plants. We were talking about planting a nut orchard and fruit trees, which we’re going to have to do soon, because those can take years, in some cases a decade, before they start producing.

We’re going to be adding a step.

My daughters and I have been going through the Whiffletree catalog, repeatedly. With the soil conditions we have, we’re now thinking to start by adding hedges. There are several options available for zones 2 and 3 that not only produce edible fruit and do well in poor soil, but also help fix nitrogen in the soil. If they’re still available next year, we’ve decided on three different ones. Silver Buffaloberry, which is a zone 2 bush, Autumn Olives (also called Autumn Silverberry), which is a zone 3 bush that is semi-fertile, and Sea Buckthorn, which is a zone 3 bush that requires 1 male variety for every 5-9 females varieties. On top of producing edible berries, being able to grow in poor soil conditions, and acting as nitrogen fixers, these will also form a barrier that will not only give us a privacy screen from our peeping vandal, they are dense enough to form a barrier that deer can’t get through. Plus, they will be dense enough to act as dust barriers. We’ve worked out the areas we can plant in, leaving a gap over where we thing the buried telephone wires are. We never did hear back from the Call Before You Dig people, but I figured out an easy way to do it. My brother’s property is right across the road, and the lines run though his place, too. He has a gap in his spruce grove, over the phone lines. All we have to do is line up our gap with his! 😀 Anyhow, after we start with these nitrogen fixing, berry producing bushes, we will then start adding fruit and nut trees in what is currently a big void in the old garden area. Little by little, year after year, we will be adding more food trees, strategically placing each of them, so serve multiple purposes. At least, that’s the plan right now! 😀

Meanwhile, by the time I was done with all the pea planting, the smoke in the air had gotten to the point that there was a haze in the yard. As I write this, I can see the live feed from the garage security camera, and I can see smoke in our driveway. We’re still getting rain in our forecast, but in millimeters. Some areas did get rain today, which I am happy to hear about, but none of it is reaching us. I would actually be okay with that, if we could at least get rain over those northern fires.

The Re-Farmer