I made a thing

With the colder temperatures and chill winds, I haven’t been able to wear my usual ball cap outside. No ear protection. Getting wind in my ears causes me headaches. But I like my ball cap, and having a visor to shade my eyes.

So I made a thing.

Nosencrantz seems perplexed.

After looking at different styles online, I combined the features I liked, and this is what I came up with.

I have just come back from feeding the outside cats for the night, and testing it out.

It works rather well!

The Re-Farmer

Making stock

I can’t help it. I feel like I’ve wasted a day. I got a stock going and tended it, off and on, for much of the day. While I didn’t have to be there constantly, I was checking on it often enough that I didn’t want to start anything that took too much of my focus or was too distracting. I ended up actually *gasp* watching TV, binge watching DS9 on Prime. I could use each the status bar on the episodes as my timer to go check the stove. Normally, I’d at least do something like crochet at the same time, but a summer in the garden has left my fingertips so rough, most yarns stick to them like Velrco, and I ended up pulling the loops right off the hook! 😆

Ah, well. I suppose it’s good to have a break every now and then.

One thing I discovered while sitting on the couch watching the show.

Fenrir missed me!

Before Butterscotch and Nosencrantz came indoors, she used to spend as much time as she could like this, while I was at my computer.

Which made it very difficult to type.

Unfortunately, Fenrir is one of the cats that will come in and immediately launch an attack at Nosencrantz if allowed in my room. Butterscotch, too, if she’s in view. I have no idea why she is so aggressive towards them. Especially Butterscotch. Butterscotch and Beep Beep took her in, along with their own kittens, when she showed up at our place as a kitten, our first summer here. Now, she will spend hours just outside my bedroom door, watching it and, if I’m not careful, she’ll teleport herself into my room as soon as the door opens, and attack Nosencrantz. She’s amazingly fast! Given the opportunity, however, she will climb onto me, curl up on my chest, and nap, as she did several times, today. She was not impressed by my frequently getting up to tend the stove. 😁

Our fridge freezer had quite a few bags of carcasses waiting, mostly from chickens, but also some turkey. I roasted them first, and they completely filled my roasting pan. There was enough that I used my giant stock pot, that I’ve also been using for water bath canning, to fit it all.

Into the pot went most of our remaining Uzbek Golden carrots.

I admit. I’m a coward.

I could have used at least a couple of Black Nebula carrots, too. That would have changed the colour significantly! But I decided that might not look too appetizing. 😂

Along with the carrots I added crushed garlic cloves, yellow and red onions – the little ones from our garden – plus celery. For seasonings, I added course salt, whole peppercorns, turmeric powder, dried thyme leaves and dried parsley, then covered it all with water. Later on, I added a generous splash of our crab apple cider vinegar, too.

After bringing it to a boil I let it simmer for about 7 hours adding more water to the pot part way through. After that, I used a hot pot soup strainer spoon that I find very handy, to take out as many of the bones and vegetables as I could, then a small sieve to strain out more, before finally ladling it through a fine mesh strainer into my other two stock pots.

The larger pot, with the measurements on the inside, shows a little under the 6 quart line. In total, I would say there’s about 10, maybe 11, quarts (11 to 12 1/2 litres).

For now, the pots are covered and cooling, as is the bowl of carcasses and vegetables. I’m debating what to do with it next. I could just pour it into freezer bags and freeze them, as is. Or I could cook it down to make a more concentrated stock. I’m kind of leaning towards cooking it down more. I’ll see how it looks in the morning.

The Re-Farmer

Old Kitchen Garden: Wattle weaving progress

After finishing up my morning rounds, I did as much as I could with the wattle fence, using what materials we had been able to gather. There wasn’t much I could do with the longer sections. With the shorter part of the L shape, I was able to use a few single lengths, but even there I had to start combining them in pairs.

The girls had gathered some really nice, even pieces of maple suckers, though, and they were the perfect length for the wider end bit.

The red barked lengths are the maple the girls had gathered. When I used those up, I went to the pile of small willow branches I’d set aside and brought over the pieces that were close in size to the maple. Those are the greenish coloured branches. Last of all, I topped it with two thicker pieces of maple that I’d pruned from the nearby maples that are now clear of the branch piles. Those are are lot tighter, and will lock everything in place. I didn’t trim the top one to size yet, as I might need to move it out while the other section of wall is worked on. However, as it is now, that is as high as I intend to go for most of the bed.

It would be great if the whole thing could have been done like this! It looks so much prettier, with smaller gaps and more consistent sizes. The only down side is that such small pieces will also break down faster than the larger ones. It will likely still take a few years, but it’s something to be aware of.

I used more of the maple suckers I had gathered at this end, along with more willow that was left, and locked it down at the top with two thicker pieces of maple.

This corner looks a mess right now! It will be built up, end to end, until they are the same height as the walls at the ends. After that, it will be build up higher to match the heights of the debarked posts. By time I’m working on just the three tallest posts, I’ll be working with much shorter pieces, and should be able to tidy up the whole thing a lot more. Right now, it’s looking quite the mess!

That piece of 2×4 is my mallet.

At this point, I am out of useable materials. I think I will go hunting around the spruce grove for more material, before I start wandering father afield. The Red Osier Dogwood that we have would make excellent, flexible pieces, but that’s something I’m trying to encourage as undergrowth. I might still be able to harvest some, though. There might even be some young poplar I can harvest. Mostly, I just want to find enough material to finish this back wall. The remaining sections can wait until spring, if we have to. Once the back wall is done, the soil that has eroded into the paths can be hoed back into the bed and tidied up. I will likely use grass clippings that we still have all along the bottom of the wattle wall to keep the soil from falling into the gaps. Slowly, this bed will be built up to the height of the lowest sections of wattle, which will make growing in it MUCH easier on the back!

That’s about all I’ll be able to get done today, though. We’ve had another change in plans, with company coming tomorrow. We’re hoping to be able to have a bonfire with the remains of the big branch pile that got chipped, but it will depend on the weather. The forecasts keep changing. Just in case, we need to be prepared to move indoors, so we’re going to have to start moving things like our canning supplies back into storage, and all that other stuff that just sort of takes over every flat surface! We’ll need to be able to expand the dining table, too, which will take up twice the space.

We are terrible house keepers. 😂

But I’m really looking forward to seeing my BIL and his family, and really appreciate that they are willing to make the long drive out here, knowing that my husband can no longer go to their place. It’s going to be awesome!

The Re-Farmer

Garden bed and kibble house progress

Today’s high was supposed to be 19C/66F. I don’t know if we reached it, but with the blustery winds, it never felt that warm. I’ve been keeping a close eye on the weather, and my app on my desktop includes historical data for each day, including 30 year record highs and lows for various data. I noticed that today had a record high for snow of 14cm/5.5in in 2019. In fact, we set record highs for snow on the 10th, 11th and 12th, all in 2019. We were just coming to the end of our second year here, so I went looking at my blog posts for those dates.

Ah, yes. I remember that blizzard!

The amazing thing is that, just days later, all that snow was gone, and while we were still cleaning up storm damage, everything was back to green and sunny!

Depending on which app I look at, however, we might be getting a mix of snow and rain starting tomorrow night, and by Friday afternoon, we’re expected to get between 3-6cm (roughly 1-2 inches) of snow.

That meant my focus was preparing to build up walls around the L shaped bed in the old kitchen garden.

I went through the maple pieces I’d cut yesterday and started cutting them to size, cutting points on them, and debarking some of them.

I had lots of furry help. So much help, one of the kitties got plumb tuckered out!

From the longest, straightest pieces of maple, I cut three into 4 foot lengths. Then I went through some of the strongest pieces to cut four 3 foot lengths, then four 2 1/2 foot lengths. After that, I just cut as many 2 1/2 foot lengths from the thinner straight pieces as I could get out of them.

I used a hatchet to cut the points on all of them. That was probably the most unpleasant part of the job. Not so much for the thinner pieces, but for all the thicker ones. I’m ambidextrous for most things, left handed when it comes to fine motor control, but for some things, I am completely right handed.

Using a hatchet is one of those things, and my right hand has been in terrible shape lately. I had difficulty gripping the hatchet, and had to stop frequently to give my hand a break.

The draw knife was awesome for debarking the wood. It’s still quite green and came off easily. I don’t have a way to secure the pieces I’m working on well, so there were quite a few times when I was pushing instead of drawing the blade – and it works just as well that was, too. For some of the thinner pieces, though, it was easier to just use a knife to debark them.

Also, no, that is not rust on the blade of the draw knife. It’s stained with tree sap.

The stack of the thinnest pieces did not get debarked. It would have taken forever and, at their sizes, it would have been awkward. The pieces that will be taking the most stress, however, have been debarked.

That all took a few hours.

Then it was time to get to the garden bed. I pulled the lettuce I’d left to go to seed (it looks like we’ll get seed from just one of them) and got ready to prep the bed. Without walls, soil was falling into the path and the inside of the L shape, and I don’t like wasting good soil!

I used a hoe to draw some of that soil back into the bed, and level off the edge, where the uprights will be going.

The three longest pieces will form a triangle at the inside of the bend. When we start weaving branches through the posts, these will be taking the most stress. Working out from there, one 3 ft piece will go along the short end, and three down the long end. If I have enough materials to do it, I plan to build up the wall higher at these posts, as much to wall around the lilac as to create a wall for the bed.

The four 2 1/2 ft pieces are for the corners at the ends of the bed.

To install the posts, I used the pencil point bar and hammered it into the ground.

Unfortunately, that old hammer doesn’t have the right handle on it, and the head fell off again. I had to switch to a sledge hammer.

I really didn’t want to switch to the sledge hammer.

Ah, well. It worked better. I’m just going to be in a world of hurt, tonight!

I started by placing three posts in, then tied twine between them as guides for the rest of the posts. Then I laid out the spacing for the remaining two 4 ft posts, and the four 3 ft posts.

At this point my daughter, who had been working on putting salvaged shingles on the kibble house, ran out of roofing tar. I’d only picked up a small can for patch jobs, never expecting to need more.

So I left my daughter to continue pounding in the posts while I went into town to pick up more tar, and a few other things while I was there. When I came back, I found my daughter lying on a tarp on the ground surrounded by kittens. She is having much more success at socializing than I am!

She had even pounded the other two corner posts at the ends of the L shape.

The weather was starting to get worse, so I quickly filled in the gaps with the smaller 2 1/2 ft posts.

The long end of the L shape will be only 2 feet wide, so the end posts needed just one more added in between them, plus three more along the north side. The short end of the L shape needed only 2 more to fill the gap. Since this end can be accessed from three sides, we’re okay with it being wider than 2 feet, so the end posts there got two more in between. The rest of the posts will be for the outside of the L shape.

From the looks of it, I’m going to need to find more pieces to be able to finish the outside of the bed, but I’m not concerned about that right now. It’s the inside of the L shape that I need to get done first.

By this time, however, dark clouds were rolling in and it was starting to look like rain, so I left the job at this point and focused on cleaning up and putting away anything that might blow away. My daughter, meanwhile, finished the roof of the kibble house.

The green shingles are almost 50 years old and are in pretty rough shape. The brown ones are better, but they’re almost 30 years old.

The water bowl house roof is thinner plywood, so we’ll be using pieces of metal roofing that we’ve been scavenging for various things since we’ve moved here. If we used shingles, the nails we have would go right through by nearly half an inch, and that would be a problem! I dragged a piece of metal roofing out from the barn that we can cut in half and lay side by side to cover the roof of the water bowl house, but I also spotted a stack of corner pieces. I brought one over, and helped my daughter put it on the edge of the shingles on the kibble house. I found a bin of metal roofing screws in the warehouse, so I grabbed a bunch for when the water bowl house is done, and my daughter used a few of those to install the metal cap on the edge of the roof, using the screw holes that were already in the metal – after making sure to put some tar under each hole, first.

Almost everything about the kibble and water bowl houses has been done using scavenged bits and pieces we’ve found around the property, and a lot of it is pretty old and starting to rot. We don’t expect these to last long, but using paint and even decades old shingles will help them last longer. At some point, it’ll be nice to be able to build versions using new materials, all well measured and cut and leveled, etc. But this will do for now.

Once this was done, I set up a longer extension cord I found that was in good shape, and was able to plug in the cat’s house. We lifted the roof and put in the high density rubber mats I’d dragged out of the barn, which will help insulate the floor. There’s a thick scrap yarn crocheted blanket that is laid out on top of the mats, too. We will not be using straw this year. As much care as we have taken with the terrarium heater bulb, I would much rather not have straw in there! The heat bulb is working fine, with the heat shield still in place, and the timer is set to light sensor, so it will turn on when it gets dark, then off again when it gets light. The smoke detector was tested, too, and it’s working fine.

Once the water bowl house is done and set up where it will go, we’ll be able to plug in the heated water bowl through the cat’s house entry, too.

Tonight, the cats will have a warm and cozy place to stay if they start feeling too chilly. I especially hope the tiniest kittens will start using it!

As for me, I’ve pain killered up and hope I’ll be able to continue in the old kitchen garden tomorrow. For the weaving, I plan to cut the willow branches and use them right away, while they are still very green and flexible.

I really hope this works out. Otherwise, that’s a lot of work for nothing! Well. Not for nothing. Now that those posts are in, even if wattle weaving doesn’t work, I could still use them to hold whatever we find to use instead. It’s all fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants work, anyhow!

Which is half the fun. 😊

The Re-Farmer

Making and canning tomato paste

What a long, long day!

I knew making the tomato paste would take a long time, but my goodness, it did drag on!

The girls and I had a sort of assembly line set up. At one end of the kitchen counter we had the electric kettle going, then space for the container used to bring batches of frozen tomatoes. Then there was the giant bowl we used to blanch them, a bowl with a colander for the skins, a cutting board and compost bag for final prep, a kettle on the stove to boil more water, and finally my giant stock pot.

I even remembered to check what size that thing is.

This thing was an excellent investment. We originally got it for when we were making tourtierre regularly, and would be browning more than 30 pounds of ground meat at a time – then adding the rest of the filling ingredients. That was once a year, though. We’ve used it more often just this summer than we have since we bought it!

We did the tomatoes in fairly small batches. The electric kettle and the stove top kettle took very different lengths of time to boil, which worked out.

One kettle was enough to cover one batch of tomatoes. After they had time to blanch, they’d be transferred to a colander over a bowl, where I would remove the skins, then cut them up (and remove the rest of the stem ends, if needed), and pop them into the stock pot. A daughter would get another batch of tomatoes from the freezer, and by the time we were ready to blanch those, the second kettle would be boiling and ready to go.

It took many batches. I figure there were maybe a couple hundred tomatoes, in a variety of sizes.

The cooking was started as soon as the first batch went in, which cut the time down quite a bit, I’m sure. By the time all the tomatoes were blanched and added, the stock pot was about half full – roughly 11 quarts or about 10L.

It took about 2 hours of cooking before I felt it was ready for straining through a sieve.

Our giant sieve has a very fine mesh. Great for straining out the seeds and any bits of skin that got left. Some of the tomatoes turned out to still be a bit green, so there were pieces that never got soft enough to be pushed through the mesh.

If we end up doing this regularly, it’ll be worth the investment to get a food mill.

The tomato sauce was strained a bit at a time, while the cooking continued. By the time I got to the bottom of the pot, it was getting pretty thick, and there was a lot less pulp left behind in the strainer.

This is all the seeds, cores, green bits and fibrous pulp that was strained out.

The strained puree was very thin. Can you imagine if we were not using a paste tomato for this! It would have been more like tomato juice, than tomato puree!

The stock pot I strained into has a very handy feature.

Measurements on the inside!

We went from roughly 11 quarts of blanched tomatoes, to just under 5 quarts of strained tomato puree. This was what I used to calculate how much lemon juice to use, later on. I had wanted to use citric acid, but couldn’t find any. Lemon juice will work, but does affect the flavour, too. If I were just canning the puree at this point, I could have added the lemon juice (and salt, if I wanted) directly to the jars, but that can’t work with tomato paste.

At this point, I took a break for a while.

For the rest of the cooking time, we set up the hot plate at the dining room table, to free up the kitchen, because I knew it would take hours to reduce this to a paste.

I could have cooked down the puree on its own, with just the lemon juice to increase the acidity. After looking at many different instructions for making and canning tomato paste, I decided to include a couple of large, crushed garlic cloves, a big bay leaf, and some canning salt.

The hot plate worked out really well. Once the puree was up to temperature, however, it stayed very hot and quick to splatter all over, even with the hot plate set quite low.

Another benefit to having a pot with measurements on the inside. I could see progress, even when it didn’t feel like any was being made!

As it reduced in volume, I also had to keep reducing the temperature. I only needed to stir it enough to keep it from bubbling and spattering. The more it reduced, the more often it needed to be stirred, and the lower the temperature needed to be turned. At first, I could just sit on a chair to stir every once in a while. After several hours, I was having to stand at the table, holding the pot to keep it from being knocked about as I stirred vigorously. Once it started getting quite thick, I removed the bay leaf. The garlic cloves were completely disintegrated by then.

I must say, towards the end, it was SO tempting to stop earlier because… it’s thick enough now, right? Right?

Not quite.

In the end, it took somewhere around 6 or 7 hours to get the puree into a good, thick paste.

When the spoon could scrape along the bottom, and the paste wouldn’t fill the gap right away, it was finally ready.

At this point, one of my daughters had taken over the stirring while I got the giant stock pot, which they had washed out for me while I stirred for hours, and sterilized the jars.

But how many jars would I need?

The measurement in the pot starts at 2 quarts and, at this point, the paste was well below that. I estimated around 1 quart, perhaps.

Because the paste is so thick, it has to be canned in small jars. The instructions I’d been reading were from the US and talked about “half pint” jars. I didn’t stop to convert that and was thinking the jars I had were probably half pints. Usually I get 750ml or 500ml wide mouth jars. Though the measurements don’t match, what sells as quart jars in the US are 1L jars here. A pint is 500ml so a half pint would be 250ml – or about 1 cup.

The jars I have are 125ml. So, a quarter pint, not a half pint! 😁

Which meant that if there was about a quart of paste in the pot, I would need 8 jars. I had two cases of twelve, so I sterilized one case. With the jars being to tiny, I could use both canning racks and stack them.

It still takes long time for the water to boil! I almost forgot to add vinegar to the water, to prevent the jars from clouding on the outside from our very hard well water.

Much to my surprise, I was able to fill every jar! Granted, for the last one, I was scraping the sides quite a bit, but I still got my half inch head space!

By the time I finished canning the tomato paste, it was well past 1am. I gotta say, I was quite happy to be able to finally leave them to cool for the night!

When I checked them this morning, I found 2 jars had not sealed properly. Which I’m just fine with! They went straight into the fridge to use right away.

I just love those adorable little jars.

We’ve been out of tomato paste for a while. I typically buy cases of them at Costco. The problem is that we usually only use a small amount at a time. Just adding a spoonful into a dish for extra flavour, for example, leaving us with aluminum cans partly filled with paste, that can’t be resealed well. Then we’d be rushing to use the rest up before it went bad. It will be much handier to have it in sealable jars!

I’ve already had some today, adding a spoonful to some leftover pasta I had for lunch, adding a bit of cream to make a bit of a sauce. As my daughter had mentioned when taste testing the fresh tomatoes for me, the Cup of Moldova tomatoes are very mild in flavour, so the resulting paste is not as strongly flavoured as the tinned paste we would buy. Which I don’t mind at all.

The question will be, is all the time end effort that goes into making and canning the paste worthwhile? There are lots of other ways to can tomatoes that take a lot less time. It’s the time that’s the kicker. I have seen some instructions that use the oven to make the paste – basically, dehydrating the puree – but while that might require less supervision, it means not being able to use the oven for anything else for a very long time.

That’s something we’ll have to talk about and decide after we’ve used this batch up, I think.

The Re-Farmer

Small builds, and green tomatoes

It has been absolutely gorgeous outside today. As I write this, we are at 14C/56F. Just perfect to be outside for many hours!

I was planning to build a soil sifter today, but after fussing with the trail cams this morning, I decided I needed to build a new stand for one of them, first. The gate cam had stopped working again, even though I’d just changed the batteries. The day before, there were only 3 files recorded before it stopped working. The gate is more of a security priority, so I took the new solar powered camera from by the sign and set it up on the stand at the gate. Which was not as good of a set up, but it would do.

I brought the camera that had been at the gate inside and tested the batteries. They had gone down a lot, for being used only for a day, but they were still well into the green. After checking the camera itself out for a bit, I decided to take a scouring pad to the battery contacts in the flip-down cover. Water had gotten into it at some point, and there was rust, but I had given them a scrubbing before, and things were quite dry. Still, it was really the only thing that was available to do. Sure enough, it worked!

I wanted to leave the solar powered camera at the gate, so I took the now working camera to the sign. I could screw it onto the mounting plate, but it’s a very different design. Instead of screwing into the bottom, it screws into the back. With the other camera, I could swivel it into an angle that covered the front of the sign and, because it’s a wide angle camera, it also included the road and intersection. Not being able to swivel this camera meant that it was basically facing the sign, on edge.

I figured my best bet was to use the old flag stand the camera was mounted on at the gate, and bring it to the corner by the sign. That would actually work better than having it mounted on one of the supports holding up the tipping corner fence post. Which meant making something for the new camera, that I could attach the mounting plate to, for the gate.

After scrounging in the barn for some scrap wood (I spotted a couple of Rosencrantz’ kittens just outside the barn!), this is what I made.

The solar panel makes the camera very top heavy. When it was mounted by the sign, there were many files motion triggered not by someone or something going by, but by the wind making the camera wobble on its mount. I made this stand taller, and attached the mounting plate low enough that I can use the strap that also came with it, to secure it more firmly and ensure no wobbles will trigger the motion sensor.

I moved the camera to the other side of the driveway, so that the solar panel will get maximum exposure to sunlight. With the wide angle lens, it also needs to be closer to the gate than the other camera. Once I find the sweet spot for coverage, I am thinking of pegging the legs to the ground, for extra stability. It would be better to have something like a sandbag, though, since I’d have to move it when mowing in the area.

Once that was done, I could start on the soil sifter.

I measured our wheelbarrow and cut pieces for a 2’6″ x 2’4″ sifter. The straight pieces would form a box, and the angled pieces would make a frame.

At this point, the only thing holding the frame together are the metal right angle brackets on the corners. The frame would be secured to the box, with the hardware cloth sandwiched in between.

The roof of the water bowl house made an excellent surface to unroll the 1/2 inch hardware cloth, then use the box to measure out where to cut the wire. Once cut to size, I tacked the mesh to the box with a few staples, just to hold it in place while adding the frame.

There is, a problem with using salvaged wood for everything.

I should have made the frame pieces about an inch longer. I didn’t compensate for the slightly extra width the box got from how I attached them at the corners. However, the wood is warped and uneven, which meant there was no way I could match the frame to the box, even if I’d made the frame part bigger. In several places, I had to put the screws in at an angle to catch the edge of the box. I had been using a drill to make pilot holes, only to break the bit part way through, and I didn’t have another in that size. The wood is old and very dry, so it was easy to put the screws in without a pilot hold but, as you can see, the wood started to split in a couple of places. Some of the wood was already splitting on its own.

Once the frame and box were secured to each other, I folded the excess mesh onto the sides, cutting at the corners so that a piece could fold around the corner to be secured.

The mesh was secured with a LOT of staples around the outside of the box, and more staples were added to secure the mesh to the frame on the inside. These won’t hold well, though. We need a heavier duty staple gun for projects like this.

Once done and set up on the wheel barrow, I could really see how warped some of the wood it. It can’t lay flat. Which is okay. I am not expecting this to last very long, but if I can get a year or two out of it, that’ll be enough. I am planning on using it while cleaning up and preparing garden beds for next year, to sift out rocks and roots. I want to use it on the wood chips, too. The smaller chips can be used as mulch right away, while any larger pieces can be set aside until we can bring the wood chipper out and use the shredder chute to chop the bigger pieces finer.

While I was working on that, one of the things the girls worked on was picking through and sorting all the tomatoes we picked. They found more slugs inside some tomatoes! The ripest tomatoes were set aside to use right away, while the greener ones were to be laid out on screens.

The problem was finding a place the screens could be laid out that the cats won’t get at.

We ended up using the sun room.

The onions were still laid out to cure on the wire mesh door we use for this, so we prepped them by trimming the roots, brushing off the dried dirt, and thinning the greens, before and my daughter braided them. It made for one very heavy braid! Once those were out of the way, we set screens up over the mesh door, and many of the tomatoes would fall straight through the mesh.

In the foreground are the chocolate cherry tomatoes. Then there’s all the yellow pear tomatoes, with the few remaining Sophie’s Choice tucked in with them. At the far end are the Cup of Moldova tomatoes.

They can stay in the sun room to ripen, though we will also be looking up recipes for using green tomatoes, too. There are plenty of ripe ones to start on first, though. Now that these ones are laid out on the screens, they can sit for a while before we have to get at them.

And the kittens can still use the swing bench, below. In fact, there was a kitten sleeping under the tomatoes when I took the picture! Unlike the inside cats, they have no interest at all in what’s on top of the screens. They just want soft, warm places to lie down and sleep!

The Re-Farmer

Making yellow tomato sauce

There are only two people in our household that enjoy eating fresh tomatoes, but even they are getting tomatoed out when it comes to the Yellow Pear tomatoes! They were starting to accumulate, so I decided to make a small batch of tomato sauce.

Along with the Yellow Pear tomatoes, there were about five or six Chocolate Cherry tomatoes, and two Cup of Moldova tomatoes on hand, so they wall went into the pot together!

Being so small, they got mushy very quickly, so it wasn’t long before I was running them through the finer colander we have. Some of the seeds still get through, but no one seems to mind that. If I were making a tomato paste, though, I’d run it through a sieve as well, to get rid of the seeds.

After straining the tomatoes, I fried up some finely chopped onions and garlic in some olive oil until soft, then added the strained tomatoes back to the pot. For seasoning, I added salt and pepper, a bit of sugar, and a bay leaf, then cooked it down until slightly thicker.

It wasn’t quite enough sauce to fill a 750ml jar.

What a colour!

Not too long ago, I found some large mouth screw on jar lids – usually I can just find regular mouth. Since this is going into the fridge, I much prefer to use the screw on lid, rather than the canning lids and rings. I’ll have to pick up more of these when I find them again. Most of the canning jars we have are wide mouth jars.

Not being a fan of tomatoes in general, I didn’t actually taste this to see how it turned out. I’ll have to get my husband or daughter to do a taste test and let me know what they think!

The Re-Farmer

Water bowl house, in progress

My younger daughter starting working on a shelter for the water bowls, and we got some more progress on it last night. This is being built with whatever scraps we can find in the barn.

Construction is almost complete. A couple of floor boards are not nailed down yet. It got too dark to see. The scrap boards used for the floor and walls are pretty old, and there was a fair amount of rot on the ends. For the walls, I laid the boards so that the strongest wood could be nailed in place, then the rotted ends were sawed off. The same boards were used for the floor. Since this is to hold water bowls, there are spaces left in between, so that if any water spills, it’ll run through the gaps and not accumulate inside.

I might be able to cover those triangle shaped gaps at the sides. I was originally going to just leave them, but they are pretty big. Big enough that I think too much snow might blow in during the winter.

Once the construction is complete, it’ll get a scrub down and a paint job.

It’s big enough to hold the four water bowls we have, though it won’t fit as many cats at the same time as the kibble house can. That won’t be a problem, as they don’t crowd around the water bowls the way they do for the kibble.

Once painted, this should actually last a few years, in spite of how bad some of the boards are. The frame is made with sturdier wood, so it’s actually pretty strong.

It will be good to not have to dig the water bowls out of the snow this winter!

The Re-Farmer

Making and canning crab apple sauce

This morning, I canned up the crab apple sauce I started on last night.

It took about 2 hours to go through and cut up the crab apples in one bin – and that’s the one that had apples taken from it for the large batch crab apple cider vinegar, and a small bucket set aside for my mother.

Who has told me she doesn’t want any more apples. She had been appled out. So we still have another bin, plus the bucket!, to process.

The cut up apple pieces filled my giant stock pot to about 2/3 full.

A few cups of water was added to start the cooking process, and it was then boiled until mushy. Which took remarkably little time.

It stained my new giant wooden spoon pink! 😂

All the instructions I read said to peel and core the apples – which was not going to happen with such small apples! – unless you had a food mill to remove the skins and seeds later.

I don’t have a food mill.

I did recently acquire this…

I picked this up at a dollar store for a completely different purpose. I needed something finer than our colanders, but strong than our big sieve. This turned out to be perfect to use as a substitute food mill. I put in a couple of ladles of cooked pulp at a time, then used a silicon spoon/spatula to push it through, before scraping up the leavings and putting it into a bucket for the compost and moving on to the next batch.

I used our taller, normal sized stock pot for this, which conveniently has measurements marked on the inside.

The strained sauce was just shy of 6 quarts.

It was also very runny.

For the next step, the girls took over, in the early hours of the morning. They tasted it to see if it needed sugar, then cooked it down to thicken it a bit. I forgot to ask if they added sugar, but after tasting in myself, I don’t think they did. These crab apples are very sweet-tart on their own.

They cooked down the sauce by a couple of inches to make it thicker. That done, it was my turn again. I sterilized a dozen 500 ml (pint) jars, then canned up the sauce – a job that seemed to go much faster than I expected!

I could hear the lids popping on some of them, even as I removed them from the water bath!

When done, there was 10 jars of sauce, plus one that was about 3/4 full to go to the fridge, for eating right away. These just need to sit until tomorrow, then they’ll go back into the jar case and be ready for storage for the winter. 😊

I’m quite happy with how these turned out. Love that colour, too!

Now… what to do with the rest of the apples? This is more than enough apple sauce to last us; it’s not something we eat often.

I suppose I could just trim and freeze them for later.

On another note, with the season changing, I’ve asked the girls to switch back to “day shift”. There are things we need to do before winter that require an extra person. Which will mostly be my younger daughter, since my older daughter will have commissions to work on, but she will also be coming out to help as much as she can.

I expected to do more canning this year, but the garden just wasn’t productive enough for it – but more on that in my next post!

The Re-Farmer

Making tree cages

Since transplanting the Korean Pine in the outer yard – and promptly losing one that got dug up by a critter – I’ve been wanting to find a more secure way to protect them, but also to make them more visible. With the possibility of cows being allowed into the outer yard, that become more of a priority.

This is what I put together while doing my evening rounds.

I used chicken wire salvaged from the garden row covers we made last year. We’ve got some square buckets, and I used one to work out where to cut the wire. After the cut wire was made into a ring, I used the bucket as a sort of form to square off one end, then fold the edge inwards to make a sort of top with an opening in the middle.

We’ve got some high visibility paint that I use to mark rocks in the yard, so I can see them through the tall grass when mowing. Just the thing to make the chicken wire visible – on its own, it pretty much disappears against the grass!

They will dry overnight, and in the morning the girls will place them around the Korean pine. Along with the one that got dug up by a critter, another on just up and died for some reason, so we are down to 4 of the 6 we planted. I’d like to not loose any more of them, if possible! Hopefully, these cages will help protect them from critters, at least. Tomorrow morning, the girls will take them out and put them over the saplings, in place of the plastic cloche they used this morning, when the calves got into the outer yard. Some ground staples to hold them in place and, hopefully, they should work out.

The Re-Farmer