Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jasper the exasperator

Jasper in the little nest I made for him yesterday
Here are two pictures of Jasper taken about 24 hours apart, it's kind of hard to see in the picture but he/she is growing really fast. 48 hours ago I couldn't even tell what kind of bird he was, now he's about halfway feathered out into a little white-winged dove (insert Stevie Nicks song here). I have to feed Jasper every 2-3 hours during the day and he is not the least bit grateful for it. I feed him a formula for hand-feeding baby birds (You can buy it at the pet store) and I mix it up with warm water and try to dip his beak in it. Sometimes he then takes the hint and starts eating the formula, but most of the time he just attacks me, the cup or anything else. Feeding is very trying for both of us, but is way better than the tube down the throat method which is dangerous for novices like myself. (It's very likely that you'll put the food into their lungs instead of in the crop where it belongs, and they will drown.) Poor little bird, he must be terrified.
Jasper on my shirt today just after eating

I'm getting very excited for the new (chicken) chicks to get here. Only about 3 more months to go, let the countdown begin!!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A tiny dinner.

Okay, well not even enough for a mouse's dinner. This is my first potato ever (the thing that looks like red yarn is the arrow pointing to it):
The smallest potato

I hadn't even planned on planting any potatoes this year, but there were some growing vines in my cabinet so I stuck them in pots. I was planting when everyone else was harvesting, but since I wasn't going to eat them anyway, I thought I'd give it a shot. They are dying in our 110-115 degree heat, I think after checking them for miniature potatoes, I'll just turn the vines over in the pots and they can be compost for next years potatoes.

I tried some mesquite flour that I made from a neighbor's mesquite pods, which were a different type, they tasted about 100% better than that last batch. Lesson learned. I found a recipe for mesquite cornbread on the internet, and I found a cute cast iron cornbread pan/mold at goodwill for $4, I'll be making that tomorrow along with some solar oven beans.

And finally, there is a new addition to the tiny farm. It's a baby white-winged dove. My husband found it after clearing some bushy lantana in the front yard just sitting on the ground, since he inadvertently destroyed its nest (if there was one there?), I'm taking care of it. It has started to feather in, hopefully it will do okay, though it doesn't seem to think I am its best friend yet. His/her name is Jasper. I will post pictures soon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Making flour from Mesquites

Out here we have Mesquite trees everywhere. In parking lots, around schools, medians, they are just all over. There's a little park I rode my bike through on my way to Trader Joe's last week and it had about 10-15 large Mesquites, most of the trees were kind of close to the road, which is generally not good for collecting food things, but I tried to get most of the pods from trees that were about 100 feet away, maybe more.

I took home the beans and put them in the dehydrator for a day and a half to make sure they were good and dry. You can't just put mesquite beans in a regular grinder because they are way too hard and will not grind and probably mess up your grinder. The flour is made primarily from the pods, and not the bean itself, but they are attached inside and you can't just separate them out of the pod like you can with a regular bean. Lucky for me my parents had this stone grinding thing in the backyard as decoration when I was growing up and they gave it to me recently. Grinding the flour wasn't as labor-intensive as I was expecting-- the beans just kind of separate themselves as you're grinding. From dried bean to finished flour, it took me about 5 minutes to make half a cup with not too much elbow grease.

The mesquite pods
Ready for grinding
Starting to make flour

I tasted the flour and at first it has a very pleasant sweet taste, but then it tastes a little bitter and has a bit of a skunky aftertaste. I have heard that each tree's pods have a little different flavor, even within the same species, so it's best to taste the pods from the tree before you collect too many. I will heed that advice next time. I am going to mix this in with regular flour in a recipe and see how that tastes. I hope I can make it work, it would be a shame to not be able to use all the free flour available around here. I will wait until I use the flour in a recipe before making a final assessment. Plenty of people seem to like mesquite flour, so I am crossing my fingers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Solar Yogurt?

Yesterday was yogurt making day, something I do about three times a month. Usually I use the "heating pad method" where you heat up your half gallon of milk in a double boiler to 185 degrees, then cool it to 110 and then add and stir in your yogurt starter (usually just about a quarter cup of yogurt from the last batch I had made). After that you cover it with a clean dish towel and let it sit on a heating pad set to medium for 7 hours. However this is what I saw on the thermometer in the shady comfort of our back porch:

Yes, that reads 115. I decided to try using the cement on the back porch as my heating pad from 2pm to 9pm. I was a little worried that the temperature might get too hot or not hot enough, but at 9, it was time to take the towel off, and it worked perfectly. Solar Yogurt? It's a go! I was very pleased and will be doing it this way until about October. Next, I'd like to heat up the milk in the solar oven, which will be a little bit trickier...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

First day at the Farmer's Market

You can kind of see my egg sign

Thanks to the Phoenix Permaculture Guild I got to help man the booth and sell a couple dozen of my (chickens') eggs at the downtown Phoenix Farmer's Market today. You would be surprised how many people show up despite the 105-110 degree weather. It's not too bad if you're in the shade. A whole lot of fun, and very rewarding. I think that officially makes the chicken feed and supplies tax deductable now. :)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The front yard garden

I am taking some major steps forward to utilize the front yard as a growing space. We have decided that while the backyard garden has the standard fruit trees and garden plants, the front yard will be entirely native (with the exception of the palms that are already there). I am getting several varieties of seed from a fantastic non-profit in AZ called Native Seed Search. They include varieties of Amaranth (for grain and greens), Black-eyed peas, lima beans, chiles, corn, tepary beans, peas, greens, sorghum, squash, gourds, melons, herbs and even cotton. I am hoping by planting all of these in the front yard where passers-by will see them, I will have a chance to help educate others about them (I'll of course be doing a lot of self-educating first). It also seems like a prudent step to take in case we do get water shortages, these varieties will be easier to sustain in our very hot, very dry climate.

In other news, the incubator got here today! Now I've just got to figure out what to hatch first.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Vinegar update

YUCK! A total bust. :) It was developing the pinkish slime that I was told it should have (I guess this is the 'mother'?) On top of that was green fuzzy mold, I am sure that's not a desired part of vinegar making. I tried to just take off the top layer of slime with the mold on top of it, of course some mold got into the vinegar... I thought maybe if I heated it up it would kill the mold spores? I heated it up, it stank like moldy watery apples. I put it into some bottles while I thought about what to do. The bottles looked and smelled like they were full of pee so I just threw them out and chalked it up to a learning experience. I think I'll do a little more reading up before my next attempt. If anyone has some tips about this I'm all ears.

Friday, June 6, 2008

My Genesis 1588, new equipment!!

The Genesis 1588!
I am pleased to announce that I am the proud new owner of a Genesis 1588 Incubator, with forced air and automatic egg turners! I will be outside every afternoon next week anxiously awaiting the UPS man to come deliver it. I'm so excited I can't even sleep at night, just thinking about all the things I can hatch. A neighbor may be getting quail, so that could be a good first go at it (I got the quail and other small egg attachment for the egg turner too). I plan on hatching myself some khaki campbell ducks later on in the year, hopefully I can just buy some fertilized duck eggs from the egg man at the farmer's market. There is the obvious issue of inevitable roosters when I begin to hatch some chicken eggs, this hasn't been completely resolved yet (If you are anywhere near Phoenix and want to be put on the list to get free rare-breed roosters, send me a message).

In other news, I picked the last of the peaches this morning, I got one ounce shy of 10 pounds off one tree that's about 3 years old. Hopefully the other two will begin fruiting next year. Since I am the only person here that eats peaches, that means that I will have eaten 10 pounds of peaches in three weeks... wow.