Hello blog world! Please excuse my ridiculously long absence. In addition to spending most of our free time working on, but never completely finishing, our house (9 years in...), and establishing the garden and landscaping, I went back to work part time ...

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"Free Range Living" - 5 new articles

  1. The End of the Road
  2. The Beginner's Guide To Beekeeping: Review
  3. Nommy Cottage Cheese Muffins
  4. July
  5. June Update
  6. More Recent Articles

The End of the Road

Hello blog world!

Please excuse my ridiculously long absence. In addition to spending most of our free time working on, but never completely finishing, our house (9 years in...), and establishing the garden and landscaping, I went back to work part time when my teenagers decided to give high school a shot (!!), each of them starting when they hit grade 10. They have both since graduated, and my daughter, after an extended gap year and several amazing travel adventures, has just started art school. My son is taking his newly acquired freedom to work full time on his music.

Lots of big changes for our family, but all of them have been hugely beneficial. I hope to catch you up on all of that very soon!

That brings me to my next bit of news - I've started a new blog! This one has served me well, but I've decided to take things in a slightly different direction. I had originally intended this one to be about our homeschooling adventures (hence the title), but it morphed fairly quickly into a place where I shared my own passions, outside of home learning (I did blog about that part of our lives over at Free Range Learning, occasionally). Because of that, I never really felt that the title reflected what the blog content actually centered around.

My new space will still cover gardening, cooking, and sustainability, but with a bit of a twist. I recently discovered the work of Charles Dowding, a pioneer of the "no dig" movement, and spent the winter of 2015 devouring his books and videos. Fully convinced, we shelled out for a load of compost the following spring (something we'd been too cheap to pay for until then), and covered the garden beds with 2 - 3 inches of dark, crumbly goodness. Not only was this less work than turning each bed, but we have far fewer weeds, and everything seems to be growing like never before. We did the same thing the following year, and are still blown away by the benefits. 

My first cauliflower success!

Can barely keep up with this productive strawberry variety!

My favourite "Wild Garden" lettuce mix.

Garlic surplus.

The newest addition to the garden - 2016.

Our family's diet has gotten more plant based over the years (newly acquired lactose intolerance played a part in that, among other things), and our approach to homesteading has changed accordingly (therein lies the twist). While we still have a few aging hens scratching their way around the property, we no longer aspire to home based meat or dairy production. This has the added benefit of freeing up our limited space, making it easier to grow even more of what we eat.

I guess I'll leave it at that. Please take a moment to check out my new space. One of the things I miss most about blogging is the ongoing dialogue with my online friends; I would love to reconnect! You will find me from now on at Eat What You Sow

Hope to see you there!

Cheryl
    

The Beginner's Guide To Beekeeping: Review

I was given the opportunity to take a look at The Beginner's Guide to Beekeeping early in the summer, and being a beginner beekeeper myself, the timing couldn't have been more perfect. The book is written by Samantha and Daniel Johnson, a brother/sister duo who have also written books about raising rabbits, as well as horses.


I've read several books on the topic, (even reviewed a few), and I found this one to be very visually appealing, with many beautiful and informative photos throughout. As someone who has to see things to properly understand them, this is a style that really appeals to me. I found it to be quite similar in style to another favourite beekeeping manual, The Backyard Beekeeper.

The Beginner's Guide to Beekeeping covers everything that one needs to know to get started, from an introduction to bees, equipment (including how to build your own hive), potential problems, maintenance, harvesting, and what to do with your honey and wax, once you have it (various products, marketing and sales, even recipes). There's even a section on how to photograph your honey and products, as well as tips for gardening to provide a variety of flowers, and a continuous supply of blooms.

One problem that I had with the book (and it's a fairly small one), was that it didn't speak to a wide variety of equipment, including a few things that I happen to be using and was needing advice on (frame feeders, for example). The book is also somewhat conventional, so if you're looking for tips on more natural/organic beekeeping, you will have to look elsewhere. 

That being said, this book is intended as a guide for beginners, and it fits that bill nicely. No one book can give you the knowledge that years of experience can, (or that of a trusted beekeeping mentor), but this one certainly covers most of the things that you'll need to get started. I would recommend it to anyone looking to get into one of the most satisfying (and delicious) of hobbies.




    

Nommy Cottage Cheese Muffins

Solly's is a bakery/deli that we used to frequent when we lived in Vancouver (I still pop in whenever I get the chance). They make unbelievably delicious bagels and knishes, and the chocolate babka loaf is to. die. for. 

One of our favourite Solly's specialties is also one of the simplest. Their cottage cheese muffins are light, hearty, and so satisfying; I suspect that's why they're often sold out by the time I get there. Whenever I've been forced to come home empty handed, I would try to soothe my disappointment by searching the internet for a similar recipe. Sadly, none of them seemed quite right, and were either low-carb (flourless) lumps, or were filled with unwanted embellishments.

I continued to do my research (meaning I consumed many, many muffins; such a hardship), did some tinkering, and after several years and many failed attempts, I think I've got it!!


The muffins are packed with protein, thanks to the eggs and cheeses, so they're a great way to start the day, and are the perfect snack food for hungry teens. Whenever I make them, my kids eat at least two in a sitting, and one of my son's friends polished off four in one go.


Several of the other versions called for sour cream as the liquid, but I've gone with buttermilk here. I think it helps keep them airy, and also brings the fat content down somewhat (I'm not a fan of low fat cooking, but why go overboard the other way if you don't have to?).


Cottage Cheese Muffins:

1/2  cup butter, melted
1     cup cottage cheese
1/2  cup buttermilk
3     large eggs, beaten
1     cup grated cheddar (I prefer old)
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4  finely ground cornmeal
1/2  teaspoon salt
3     tablespoons sugar
1     tablespoon baking powder
1/2  teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12 cup muffin pan (including the top).

Melt butter, and set aside to cool slightly. Combine next four ingredients in large mixing bowl. Stir in butter.

Sift dry ingredients together in a small bowl, then add to cheese/egg mixture. Stir just until combined (the batter will be quite thick). Distribute evenly between 12 standard muffin cups.

Bake until golden, 25 - 30 minutes.


Let the muffins sit in the pan for about 3 minutes (the steam will help them release from the pan).


I find these taste best when they're warm, not smoking hot from the oven, so let them cool for several minutes before serving. They can be warmed slightly in the oven (or microwave) the next day to freshen them up.


The resulting muffins are light and buttery, with just a hint of cornmeal crunch and sweetness. That said, they're definitely savoury, and would be perfect alongside a bowl of soup (though they're special enough to eat all on their own, which is what we usually do).


If you've had the Solly's version, I'd love to hear what you think. Whether they're an exact replica or not, these are definitely worth baking.


I hope you'll give them a try!



    

July

Okay, so another whole month without a post. I really suck at this. Here are some photos of July's happenings:

 I spotted these humongous mushrooms growing in the trees a few feet from my deck at the beginning of the month. After doing some research and talking to a knowledgeable friend, we figured out that they were King Boletes (related to porcinis), and are considered to be one of the best tasting mushrooms out there. Sadly, by the time we figured that out, they were already being devoured by insects. 

I left them to deposit their spores where they were, so hopefully there will be a repeat performance. 

 Miss Shadow seems to have gone wild with the warmer weather, and only returns home at night for cuddles and treats.

I found this bizarre, shell-less egg under one of my Ameraucanas a few weeks ago. Thankfully, they seem to have gone back to normal.


Speaking of hens, one of ours has started getting up extra early and crowing while the rooster is still asleep. (No, I'm not crazy, and yes, I'm sure she's a she). My daughter and I both woke up to the strange crowing several mornings in a row, and then I finally caught her doing it. The funny thing is, Dolly (a Delaware) was very obviously the head honcho before our rooster matured, and now it seems she's tired of playing second fiddle and is gunning for his position.


This shed is our latest building project. Its main purpose is extra storage, but I'm thinking it'll make a really nice goat shed when the time comes (wink, wink).

 We've been spending lots of time a the beach with, you guessed it, friends (photo credit to my daughter).

 
 We tried paddle boarding for the first time recently. I would show you a photo of me, but they're all blurry (probably because my husband was shaking with laughter at my attempts to stay upright).


Most of the bedding plants that I started from seed are doing well (although the heliotrope didn't work, for some reason). Will definitely do this again next year - so much cheaper!

Our kids have been asking for a swing for ages, and we finally found the perfect spot.

It's hidden among the trees in the most peaceful of settings...

...with a view of the house and property that makes it perfect for spying.

I was thrilled to harvest an armload of garlic yesterday from last fall's plantingAll that chicken manure and compost must have done something to improve our soil, because they're considerably larger than our first attempt.

It's a good thing the garlic has done well; the weather has been so cold and wet that everything else has suffered greatly this year. I've had multiple plantings of basil, lettuce, beans, and squash eaten to the ground by the gangs of slugs that have taken over the garden (it's downright biblical). My potato plants are withering before they've even flowered, and my tomatoes are showing signs of blight. It's hard to watch all that hard work amount to nothing.

If you've got any slug assassination tips for me, I'd love to hear 'em!

    

June Update

It's been a long, wet month, but things have actually progressed quite well in the garden, despite the lack of sunshine. The good thing about the cool spring is that the new additions to the orchard have had a chance to get established before the heat of summer sets in (see, I haven't let the rain totally kill my optimism!). 


One of my biggest successes so far this year has been saving my Gala apple tree. Remember how I decided to screw its broken limb back on, rather than cutting it off? Well, I'm very happy to report that it worked! Here it is now, flush with new growth!


This is a photo of the veggie garden from a week or so ago. The asparagus bed is on the left, then potatoes, garlic (with a few of last year's leeks in the foreground), and the tomato tunnel on the right. The tomatoes have since been uncovered as they were getting too tall and were pushing against the plastic.


Under the row cover are my peppers and eggplant, which just couldn't wait to be set out into the garden. I see I've got a few mini-peppers out there, so they seem to be dealing with the lower temperatures just fine. The three sisters bed in the foreground is looking slug chewed and sad. In fact, the little buggers ate both of my cucumber plants right to the ground, so I've had to go buy replacements. The squash has bounced back a bit after a couple of days of sun, though, and some are even getting ready to flower.


The lettuce is doing relatively well...


...as are the peas.


We've got an abundance of gooseberries (though the chickens love to jump and snatch them off the  bushes, so we'll see what we end up with).


The apple tree that was given to us by a friend not only survived transplanting, but is fruiting in earnest.


Strawberries and rhubarb - yum, yum!

Here are a few shots from around the rest of the yard:










Ruby's favourite place to nap - on the deck in one of my refurbished wicker chairs.


Lucky likes to keep me company while I weed (they're one thing that seem to relish this weather!).

Fingers crossed that the sun will make an appearance this long weekend. Happy Canada Day!

    

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