Quick Win

Weekends have been spent doing and redoing the conduit and electrical line in our trench. Last weekend in a frozen trench. There is a whole tale of woe to tell but I’ll spare you to give you a little upbeat tidbit instead. Besides the inspector will have the last word on that one.

I came back tired and nearly thawed, eager to have some bacon, eggs, fresh baked bread and espresso. Our machine is no great shakes and has been coming apart for a while, with a big crack forming in the plastic handle. I’ve been eyeing this and thinking about ways to fix it. Maybe filling it with epoxy? It looked like there was a little bolt holding the metal portafilter to the handle deep inside the hollow handle. Could I make something and drill a long enough hole to attach the metal part? Maybe step down a hole to get a small socket in there?

So when it did finally come apart in L’s hands I had a game plan, but there was a sense of urgency. Morning coffee depended on it!

I found a doug fir 2×3 scrap in the garage and cut it to size. Then I drilled a hole all the way through it freehand and began drilling the shape of the metal part into the end. Chisels came out to finish the job, drill again, chisel. Then I dropped the bolt in and presto a handle that was functional. I thought about stopping there. I wanted to stop there. It seemed funny to bring back my 2×3 rough framing job and call it good. But I couldn’t.

I went in search of a knife… only finding an ancient fish filet knife and began to whittle and carve at it. Dry doug fir chips and splits more than taking a clean shaving so I switched to a coarse rasp.

In two hours I was done. I did it once. It went to plan. It is stronger and more attractive than the original. I’ll varnish it tonight to make it fully kitchen ready.
Gosh I needed a quick win.




Posted in Homesteading | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Sow Belly Bacon

The woman we get our Tamworth pork from kindly gave us a tour of her farm and pig operation earlier this year.  As an added bonus she sent us home with pork belly, a roast and a loads of lard from her freezer. The pork was from one her sows she culled after it started to get ornery. I think because we always ask for the offal, trotters, leaf lard and any of those other unwanted parts from other customers orders – coupled with the fact she knows we like to fiddle around with charcuterie - she thought we would enjoy experimenting with sow meat.

I found very little online or in the many meat and charcuterie books we have on our shelf about cooking or curing sow meat specifically, but had read on Sugar Mountain’s blog that meat from sows pastured and not fed conventional feed is considered to be very good. The meat is more flavorful as it has had longer than six months to develop. Apparently sow bellies are prized by chefs. Who knew? Yay for us!  Not surprisingly, sows raised in Big Ag operations are quite fatty, not very edible and typically get ground in their entirety for sausage.

I slow cooked one of the roasts in the crock pot as added insurance because I was afraid it would be tough and chewy if I roasted it.  That was before I read Sugar Mountain’s post. I finished it under the broiler to crispy up the fat layer on top. It was delicious.  It took me awhile to get around to dealing with the sow bellies (crazy busy summer/fall), but I suppose the saying is true in this case - good things come to those who wait.

these bellies are beautiful! At least 3 - 4 inches thick.

Aren’t those bellies beautiful?

It turned out to be sixteen pounds of pork belly!  I divided them into six manageable portions and followed Ruhlman’s bacon curing recommendations from his book Charcuterie.  I made three packages of sweet using his basic pork cure and adding in organic dark cane sugar, and three packages of savory – each bag a slight variation: basic cure plus one with cracked pepper, one with bay leaves and cracked pepper, and one with several cloves of fresh smashed garlic, bay leaves and cracked pepper.

Getting ready to pop them into the fridge for the cure

After about two weeks of flipping the bags every other day the bellies were ready for smoking. You know they are ready when the meat is firm to the touch. Regular pork belly takes only about a week to ten days but because these bellies were at least 4 inches thick they needed a little longer to cure completely. I sliced a couple of pieces to fry off to make sure they were ready. Too salty - soak in cold water for a day.  Not salty enough –  leave it for a couple more days of curing. Just right - pop those babies into the smoker and start planning breakfast!

M is the usually the Smoker King around here, but he had to head out to the farm to meet the well guy and tie up a few loose ends before our electrical inspection so I had to step up to the plate (pun intended).  He texted me his tips and tricks so between that, the Brinkman Smoker instruction booklet and Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book – I managed.


charcoal getting started in the chimney


I soaked the hickory chips in water overnight

I put the sweet portions on the top rack and the savory ones on the bottom rack. A little sweet drippings on the savories sounded better than the savory drippings on the sweets. The book said about 1 1/2 – 2 hours or when the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees. Again, since these were a lot thicker than your typical belly, it took 3 hours. About mid-way through I tossed in more charcoal and chips.

The before shots:


and the after shots:



Looks pretty good…

Poor M – he’s out at the farm all by himself and although it isn’t raining (for once!) the temps have been way down in the teens.  That’s pretty cold for us cool temperate types. He’s freezing his fingers and toes off while I’m here at home playing Domestic Goddess. The woodstove has been burning non-stop, the bacon’s been smoking,  a loaf of bread baking in the oven and kombucha fermenting away.  I texted him that if he can make it home sometime tonight there will be a lovely breakfast in bed for him tomorrow morning.  Freshly laid eggs, homemade toasted bread and what will hopefully be some of the best bacon we’ve ever tasted!


M did make it home last night and enjoyed his breakfast this morning. We scarfed the bacon down before I had a chance to take a photo though. M offered to choke down another plate full if I wanted to cook one up, but for the sake of his arteries I passed.

As to how sow belly compares to regular pork belly – the meat has more depth of flavor for sure. It tastes, well, meatier.  It’s richer – I almost want to say “more sophisiticated” but that sounds a little weird. (The saying “you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear” is running through my head!) I can see why they are prized by chefs. They have a unique flavor that is not to be missed.

But be careful – it’s a slippery slope. You start out loving store-bought bacon because that’s all you know. Then you raise your awareness and start seeking out pastured pork that eats a wide variety of forages and any feed it is given is the good stuff – not gmo, pesticide-laced, mono-cropped crap corn. Now you’re hooked. You can’t believe how good it is and that you’ve wasted all those years on Hormel. You try different breeds and each one is better than the one before. It’s like your taste buds have grown up. Your palate is now more developed. But then a friend offers you a sample of sow belly bacon, and now you’ve entered into a whole new world of porky goodness.

One other observation on the sow belly – there’s more fat, but most of that renders out into the pan. I confess there’s a part of me that always hesitates when tossing the rendered fat out.  Having a father from Alabama and a step-father from Kentucky – the bacon fat always went into a coffee can and was kept in the fridge. We fried potatoes, eggs, cooked green beans, etc… using that fat and although fat from pastured pork is a whole helluva lot better for you than factory farmed pork fat – I have to force myself to draw a line there. and when I say force – I mean it.

The sow bacon definitely sealed the deal on our justification for getting a decent meat slicer. Slicing it thin is hard with just a knife. I’m not saying it’s chewier in a bad way – but it would be even better if we could slice it thinner, especially because of the thickness of the bellies – 4 inches wide is a pretty stout piece of bacon!

The bay leaf and black pepper is a delicious combination. If you aren’t growing your own bay – stop reading right this second and get one immediately! They grow well in pots for a few years if you don’t have space in your garden. The flavor of fresh bay leaf is a whole different experience than what you get dried up in a jar at the grocery store. I use fresh bay leaf in a lot more of my cooking now – the flavor is incredible and the aromatics are out of this world.

The garlic, bay and black pepper – AMAZING!!! Not particularly my first choice for breakfast though unless you are frying it up with potatoes and onions, but it will be great when you need to add a little pork flavor to other dishes.

The brown sugar is still my favorite – perfect for breakfast. The caramelized sugar and the crispy fat are a match made in heaven. Excuse me while I swoon…

Posted in Charcuterie, Homesteading | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

How High’s the Water Mama?

We have water at the barn…


Just not pumping from the well. The section of trench between the curtain drain and the barn was filled up again. We were hoping it would have drained out by now but thought it must be due to the heavy rains this past week. M hooked up a little pump to the truck and tried to pump out the water so we could install the 90 feet of electrical conduit without his muck boots filling up with water.


It was taking forever so M took the pump apart and found a piece of plastic was plugging it up. By the time he got it put back together and it was pumping properly, the sunshine we had been enjoying left and the rain was back. We ended up installing conduit in the drippy wetness anyway.


The next day, the trench was filled again (see first picture). Now it didn’t rain that much overnight, so I guess we can rule out a root cellar when we build the house.  Good thing we decided to add more gravel to build the barn foundation up higher and spent the extra time and money to put in the curtain drain around the perimeter of our zone 1.

Once the conduit was in place, we ran the wires through. The gray cable is the wire we are running 600 ft up the hill to power the well pump. The two black wires are being run out to the curtain drain (about 90 ft) to the spot where we will build a pump house for our future micro hydro system. The orange wire is for power to the future greenhouse which will be built attached to the south side shed of the barn (10 ft).


thisis the end of the 90 ft of conduit - the well pump wire continues on up the hill to the well. Where I'm standing to take this pic is where the curtain drain is and the future micro hydro pump house. the black pipe with the yellow poofs coming out of it is a 30 ft section of perforated pvc pipe that the water line runs through as it crosses the curtain drain. M filled the pvc pipe with spray foam through the perforated holes and created an inexpensive insulated pipe to keep the water from freezing as this section it is laying on gravel and susceptible to freeze. Better than paying $80 for special insulated pipe sleeve!

This is the end of the 90 ft of conduit that runs from the barn - the well pump wire continues on up the hill to the well. Where I’m standing to take this pic is where the curtain drain is and the future micro hydro pump house. The black pipe with the yellow poofs coming out of it is a 30 ft section of perforated pvc pipe that the water line runs through as it crosses the curtain drain. M filled the pvc pipe with spray foam through the perforated holes and created an inexpensive insulated pipe to keep the water from freezing as this section is laying on gravel and susceptible to freezing. Better than paying $80 for special insulated pipe sleeve! Our awesome friends S & J shared that tip.

While M was fiddling with the pump I took advantage of the sunshine and planted Black Locust trees along what will be the perimeter of the chicken yard. They are spaced 10 ft apart and will, in about 8 years, become permanent fence posts.  I grew these from seed I started in late January. They are about 2 – 3 ft tall. The tarps are covering compost piles (remember all of the dairy cow manure we’ve been hauling?). We have them strategically placed all over zone 1.


We are headed back down today to replace some conduit connector parts that we discovered after the fact would not be up to code. Blerg. If that goes well, then the pump will get installed next week and hooked up to the tanks in the barn.

I’ll be glad to get this project off of our plates. I have a bacon post to tend to.

Posted in Construction, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Tree Care, Uncategorized, Water Management | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

How’s the Weather?

Forecast for the weekend when I started to put the plans into motion called for heavy rain on Friday, light rain Saturday until about 11:00 am and then clear through to the end of Sunday. Perfect!

I can get the rest of the well project supplies rescheduled for delivery and get a dump truck load of hogged fuel delivered on Friday. M can ride down after work on his motorcycle so we can get up early Saturday morning and get the hand digging done at the barn while it is raining. The electrical conduit roughed in during the concrete floor pour when we built the barn has to be trenched from the barn out through the side shed and into the water line trench.  It will be nice and dry in the shed, so a great way to spend the rainy part of the weekend.

Once the rain clears up we can finish planting trees from last weekend, spread hogged fuel in mucky areas that we still need to cross with the truck for dumping cow manure, and then lay the 600 feet of electrical wire and HDPE water pipe in the trench. Then we will be ready for the well guy to install the pump and hook up the pressurized water tanks next week. Yay!

I spent Thursday getting everything packed and prepped. Friday morning I get a call from the plumbing supply delivery guy who is eager to make up for the missed delivery last week. He’s ready to deliver this morning but I tell him I won’t be there until noon – I have several stops to make along the way. OK – no problem, he will make sure he doesn’t show up before noon. I get there at 12:04 pm. He gets there at 2:30 pm. Guess I should have been more specific.

He pulls the delivery truck up to the barn and asks where I want the stuff. I’m eyeballing what’s on the truck and it seems there is something amiss. I see a bunch of 20 foot pvc pipe (which we ordered) and a large genie bottle shaped plastic container. Surely that can’t be a pressurized water tank – besides, I ordered two 80 gallon stainless steel tanks. I ask “what’s that?” pointing to the genie bottle. He tells me it is a 300 gallon water tank. I look at him completely puzzled and say “but I thought I ordered two 80 gallon pressurized tanks?” His face falls on the floor (well, actually the driveway) - “Oh my God! I can’t believe I forgot the tanks!”  Keep in mind it is Friday, 230 pm, they are 45 minutes away, 200 pm is their last delivery slot and they are not open on the weekends. He offers to deliver the tanks anytime next week that I need. The genie bottle is for someone else.

Hmmm…. Somehow I keep my cool (not sure how as I am yet again sleep-deprived and this is getting to the point of ridiculous). “Well, in a perfect world, once my well guy gives me a firm install date for next week I would like you to deliver the tanks the day before that”. No problem – he just needs a heads up a few days in advance. He’s super sorry and genuinely feels bad, so it is hard to get mad – especially because Magpie absolutely adores him and he’s playing with her the way she likes to play – jumping and running, with just a touch of love biting.

A little while later the hogged fuel gets delivered and I get started on spreading it.

12 yards

12 yards

M doesn’t end up getting down to the farm until 930 pm despite leaving the office at 500 pm as traffic was completely backed up. It was raining hard and he was pretty soaked upon arrival, but Magpie and I have warmed the bed up for him.


Saturday morning starts out a little rainy but there are blue skies out there. The hand digging in the barn shed goes pretty well even though digging through several inches of gravel and then hard, compacted clay is no day in the park. We take turns digging and holding the light.


The electrical conduit coming out of the barn into the 10 foot wide shed.

At about 11:00 am I comment to M that the sun should be ours for the rest of the day according to the last forecast I read. Five minutes later as we are ready to get back to tree planting, the heavens open up and it pours. And it just keeps pouring. Then the winds start up. I could barely see to get the tractor back into the barn, but we did get the rest of the Empress trees in the ground and staked. Mulching them will have to wait as we need to spend Sunday getting the pipe and electrical wire laid in the trench. I was also able to finish spreading the hogged fuel but forgot to take a picture of the finished project.

The hogged fuel was spread all the way tot he straw and over to the tarped compost pile

The hogged fuel was spread all the way to the straw and over to the tarped compost pile

Laying in the HDPE pipe was not as difficult as I was anticipating. M strapped it to the well and then we rolled it out together.



The hard part was where we had to make the right turn and then connect the two 300 foot rolls together. The pipe was cold and therefore not very flexible so M brought out the propane torch we use for burning weeds on the road to soften it up enough to get the barbed brass connector in. It also proved difficult to keep the sticky clay mud out of the ends of the pipe, and obviously our clothes, gloves and boots.


M whipped up a couple of homemade “staples” using scrap wood and freecycled rebar to help keep the pipe in place until we can backfill the trench.


We got the pipe all the way to the barn –  which included trudging through the “canal”.  The section between the curtain drain and the barn filled up with water during this past week of non-stop rain and is not draining very fast since this is the area that was cleared, leveled and compacted when the barn was constructed last year. M’s boots fill up with mucky water. He makes squishy noises with every step for the rest of the day.


It is at this point we discover that the brass connector the plumbing supply place gave us to connect to the roughed in water line that goes into the barn is not the right one. Neither is the connector for the electrical conduit which means we can’t run the electrical wire.  After a brief moment (or two) of frustration, I point out that since we have to come back out to receive delivery of the forgotten tanks, we can have them also deliver the proper connectors and we can run the electrical wire then.  All is not lost… yet.

Despite the comedy of errors of late, I think we still have at least one more shot at getting the well project done before I give up and jump in the “canal”. I sent pictures of everything to the well guy. I know he ordered our pump – I’m just waiting to hear from him when they will be out so I can get all of my ducks lined up in a row for the next trip. Maybe they will like the canal.

Posted in Construction, Preparing the land, Water Management | 6 Comments

Why ‘voting with your dollar’ doesn’t work

La Femme Farmer:

I just came across this post and am reblogging it as it is very well thought out. On a daily basis I find “it ain’t easy being green”, but every little step we take in becoming more responsible for the world we live in will add up. We just can’t take one step and feel we’ve “done our part”. We have become complacent, and therefore complicit. Make informed choices and keep opening your eyes wider and wider.

Originally posted on honeythatsok:

The fall down the rabbit hole is a long one – and often very painful. Once you start to deconstruct reality around you, you tend to alienate a lot of people. They are perfectly adjusted and don’t need your philosophical musings, thank you very much.


Vote with your dollars is something you will hear well-meaning sustainability-leaning people say a lot. I used to. I still do, to an extent, but it took a long time to realize just how difficult that is.

The idea behind voting with your dollars is to put your money where your values lie. If you are against animal testing on cosmetics, you make sure to only buy cosmetics that are not tested on animals. Easy, right? Not so fast. Did you know that The Body Shop (the most famous worldwide company for natural and ethically produced beauty products) is owned by L’oreal? I didn’t, and…

View original 891 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Shedding a Little More Light

As mentioned in my last post, we had a couple of trees that needed to be taken down back home. One was poised to take out the chicken coop and the other – the house. It was time to call in the professionals.

The first tree to go was a cedar that was sharing a root ball with a Douglas fir. A few months ago we noticed a crack going up the trunk.  The crack kept getting bigger and although the cedar was leaning away from the house, the fear was that if the cedar fell it would lift the Douglas fir up by the root ball which would land on the house.

Leonard the tree guy roped up and climbed up to the top of the Douglas fir and then swung like a monkey over to the top of the cedar. He removed branches on his way down cutting and dropping 10 – 11 foot sections all the way to the bottom.


I took photos of his entire descent but you couldn’t see him. He is at least halfway down the cedar in this pic. I’m taking the pic from my front door.

We are hoping to make 10 foot fence posts from any parts of the cedar that are still in good shape.  The tree was rotten at the bottom and bug infested.  I can’t believe it didn’t drop in the meantime but am grateful it didn’t.  The Douglas fir seems to be unscathed by the whole event.



The second tree was a hemlock that was leaning over the chicken coop. High winds could knock it over and crush the coop. If the root ball came up, it would take out the wood shed.

Hemlock looming over the coop

For this tree, he removed all of the branches on the hemlock working his way up to the top.


He secured the large branches to a rope and pulley system and lowered them down to the ground since the hemlock was sandwiched between the chicken coop and the wood shed.


His assistants made a huge pile of branches in the yard and then he cut chunks of the trunk and pushed them off. For the most part they landed on the pile of branches – there are a few holes in the lawn from the misses.


The picture is blurry but if you look closely you can see a cut log mid-air.

As he worked his way down and the trunk got larger and therefore heavier, he couldn’t push the chunks towards the landing pad so he cut smaller sections and dropped them straight down. He only had a few feet between my garden bed and the coop to aim for and I’m glad to report there were no plants or coops harmed in the process. The assistants ran in after each drop to drag the log out of the way.


They were in and out of here in less than 4 hours. I wish I could say that the clean up left for me would only take that long but we will be chipping branches, bucking up logs, splitting firewood and milling posts for quite some time.



The chickens are also going to be limited in their foraging opportunities until we can clear the way for all of their fencing to go back up. I managed to get a section of the poultry net back up around a portion of the coop but the rest of fence will have to wait.

The added bonus with these two 90 foot trees removed from the thick canopy surrounding our house is that things might be looking a little bit brighter around here. It’s just hard to tell yet as it has been raining all day it is pretty dark and gloomy. Oh, and the chickens have a stump to hang out on.


Posted in Tree Care | 3 Comments

More of the Same…

Keep in mind this is a chronicle of the building our farm, so you get the good, the bad, the ugly and the not so interesting. Maybe we should change the name of the blog to “Diary of a Wannabe Farmer”.

Just getting down to the farm and getting all of our ducks lined up for the weekend took an entire day. M took the day off so we could get a jump start on the weekend. We picked up the tractor Friday morning. That entailed leaving the house at 715 am to catch a ferry to Seattle and then drive to Monroe where we bought the tractor. If we left any earlier, we would have just sat in rush hour traffic adding a couple of hours to our already impossibly long commute that day.

We arrived by 1000 am at the tractor dealer but the owner was at a trade show and no one could find our paperwork or keys. and oops – no one told them they were supposed to also do the 100 hour service. Eventually they found the keys. The problem we brought it in for turned out to be a bad detent lever. They replaced it and – thank goodness - it was covered by the warranty. We picked up extra filters and will just do the service ourselves. It was just a matter of convenience since they had the tractor for almost 2 weeks.

We got out to the farm just in the nick of time to receive our pre- scheduled 200 pm plumbing supply order for the well hook-up but they never showed up and didn’t bother to call. In the meantime we unloaded the truck, got the camp trailer set up and marked where the trees will be planted.  M called the plumbing supply around 330 pm and it turned out they had a delivery “emergency” [really? another "emergency"? Not really - it was more of a poor scheduling problem which I find out on Monday]. Oh, and thanks for the call guys.

M swung by the plumbing supply place for the HDPE pipe in case we’d have time to start laying it this weekend on his way to pick up the box scraper [again]. M specifically told them they needed to call me next week to reschedule delivery of the rest of the order and to definitely not try and deliver on Monday as no one would be there.  Guess who called me at 1230 pm Monday to say he was waiting at the gate with my order???

Saturday morning. A new day.

Since M was primarily going to be using the tractor over the weekend, I brought 9 Empress trees,  14 Black Locust trees and 24 comfrey plants thinking I could get them planted while he was trenching and leveling. He dug a few holes for me with the backhoe for the Empress trees but he needed to get going with the box scraper as we had to return it by 500 pm.


I took the Empress trees out of their pots and into feed sacks so I could lay them down flat in the bed of the truck. I later tucked in the Black Locusts and Comfrey.  They were all a little tattered upon arrival, but in pretty good shape given the route they travelled that day.

I only ended up getting four Empress trees planted as our good friend and resident curtain drain expert “S” stopped by with our electrical cable (they got us a screaming deal on it) and pointed out that we really should top off the drain rock with more fabric as the clay soil will filter down through the rocks we placed on top of the drain cloth filled with drain rock and could compact and create blockages. Thank goodness she saved our butts again – but ding dang it – now I had to run into town, buy more drain fabric, lay it out and secure it ASAP so M can get on with the leveling and backfilling before we have to stop to take off the box scraper, clean it up and drive it back to the rental place 45 minutes away.

It looks a little sad - but this Empress Tree should be pretty impressive next spring.

It looks a little sad – but this Empress Tree should be pretty impressive next spring.

Unfortunately there had been just a little too much rain this past week and it was a mucky mess. He did the best he could to level the site, but we will probably need to take another pass at it next summer when everything is completely dry.


We will also have to finish backfilling the curtain drain later as well. He placed enough dirt to secure the fabric, but there will be no planting of this area until next year. Hopefully a few hours of tractoring (yes – I’m pretty sure that’s not an actual word but I’m taking artistic license here) won’t make or break the soil.


M returned the box scraper and put the backhoe back on so he could finish trenching for the well line from the curtain drain to the barn. While he worked on that I seeded the site with 65 lbs of a soil building cover crop and 10 lbs of Daikon radish. Then we covered it all with straw. That clay soil can use all of the organic matter we can get our hands on.

In the meantime back at the “ranch”, I have to plenty to do getting ready for the tree service that is showing up first thing in the morning to take out a few large trees that are in precarious positions threating the chicken coop and the house.  I need to move the 200′ of electronet fencing from around the coop and set up a temporary place for the chickens on the other side of the house out of harms way. That on top of unpacking, doing laundry, cleaning the coop, etc….


Hemlock looming over the coop

Hemlock looming over the coop

This is right next to the house. A Douglas Fir and a Cedar sharing a root ball. The cedar (on the right) has split up the trunk. Even though it is leaning out towards the woods, the fear is that when it falls it will lift the Douglas Fir by the root ball and would definitely fall on the house.

A Douglas Fir and a Cedar sharing a root ball right next to the house. Actually my view from the office through one window is the hemlock over the coop and the other window is the doug fir/cedar.  The cedar (on the right) has split up the trunk. Even though it is leaning out towards the woods, the fear is that when it falls it will lift the Douglas Fir by the root ball which would definitely fall on the house.

close up (well as close as I can get with a phone camera) of the split cedar

close up (well as close as I can get with a phone camera) of the split cedar

Posted in Construction, Farm Machines, Forest Management, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Sustainability, Tree Care, Water Management | Tagged , , | 2 Comments