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I’m a fan of America’s Test Kitchen and have been a subscriber to Cooks Illustrated since the late 1990’s. Over the years, when I’ve had an abundance of one ripe fruit or another, I’ve tried out a variety of their ice cream recipes. A very long time ago, I had an uncle send me a small pint sized ice cream maker where you froze the special bowl and then hand cranked it for 5-10 minutes. It was fun to experiment with it. Then a few years ago, I broke down an ordered a Cuisinart ice cream maker, which was really just a larger electric version of the same system, for less than $100.

But as I get older, and can afford fewer and fewer calories and have more dramatic reactions to large amounts of sugar, I’ve done that less and less. Not to mention most recipes require you to make a custard with eggs and cream, being careful not to overcook and scramble them, and then chill well before churning. Seriously. I don’t have that kind of time or patience most days, no matter how delightful the results.

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Buckwheat, unrelated to wheat (it’s in the smartweed/knotweed family) is called a pseudo-grain, because its not actually a grass (unlike corn, wheat, rye, barley, oats…). It’s strange almost pyramid shaped seed is most commonly used in Soba, a Japanese buckwheat noodle, and as an additive to pancakes. I have a love/hate relationship with this grain. I love it in baked goods, hate it in noodles, and think its unappealing as a “groat” or boiled whole grain cereal.

But buckwheat is grown locally by Joel’s Organics, and in a fit of “support local” I bought a bag some time back. Because buckwheat contains no gluten, its a good fit for gluten free baking. But because it contains no gluten, its also tricky to use in baked goods that need gluten to hold them together. (Soba noodles, by the way, always also contain wheat flour – so they are not a gluten free noodle).

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Subtitle: So you want to build a greenhouse. Here’s what you need to know.

I built my first greenhouse in the mid 2000’s when we were living outside Durango Colorado. It was a DIY design based on using a wood frame, PVC pipe for the arches, and plastic sheeting to cover. It probably cost me less than $200 with new materials. I had wanted a greenhouse for almost 20 years at that point, but could not afford to buy a kit. When we got it up, it was early spring in Durango, an area that is almost 7,000 feet in elevation, and has a last frost date in early June! I had tomato seedlings started in my sunny laundry room, and was SO excited to now have a greenhouse I could transfer them to.

I lovingly put them all into the sunny warm greenhouse. The next morning, everything had frozen solid and all of my seedlings were very very dead.

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This is our system, from the app on my phone, at 10:32 in the morning on April 6, 2021. A sunny spring day. That dark you see on the right side is from the shade of a silver maple tree on that corner, which we do not want to remove, as it provides critical shade for our animals in the summer. By midday, the angle of the sun has changed enough that its no longer an issue.

Way back when I was about 20, I attended a few “alternative” building and energy lectures while I was at San Jose State. I probably still have a brochure on “rammed earth” building somewhere (and still have a deep interest in earthship building techniques (we’ve visited the ones in Taos New Mexico twice). But every time I looked at the price, there was just no way I could afford to go “off grid”.

With the advent of net metering, where the consumer installs a power generating system that is hooked into the electric grid, things started to seem more realistic. You don’t have to install a system that meets all of your needs all of the time, including banks of batteries. Instead, your system feeds back into the existing electrical grid. When you generate power, you get paid by your power company for that electricity, and if you are producing more than you need, someone else can use it. If your system doesn’t meet all of your needs, you’re not left hanging with no power.

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So, in 2019, I decided to put on my big girl panties and hire actual part-time help in the fall. You know, not paying someone “under the table in cash” but actually run payroll. Our business is small, and our gross revenues are under $50,000, but there’s only so much of me to go around. I’ve also reached a point where I can’t increase that gross revenue unless I have more help to grow and make more product.

Because I’m a control freak and like to understand my business from the ground up, I decided that to start, I’d do the paperwork around officially hiring an employee myself. I wanted to understand what percentage of money was going out in addition to what was going to the employee’s hourly wage, and where it was going as well. And because I only wanted to hire someone for about 10 hours a week it seemed ridiculous to hire a bookkeeper for what amounted to about $550 a month in payroll.

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Pregnant ewes from a few years ago.

One of the reasons we raise American Blackbelly (ABB) sheep is because they are so easy during lambing season. They tend to give birth during the day, and rarely need assistance. We’ve lost one ewe to a very large baby she was too small to birth, and helped pull one lamb last year, that didn’t need much help other than a tug (we only intervened because the baby had been partially out for about 30 minutes). And that’s in all the births we’ve had starting in 2013. Probably several hundred lambs in going on 9 years.

We do, occasionally, end up with a bottle baby. It’s often to lambs born early in the season, when its still cold. I always think mama looks around and thinks, “There’s no grass. I can’t feed two of these.” I don’t think we’ve ever had a ewe outright reject a lamb when they only had a single baby in 9 years. And we do always wonder if mama doesn’t know something we don’t, in terms of the long term health of the lamb, when she rejects one of them.

One of this year’s bottle babies.

When this first happened, I scrambled to learn how to feed these little guys. Stories abounded of people keeping lambs in the house in dog crates and feeding ever 3 hours in the middle of the night. The lamb is completely imprinted on humans and the human is exhausted with the feeding schedule. But these were standard Suffolk or Dorper lambs. The ones people often say are just “trying” to die for the first few weeks. Blackbellys are stronger than that. They have been bred to survive, not “saved by human intervention” for hundreds of generations.

So I came up with my own system specific to bottle feed to this breed. And I’ve just realized I’ve never really written about it. It’s time to remedy that.

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Image by silviarita from Pixabay

So, not surprisingly, coming out of 9 months of covid lockdown in 2020, where I decided I needed comfort, and that meant baking ALL OF THE THINGS, including sourdough bread in the spring and cakes and cookies for the holidays, my weight has ballooned to almost 140 lbs. Menopause and a drastically slowed metabolism didn’t help. More important than the increased weight, I felt like garbage. (My ideal weight is somewhere between 115 and 125 lbs). I’ll write more on this particular weight loss journey in a future post (I’m down to the 133-134 range in about 4 weeks. I’ve got a ways to go, but what I’m doing IS working).

As part of this weight loss journey, I belong to a Whole30 group on Facebook, mostly for recipe inspiration. (You can read about my Whole30 experience here.) And I’m regularly astounded at how many people don’t know how to make a simple salad dressing. Endless pictures of bottled salad dressing labels with questions of “Is this compliant?”, along with complaints that the Whole30 compliant brands (Primal Kitchen and Tessemae’s) just aren’t all that tasty, leave me shaking my head. Vinegar, oil, herbs and spices, perhaps a bit of mustard. Its actually quite simple to make a salad dressing.

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As we welcome the new year, and plan for the new gardening season, its time to get back to my series on garden plant families. If you look back through the posts, you’ll find we’ve already covered the mints, the brassicas, the nightshades and the alliums (the series is also listed under “gardening” on the DIY Homesteading tab above).

The Apiaceae (which translates to celery family), or in old school terminology, the Umbelliferae (named for the shape of the seed head in this family, which resembles an umbrella), includes carrots, celery, celeriac, parsnips, and many of our commonly used herbs, including parsley, cilantro/coriander, dill, cumin, anise, fennel, caraway, chervil and lovage. Which is a good indication that the plants in this family are often aromatic. This family also includes the famous deadly poisonous hemlock and water hemlock, so this is one you want to be 100% sure of your identification on if you are out foraging.

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In July 2019, I wrote a blog post titled “Myths of the Gardening World“. In my head, I titled it “Gardening Myths I wish would die”, lol. And almost as soon as it was done, I thought of a few more that I had missed. These are myths I used to believe myself, until I did more research. So here, for your December dreaming of spring enjoyment, are a few additional gardening myths that need to be debunked.

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You’ve probably heard the statistics or seen the memes. Something on the order of 40% of all food grown in the United States is wasted either before it reaches grocery shelves, or (mostly) after it is purchased. And stories early in the pandemic of farmers dumping milk or slaughtering animals that could not be processed, because the “get big and get out” global food system was an epic failure during a pandemic was enough to turn your stomach. Tight margins and a lack of the right infrastructure and storage when the school and restaurant sales suddenly dried up meant that a huge amount of food was wasted. The cracks in our national food system were exposed. Meanwhile, even before Covid-19, 1 in 7 people in this country are food insecure.

National Resources Defense Council Infographic
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Jennifer Kleffner

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