Damsel

Cutting wood has reached a whole new level with the purchase of this incredible log splitter. It is an expensive purchase, but a wise one for our farm. Right now, our sole source of heat in the farmhouse is wood – by choice. Cutting wood is a typical winter-time chore.

A Rough Start to the Woodcutting Season

Up until now, cutting wood has been quite an ordeal.

First of all, we didn’t have a good chainsaw. The saw that we’ve had was very slow cutting and difficult to handle. In addition, it was in repairs constantly. Winter is coming, however, and we need to cut wood. About three weeks ago, we cleared our work schedules with one purpose – to cut wood. We drove to the trees that we planned to cut, unloaded our equipment only to find out that our chainsaw refused to start. It worked two days prior, but, all of the sudden, it broke on the day we planned to cut some wood.

Second, we had a pretty lousy log splitter. We’ve been splitting logs by hand for years. We used a manual splitter that we purchased at a local hardware store. The splitter handle was made of steel with plastic cover. The plastic had cracked from the undue force. One day, the plastic broke and a small fragment flew into my husband’s leg like a bullet. He was in pain from the injury for several weeks. It happened last year. We could not continue using the same tool simply because it was unsafe.

With the broken chainsaw and cracked wood splitter, our woodcutting season had a pretty rough start. We knew, we needed to buy better equipment if we wanted to continue heating our farmhouse with wood. And we plan to continue heating our home using the wood burning stove. Shopping was in order.

Upgrading our Equipment

First, we bought a new chainsaw. It’s a 20″ Husqvarna. It’s the bigger and faster model. Although the saw is heavier that its 18″ counterpart, it is much easier to work with because of the cutting speed. Now, he takes a tree down and cuts it into pieces in a fraction of the time. And he is not aching from the extra effort and the uncomfortable handling of the inferior saw we had in the past. What an incredible difference this new chain saw has made!

We selected this dead tree for cutting.
The wedge was cut in 50 seconds.
The whole tree is cut in 1.5 minutes.

Next, we needed a new splitter. He went online researching a good quality hand splitter with good reviews. As he was searching, I said, “Look, we are going to heat our house with wood for as long as we live in the country. We like living in the country and plan to continue our homesteaders’ lifestyle. Why not buy a gas-powered log splitter?” He agreed and started looking for a heavy duty log splitter.

After a good amount of research, he found what he was looking for. And we made the big purchase. The 586 Lb parcel was delivered to our home. The Fedex used forklift and our neighbor helped to load the new purchase onto our truck. We assembled our new splitter the next day. We were so excited to start using it, but the package had a missing part and we had to wait for the manufacturer to send it to us in a separate shipment. The wait for the part was unbearably long. It was so hard to have the splitter and not be able to use it. The part finally arrived and he finished the assembly yesterday morning.

Cutting Wood at a Whole New Level

Splitting logs has become a completely different activity with this new splitter. Not only this is easy, but it’s much safer as well. You don’t have to rely on the aim of manual splitting. And you don’t have chunks of heavy logs flying in the air. This is an easy and gentle way to accomplish the job that we’ve been doing for years the hard way. We had split two pallets of wood in 1.5 hours with the help of our new splitter,

Our work area became a little messy simply because we couldn’t handle the excitement playing with our new toy.

We are ready to split a truck bed-full of logs.
According to the camera timer, the truck bed of wood had been cut in exactly 30 minutes.

This delicate piece of equipment exerts 27 tons of pressure onto a log splitting it like a matchstick. That’s the weight that a loaded quarry truck carries. Pictures below show how it does it.

This dainty construction makes me think of a Damsel fly. Having a propensity to name things, I gave our new splitter a very special name. From now on, she is known as Damsel.

This block of white ash is about 20″ in diameter.

Damsel in Action

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Stewed Green Tomatoes

My Remaining Tomatoes from the Garden

The summer garden has come to an end. My tomato garden has been harvested last week and replaced with winter plants. The green tomatoes had been hanging on the vines waiting to be harvested. The did not ripen because of the cooler temperatures.

Green tomatoes for canning

Two years ago, I made green tomato relish. We liked it better than cucumber relish on our burgers until I made my own cucumber relish recipe. We still have tomato and cucumber relish along with other marinaded and pickled (lactofermented) vegetables. That’s why, I decided to try making stewed green tomatoes.

Preparing the Tomatoes for Canning

The tomatoes were washed. I removed the blemishes. Some of the ripened red and purple (Black Cherry) tomatoes were mixed in. They add a nice colorful accent to the appearance not to the taste.

 

Packing the Jars

I cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters. The larger varieties were cut into similar size pieces. Skins and seeds are left intact. Next, I added a quarter teaspoon of pickling (non-iodized) salt in each pint jar.

I filled the jars with with the tomato pieces and pressed the tomatoes with my knuckles to squeeze the juice out until all tomatoes were covered in their own juice. No water is needed for this recipe.

Stewed green tomatoes

Keeping the appropriate head space, I closed the jars and canned them at five psi for ten minutes. The resulting stewed tomatoes have incredible flavor. They will be great in winter salads, salsas, soups, or on their own.

 

 

The Deer Season is Open

A Sudden Start of the Season

The deer season has started and we have opened our season with thee new deer. This is an unexpected a pleasant surprise for both of us. Weeks of preparation, which included a purchase of new deer rifles, the new sheepskin footwear with fur. New warm clothes, and a lot of work out (on my part) to regain strength and the ability to drag a heavy deer across the woods. No matter how much I try to prepare for a deer season, I never feel ready. It sneaks up on me and it goes away, and somehow miraculously we have a deep freezer full of meet for the year. May be some day, I will be perfectly ready for a hunt, because each year I feel that I come closer and closer to that point.

His and Hers Deer Rifles

A couple of months ago, we treated ourselves to new 243 caliber Weatherby riffles. It all started when my husband decided that he wanted me to have a deer rifle of my own. He had been searching for two weeks by the time I found out that he was on a shopping spree for just the right gun for me. And he found one, a ladies’ version of a 243 caliber rifle, Weatherby Camilla. This gun is unbelievable!

Until I received this rifle, I had thought that something was wrong with me. Rifles have such long stocks that when I prop the gun butt on my shoulder, I can never reach the trigger comfortably. Thick winter clothes make it even harder. In addition, the gun stock is always too low for me to look into the scope comfortably. The scope is always too far and the view is obstructed by the black ring of aberration on the periphery. I had struggled for years thinking that I didn’t know how to hold a gun correctly. (I was bewildered about it because I won many target shooting competitions as a teenager with AK-47.) A while ago, we shortened the stock of my 22 rifle by about an inch-and-a-quarter. And that changed everything! The gun became very comfortable. And I didn’t have to scuffle with the gun before each shoot.

Ladies’ Version of a Deer Rifle

May be that was the reason my husband started looking for a ladies’ gun for me. He did a research and learned that  women need a different gun design because of shorter arms, smaller and more slanted shoulders, and longer necks than men. My new rifle has a Monte Carlo stock that is also shorter and more slender. It is also lighter than the men’s version of 243 Weatherby and very easy to carry and handle. It feels more like a 22 than a deer rifle. When I was shooting the deer, I didn’t even think about the gun. It felt like an extension of my arm. And there is no recoil – this is magic!

When I picked up my new rifle from the local store, I decided that my husband needed his version of Weatherby. I insisted that he order one for himself as well. The men’s version is longer, thicker, and doesn’t have the same pretty floral design as Camilla. But it is a very nice gun.

Our leather slings with a gorgeous leaf design came from Ukraine.

The Hunt Begins

Deer Number One

We were almost ready for the season, except for the guns needed to be sighted. It took him a while to get to it, but he couldn’t wait any longer. I  was working in my office and I didn’t even know what he was up to. When I heard rifle shots, I realized that he was in the woods sighting the guns. He took care of my rifle first and then moved on to his. Just when he finished, a doe came from the nearby meadow, stopped and stared at him.

His hunting season was opened at that moment. He came into the house and announced that we needed to bring a deer home. That was quick and unexpected. The road was too sleek after a few days of rain. We couldn’t take the truck. We loaded the cart and puled it by hand.

Deer Number Two

The next morning, I put on my warm clothes and boots, I took my wonder gun and went hunting. With a flashlight in one hand, I navigated to my hunting spot in, otherwise, complete darkness. The overcast sky was dark. I reached my hunting destination, settled in and sat very quietly. It was 6:00 a.m., about an hour before the sunrise. We usually take our hunting spots very early in the morning to give the wildlife plenty of time to calm down and return back to the normal pace of life after being disturbed by our walking.

It was a windy morning, the weather was changing. The wind made it very difficult to hear the animals. In the dawn of the morning, I was so quiet that I think I could hear my own heartbeat. Sometimes, I had to close my eyes and only listen trying to distinguish between the sound of trees in the wind and any sounds of animals. I was listening for rhythmic footsteps of a deer. I was cold in the wind. At about 8:30, I heard very faint steps. I turned slowly and saw a doe moving along the north-facing slope. The lighting was very diffused, and the deer looked like a phantom blending with the environment. My husband was in the house when he heard a gunshot. “Yes?” he texted. “Y,” my response was.

Being so deep in the woods, the only way to bring this deer home was by using the same cart and wheel it uphill manually. She was large and very heavy. The cart tipped twice on a steep hill and we had to reload it twice. We finally made it!

An Inquisitive Wren

Later in the afternoon, I went back to my hunting spot. The wind relented, the sun peaked out of the clouds. I felt much more comfortable. A curious wren visited me that afternoon. The bird made a lot of noise for its tiny size. It flew around me making loud chirping sounds, may be, trying to evoke a response. It flew toward me and made an arch turning around less than a foot from my chest. A few seconds later, it repeated the maneuver. Finally, it gained enough courage and landed on my left shoulder.

I was hunting until dark. When I returned to the house the night was pitch black.

Deer Number Three

The next day, my husband had to go to work. By 6:10 a.m. I was back at my hunting destination – the same spot as the previous day. The sky was completely clear. The air was dry. A slender crescent of the waning moon was reflecting enough light to illuminate the woods. I didn’t even need my flashlight to see. It was a dry, chilly, and quiet morning. Although it was a much colder morning at 24oF when I left the house, I was toasty in my cotton shirts, wool socks and sweater, the tall boots made of sheep fur, and the cloak that I made last year (one for each of us) from a sheep wool Bulgarian military blankets. It was a perfect morning for hunting.

A screech owl hooted a few times in an unorthodox pattern calling for a mate. Getting no response, it quickly subsided. Squirrels lurked everywhere making a lot of noise in the dry autumn leaves. My wren visited me again and made a lot of its usual noise. I shooed it away this time not willing to deal with the distractions it created.

The sun was rising brightly illuminating the forest. I could see clearly in all directions even looking into the sun. And I could see the buck that was descending from KimRidge moving in my direction. I saw the deer before I heard his steps. He walked downhill in a zigzag fashion making frequent stops and sniffing the air in search for a mate. It was a powerful looking animal. Each time it stopped, it took a picture-perfect pose proudly holding his head crowned with an eight-point rack of antlers. He moved straight toward me unaware of my presence.

My husband had to leave work because there was no way I could drag this buck uphill on my own. Fortunately, the road was dry enough and we could use the truck as soon as the buck was out of the woods.

Processing

Three deer

We will be spending the next few days skinning, butchering, cutting into stakes, grinding, making sausages, vacuum sealing and deep freezing the meet. The tallow will be rendered for making soap. Amazingly enough, I ran out of deer tallow while making soap last week. Excellent timing! The skins will be processed. Nothing goes to waste.

Freshly-made deer tallow is so smooth. It feels like white chocolate. I am always surprised by the pleasant fragrance of deer tallow.

Plants for my Winter Garden

Winter gardening is much easier and more rewarding on our farm than gardening in the summer. The delightfully cool winter weather fosters the limitless time spent outdoors. The refreshing winter breeze invigorates the body and the soul of the humans and animals, but it slows down the plant metabolism, making it possible to survive only for the hardy and highly adapted plants. The freezing soil preserves the plant roots and cures from diseases festering in the summer. The damaging pests are dormant, The plants recover from the summer damage and become immaculate in quality. Winter garden bounty is especially gratifying.

My first experience in winter gardening was associated with the hardy and delicious Red Russian Kale. I learned about this plant two summers ago when I planted just a few seeds in my famous egg shell planters. The plants germinated and grew vigorously that summer giving us a plenitude of flavorful and healthy meals. The kale grew in our Homestead Garden far away from a reliable source of water. In spite of the drought, the kale was very successful. And because of the drought, we transplanted the kale to our kitchen garden adjacent to the house. The plants grew late in the fall and the leathery leaves survived the following winter. We enjoyed the generosity of this wonder plant all winter long, and were pleasantly surprised when new leaves grew in abundance in the very early spring. This so-called annual plant burgeoned for its second season.

Red Russian Kale had earned a very high regard here on KimRidge Farm.

Red Russian Kale

We didn’t get to enjoy the kale last summer. The cabbage butterfly took precedence, there weren’t enough chemicals to control the infestation, and there were too many chemicals applied for the plats to be safe to consume. The cold weather scared away the butterfly. Now, it’s our turn to enjoy the kale.

Egyptian Walking Onion is another winter crop that is hardy and nutritious. The plant became damaged by a fungal disease during the hot and humid Kentucky summer. And only now on the brink of winter, the onion is recovering and filling with life.

Egyptian Walking Onion is recovering from the summer fungal assault.

I am thoroughly impressed by the resilience of strawberry plants as they are quickly recovering from the heat of the summer. It’s apparent that we won’t be harvesting any berries in the winter. The plants, however, have a great opportunity to recover and strengthen during the season.

Another successful winter dweller in our area is parsley. It did very well last winter. We were cutting parsley branches right from under the snow and onto the table. Summers in our area are parsley’s enemies. This puny little raw of parsley was planted from seed early in the summer. Not many of the seeds had germinated and the surviving plants had struggled all summer long. But I must give them a credit. This section of the kitchen garden has been used for the first time. It’s infertile and it doesn’t get the afternoon sun.

Today, I am planting garlic next to this parsley.

Garlic for planting

The sunny side of the garden has improved fertility from years of cultivation. This parsley is healthy and glabrous in spite of being crowded by the tomatoes and basil. I am counting on this one to give us the greens this winter while the other bed will be nourished for a while.

Our biggest surprise last winter was India Mustard. Despite its name, this plant does very well in the winter. This annual leafy vegetable lived two years. It was so lush and abundant in early March last year, that we used it in salads almost every day along with our green onions, kale, parsley, and some root crops. This summer was so unforgiving on our India Mustard, that I didn’t even hope to have any survivors. But I have a few plants in the garden that look pretty sad right now. I am going to overcome my embarrassment and post this photo to use it as a comparison with the future mustard plants (if they survive).

My sickly India Mustard has survived the summer.

And last, but not the least is Jerusalem Artichoke. This American native plant deserves a separate post. We use it as a replacement for potatoes (when we run out of potatoes). We need to learn not to use it as a substitute food, but to have it as a food of it’s own adding to the variety of our diet.

Jerusalem Artichoke does not grow in the winter. But it makes tubers in the late summer that store energy for more plants to germinate and grow during the next season. The underground tubers are abundant. And what’s nice about them is that they can withstand freezing. The tubers are being “stored” right there in the garden soil. And when we are ready to have some on our table, we come out with our potato fork and pull out the winter fresh crop.

Hot Process Soap Separated in the Making

Yesterday, I had a separation anxiety – of a different kind. My hot process soap separated. The oil-like liquid was floating on top of a curd-like chunky mess that sunk to the bottom. It looked almost as if the saponification had reversed itself (which is impossible) and my lye and oils parted their ways.

Although I never had anything drastic like this happen in my soap lab, I never discard a possibility of unpredictable events. The timing for this disaster was impeccable. The fact is, that for the first time in years, I ran out of soap… My soap basket was empty. And my family was on our last two bars of soap. That’s it. That’s why I became so anxious when the separation happened.

Empty soap basket.
My empty soap basket.

The basket is empty until it’s not.

Nicky won’t stand for empty baskets. But she’ll sit for a picture.

Having used homemade soap for years, I have become intolerant of the carcinogenic garbage sold at so called “Health and Beauty” departments. Last time I washed my hands with a commercial soap, my hands were burning all afternoon. And I am not the allergic type. I couldn’t wait to get home and wash off that horrible toxic waste. That is why, being low on my homemade soap supply puts me in a real predicament. This kind of procrastination is unacceptable!

Yesterday, I was making a double batch of hot process soap. My mistake was that I overheated it. And when I saw it separating, I was not prepared for it. The temperature was over 200° F. Normally, the temperature in hot process should be about 180° F and should never exceed the 200-degree mark. I could’ve scorched it! Fortunately that didn’t happen. I pulled the crock pot out of the heating unit and let the mixture cool at the ambient temperature. Later in the evening, I was trying to come up with a strategic location to dump this mess. I couldn’t think of any. The separated substance was cooling in my crock pot overnight only to surprise me with a new development the next morning. It solidified! And in spite of its crumbly texture, it still lathered and cleansed my hands without any oily residues. It’s still a soap!

The reconstituted soap has a texture of shortening.

Looks like I won’t be making bars out of this one because it’s so crumbly, but I can dilute it with water and make a liquid soap. I don’t want to make a laundry soap out of it because it has a good amount of extra virgin olive oil and my last chunk of deer tallow that makes soap rich in very valuable skin-soothing palmitate.

Two lessons learned:

  1. Don’t procrastinate with soap making.
  2. Don’t overheat your hot process soap.

Today, I made a normal batch of hot process soap to hold us over until the cold process soap cures.

Terminology of Spinning

Terminology of spinning process: Batt A wide, rolled-up bundle of carded fleece that unrolls into a rectangle. Carding Combing and aligning the fibers of the cleaned fleece. A hand carder or a drum carder is used. Drum Carder A drum-like tool that cards fibers for spinning. Fleece Raw wool sheered …