Virgil’s Blueberry Muffins

After just completing a week of this Thanksgiving’s holiday, cooking, and the week long visit of an online friend of  years (thanks to the farm page) you would think my ambition to start new things would be tamped down. Especially on a Monday. But I completed a memoir of a blogger and writer and farmer all in one and just spoke to one of my favorite writer-blogger-farmer, Lisa Steele and I couldn’t help but be inspired. I have a book I have written, I need to really just finish the intro and publish, easy right? Even self publishing intimidated, even if no one buys it I still need to do it though. In the month of December. And it has been 8 months since I have written a blog. EIGHT months, letting the outside cluster of noise get to me, I’m stronger than that. So as I begin this blogging journey again, let me just take the time to say thank you for putting up with my voice and writing style. Please never hesitate to ask questions, or have me elaborate. I have gone through and updated my contact information as well as polished up the earlier writings. Deleting things and editing things that I want, not because someone has a piece of hay in their bra (you know if you have ever had that happen how helpless and irritating it is, but you don’t just strip down and throw a tantrum in the barn.) In the restart of this blog I won’t allude to a pretty big personal emotional percentage of my life, our lives, because it’s finally dawned on me that when you cannot change something, cannot influence, effect, affect or help something in your life you cannot fixate. I scold my dog Caley for fixating, why should I be any different. So instead  here I am, I write and live a flow of positive thoughts, wishful thinking and throwing money at a lawyer- I mean problem- in the hopes, in the knowledge that one day all will be right in this world. Until then, I’ll write about everything else, our lives as we begin to become farmers, homesteaders, self-sufficient, and hopefully proficient. So, eight months leaves me with a lot of catching up to do. I know I will have missed a few fun stories and some of you reading may have never read our first blog- so WELCOME.

My mom and I have not always been the best of friends, but since moving away and going through some similar situations, we’ve gotten closer. Despite my mom living on Long Island (New York, no not the city, but we could take a train 30 minutes to the city,) and myself now in Springport, Indiana we keep in touch more than when I lived in upstate NY. Sometimes our phone calls are cut short. In her words she did not raise a daughter who would eat bunnies. And technically I don’t eat bunnies, I will be eating rabbits we raise, probably. You see, here at TTRCRanch we  eat meat, though not as often as some people do. The meat we do it we believe in it being from humanely raised animals. I believe everyone should know where their food comes from, how it was grown or raised. You don’t have to be all out processing your own thanksgiving turkey  (yes, we really actually did that. Much to my mother’s chagrin,) but I do think you should know if that turkey got to run around in the sun, catch bugs and play in grass. So with Christmas coming up my mother asked me what I would like for the holidays. I want practical things, things we need for the farm… We do have a farm amazon wish list TTRCRanch & Mobile Menagerie Wish List but I also made a normal people as possible wish list for Jason and I, “normal” list and then the things we want to stock up on that I call our Survival Wants… Because we also do prep. Prepping is for thinking in advance be it for an apocalyptic scenario, zombies, social collapse, economic collapse, that sort of thing, or on the lowest scale for if the power goes out for a week. Though recently it has come to my attention that a well prepped farm can also be able to help those around them in need as well, such as friends, neighbors and families. My mom said she would tell my grandmother that we needed the baking pans, she’d look at my list for books and put through my seedsnow.com order. Yes, I am ordering my seeds and cannot wait to start planning my garden.

This past year we moved on July 4th to our current Springport homestead, having access only two weeks prior and having to spend most of that time working our normal jobs and clearing and cleaning out the property as well as prepping for our animals. Our Springport farm had rats and raccoons in the house as well as dumpster loads of trash. Close to a fourth load of trash realistically, but we could move in with just the 3 gone. We’ve had the chimney inspected, cleaned the gutters, maintained the lawn, burned and tossed through rotten wood cluttering up the barn, and brush hogged with a hand mower  2 acres and Jason fenced it in electrically. We had a lot of help from the many great friends we have met these past two years and we could not have done it without them. We had friends helping repair the barn, strangers who came and took out all the old hay and cleared out the trash in the loft (they used the hay for their gardens, but I also gave them a few live guinea fowl to restart their flock as a thank you,) friends who repaired inside walls, interior painting, and a friend who had our guestroom (Sophia’s room eventually) re-carpeted and bought the beautiful paint and new bedspread. Our roommate has helped throughout the process, Jason and I managed not to kill each other in the heat of the summer and we even managed to have the garden tilled thanks to my coworker, so we had some tomatoes, basil, beans, greens, gourds and many flowers. Given that it has only been since June 21st that we have had access to this place, only living here since July, I have to give us more credit and take a deep breath when I start to become anxious thinking of all the things that need to still be completed. We intend to purchase the house (assuming the foundation inspection next week goes well) after a year of renting. I have declared numerous times I do not want to ever move again. We have wonderful neighbors, already made huge progress on the grounds and have 5 acres complete with two story house (with poor insulation, possibly the foundation, and still carpets to redo because no amount of washing will make them look nice again,) big front porch and balcony off the master bedroom (that needs to be completely redone to actually be used,) detached garage that has coops off of it (yet needs still more roof work and insulation besides the big clean and organizing,) and a big old barn (also needing a new roof, work to the stalls for our animals and some flooring that would be nice to level out…) But it is completely ours to do with what we want. We have a wonderful landlord who appreciates how much we appreciate it. She didn’t balk at the number of animals we were moving in with, or the number we wanted to have. We do repairs, like if I look up from my kitchen bar top seat the ceiling panels need to be replaced and when we do she will pay for the materials, we will repair it. Though this week after struggling with the fridge-freezer we had to call it quits and move everything out to the garage extra fridge and freezer and ask for a repair man to come.We fixed the bathroom leaks, removed the tiles and the sink stand and our roommate, Eric rebuilt a simple sink stand and put down new tiles, I caulked the bathtub and repainted. It is a brown tub. But it is a clean tub, and it matches the blue and the white enough that I am content that at least one room is considered Good Enough to be Done.

So, Jason and I are engaged and both originally from New York, so Indiana to us is full of wonderful nice, friendly folks. It is weird. But we love it. My neighbor trades baked goods with me, my other neighbor has two wonderful girls that visit and help at the farm (though I have to text their mom since sometimes they sneak out after homework to come here,) and our other neighbors are both friendly and unobtrusive. We raise all sorts of animals for all sorts of things and have taken in anything from a rescue pot belly pig, to a peacock, to a Tegu and a turtle. We raise our own meat on pasture, gmo-free feed only and hope to continue to learn how to be more sustainable in our living, creating smaller footprints and encouraging others to shop local, shop small. I hope to grown my own herbs this year to make more teas, expand the bee keeping to more hives, raise piglets to sell and to eat, raise rabbits to eat and to sell, might downsize the quail unless a bigger demand is found, continue to learn how to do new things and this year I hope we get to have our own milk from our new cow, Gilly. If not, we will be waiting on breeding Freya our Alpine goat. We have made soft cheese before, but with a constant source we can try more kinds, harder cheeses and the homestead pigs will get the benefits of all the whey to eat. We’ve lost a few of our animals since this year began, since I stopped writing, from our house cat Geoffrey Chaucer, to Max the peacock, to our dogs Sage and Capote for all various reasons. It is never easy losing animals, but we hope to honor their memories and continue to rescue, which includes our latest dog Notty. Snotty Notty comes from New York, from a shelter we used to foster for and is almost completely blind. She is the sweetest dog and has helped fill our most recent hole losing Sage. Sadly our going on eleven year old rabbit Leo is also going blind, but he seems to be doing just as well as Notty, even if we trip on both sometimes through no fault of their own. But I swear they know when to just STOP when you’re trying to go through a door.

As for the original reason to writing this draft, to share Virgil’s Blueberry Muffin Recipe, it’s out in the truck. I’ll have to grab it for you all tomorrow. But the enthusiasm and the generosity of the folks we have surrounded ourselves with here in Indiana has kept us going through the harder times, keeps us trying different recipes in life to figure out how we can make this homestead a successful farm business to at least supplement our incomes. And to continue to find new folks to help educate on the organic practices, the holistic healing that can be found, the smile a simple turkey call can bring you. I love our farm, and I love those who support and follow our page and our blog. We couldn’t do it without you.

This coming next weeks I will try to add the muffin recipe, bread recipes, Jams, wines, angora rabbit tips, chicks might be hatching, the debate of getting rid of the confusion of guineas, and anything you care to ask about. With winter coming I often find myself repeating DO NOT USE HEAT LAMPS… Stay safe.

Incubation

Before day 1
Keep eggs pointy side down, keep at average room temperature. Set up the older incubator with your egg Turner in it. Add water and turn on to gauge temps. There is no humidity guide, just keep the water from running out.

Day 1
Pick your eggs, the normal sized eggs, not too pointy and with minimal flaws in the shell. A little dirty is OK but not too much. Brown eggs have hatched the best with the green and blue, white eggs will be easiest to see when candling. Put them pointy side down in the incubator, more you’ll need to use a turkey kitchen baster to fool the water, so you can avoid spills and getting water on the eggs which could effect the bloom. The bloom is the clear coating that protects the eggs from bacteria getting in

Any eggs you don’t use you can eat!

Maybe use the spot light heater to help temp or humidity, keep in a not drafty area, maybe even a closet.

Day 6-10
Candle progress, anything that hasn’t developed or has what’s called a blood ring should be tossed out. Some may develop slower and that’s OK to keep them in to see what happens. Stopped development and no development should be removed so they don’t grow bad things and effect the other viable eggs.

Day 16
Set up second incubator to insure the heater works and keeps temperature, also fill water spots. Remember if you fill it too high there are holes that will leak at the bottom. You can candle a few to see who’s doing well. But remember to be quick so the temp stays the same

Day 18

There’s the brooder plastic tub, put bedding in and mix the electrolytes per package direction and fill up the waterer and store the extra in a fridge, have a half egg carton filled with food and two or four cup spaces of the chick grit. Set up the brinsea heater at lowest height. And wait! If you do use the light, center on the grate or it will melt the plastic, it can sit directly on the metal though.

Move eggs into second incubator, you can candle them one last time then it’s lock down, so make sure the water is as full as it will go. Remember to use hot water so humidity and temperature stay high.

Day 21-25
Hatching will begin, look for pips aka cracks happening. If a chick is pipped for more than 24 hours you can take it out, try to open the crack more, feel free to use a damp cloth of its sticking to him, but it’s best to let them work out on their own typically. Chicks are still absorbing the yolk for 24+ hours so let a bunch hatch and dry off in the safety of the incubator, when there’s a few dry out close to it take them out and put them in the brooder tub. Keep an eye on humidity that it stays high so no one gets shrink wrapped. That’s why you try not to open the incubator too much or for too long.

Use your finger once the chicks are a few hours or a day old to drop water on the tip of their beaks and tap where the water is and eventually the food. Drinking is more important than eating at this time. After they figure out how to drink you can encourage and teach eating the food, they’ll figure out the chick grit on their own. Grit just helps them suggest and get more nutrients. Remember babies just went through lots of work to hatch, it’s best to give them a day or two to rest before handling. They need to stay very warm, closer to 100°F the first few days. If the chicks are huddling on top of each other and not moving, it’s too cold, if they’re peeping and running around, panting, etc it’s too hot. Better a little cooler with a hot spot then everything too warm. And keep an eye on those chicken butts, if there’s poop stuck it’s most likely too hot in there by a few degrees or more AND you will need to rinse their butt under warm water and gently pick at the poop to get it off. It will take a while but better than ripping out feathers.

Pumpkin recipes

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So we have lots of pumpkins, so I’ve been experimenting with a few recipes I found off pintrest. I’ve made pumpkin pie filling, crust, and a pumpkin and apple soup.
Here’s the crust recipe, but instead of water I used Apple cider. http://pinterest.com/pin/549439223269112116/?s=3&m=wordpress
Really loved how quick and easy it was. Advice, when baking your pumpkin pie, do 8 minutes at 425°F then 30+ minutes at 350°F and keep an eye on the crust so it’s not over done .

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See, over done… But still delicious. So we have a ninja blender I used to make the pumpkin pie filling puree. http://pinterest.com/pin/549439223269081969/?s=3&m=wordpress
I used this woman’s recipe almost exactly. But I used three medium to small pie pumpkins, cut in half, gutted and roasted on sprayed pan so it wouldn’t stick, after 45 minutes turned oven off and left door open so they could cool. Came back a few hours later and the skin peels right off. You cannot can pumpkin like this, but you can puree then freeze. Or make the pie filling with ingredients and freeze. I used only one can of sweetened condensed milk for all three roasted pumpkins and I didn’t have brown sugar, so nearly one cup white sugar and two tablespoons of molasses.

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Apple pumpkin soup, the idea is a variation of my old bosses squash and pear soup you can find here. He’s got great recipes and stories. So I roasted two medium pumpkins like in the pintrest directions above for pie puree. This time instead of feeding the guts to the chickens I took the seeds, rinsed and dried. Then tossed the seeds in olive oil and salt, put on pan and in the oven for maybe 10 minutes at 325°F … I really cook by smell, so when they looked and smelled about done I took them out and left on hot pan. Good tip is to toss your seeds once or twice while they’re cooking.

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Then in my dutch oven on the stove I put I’m three really big apples that were cored, skinned and sliced with one stick butter, two tablespoons olive oil, four smashed cloves of garlic, three medium white onions, dash of salt, tablespoon cinnamon, almost teaspoon of cayenne, and let simmer stirring occasionally until it was all looking like the above picture. I pureed this in the blender (hot things expand, don’t fill all the way do it in smaller batches with a cloth over the lid just in case) then added it back into the dutch pan with the pureed pumpkin, mixed in raw whole milk, so you might want to use cream from the store so there’s enough fat. I probably added a cup and a half, just add the milk or cream slowly to the not quite room temperature soup and stir until desired soup thickness. Don’t heat too quickly because it can make the soup funky. And that’s it! Add your toasted pumpkin seeds to the top of each bowl as a garnish.

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This is what my pumpkins look like when done, but I roast them like the picture below,

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Happy cooking, always be safe when using sharp anything and hot anything.

Cow butts

Seriously have never seen do many cow butts and girl junk, but helping on my friend’s dairy farm you have to walk the cows. And you walk behind them, calling the ones you can recognize or remember by name and others simply get the “come on cow.” The milking parlor holds six cows at a time. I work with his uncle and the first few days his wife and girls helped. They’re off to another state fair so that’s why I’m there from roughly 5:15~7am and 4:30pm~8pm… It’s not terrible. Of course I’m tired from shortness of sleep, but I’ve been more productive, too. The farm stand is fully painted outside. The eggs are inside the stand in the cooler, just need to finish the shelving for the potted plants outside and the long shelf for the cash box inside. There will be a spot for egg cartons to be returned, too..And we’ve even got shelves for potential produce, the spring bouquets and wood crafts. We want to invite other local farms and craftsman to advertise here. We want to even have a monthly weekend of vendors next year… Minus the pig fiasco where the chickens when in the pen and one was killed and eaten, making this the second chicken) and one has an injured wing we splinted, the chickens and ducks and geese are all doing well… now if they could bump up egg production that’d be great… And if the ducks would go into the coop at night and lay eggs in there, too. Once the weather cools we will have a few days where everyone’s kept inside no monitor egg production. It’s been pretty rough losing our dog Capote, but it comes and goes. I I’ve enough to keep busy with, like making pies out of some of those free pumpkins. I’m going to make another round tonight… One day I roast the pumpkins, then the second day I make pie crust and then the filling and bake. I promise a recipe sooner than later. But I’ve got a bunch of ideas and recipes I go off of on our pintrest.

Need your help with editing this soon to be article

Okay, so It’s about choices we make for food, it’s about homesteading, why I do what i do… Well crap I could write a book. So I need your help. Like in a day. What can be cut? what more should be explained and written on? my e-mail is ttrcranch@gmail.com and I still need to add pictures! I’ve posted before about the magazine, GET REAL, you really should start reading it, great great articles and inspiring people. May be why I’m having so much trouble. I don’t see us as special

I have not always been mindful of what I was eating or how I lived, but now I consider myself well on the way to being sustainable and a chicken owning, pig raising small farm stand owner. Many call it being a homesteader, but we technically don’t own where we live and grow, we rent. So I don’t always feel like a homesteader, I mean what is that even supposed to feel like? Exhausted? Because I’m that, harvesting season was exhausting with the amount of canning I did. In winter the garden will be asleep, it’ll be too early to start seeds and too cold for outdoor projects. I’ll have winterized the watering buckets, closed up gaps in coops, and looking towards when we can finally process the pigs. Winter I think we tend to focus more on survival, the loss of sunlight making us reflect inward and lose sight of the beauty in living day to day despite frigid weather. My journey to being able to raise my own food, not just the monetary or the actual processing, but being able to cope with loving another living thing, nurturing and then bringing it to my table, that’s been a long process and one I’m still learning. I am still terrible at gardening, but the science of soil is more complex than just throwing seeds in the ground and watering, so I’m learning.

I grew up on Long Island and for 18 years my food choices were about being with my Italian family on Sundays of high salt, slow cooked sauce and lots of pasta and meat, big dishes of leftover “Saturday Night (cream of mushroom) Chicken,” and lots of Burger King,Chinese Food, Bakery treats and Pizza. Every single day I had no thought as to what I would put in my body because my body worked fine, I was fit from ice skating in winter and swimming in the summer and had the metabolism of, well, a teenager. Even in the beginning of college I wasn’t really focused on food, just eat to eat and move on to procrastinating essays and enjoying the lifestyle of a freshman. Eventually I made friends with a farmer whose family owned lots of dairy cows. Hrilling steaks from Andy’s farm, he had raised the cows himself and there was such a huge difference in taste with absolutely no spice altering, no sauces, nothing changed my view on meat and what it should really taste like. And I was able to see how the cows grew up, with plenty of space, food and grass and we also raised my first batch of chicks. Though raccoons got to them on his farm before they were ready to butcher. From there I started working in the cafeteria at college, rented an apartment on campus and in general started questioning the waste of food, how I could try making healthier choices that tasted better, but not spend my whole paycheck at the local small grocery store and this of course included alcohol, specifically wine. I visited a small place in the woods called Pollywogg Holler that had buildings with no electric, no running water, just back to nature. I went for my very first hike and backpack camping trip in the Adirondacks and physically felt ill leaving it behind. I knew that I loved being in nature, ever since I was little, but I didn’t realize that being so connect to nature should have meant I should be looking to ground myself through other facets in my life, like food and a job that meant something to me.

Returning every summer to Long Island while an undergraduate really hit the nail on the head that I just didn’t belong surrounded by buildings with no woods or fields to escape to. I returned to Rochester for Graduate school and planted roots, working for small business owners at restaurants and a pet store while renting an apartment. I worked at a farmer’s market right down the road from my apartment for a winery part time and talked often with my neighboring booth men, a soap maker who grew the herbs he used in the scents and an organic farmer who grew on only 3 acres and also had chickens. I asked questions of why and how, what being sustainable meant. Why GMO-free? I don’t know if it was luck, my passion for good food and drinks, my love of animals and nature or the combination of all three that got me to where I am today, in Muncie, Indiana.  We currently live on 38 rented acres, 8 of which we use, the rest is rented to a commercial farmer. We have a 2 acre pond and two big barns. We’ve made two coops in the barns and have a big stall for our pony and donkey that deter predators. We have 9 pigs we are raising and they are all currently in the garden fenced in with shelter. What the pigs actually eat and contribute to the farm is much more than the chickens. We have them turning the garden soil and the compost so that this coming spring I may be able to grow my own veggies and herbs. Because we rent we cannot plant fruit trees, but we will plant bushes that will produce their first year. Anyone who fishes here takes their filets and brings everything else back for the pigs to eat. When we harvest (butcher/process) the meat chickens they eat feathers and innards and heads, all that would be wasted otherwise. We save the feet for the dogs to be dehydrated for treats. The chickens are for mostly eggs, we only raise a few for meat for the occasional customer and for our own dinners, and both are raised the same way: freedom to roam and be a chicken and are fed gmo-free feed. The animals grow better on chemical free, unmodified feed and we rarely have incidences of illness.

We named our farm ‘Til the Rooster Crows Ranch because we didn’t keep any roosters for a while, just geese for flock protection, but now we have a few gentle roosters who help protect the growing flock of chickens and can fertilize eggs so we can begin hatching and raising our own chickens rather than buy them. We want to venture into bee keeping and have a milk cow and goats as well as fiber animals to create our own yarn. We can be sustainable by being conscious of what we reuse, how much energy we take away, how we grow things and raise things, but we also want to be self sufficient. Jason, my fiancé and fellow homesteader and partner, and I started dating and shortly after “we” got chicks together. We took in rescue hens from the city shelter and eventually built a coop in the city. It was legal, but we had neighbors with dogs who managed to break the coop and eat one of our hens. So we moved out to the country and added more chickens, while both of us maintained full time and part time jobs. Suddenly people wanted some of our eggs. So we got more chicks to raise into laying hens and the vicious cycle of what chicken keepers call chicken math began. I found Fresh Eggs Daily creator and writer Lisa had amazing natural chicken keeping ideas and we continue to follow her methods. Fresh garlic and apple cider vinegar are great immunity boosters for chickens, dogs and people. Deep litter method of coop bedding helps add heat, compost and save energy and time for the winter. Moving from New York to Indiana was a lot of work, not just for the chickens and geese we moved, the plants we had to give away, but we also have many indoor pets we care for, from rabbits and turtles to snakes and fish. I won’t be able to raise rabbits for meat anytime soon simply because I get too attached. I know my limits, in this set up I cannot butcher little baby bunnies I raised while I have my pet rabbits indoors.

Each year we will continue to add to what we do here at the farm, this year was pig raising, next year we may actually breed them. I also learned to can in a water bath, from pickles, sauces, pie fillings, salsa and jelly. We have been lucky to find those who barter fishing rights for lots of canning lids, rings and jars. We now raise ducks, and have an indoor pot belly pig that isn’t for food simply because she isn’t the right breed (wouldn’t taste good.) Jason has begun wood working and created not only our farm stand, but cutting boards and will soon be using his new wood lathe. There isn’t much either of us is afraid to try or do. I think you need to have a can do, hard working attitude to be a homesteader, but I think you can do it on a smaller scale in a city setting, too. Chickens are wonderful with amazing personalities and fresh eggs really do make a huge difference in cooking and baking. Store eggs are typically a month old at least and quality is typically lower because of the conditions they live in. Same goes for meat you would buy. We started helping a friend milk goats and another friend milk cows just to see if we would really want to own goats and cows for milk. Well we love making cheese and the unpasteurized products do not make my stomach hurt like the store. I notice the difference in my digestion and my energy. Do I cheat once in a while and go out to dinner? Yes, but I feel the pain for going out later. Most recently I work at a horse farm and she has mini horses that pull carts, add that to the list of can dos.  When people visit our farm, or our farm page (facebook.com/ttrcranch) I’m not quite sure what they think, but the smiles on their faces from happy animals reassures me that all the hard work is worth it. We offer free farm tours to help teach others not only where their food comes from, but how animals should be raised. I feel whole when I’m outside with the free ranging on pasture chickens and ducks, starting seeds that will grow into organically grown veggies for my family and possibly some for barter. Learning is what keeps me alive, be it something to try around the farm or a new recipe to cook. And I love sharing, from the food I bake to the stories we make with our whole menagerie.