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Strawberry & Caneberry Season- An easy method to Freeze those luscious berries

DSC_0711
Strawberry Harvest

Berry season is upon us. Berries are wonderful eaten fresh with their juice flowing down your chin. You can make preserves, add them to just about anything for breakfast or create a wonderful dessert. But the season is over quickly so why not freeze some for later when berries are a mere memory of a season past.

Freezing strawberries is super simple. (As well are many caneberries, such as Raspberries,  Marionberries, Boysenberries etc.) Start with freshly picked berries. Ripe strawberries (or caneberries) from your yard or garden are perfect. Or find a local u-pick farm, farm stand or farmers market. Organically grown is best as commercially grown strawberries (and caneberries) are heavily sprayed with a variety of chemicals. Their seasons are short so don’t delay.

No need for any fancy equipment. I bet you have most everything you need right in your home. Freshly picked berries; a clean sink with cold water (for strawberries, not delicate caneberries); a colander of some sort to drain the berries; an old bath towel to absorb the last droplets or remove any debris; a teaspoon for removing any stray caps; a cookie sheet for freezing the berries on; zip-loc freezer bags or containers & a freezer.

Pick the berries. With or without caps is fine.

Carefully rinse a few boxes at a time in a sink of cold water. Swish about gently. (I only rinse strawberries as they sometimes come in contact with the soil. Caneberries are usually clean straight from the canes.)

Place clean berries in a colander to drain excess water. (Strawberries only)

Gently pour berries out onto a clean old bath towel. For strawberries this is to blot off the last droplets of water. For caneberries this step will allow any stems, leaves or stray bugs to be removed.

Remove any stray caps & place berries on a heavy cookie sheet.

When the sheet is filled place in the freezer for several hours to freeze hard.

Remove berries from the cookie sheet and place in freezer bags or containers.

Back in the freezer they go and you are done.

No mess, no fuss, no juicy smashed berries!

6 pint boxes of strawberries or caneberries will make approximately 1 gallon bag of frozen whole berries.

ENJOY!!!

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Beehive Candy Boards- An emergency food source for overwintering Honey Bees

candy boards installed
candy boards installed

Today was the first dry day in a month or more here in Oregon. A beautiful, cold, frosty & sunny late December day. It was our first opportunity to apply candy boards to the beehives since settling the bees in for winter back in October.

We use Candy Boards as an emergency food source for the overwintering honey bees. Not as a main source of nutrition but just in case they run out of the honey stores that we left on their hives in the Fall. With the unpredictable seasonal weather we have been experiencing in the past few years, where honey bees may consume their honey stores more quickly, it is an insurance policy against starvation before the nectar flow begins in Spring. Sometimes they bees consume very little of the candy board before Spring, other times they may eat most of it.  As an example- in the Spring of 2015 the weather here warmed & stayed warm in March bringing the bees out and about into a world without any nectar available. The candy boards were their food source until the blooms began.

Building a candy board is relatively simple.  Check the photos below to follow the process.

We constructed a wood frame out of scrap 1 X 2 lumber set on edge. Cut these pieces to the dimensions to fit your hive boxes. Once the frame was built we covered one side with 1/2” hardware cloth to hold the sugar candy. The 1/2” squares allow the bees easy access to the candy while supporting it above the frames of the top hive box. Cut the hardware cloth 2” greater in height & width of your frame. To form a shallow box to fit inside the frame cut a 1” square (4 boxes) from each corner of the hardware cloth. Then bend 1” (2 boxes wide) of each of the 4 sides up at a 90 degree angle to form a box. Place the hardware cloth inside of the frame so it is even with the bottom edge. Secure in place. Done…

Making Sugar Candy- a simple no cook recipe. This recipe makes 1 candy board.

7 1/2 #’s of White Cane Sugar
1 1/2 Cups Water
1/2 Tablespoon White Vinegar
Optional:
1/2 teaspoon Mineral Salt (I use loose cattle minerals)
1/2 Tablespoon Honey-B-Healthy or Pro Health

Place the sugar in a large pot or bowl.
To the water add the vinegar and optional ingredients, if using.
Add the water mixture to the dry sugar & stir to combine.
Mix well. (I use my hands, it is easier)
Place the candy board, hardware cloth side down, on plastic, on a firm surface.
Place a can/glass or other object at one edge to form an access hole for the bees to the top side of the candy.
Scoop the sugar mixture onto the hardware cloth. Spread out evenly & Press down firmly. Remove the can/glass to open up the access hole.
Let air dry 24 – 48 hours to form a hard, dry candy slab.
Place in your hive on top of the top hive box so the bees can access the candy.
Replace your inner cover or quilt and then the hive top or roof.

Wishing you the thrill of overwintering healthy vibrant bee colonies!

 

 

Raising Freedom Ranger Fryer Chicks

1 day old freedom ranger chicks
1 day old freedom ranger chicks

Here at FullCircle Farm we raise several small batches of chicks each year for fryers as well as an additional batch for layers.  Our breed of choice for fryers is Freedom Rangers. Freedom Rangers are brooded, hatched and shipped from a family farm in Lancaster County, PA. Freedom Ranger Hatchery originally imported breed stock from Burgundy, France that met the high quality standards of the French Label Rouge Free Range Program. Their straight run chicks are ordered in quantities of 25 with the added options of GMO free chicks and/or Marek’s vaccinations. The chickens themselves are an active, robust, red or tri-color bird that thrive in a free-range or pasture-raised system. Production rates are high, reaching into the 5# range in only 9 weeks. The hatcheries chicks sell out quickly so it is wise to order early to get your desired arrival date/s. They hatch on Wednesday and chicks are shipped Priority Mail but often arrive overnight to the West Coast.

We prep the brooding area a day or so in advance so it is warm and ready for the little peepers. Often times I prepare a first brood area in a small water trough in the house for the first few days so they can be more closely monitored. An absorbent bedding material is used, we use wood bedding pellets. A heat source is placed above the bedding, a simple clamp light with a 60-100 watt incandescent light bulb that can be raised or lowered to get the correct temperature has worked well for us. There are many options, just make sure it is safe.  A small feeder with chick starter feed, we use non-medicated Organic feed. A small waterer that the chicks can’t drown in. In the first water I use a quart of lukewarm water with 1/8 cup of raw honey, 1 tablespoon of organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar and 1 pressed clove of garlic added to it. This seems to give a welcome boost to the young travelers. After the 1st day I switch to plain water.

When the shipment arrives at our local post office we get an early morning phone call to let us know that they are ready for pick-up. Once home, the little fluff balls are taken one by one from their shipping box and we gently dip their beaks into the water, making sure we see them swallow before releasing them. These hardy little freedom rangers get active quickly and it is hard not to linger awhile and just enjoy their cuteness.

After several days and all the chicks seem to be thriving I move them to their final brooding area.  We have adapted an old homemade chicken tractor into an outdoor brooder. This chicken tractor was a might heavy to move easily about for layer hens but parked next to an outdoor power receptacle it has made a fine chick brooder. The roof lifts up for access, there is a removable sliding door at floor level in the rear wall for easy access to clean-out soiled bedding, a sliding front door on the front wall that opens up into an enclosed outdoor wire covered run. Depending on the weather the run door is opened when the chicks are only 1-2 weeks old. They love to get outside and run about, peck at the grass and nap in the sun.  At night the chicks are safely locked inside the house away from predators. The feeder and waterer are a bigger size in this brooder as their consumption of both goes up greatly. I also add some small bits of greenery each day, or as in the photo below a tray of sprouted greens so they can begin to work on their pastured chicken skills. A sprinkling of small chick grit in the tray of the feeder each morning is also a good idea, especially if you start feeding greens.

With only a small amount of attention given to their care each day we are able to raise happy, healthy, robust chicks that will be, weather permitting, moved to a pastured hoop-coop at 3-4 weeks of age. More on that part of the raising of pastured fryers in another post.

So that is how we start chicks on our farm.  I hope you find this helpful as you start raising your own day-old chicks.

I'm not quite a fryer yet...
I’m not quite a fryer yet…

Homemade Grape Juice… Preserving a Summertime Delight

Concord Grapes
Concord Grapes

Making homemade grape juice can be a very involved process. Over the years I have tried many different methods- crushing, steaming, juicing, but all were very time consuming and the end product wasn’t  satisfactory. I have developed a method that is much quicker, easier to do and the end product tastes wonderful.  Here is my method. Follow the steps in the photos at the bottom of the post. I hope you give it a try.  Let me know your results, I would love to hear from you!

Always follow good general canning practices.  Check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation-   http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html

1. Select clumps of grapes that are fully ripe. Concords are great but I have used other grape varieties also. (This method also works wonderfully for preserving cane berry juices.)

2. Prepare your jars, lids & rings. Keep them hot.

3. Boil water in a kettle for adding to the jars.

4. Place grape clumps in a colander over the sink and rinse them off with cold running water.

5. Pick the good grapes off of the stems and drop them into the jar.  Fill the jar 1/2 full with the grapes. Mix grapes from different clumps to get the best flavor. Stems and culls go into a bucket to feed to the chickens.  They Love them!

6. Pour 1/4 cup of sugar over the grapes in the jar. More or less as you prefer.

7. Fill the remainder of the jar with boiling water leaving a 1/2″ headspace.

8. Wipe the jar rim with a clean cloth.

9. Secure a boiled lid & band to the jar. Don’t over tighten.

10. Place jars in your canner.  I use a pressure canner but you could also use the waterbath method if you prefer.

11. I process the jars for 10 minutes @ 5#’s pressure. Follow the canning procedure and times for your canner.

12. When processing is complete allow the jars to cool undisturbed for 24 hours. Store in a cool dark place.

13. To Serve-  Place a funnel and fine mesh strainer over your chosen serving container. Shake the jar of canned grapes hard. Pour the contents of the jar into the strainer.  Allow the liquid to passively drain into your serving container. If you press on the pulp  your juice will become cloudy. Taste test. You may wish to add more water &/or more sweetener to your taste preference.

14.  Serve cold or over ice.

Growing Glorious Garlic

glorious garlic
glorious garlic

Garlic is such a satisfying crop to grow. It needs minimal space & minimal attention. It grows mostly during the off-season, has few if any pests and gives a huge yield for the time and space that it requires. I originally started with bulbs of Inchelium Red Garlic purchased from Territorial Seed more than 20 years ago. I have saved the best cloves each season for replanting every year since that time. The garlic has over the years acclimated to our soil and climate and absolutely thrives here. It has been very gratifying to take a crop “FullCircle” for over 2 decades. With each year my harvest has increased in quality, flavor and size. The crop has improved as my soil has improved with composting and re-mineralization and as my growing techniques have been refined.

Each year I save the best bulbs for replanting, setting them aside to cure completely. A different raised bed/s are chosen each year to plant the following years crop. The bed is prepped in late summer after harvesting whatever crop it currently holds. I turn the soil with a fork, add a sprinkle of lime and organic fertilizer,  finally topping it off with ½” or so of good farmyard compost. After lightly mixing the top layer I throw on a quick cover crop of buckwheat and/or field peas and rake it in. A little water to get it started and we are done until mid/late September. At that time I turn the cover in with a garden fork and let it rest and decompose for a few weeks. The target date to plant garlic in our area is in October. Just remember “plant by Halloween, harvest by 4th of July.” Here in NW Oregon we usually have some beautiful weather in October. I just try to get the garlic cloves planted before the serious rains arrive. I break apart the bulbs I have saved, and set aside the outermost cloves for planting. The smaller inside cloves go to the kitchen. The soil that was amended earlier is soft and airy and the cloves are easily pushed in 1”-2” deep. By planting on a grid of 4” to 6” apart a large amount of garlic can be planted in a small space. From my garden this year I harvested 250 big, beautiful bulbs from a 4’ X 12’ area of raised bed!  After the planting is complete, a quick pass with the back of a rake smoothes out the bed. Lastly I like to spread a 1” mulch of chopped leaves, leaves with grass clippings or straw over the bed for over-wintering. There is nothing more to do until Spring arrives.

Early the following Spring, little green noses of garlic begin appearing above the mulch. Hand-pull any weeds that may appear, maybe lightly side-dress with organic fertilizer and re-mulch if you like. If nature doesn’t water them you will need to. I will deeply hand water the bed each week if it has been dry. You are trying to grow big, strong, healthy tops, as that is what it takes to grow a nice sized bulb. In June I discontinue watering and let the plants start to dry off. When about 1/3 of the green top is yellowed; sometimes the tops will start to lean over also; it is time to harvest, usually by the 4th of July here in the Pacific Northwest. Pick a dry day and gently lift each bulb out of the soil using a garden fork. Try not to damage the bulb or it’s papery cover. Gently tap off excess dirt. Set in a dry, shady, well-ventilated spot and allow them to cure. Remember to save the best bulbs for replanting in the Fall.

Home -grown garlic is the best. There are so many varieties to try. I encourage you to head out this Fall and plant yourself a bed, or two, of Glorious Garlic!

Hoophouse Project 301- End Walls Finished

finished south end wall
finished south end wall

Due to erratic Spring weather and the general busyness of farm life, finishing the end walls of the hoophouse has taken longer than expected. I am very happy to report that we have finished the exterior portions of the building project and the structure is all closed in!

Before an expected lengthy spell of heavy rain, a drain pipe was installed in the ditch on the uphill side of the hoophouse. The intent is to carry the rainwater that will be coming off of the roof as well as any run-off from the garden above away from the site. The drain was thoroughly tested over the following week and it works well!

When the weather finally got around to cooperating  we got busy closing in the building by installing the  clear, single wall, polycarbonate sheets on the end walls. The polycarbonate is lightweight, tough and fairly easy to cut and install.  We found a heavy weight pair of shears cut the polycarbonate both with and across the corrugations pretty well. The sheets are four feet wide so most of the sheets had multiple cuts for the arch of the bow as well as openings for the shutters, exhaust fan and doors. By holding the sheet in place we were able to draw the cutting pattern onto the sheet with a sharpie marker, then remove the sheet and place it on sawhorses to do the cutting . To attach the sheets to the wall we held them in place,  pre-drilled the polycarbonate and then attached the panel to the underlying metal frame with self tapping screws and washers. Starting at one edge, and overlapping the sheets by one corrugation, we progressed across the width of the building, finishing up with covering the door frame. Once the south wall was covered with the polycarbonate we finished off the edge where roof meets wall by taking the overhanging edge of the poly roof covering , rolling it upon itself and screwing it to the  vertical edge of the polycarbonate. This made for a tidy way to close the gap between the two materials and the two surfaces. After many delays we moved on to the north wall by first installing the exhaust fan in the gable above the door. Then using the same procedure of fitting, cutting, pre-drilling and attaching the polycarbonate we enclosed the second end wall.  The final step to completely closing in the hoophouse was to roll the poly roof material over the edge and screw it to the polycarbonate wall just as we had on the south wall. The end walls are finished and the hoophouse project is nearing completion. Next we move indoors.

You can follow the steps in the photos below.  Just click on the photo to see the brief explanation.

Hope you have enjoyed following our building project.  Is there a hoophouse in your future?

Hoophouse Project 301- Poly is On

poly is on
poly is on

The stars were aligned, the poly gods were smiling and Murphy took a break. We had a warm sunny day, no wind, the dew had evaporated & my faithful crew, husband Bob & son Will were available. The long anticipated day had come; it was time to pull on the poly cover!

We are using a double layer of poly for the roof and sidewalls of the hoophouse. It will be inflated with a small fan, forming a pillow of air that will provide extra insulation. We decided to pull both layers on at once so we cut a double length of poly and folded it in half to get the 2 layers. We then accordion folded the full length of the poly and placed it at the base of the downhill wall. Tennis balls were then tied inside the fold of the poly with ropes, one at each end and one in the middle. The ropes were then tossed over the top of the house to the uphill side for pulling the giant poly sail up and over the frame. With the three of us, each on a rope, we easily pulled the large piece of poly up and over to the opposite side. We used the ropes that were still attached to the poly to tie the uphill side to the sill board. We then manipulated the large sheet into position, pulling the excess over the edge of the end walls. Starting at one end and up at the ridge pole we began attaching the poly to the end channel with wiggle wire and worked our way down to the sill on each side. Wiggle wire is a terribly simple & ingenious invention that holds the poly covering to the frame. After the one end was locked into position we went to the opposite end & pulled the covering taught the length of the hoophouse. Once again starting at the ridge pole and working down each side to the sill placing the wiggle wire in the channel. The ends were now secure so we then proceeded to attaching the poly to the channels on the sill boards. The last attachment point was the channels on the hip boards. The poly cover is now in place. Thanks crew, you guys are the best!

There are more steps to go to get the hoophouse completely enclosed and ready to use but we feel like a major step is behind us. You can follow the steps in the photos below. Just click on each photo to read it’s caption.

Please come back again and follow our progress.

Hoophouse Project 201- Finished Frame

finished frame
finished frame

Last week we were able to catch a dry day here and there and finish up the hoophouse frame.  Installing the poly lock channels, which is the device that actually holds the poly covering to the frame, was fairly straightforward. Care was taken that the channels were level on the sidewalls, centered on the top of the end bows and met at the corners.

A preliminary to attaching the poly channels was to remove the sharp corner at the end of the hip boards, making it rounded to facilitate a smoother transition from the vertical wall to the curve of the end bow. To do this cuts were made with a backsaw and the smoothing of the curve was done with a chisel.

We began by  installing the horizontal runs of channel on each sidewall.  A run of channel was screwed into place the length of each of the sill and hip boards. The vertical runs of poly channel were then installed up from the sill on each of the outside corners and bent to follow the curve we had chiseled out. The channel, centered on the bow, then continued over the top curve of the end bows until we had a continuous channel from one sill over the top of the arch and down to the opposite sill . We flattened the ends of the horizontal channel at the corners where it met the vertical so there would be less likelihood of the poly catching on any sharp edges and tearing  during it’s installation. When all the channels were in place we finished by attaching a sill board on each side of the door on the end walls. This board will help retain the soil as well as keep soil from pushing against the bottom edge of the polycarbonate end walls. Lastly, a drainage ditch was dug on the uphill side of the hoophouse to carry rainwater runoff away from the house and also to keep any water from the garden above from running into the house. You can follow these steps in the photos below. Just click on the picture to see it’s caption.

On the next dry, warm and calm day we will pull on the poly covering. We are so close!

Please come back and check on our progress!

 

 

 

 

 

 

HoopHouse Project 201- Framing End Walls

 

end walls framed
end walls framed

March is an interesting month here in Northwest Oregon. Brilliant sun one moment, drenching rains the next and then for a little variety sometimes you get both at the same time! Lucky for us we recently had a run of several beautiful dry days in a row so back to the hoophouse project we went.

Picking up where we left off we began by installing bracing on the sidewalls at each of the four corners. Diagonal braces run from the bottoms of the outside bow, past the 2nd wall post and down to the sill board. With each addition the structure gets more & more rigid. With that mission accomplished we turned to constructing the end wall frames. First posts were set vertically into concrete on each side of the door openings and then fastened to the bows at their tops. After letting the concrete set for a day, the top of each post was cut off, with an angle grinder, to the same height as the top of the bow. The rough edges of the cuts were then ground smooth to minimize any chance of catching & ripping the poly covering when it is later pulled into place. Horizontal pipes were then installed on each side of the doorway opening at sill & shoulder level. Once installed the ends of those pipes were cut off plumb at each side of the doorway allowing enough room to center the door frame in the opening. The door frame sides then slipped over the ends of the pipes and were screwed into place, with the sides plumb, the tops level and the bottoms at finished grade level. On the final evening before the rains returned we were able to hang the frames of the doors in place. You can follow the process in the pictures below.

When next the weather cooperates we will move on to installing louvered intake shutters on each side of the door on one end and an exhaust fan on the gable above the door at the other end. Lastly we will install sill boards at the base of the end walls and then install the channels that will ultimately hold the poly covering in place. At that point the frame should be complete.

We are so close to pulling the cover on… which is a good thing as I am quickly running out of room for flats of seedlings under the grow lights in the house!

Please return for more of the continuing story!

 

Hoophouse Project 201- House Raising

side walls & roof bowsside walls & roof bows

Bob & I have a lot of prior building experience. Starting back in 1985 we designed & built our log home from trees we harvested from our property. More on that story in a future blog post! We have, over the years, also constructed our barn, built from lumber milled from trees on the property, and multiple farm buildings. Though we have no experience building a hoophouse we do possess the general construction skills needed to be successful.  It is by far an easier project than building a log house but has not been without its challenges.

The largest challenge has been figuring out how to construct the hoophouse on a site with compound ground slopes.  Once a decision was made to have the floor inside of the house level, both front-to-back as well as side-to-side; we needed to figure out how to accomplish that. Using the highest outside grade point as our guide we decided to build up the low areas so that the final hoophouse floor would be above outside grade and would drain well. This also meant up to 10” of fill would need to be added at the lowest points.

After shooting a level floor grade with a transit we plotted out the position of each post and got the building square. Next we determined the height needed to set each of the 6’ wall posts to get all of their tops on the same level plane. With post positions marked and hole depths calculated we augured 9” holes for the concrete bases for each post. Finally we got down to the job of setting the 6’ wall posts.

Over multiple days/weeks due to weather/mud & life/farm constraints we began building.  We set the corner posts first; to be plumb, square and with tops on a level plane, bracing as we went to hold the positions as the concrete set.  Later we filled in with the line posts keeping each on center, inline, plumb and on the same level top plane as the corner posts, once again bracing as we went. This process was actually quite challenging. I am happy to report we have success! The wall posts are all installed and they are square, plumb, inline and level!  As in all building projects getting the foundation started correctly is paramount. Placement of the roof bows was not terribly dramatic being lifted and slid into place by the two of us.  Yesterday we completed stabilizing the sidewalls by attaching the sill and hip boards and completing the box with uprights in the corners. You can follow the steps in the photos below.

On the next available dry day we will move on to installing the ridgepole, bracing and the end wall frames.  There is definitely a hoophouse in our near future!

Please check back to watch our progress!