Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Books to read and snow!

In the Kitchen

I am enjoying some much needed rest.  Yesterday morning, the first thing that Mark said was "pie".  So, naturally, I had to make a pie.  I made a cherry pie (I had made several quarts of cherry pie filling this past summer) and put a "crumb-like" topping on top...it was good!


Now that things are slowing down, I have been doing a little bit of reading.  I don't really care for fiction books.  I read a lot more "how-to" kind of books.  

I happened to find this book called Locally Laid by Lucie B. Amundsen a few months ago.  Locally Laid is a humorous telling of this unlikely egg farm start up and through it, a painless lesson in America’s food system.  I really enjoyed this book so I started looking for other books that were about beginning farmers.  

Next, I read, Hit by a Farm by Catherine Friend. Catherine Friend was happy being an author and writing instructor. She always wore clean clothes. She never had anything disagreeable stuck to the bottom of her shoes. That all changed the day she agreed to help her partner Melissa fulfill Melissa’s lifelong ambition to farm in Minnesota. Catherine and Melissa embark on a rural odyssey filled with sheep, goats, chicken, llamas, and a host of other natural disasters. As it turns out, farming isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  I really enjoyed this one, lots of humor and real world advice about farming and balancing it all.
I found another book about chickens (they also have goats, alpacas, sheep and more) called Dirty Chick by Antonia Murphy.  The family in this book moved from California to New Zealand and started a farm.  They also have a child with a disability and I did not know that when I picked up this book but it added another dimension for me, personally, as I could totally relate to parts of the book when she is talking about school and other concerns.  An uproarious memoir chronicling the misadventures of a born-and-bred San Franciscan who leaves city life to become an artisanal farmer in New Zealand.

Lastly, I know that our local food Co-op has a book club but I have always been too busy to even look at the title of the book that is being read.  I noticed in my Facebook feed that the next book club book is 5 Acres and A Dream The Book by Leigh Tate.  This really caught my attention so I ordered it right away and I am just loving it and only have a couple of chapters left.  I am going to try and go to the book club discussion next month.


We have gotten several inches of snow over the past week and more in on the way.  We had some leftover wood from last year and we have used it all up which is a little sad.  It is so nice to have a fire when it's cold and snowy.  I just could not justify spending a few hundred dollars for wood (when we might be moving soon...hopefully...).  

Coal in the driveway helping Henry shovel snow.

Beehive with snow!
Sunflower with snow hat.

I grew only one sunflower this past year to grow at our house.  This sunflower is for seeds.  Although I put all the sunflower flowers to bed, I never got around to harvesting my seed sunflower.  He seems to be holding up pretty well even with this big snow hat!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Future Farm and business plan update...

Future Farm

I will be going out on Thursday, December 8 to meet the owner of the property I mentioned in the last blog.  This property sits right behind the Walmart in Moscow.  I will try to describe it.  Walmart sits mid-way up a large hill.  The hill/road actually extends above Walmart and there is a Quick Care and surgery center located at the top of the ridge.  So, you are driving on this paved road and then there is a road block on the right and a small gravel road to the left with a sign that says "No Outlet".

Drive way entrance to property at edge of town.
You can see the University of Idaho dairy farm straight ahead in this photo.
This is the driveway to the property.  Once you come over to the other side of that ridge, it is just the 2 houses surrounded by beautiful Palouse farmland for miles.  The road literally just dead ends at these 2 houses right outside of town.  The owner is coming in from Montana and will be in the area (if the weather holds out).  It is supposed to snow/rain today (Sunday) and then get bitterly cold this week with lows in the teens.  In fact, I think it is supposed to be 16 degrees on the morning when we meet.  

House for sale behind town
Here is a google map image of the property.  I believe the house I have circled here is the one that is for sale.  There is another house you can see in the lower left part of this picture and several outbuildings.  I do not know where the property boundaries are drawn but hope to find this out on Thursday.  There are LOTS of apple trees on the property but that is about all I know at this time.

Here is the house circled and showing the dairy farm to the east and town to the south of property.
Here is a google map image of the property.  I believe the house I have circled here is the one that is for sale.  There is another house you can see in the lower left part of this picture and several outbuildings.  I do not know where the property boundaries are drawn but hope to find this out on Thursday.  There are LOTS of apple trees on the property but that is about all I know at this time.  Let's just say that this house definitely fits of criteria of being within 5 miles of town.

I was reading the newspaper and happened to glance at the Real Estate section and saw another possibility.  This house is outside of town and I have to make sure it is still within the Moscow School District.  1061 Howell Road Troy ID Views out every window of this 3 bedroom 2 bath home situated on 8.22 Acre between Moscow & Troy. Inside amenities include large living room, dining with gas stove, & coutry kitchen. House features vaulted ceilings, tiled floor entry, & expansive southern deck. Outside is the new garage (26'X24'), old garage (16'X21'), goat pen (21'X8'), green house (8'X16'), chicken house (8'X8') and barn. Property is located at Howell which was a rail road stop. Since the railroad tracks are gone,enjoy the Latah Trail.  In the newspaper, the address was listed as Moscow, but I have a feeling it is a Troy address and this would mean that the boys would have to switch schools.  I am not really excited about that idea but I know that there would be more land at this house.  I am going to go and see it this week too.

Business Plan

I set a goal of having Mark's business plan for the egg business completed before he turns 16.  Well, he turns 16 on January 11 which is just about a month from now.  I have been working on the business plan a lot lately.  I pretty much have the written part completed and now I am adding the financial details.  I am confident that I will be ready to share it soon and would appreciate input at that time.

In the Kitchen

I have been making several homemade gifts for Christmas and I will share all that after the holidays (don't want to give away the gift surprises).  Other than that, things have slowed down here on the farm side of things.  The sunflowers rows are sleeping and the bee activity is minimal as they are hunkered down with their honey for the winter...

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sunflowers, cidar, and new lead on land...


I have been working all fall to put the sunflowers to bed.  I started chopping and dropping the flowers as they were down with their production.  Then, I put down cardboard/newspaper and pine shavings on top.  

I was using up the pine shavings from our guinea pig cages.  I would get a large garbage bag size each week.  So, I would haul them out and put down the cardboard/newsletter and then place the used shavings on top.  This took weeks to do and I finally just had to buy shavings to finish the last two rows.  I wanted to have it finished before we got our first snow.  Lucky for me that we have had such a mild fall with lots of rain!

In the Kitchen

I just wanted to give an update on the hard cider.  I bottled it a couple of weeks ago.  I added some sugar in to the bottle to help produce some carbonation.  I have to admit that I was really nervous about doing this so I went really conservative.  I was scared the tops would fly off from too much pressure.  

The good news is that I finally got to try some with a friend of mine.  It seems to have turned out really good!  It is so nice when something works!  There is some carbonation but not a lot.  I will definitely be making more next year.

Future Farm lead...

Last week, I went to our Rural Roots meeting and was introduced to a couple of people from the Palouse Land Trust.  The mission of the Palouse Land Trust is to conserve the open space, scenery, wildlife habitat, and water quality of the Palouse region for the benefit of current and future generations.  Check out their website...it is really well done.  They fulfill their mission through conservation easements. Conservation easements enable private landowners to protect and conserve their open space, wildlife habitat, water quality and favorite views. Conservation easements are legal agreements between a landowner and a land trust that permanently limit uses of land. Because they are very flexible, easements can allow continued agricultural or forest production, or limited development.

A conservation easement permits landowners to:
Protect what is special about their land
Control future development and uses of their land
Pass land from one generation to the next with reduced inheritance taxes
Gain significant income and estate tax advantages

So, it seems that a family has 60 acres that literally borders the city of Moscow and they are looking for people to farm part of the property.  I do not have all the details.  I was told that there was a house on 4.86 acres that is available.  I am not sure what "available" really means but I know that I get to have a look at it and the property before it goes up for sale/rent.  

I was surprised to see that there is a property that is only a few hundred yards from our current rental house that is part of the Palouse Land Trust.  I had always been curious about this property because it is like a farm right in town across the street from the city soccer fields.  Mark and I walk past it every weekend when we go for our walks and yesterday the horse the lives in the barn (pictured above) came up to the fence to say hi to us.  You can read more about this Urban farm here.

Another place that the boys and I love to visit in the spring is Idler's rest.  It is located just about 5 miles outside of town.  It used to be an old farm and there are fruit trees growing wild throughout the area.  We especially like to go in the spring when the winter snow is melting off Moscow mountain and there are little waterfalls to jump over.  There is a hiking trail and scavenger hunts for the kids.  Also, we have located a couple of geocaches out there in the past.  I enjoy riding my bike out to Idler's Rest...it can be challenging as it is mostly up hill from our house but once you make it to the top, it is easy riding back to town.  Idler's rest is also managed by the Palouse Land Trust.

So, as I mentioned, I do not have a lot of information.  I talked with Amy Trujillo (she is the Executive Director) and Nicholas Norton gave me his business card.  He is the Conservation Projects Manager.  They were going to talk to the people involved and see when would be a good time to come out...

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Varroa mites!


In September, I went to our local beekeeping club meeting.  We had a speaker talk about Varroa mites and how terrible they are for your bees.  I know that varroa mites are bad news but my hive was growing so strong that I had not really been checking for mites.

So, after hearing the speaker, I was concerned so I went to my hive and pulled out the bottom white board.  See, the bottom of my hive has a screen and then here is a white bottom board under that.  I can pull out that white bottom board and see what has fallen through the screen.  

White bottom board pulled out of bottom of hive
I did see some mites but I was not worried because it's pretty much impossible to have a hive and absolutely no varroa mites.  I cleaned off the bottom board and put it back.  Then, I went out the next week and pulled it out and there were a LOT more mites.  I ordered some miticide...

This is my pinkie finger pointing to a varroa mite.
Here is a quick video about the varroa mite and their life cycle.  Yes, this is an advertisement for the miticide and this is the one that I bought and used...

In a perfect world, I didn't want to have to use any treatments on the bees.  However, we have also invested close to $1000 in these bees and so I really want them to make it through the winter!

Miticide strips on top of bars where the brood nest is located (below these bars).
There are definitely less bees in the hive.  In the fall, the hive will get smaller.  The drones are often kicked out of the hive because they are not really needed.  Because there are less bees, you can see the honeycombs better.

The brood nest is to the right of these honeycombs.  My understanding is that the brood nest will slowly start moving to the left as they are consuming the honey over the winter...time will tell!!!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Crunching the numbers...

Farmer's Market

So, it is time to evaluate the profit/loss for this past year.  I have been dreading this and putting it off but it needs to be done.  I knew going in to this that I would be in the red.  Mostly, because I made several larger purchases that were needed but now that I have them, I do not need to purchase again.  For example, I purchased an irrigation system for the sunflowers, a new sign for the booth, and registered ReMARKable Farms with the state.  Each of these things cost about/over $100 but I will not have to pay these items again for a few years (fingers crossed).

Here are the numbers:

2015 2016
Income $733.00 $603.00
Expense $820.93 $901.49
Total -$87.93 -$298.49
They always say that the first 2 years are the most difficult for new businesses.  I am just happy to be getting started and that we can finance these losses easily.  

The good news is that I have saved up $480 in the ReMARKable Farms checking account to start for 2017.  See, in the past, any deficits were paid from the Wetzel household.  My goal for 2017 is that ReMARKable Farms be completely self-sustaining and it is a very doable goal.  I have even set aside our first weeks Vendor fee for the Market and starting cash.

On a separate but related topic, I have been putting money into a savings account for Mark's egg business and we have now saved $2000.  My goal is to have $5000 by the time he graduates from high school.  He is now in his sophomore year...if I keep up with my savings, we will have the money all ready when we need it and can use it as matching funds to get other loans/grants to start our egg business.

Farmer's Market Lesson's Learned


The sunflowers did not seem as popular this year.  I think that there were more vendors selling flowers this year.  I had tried a bunch of new varieties and most of them them just did not work.  So, next year, I am going to regroup and just focus on mostly the single stem varieties.  The branching varieties just did not grow long enough stems to really be used.  I will also try growing even more...I know I say this every year and I have been increasing the number.  However, most of my experimental plants this past year just did not work.  The past 2 years I have brought just over 300 sunflowers to the market each year.,,still thinking...

Jams and Jellies

I have applied for several low sugar jam permits and have received them.  So, next year, I will have low sugar jam for sale.  I don't think there are any other vendors that sell low sugar jam so this will fill a niche.  Also, I have been approved to sell my sunflower jelly.  This was very popular a couple of years ago.  

Another idea that I had for the jams...start selling some pint jars.  I already sell 1/2 pints and 1/4 pints. so there are 2 sizes to choose from.  This past year, I had an old friend contact me via Facebook.  I showed her the farm Facebook page and she said she wanted some huckleberry jam.  She said she wanted 2 1/2 pints.  I asked if I could just make a pint and send it to her because I was getting ready to make some more jam.  She said that was fine so I started cooking.  After it was finished, I went back on to our Facebook messenger conversation to ask for her address and she had deleted our conversation...so weird.  So, I had this pint of huckleberry jam so I just took it with me to the Farmer's market and sold it right away...then, the next week when I made jam, I made another pint and also sold it at the Farmer's market.  The other "jam" vendors at the market only sell one size of jar...both sell 1/2 pints.  I was thinking that having different sizes may be a nice marketing strategy.  It's like having more variety for people to choose from...another idea to try.

Dandelion Wine Salt

This sold well.  I made some sunflower wine and I will use this next year so it will be Sunflower Wine Salt.

Other products...

I was thinking about adding some sunflower lotion bars.  Just not 100% sure about this yet...

Sunday, October 9, 2016


In the Kitchen

Last weekend, our neighbor came over and wanted to show us something.  It was a secret Italian plum tree that is located right behind our rental house.  It is a little bit hidden but it is on city property so it is fair game for picking.  So, Henry picked over 17 pounds of plums!

It was a bit of a challenge to use all these plums.  As you may know, once you pick a plum, it doesn't really keep that long.  So, immediately, I made a bunch of plum conserve to use as Christmas gifts.  A conserve is a "mixture of various fruits are called conserves. Basically, all conserves are jams, but not all jams are conserves. Make sense? Conserves usually contain fruit mixed together with sugar and sometimes nuts and dried fruits."

Next, I made some plum barbecue sauce...Here is the recipe I used for that...Plum Barbecue Sauce

Then, with the last 5 pounds, I decided to do some dehydrating.  For my birthday last month, Henry got me this book.  

Dehydrating has lots of advantages over other types of food preservation.  For example, if you have items in the freezer and you lose power, you might lose all the food in the freezer if it thaws out and goes bad.  Here are some other advantages of dehydrating from themessybaker.com:

Depending on whether you buy extra trays, a good dehydrator costs less than $100, lasts years and can be shoved in a closet when not being used. Beyond that food dehydrators:

1. Save space: Yes, the machine itself takes up room, but it shrinks food significantly, allowing you to fit a lot of  preserves into a small area. This is ideal for camping, large families, and anyone with little room and a big appetite.
2. Extend shelf-life:  The book says dehydrated food keeps for 1 year to be safe, but Jennifer has kept items for 2 years without signs of mold. I didn’t dehydrate enough food to test this time limit. Most of my preserves are gone before winter is over.
3. Make bad food obvious:  Unlike with canning, which can harbour invisible bacteria, when dried food is compromised you can easily see the mold.
4. Create versatile results:  Not only can you dehydrate  fruits, vegetables, herbs and more, you can eat them dried or rehydrate them for anything from cobblers to pizza sauce.
5. Are cost effective:  Dehydrators are not outrageously expensive and allow you to save the harvest when it’s least expensive. Most units are expandable, so you can buy more trays and layers as needed — or not, if that’s the case.
6. Are flexible to use: You can dry one peach or a basket. The unit can run for days on end or for just a few hours.
7. Have a fool-proof technique: Because the temperatures are so low it’s almost impossible to over-dry. Jennifer assured me more than once that, “You can’t mess up!” So, I tested her theory. Yup. I forgot about my first batch of dried peaches when I left them to cool. Of course it was a very humid day and they partially rehydrated. I dried them again, and they’re fine.
8. Create healthy food: Dehydrated fruits and vegetables require no added sugar or salt or preservatives. Plus you get all the fibre of the whole fruit and all the minerals.

Here is a video series about getting started with dehydrating:

So, we were successful in using all the plums and now have some unique gifts for Christmas.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Vinegars, hard apple cidar, and sunflower wine...

In the Kitchen

I have decided to try my hand at making some vinegar.  It began because I had a LOT of white wine leftover that a friend had given me a few months ago.  It was sitting in the fridge.  I like wine but I don't drink everyday so it had been just sitting there taking up space.  So, I bought a white wine vinegar mother and decided to try and make vinegar.  
I had enough leftover wine to make 2 quarts but the mother that I bought was really only intended for 1 quart.  I decided to divide it anyway and cross my fingers.  Well, it seems to have worked because my quarts are each starting to make their own SCOBY.  
See that white film on the top of the wine...that is the SCOBY.  If you do not know what a SCOBY is, I got this definition from Wikipedia: A SCOBY (for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) is a mix of cultures of bacteria and yeast present during production of kombucha and water kefir among others. The term "colony" in the name is scientifically a misnomer, because it implies a group of genetically identical or nearly identical organisms living together. For this reason, the acronym is essentially absent in the biomedical literature and the proper name pellicle is used. The species comprising the mixed cultures vary from preparation to preparation, but generally include Acetobacter bacterial species, as well as various Saccharomyces and other yeast types. SCOBY cultures used in beverage production can produce a structure referred to as a "mushroom," which is also biologically misleading, because mushrooms are a completely unrelated group of fungi. It often forms in vinegar in jars of pickled foods.

To continue on the vinegar theme, I decided to try and make my own apple cider vinegar.  
Here is a video that has information on how to start your own apple cider vinegar.  I went and had found some apples (apple trees grow everywhere around here) and started making applesauce (I also started some sauerkraut this past week with cabbage from my garden!)
Sauerkraut fermenting and applesauce
So, I used the scrap peels and cores from the apples to start some apple cider vinegar.

You can see that it is also starting to form a SCOBY at the top.  I think I put too much in the jar and I may pour a little off.  

Our family also went to press apple cider at Bishop's Orchard in Garfield, WA.  Mark had a good time throwing the apples into the water for washing...
Then, we put them into the grinder and the cider comes out the bottom.
We bottled it up...
..and took home 2 gallons of cider.  We drank one and I added some yeast to the other gallon to make hard cider.  It is still actively fermenting.

I racked both my sunflower wine and my hard apple cider today...
Siphoning wine out of this container into a new one...

The cider will only need another week.  Really excited to give it a try!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Three sister's garden update...

In the Garden

Last fall, I laid out an area to be used as a 3 sister's garden this year.  (See above if you do not know what a three sister's garden is).

So, the garden has been doing well.  The corn grew really tall on one half and not so tall on the other half.  It is probably due to the lighting.  One half is more shaded.  Despite that, we have gotten corn to eat... 

There are beans growing on the corn stalks...

And there are about 4 pumpkins growing on the ground (that I can see)...

 It is a bit of a jungle garden for sure!  I really enjoyed it and will consider doing it again.  I used scarlet runner beans this year and I think I would like to try a different bean.  The flowers were beautiful but I want to try more of a green bean variety.

In the Kitchen

Still fermenting...did both ketchup and mustard this last week (and more salsa).  I used the ketchup to make some barbecue sauce for the ribs we ate on Labor Day and it was SO good.   I have so much whey that I started looking for other ways to use it.  Click on this picture for a great article.  I did use some of the whey as a meat tenderizer for some beef that I used to make some chinese food.


Last Sunday, Joshua and I tried checking the hive.  I wanted to get a picture of him for his 4-H book so this is what we got...he is holding a bar of honey.  I think I posted some videos last Sunday but they were from 3 weeks ago.  Anyway, pretty much, right after we took this pic, the bees just attacked me!  I got stung 4 times.  One in my stomach and one on the back of my leg.  These didn't bother me much.  Then, I got stung in both ankles...I had a pretty bad reaction to those two.  My ankles swelled up and it was quite painful all week.  I mostly sat around soaking them.  Luckily, I had lots of work to do on the computer so that was fine to sit and soak.  

I was finally feeling back to normal on Friday and could get out and do some work putting the sunflowers to sleep for the fall/winter.  I talked to our 4-H bee keeping leader and she said that they can get more possessive of their honey stores when the nectar flow decreases.  So, I guess we will not be checking the hive much.  I am not worried about it at all.  There is tons of honey (and bees) in the hive so I feel it is a strong hive and we have fingers crossed that it will make it through the winter.  Then, we will probably have to split it in the spring  because it has reached it's capacity in this hive.

Future Farm

We did go and look at a property this past week.  It had a little over 6 acres and was nice and flat.  There is an old farmhouse on the property (build in 1898).  It is pretty small and needs a lot of work.  There is also a double-wide on a foundation and this is where the current residents live.  However, we were not allowed to see inside the double-wide...this seems a bit of  a red flag to me.  I didn't think any home could be too small because we are renting a small home but this place was smaller and I could not see how we could "fit" everything.  It is like we would have to live in both houses.  I thought that Henry could use the farmhouse for his consulting business but he doesn't seem too excited about that idea.

It is a bit out of town and the roads would be a concern in the winter.  Basically, we would have to get new vehicles.  So, we are still praying about it.  I just LOVE the layout of the property but not sure I want to live in a small house and renovate a small house...because it would be a shame to lose the farm house.  Lots to think about...

Sunday, August 28, 2016


In the Kitchen

I am not sure why this has taken me so long but I finally have decided to do some fermenting and I just LOVE it!  I picked up this book at the library (click on this picture to check out their blog):

I started with some pickles...both slices and whole dills...
Then, I made some salsa (and more pickles...)
Then, I decided to ferment some garlic as a way to preserve part of my harvest...

Then, I decided to start some fermenting some sunflower wine:
Sunflower petals ready for making wine.

Sunflower petals with hot water to make sunflower tea.

Sunflower tea...getting ready to add sugar and yeast to ferment.

I kept reading in the book for more recipes to try to ferment.  A lot of the recipes call for whey (a byproduct of making cheese).  So, I decided to make some cheese so I could have whey!
Just finished cutting the curd...its really hard to see, it just looks like milk but it solid...

This picture is showing the curds in the cheesecloth draining off whey.  In the background, you can see the whey...I collected 1 1/2 gallons of whey.
This is not fermenting but the boys and I went to pick peaches and I did can some of the peaches.  I also made a peach pie (not pictured):

At the Farmer's Market, someone from Kallstrom Corn came over and bartered for some huckleberry jam.  Then, my neighbor brought me over some corn that he got from his friend in Lewiston.  So, while the cheese was busy fermenting and curding (is that a word) and draining...I decided to process some corn to freeze...
Click on this picture to check out their website and where they are selling corn!

So, as maybe you can tell, it has been a busy 2 weeks for me with all the fermenting, canning and freezing of food items.

Still on the hunt for our future farm...starting to think about looking for land to build...hmmm...decisions, decisions...

The sunflowers are pretty much finished blooming so I am finished with the Farmer's Market for this year.  I will blog about this and some reflections another time...I am exhausted and heading to bed...