Welcome to Cranky Puppy Farm!

This blog belongs to two Gen X-er's smackdab in downtown Kansas City where we've been renovating and decorating two old Victorians built in the 1890's. Our life is filled with 3 demanding Pomeranians (1 of them cranky, of course), honking cars, noisy neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life but we dream of the day when we can move to our 40-acre farm and hear nothing but the wind and the cows next door. Until then, we're chronicling our triumphs and mishaps here as we try to garden and preserve on 2 city lots, raise chickens, and learn all those things we should have learned from our grandparents. Welcome to our world - we hope you'll stay awhile!

I'm SEW Excited!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

This newbie quilter has been a busy little bee, so I thought I would update you on what I've been working on since my quilting class last Thursday night.  Our homework this week was to get all of our fabric strips cut out - these are 2.5" strips the entire width of the fabric.  It was very slow going because I only had the straight ruler, until quilter exraordinaire Helene let me borrow her Shape Cut.  Gals, if you don't have one of these, you need one!  It sped up my cutting by 3 times over at least.  Just line up the fabric and then zip, zip, zip and you're done.

On Thursday, we'll start sewing these strips together and then cutting them into 2.5" x 4.5" squares.  I still need to pair up the fabrics and decide what I want to go together, but that's the fun part.

Which brings me to why I'm so excited!  My old Brother sewing machine and I have been eyeing each other warily as the sewing date approaches.  It's about 17 years old and works just fine, but it is just a straight sewer with no bells and whistles and....well....I'm a little afraid that I'll have problems with trying to quilt with it because it's not very powerful.  I think it was a $49 jobbie from Walmart, if I remember correctly.  It's been useful, but now it's going in the yard sale because I just broke down and bought this!

The Janome DC2012

I used my Chase Amazon card points and got it for a steal!  It's ultra-lightweight and has 50 built-in stitches, including multiple button holes, serge stitches, and simulated handstitching.  The best thing about it?  Clear bobbin case and an automatic needle threader (I'm not getting any younger, you know.)  I put alot of research into a beginning machine for general sewing\quilting and kept coming back to the DC2012 because of the great reviews.  Then I asked in the quilting class and the instructor and everyone else said:  "buy a Janome".  Even the expert quilter with the Bernina said I'd be happy with it.

It just arrived last night and J. and I unpacked it.  Tonight, I'll be trying it out for the first time so that I don't look like a complete idiot in class tomorrow.  And once I've had time to work with it for awhile, I'll post a review for you.

Are you working on sewing project that you'd like to share?  Have any thoughts on the Janome or a recommendation for a product that would make sewing projects easier?  I'd love to hear from you.  Leave me a comment!

Find out what other folks are making over at this week's Country Homemaker Hop.

Chickens in Action

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

J. shot the following video Sunday evening while we had the girls out for their "ultra recess".  That's me throwing mealworms out for them to scramble around and find. They like to take them right out of my hand also, which I know freaks some people out because they're afraid that it hurts when a chicken pecks you. Of course, it can but they're very precise and always get the worm and never my hand. The mouthy Austrolorp will jump up on my knee sometimes if I don't give her a treat when she wants one.

Obnoxiously spoiled chickens!

A Chicken Just Mooned Me

Monday, February 27, 2012

I didn't make it over the strip wallpaper yesterday, because I stepped outside and discovered it was 63 degrees in late February.  There was no way I was going to waste such a beautiful day inside!

The girls were calling to me because they wanted to get out and enjoy the day also.

Let us out!

There were many tasty bugs and tidbits to eat in the backyard buffet.

But then I saw something out of the corner of  my eye.....

Did I really see that?

Yep.  There's a full moon out tonight!

Seems my babies are starting to molt.  I had been keeping an eye on Henrietta, the smallest Austrolorp, because I thought she was being picked on, but I could never see any bullying going on.  She started looking a little raggy and then was losing here feather around her neck and base of her tail.  I caught her so that I could look at her closely and she now has quills sticking out, so her feathers are starting to regrow. 

But now some of the other Austrolorps and at least one of the Barred Rocks are looking raggy and Kermit, the hen in the picture above, and one other Austie have bald butts. 

Normal fluffy hen butt on the left.  Embarrassing Kojak look on the right.

OMG, how embarrassing.  At least it's warm so their derrieres won't freeze!

Plans for the 2012 Garden

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Finally!   I wish you could see my desk right now - it's covered in those beautiful seed catalogs.  While I've been flipping through them over the last month or so while we watched TV, I've had no time to seriously think about what we want to plant and where.  So I've been flipping and oooing and ahhing and then, reading everyone's posts on starting their seeds, I realized I was now behind!

Last year, we grew what I'll call the salsa garden:  2 types of tomatoes, jalapenos, red peppers, and Scarlet Nantes carrots.  I realize the carrots don't really fit into the theme, but I wanted to try it out.  Not a good experiment, because they died.  I was wildly successful with the Early Girl tomatoes, despite the hot, dry summer even though most folks had a terrible time and got very few from their plants.  I was indeed blessed to be able to give away a ton of tomatoes, including huge green tomatoes all the way up to mid-November!

After several late nights of flipping through a stack of garden catalogs and much tearing out of hair, I think I've finished our garden plans for this year!  Here's a crow's eye view of CrankyPuppy Farm.

I realize it's a little difficult to tell what's in those beds, so let's swoop down and take a closer look:

These are the same raised beds from last year and are a little over 4 feet by 12 feet.  I'm basically square foot gardening and each grid is a 4" x 4" square.  So a 3 x 3 grid equals a foot of space.  Here's what we're planting:

West Bed
Lettuce, Salad Bowl
Carrots, Yaya or Scarlet Nantes (haven't decided yet - my Scarlets did NOT do well last year)
Watermelon, Sugar Baby
Peppers, Big Red Sweet
Peppers, Early Calwonder
Peppers, Jalapenos
Tomatoes, Beefsteak
Asparagus, Purple Passion
Garlic, California White

East Bed
Tomatoes, Roma
Green Beans, still determining variety but possibly Early Contender, Blue Lake or Derby
Squash, Spaghetti
Cucumbers, Straight Eight

Since the beans will probably be a bush variety, I'm thinking about growing the cucumbers and\or squash on arched trellises over the beans.  If you've got any thoughts  on the advantages\disadvantages of doing that, let me know. It would look cool and save space, but I need to do some research on this. 

Strawberry Bed
Strawberries, Ozark Beauty
Strawberries, Sparkle Supreme
Onions, white onion sets

Backyard\patio (not shown in picture above)
Blackberries, Triple Crown thornless
Blackberries, Arapaho thornless

The pumpkins made such a mess last year and literally took over the yard, so I'm going to move them over to the west side of the chicken coop where they can sprawl out as much as they want at the base of the dwarf Honeycrisp apple trees.  Those trees were just planted last year, so they don't have huge canopies yet and won't limit the sun for the pumpkins vines.

I'll be interspersing marigolds and comfrey thoughout these beds (but no marigolds next to the green beans because they hate them!)  I didn't do any non-veggie companion planting in my beds last year, so this will be new.

Also, I can't leave out some new flowers!  I've fallen in love with several different varieties - especially the reddish orange Autumn Beauty and the Tall Orange.  I'll be honest, I have never been a fan of the plain old tall spindly sunflowers, but these are gorgeous.  I just have to try them out.  And I'd love to plant a field of poppies around them as well. The jury is still out on that one.

And, finally, we're going to be adding an herb garden on out patio where we'll have fresh cilantro, dill, mint, rosemary and thyme.

Still tons of research to do on the details, but this is the final plan.  The onions, garlic, strawberries and blackberries are planted already.  But I've got some work to do this week:

  1.  Make the final decisions on varieties and order what I don't already have (beans, asparagus, cucumbers, lettuce, squash). 
  2. Get the tomatoes, peppers, jalapenos, marigolds and herbs started indoors.  That means I need to get off my derriere and get the grow lights mounted in the basement!
  3. Build the potato bins out of lunber we already have leftover from our reno work.  Before I did all the research on growing potatoes, I had already ordered Yukon Gold from Gardens Alive.  They don't do well in vertical situations like these bins, so I'm going to switch to Yellow Fin instead. 
  4. Prep the soil in all the beds with some new (old) compost.

Whew!  I'm worn out and excited at the same time.  Have you finalized your garden plans for this year?  I'd love to hear what you're growing and see your plans.

Hope you enjoy your Sunday!  I'm off to grab some lunch and strip wallpaper...

Find out what other folks are doin' over at the Farm Girl Friday Hop and Garden Life Link Up.

Easy-Grow Veggies and Zone Changes

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I'm still working on my garden plans, but wanted to put this resource out there for those of you who might just be getting started with growing your own (where I was last year!) 

If you're not already familiar with their great magazine, the Mother Earth News website has a ton of great information on gardening, self-sufficiency, and homesteading.  While researching which beans to grow, I ran across this article from them titled "Easiest Vegetables to Grow".  I think this is a great article for folks just beginning or even thinking about starting a backyard garden.  The recommended veggies?

  • Lettuce, kale and other salad mixes.  Folks here in Missouri usually just sow the seeds on top of the snow in February\March and they plant themselves as the snow melts!
  • Herbs such as thyme and sage.  You can grow these easily in a pot on your kitchen window sill or patio.  Imagine walking out and picking all the fresh herbs for your dinner rather than that dried up stuff in a bottle.  You'll definitely notice the difference in taste.
  • Potatoes.  Gonna try these this year.
  • Green beans.  Another new one at the Farm this year.
  • Tomatoes, a perennial garden favorite.
  • Summer squash

 That's a pretty good start, I think. Although I'd add a melon or pumpkin to the last as well.  They seemed insanely easy to grow last year.
When you're getting started, there are a couple of things that you need to know:  your hardiness zone (some plants grow better in specific zones) and what your last frost date is (you don't want to plant and then have a frost kill your seedlings, and when you should plant certain crops centers around this date.)  So let's take a closer look at those, shall we?

Finding Your Last Frost Date

The best way I've found to locate your specfic frost date is through the National Climatic Data Center. Choose your state and then locate the city nearest you, and it will show your average last spring (and first fall) frost dates, based on the weather data collected from 1971 through 2000 . You can choose between a 50/50 probability of frost after the given date, or you can play it safe and choose the 10 percent date, which means there’s only a 10 percent chance of a frost after that date.  As your planning out your garden, check your seed source for information about when to plant according to last frost date (often this information is on the back of the seed packets.)

Frost dates for Cranky Puppy Farm.  For most crops, use the 32 degree dates (in red).

New Plant Hardiness Zones for 2012

Another piece of information you'll need to know is what zone you're located in.  The USDA released a new zone map in January of this year, so you'll probably want to check and see whether yours changed.  We moved from a 5b to a 6a.    That doesn't really affect me, because I've always grown based on zone 6 (I m ade my own determination based on the weather.)

There are two ways to check your new zone.  If you just want to know the zone in your zip code, enter your zip and click on "Find".  It will give you your zone information, including the lowest temps in your zone. The second way is to select your state from the top of the map and then you'll get something like the pic to the right:

Helpful, but sometimes your neighborhood can even make a difference in terms of what zone you're in.  So I actually think the interactive map option has the most information.  You can enter your zip code and then zoom in or out, turn off the road labels, where you can search for your zip code and zoom down to your neighborhood, and click on the map to move around.  Here's a close-up of our neighborhood just east of downtown KC. 

Something interesting that we can now see on this map that we couldn't see from the others is that the entire downtown of Kansas City is one step up in zones and is in 6b.  CrankyPuppy Farm is in 6a but the line for 6b is literally just blocks away to the west.  I'm assuming this is because all of the building mass holds heat better than all the suburban lawns.  It also provides a great windbreak from all those Kansas winds and tornadoes, but that's a whole 'nother story.

Anyway, have fun with the map.  I found it mildly interesting, to say the least.  One of those things that you say "hmmpph..." and then go about your day.  But I've always grown like we were in 6a anyway, so I'm not sure this is going to affect my garden plans too much.

One other thing that caught my attention while I was screwing around on the USDA site was this header.

That's an easy enough question when the answer is "you".  If you're a newbie gardener like me and think "I can't grow anything", then I'm proof that that attitude is nonsense.  Start small if you're not sure and then expand to different things.  I certainly don't know everything (not even close!) but I'm learning all kinds of stuff.  It doesn't cost alot other than your time and I've found that gardening is sooooo relaxing.  There's just something about getting your hands dirty.

Dreaming of My Garden

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Guess what I'm up to tonight?

I promised to do a post on seeds and garden planning.  But forgive me, it's going to be late because I've gotten wrapped up in the Republican debate and paying bills.  *sigh*  If only we didn't have those, right?

But I am now knee-deep in catalogs (both printed and online) as you can see and pinky promise to have some detailed plans for you by Friday at the latest.  (I'd say tomorrow, but I have quilting class tomorrow.  Yeah!)

In the meantime, I thought I would tell you about some of my favorite catalogs.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:  Turns out this company is located just a couple of hours south of us near Springfield, Missouri.  They carry over 1400 heirloom and organic seeds (that's all they carry) from the 19th century.  In addition, they host several festivals each year aimed to bring gardeners together to exchange seeds, learn about variets they may not have grown before, and explore the oldtime feel of their pioneer village.  Their spring planting festival is May 6th and 7th this year and J. and I are planning on going.  This is a stunningly beautiful catalog with huge colorful pictures of different veggie varieties, including some very exotic ones.  The catalog is free, but they are out of the 2012 print copies; however, you can download it in PDF version or request their 2013 catalog for next year.

Johnny's Seeds.  Popular purveyor of organic veggie and flower seeds, but not everything they sell is organic or heirloom.  Their catalog is available for free (request it here) or you can view it online and it's provides tons of information including creative ways to grow\plant.  They also sell a dizzying array of gardening items such as hoop houses, grow lights, pots, heat mats and soil block makers (something I'd like to experiment with at some point.)  Their website has a really handly seed calculator that will help you with how much seed to purchase.  This catalog is new for me this year, and I'm looking forward to trying out some of their seeds.  (Maybe their purple asparagus!)

Print from the D. Landreth Seed Company catalog.  Beautiful!

D. Landreth Seed Company:  Landreth is the oldest seed company in America, dating all the way back to 1784.  For goodness sake, George Washington got his seed from Landreth!  Their catalog isn't free ($5.45), but it's chock full of information and vintage ads and prints - the kind you could rip out of the catalog and frame on your wall (if you didn't feel so bad afterward about ripping up such a beautiful catalog.)  They were in some dire straits financially earlier in 2011 and were asking for folks to purchase their catalog to save the company, so I bought the catalog and several packets of seed from them and was very impressed with the quick shipping.  They sell items other than seeds on their website, including some very cool historic weather instruments.  Definitely worth the money spent to preserve such a historic company.  You can read about their history here.

Those are my favorites so far, but here are some others that are worth your while to check out:

Are you planning a garden?  Are there any other seed sources that you think are great?  I'd love to hear about your garden plans!

Interested in everything gardening, homesteading, etc? Then go check out other posts like these over on the Rural Thursday Blog Hop.

Strip Around the Block

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Okay, how many of you thought about streaking in college when you read that title? C'mon...fess up!

Actually, "Strip Around the Block" is the name of the pattern that I'll be using for my first quilt: "Strip Around the Block". It looks like it's pretty easy but what do I know? I'm a newbie. At first I chickened out and planned on making the crib quilt rather than trying to tackle a queen-size but then I thought..."hey, what if this is the last one you make? Might as well make it count." As if this will be the last one. Ha! I am so hooked! And I haven't even sewn a stitch yet.

After work I headed to Hancock Fabrics to try to find a couple more light fabrics to finish out the 12 that I need for the pattern. And, in typical Cranky Puppy form, I found some other fabric that I couldn't live without.   The one on the left makes me think of vintage crocheted doilies.

More fleur de lis! As I mentioned in my earlier post, our house is full or fleur de lis so this is perfect.

And check these out with the tiny flowers and the gardening terms.

Cucurbita Maxima!  On fabric!  How can I NOT use this one?
I'm already having a really hard time deciding which fabrics to use, because I love them all. I may have to go rogue in the class and use them all.  By the way, J. thought I should use either flannel or fur.  He's such a guy.

Work was crazy today so it was great to come home to a house that smelled so yummy. J. had made homemade steak soup and it was absolutely delish.  I'm so spoiled having a man that can cook. 

I'm up way too late tonight working on this post and looking at chicken cams and old fashioned egg cartons. Time for me to hit the sack. I'll be back tomorrow to talk about seeds and garden planning.



p.s.  Forgot to mention that I sold another dozen eggs today to my friend Karen at work.  Thanks, Karen!

February Egg Update

Monday, February 20, 2012

Just a quick post this morning to give you an update on egg totals because the girls have really picked up production!  I'm guessing it's the fact that the weather has been so warm and the days are now getting longer.  As you may remember, we are NOT giving them artificial light.  These numbers are from our 5 Austrolorps and 4 Barred Rock hens that are about 10 months old.

So, in January, they laid just over 7 dozen (89 eggs).  We've still got a 1/3 of February to go and they are up to 112 as of last night.  I expect February's total may be double that of last month.  I've put a tracker on the side bar to the right so that we can keep track of the totals.  And, yes, I am a complete nerd...I have a spreadsheet broken out by month with egg totals, expenses, and egg sales.  This isn't a business, but I'd like to know if this is a cost-effective hobby.  :-)

These are way more eggs than the two of us can eat, so I've been very blessed to be able to give some away and both friends and co-workers are lining up to "order" our eggs at $2.00 a dozen.  And, with the requests for 5 dozen from my new quilting friends, it should pick up the slack and completely pay for the hens' food. 

I hear one of the girls out in the coop doing their "touchdown dance", which means there's at least one new egg out there for me to grab.  So I'm off to have a very fresh omelet. 

Have a great Monday!

Ding ding! Starting Second Round

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Remember that Lawn and Garden show last weekend?  While I was there I stopped into a booth owned by Eden Tree Service.  They were such nice guys and offered to come out the next day to give us a quote on some pretty major work we need done on our house across the street.  The quote was very reasonable and so we went ahead and scheduled the work for President's Day, because J. is off that day (but not me...boo!)

So imagine our surprise when we got a call this morning from Eden that they wanted to come out this afternoon and get the job done before the rain showed up on Monday.  No biggie.....we didn't have plans other than cleaning and starting the renovations.  So here's how we spent our afternoon:

Hard working' men from Eden Tree Service.
Our beloved redbud was dying and couldn't be saved.

Cleaning up what's left.  That beige house across the street is Cranky Puppy Farm.

It took them 5 hours to take down a dead tree, 2 1/2 medium-size trees, remove 2 huge brushpiles, and trim our 100+ year old maple tree off the roof.  In addition to being very reasonable in terms of price, they were extremely polite, did a great job, and left our yard spotless.  If you are in Kansas City and are looking for tree service, I highly recommend Eden Tree Service.  We will definitely be using them again in the future.

So we can cross that one off the list.  The backyard doesn't look like a jungle anymore and we now have room to make the significant deck repairs that need to be done.  But, as I watched them work, our list of things to do outside the house was getting longer.  Next weekend, we'll start the final stage of renovations inside the house and I promise to give you a tour first so we can see the before and after later.  Get your hammer and tool belt ready!

Learning How to Quilt

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I bit the bullet this week and enrolled in a quilting class and I'm scared to death because I literally haven't touched my sewing class in years!  And it's probably been 30 years since I helped my grandmother with one of her quilts.   The first class met on Tuesday and all the ladies have been doing the class with the same instructor FOR YEARS.  And they all welcomed this newbie with open arms, so I think this is going to be alot of fun.  Oh, and ny new quilting friends ordered 5 dozen eggs from me, so there's another benefit to boot!  One of the ladies, Helene, is going to use them to make pound cake so I'm hoping we can talk her into bringing some in for us.

Our first assignment was to go shopping for fabric and there were only two requirements:
  • 100% cotton
  • 12 dark colors and 11 light colors in 1/4 yard pieces

If you count the different fabrics above, you'll see that I have one too many because I couldn't decide in the store.  :-)  And I'm two light fabrics short.  I'll have to look at Hancock or another fabric store, because I just couldn't find anything else that I like.

I think deciding on the fabric is more difficult than putting the quilt together.  Maybe I'm too much of a perfectionist.  Luckily, I ran into some quilters at Joann's and they helped me out with some tips.  I finally decided on a cream\black\burgundy theme because this is going to be a throw quilt for watching TV on the sofa and our parlor has a cream and burgundy theme. 

I'm absolutely in love with the french chicken print on the end.  Here's a closeup:

That goes pretty well with the chicken wire (or beeswax) print.  I'm also in love with the cream and black fleur de lis, because that's another theme that you'll find throughout our house (and look at those little fleur de lis on the chicken fabric!).  

For you experienced quilters out there, what do you think of my choices?  Think they will work?

Now's let talk cost.  I initially thought the cost of making a quilt would be well over $100.  I've spent just under $25.00 on fabric, but I still need the 2 light colored fabrics as well as the fabric for the setting points, the outside border and the back (about 4 1/2 yards).  So, the total for the fabric will be somewhere around $60.  You can spend that much on a blanket from big box stores nowadays, so I consider that a bargain - plus I will have made it myself.  I also had to buy some supplies:  a clear, straight 23.5" x 6.5" ruler, self-healing cutting mat, rotary cutter, new fabric scissors and a seam ripper.  Luckily, all the quilting supplies were 50% off plus I had a 20% off total purchase coupon.  Total additional cost for supplies:  $51.46.

I can't find a pic of the pattern we're using, so I'll post that in my next update.  As the quilt progresses, I'll keep you posted so you can read about all the trials and tribulations of a fledgling quiltmaker.  Like I told J., though.....no giggling!

This post is part of the Rural Thursday and Farm Girl Friday blog hops. Check out what everyone else is doing there!

What to Look For in a CSA

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Today's the day!  We're having a lunch and learn at work to discuss the CSA with Good Natured Farms and I am so excited to learn more about it. 

Let's get this out of the way first:  I realize some of you might not know what a CSA is (I understood what it meant, but didn't know what the letters stood for until I Googled it just now!)  CSA is "Community Supported Agriculture", which means you buy locally from local farmers - you are essentially buying a "share" in their farm.  Rather than eating food that's been trucked all over God's creation before it gets to you weeks later, you get  ultra-fresh food and you know who's growing it.  The farmer gets paid at the beginning of the growing season when they most need the funds for seeds and other supplies, plus it helps increase their revenue later by cutting out the middle men.  It's a much closer relationship between the farmer and the consumer.  Outside of growing your own, it's a great way to have fresh produce for your family to enjoy.

I have really high hopes for this talk today.  With limited raised bed space for gardening, I can't be very experimental in what we grow and a CSA would allow us to try some foods that we haven't tried before or that we can't grow ourselves.  But that's also the fear that I have:  yours truly was a VERY picky eater as a kid (I didn't even try a pickle until 2 years ago) and so I'm always scared to try new foods.  I'm finding, however, that the fear is unfounded.  I've liked just about everything I've tried so far!

So, in preparation for this talk, I went looking for information on how to evaluate a CSA program and ran across these juicy little tidbits. 

Where can I find a CSA?

You can find CSAs in your area by visitinng the LocalHarvest website.  We have 31 in our area!  There's even a Kansas City CSA coalition where you can find more information about local CSAs.  In our area, they usually run from mid-May to mid-October but some run all year in other areas of the country because they're using hydroponic or greenhouse methods.  If you're interested in joining, you'll want to sign up early because many CSAs sell out fast.

What's included in a CSA?

Generally, fresh produce is the main staple and what's included from week to week will vary depending on what's currently being harvested.  Also, some CSAs include stuff other than just veggies:  you often have the option to buy shares of eggs, homemade bread, grass feed meat, cheese, fruit, flowers, bee products or other farm items.  You'll want to evaluate each CSA for what they offer and decide which one best fits your food lifestyle (there are purely vegetarian CSAs, heirloom CSA's, foodie CSAs, etc.)

One thing to look at is flexibility in what's included.  Some farmers will simply put out all their produce and let you pick what you want (using a "credits" system), but others may have a set list of what you get from week to week and you can't deviate from that list.  Be sure to ask what happens if you go on vacation and can't pick up your basket one week - can you delay to the next week or "gift" it to someone else?

How much does it cost?

It depends on the grower, but also on the "share size" that you purchase.  Many farms offer different options from "full-size" shares to "half or partial" shares.  A full-size share is designed to feed a family of four for a week and a half-size share will feed two adults.  Ask if the CSA will allow you to buy in bulk in addition to the cost of the CSA.  Many farmers will allow you to do this and will give you a cost break on those items (think potatoes, tomatoes, or anything for canning or freezing.)  Some will also let you trade work on the farm for a free basket or significant discount.

The cost of the CSA is paid up front (although some farmers will allow you to do installment payments).  Costs seems to run between $200 to $400 for a partial share and $400 to $700 for a full share on average.  For example, the local Growers CSA Alliance at Hen House market here in KC is $25 paid weekly for 20 weeks, so $500 total.  For that, you get 20 weeks of fresh produce, meat, milk, jams, bread, a t-shirt and 2 canvas totes, and a cookbook.   Ultimately, get a list of what an average delivery will look like and then go price the items.  Does it seem like a good value for your family?

Since it's local, is the food organic?

Not necessarily.  You'll want to ask the farmer about their growing methods - do they use pesticides and, if so, what kind?  To be truly organic, the farmer has to be certified.  But that doesn't mean that they don't follow organic farming practices - they just can't say they're organic if they're not certified.  And "organic" doesn't mean that no sprays or fertilizers are used.  Keep in mind that alot of CSA's are made up of several small farms in the area, so you may need to ask about each participating farm.

Do I have to pick it up or do they deliver?

Some CSAs will deliver to your home, some require that you pick it up on the farm, and many partner with local stores so that you can just pick it up there.  You'll want to make sure the drop off times and locations are convenient for you so that your fresh meat\produce isn't left sitting.

This sounds great!  Are there any disadvantages to joining a CSA?

Sure.  Remember, we're talking about farming and anything can happen:  drought, really hot summers, etc.  Be sure to ask about a backup plan in case this happens!  Many farmers will partner with farmers in nearby regions to ensure that CSA members are covered if there's an awful season.  So the products won't be local, but at least you won't walk away with empty hands.

So, in summary, there are lots of things to consider when evaluating whether a CSA is right for you.  Do you participate in a CSA in your area?  I'd love to hear about your experiences and any other tips you might have on evaluating a CSA.

Rant Warning: The FDA is Out of Control

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

If milk prices keep going up, I'm getting one of these.  Kansas City codes be damned!

I promised that I would try and keep politics out of my posts on this blog, and that's difficult because I have some pretty strong opinions about our current administration and what they're doing to our beloved country.  What brought me to the keyboard was this story about the FDA's completely idiotic vendetta against an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania.  How much taxpayer money was wasted going after a peaceful farmer and his customers who were WILLINGLY buying raw milk from his farm?  We have lost sovereign control over our own bodies and what we choose to put in them.  They have run this poor man literally out of business.

And then I read this story about a little girl who was told that the school  lunch that her grandmother had lovingly packed for her wasn't "nutritious enough", so they took it away from her and gave her....chicken nuggets!  Processed chicken packed with hormones and preservatives - that's more nutritious than a turkey and cheese sandwich??!!  And where the heck does the state government get the power to determine whether what a parent is feeding a child is "up to standards"?

It's sickening what's happening, guys.  We CAN change this, though.  Grow your own.  Support local farmer's markets.  Get out and vote and throw these crazy overreaching, control-hungry people out of power.

That's right, I'm one

I'm a Really Cheap Date

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Well, happy V-Day!  Or should I say Happy "completely unimaginative, consumerist-oriented and entirely arbitrary, manipulative and shallow interpretation of romance" Day?

Just kidding.  Well, sort of.  J. and I have never celebrated Valentine's Day.  It pains my fiscally conservative upbringing to see someone spend $30 on a dozen roses, only to have them die in a week.  And I've never felt the need to be given material things to know that I'm loved.  I don't begrudge the holiday for other folks - it's just not my thing.

But that doesn't mean we didn't celebrate in some form or fashion.  The evening started out with a trip to Sears Outlet for 2 more pieces of FREE clothing:  a really nice black Levi's buttoned dress shirt and a  package of Hanes undershirts for J.  Then we were off to grab some free Redbox movies (use code HEART today only for a free rental).  And, finally, dinner at Houlihan's where J. had received a FREE $15 entree coupon because his birthday is this week.  The waiter screwed up our bill and ended up taking our drinks and my soup off, so we paid just $10 for dinner.  Score!

So there you have it...I'm a cheap Valentine's date.  But a night out with my sweetie?  Priceless.

Oh, and a shout out to my buddy, Tom, who turned the big 4-OH today.  Remember: growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional!

Finally, A Snow Day

Monday, February 13, 2012

The front door of the coop as I trundled out to check on the girls this morning.

I had almost forgotten what snow was, with all these 50 and 60 degree days we've had this winter. 

We knew it was going to snow last night, not because Joe from Fox 4 had told us it would, but because the wind was completely dead and the air was crisp.  I don't know how to explain it, but I suspect you know what I'm talking about.  There's a certain crisp, cleanness to the air right before it snows.

I awoke this morning a little after 3 a.m. and begrudgingly fell out of bed to find the world blanketed in beautiful, quiet whiteness. Snow washes away all the dirt and grime of a dingy city and makes it look new again, even if only for a fleeting couple of hours.  It's a little big of magic in an otherwise mundane life.  Like the snowflakes hitting my face as I took the picture above.

To me, it's all a reminder to slow down, catch my breath, sit a spell...

Bee's Wax Lotion Bars

One of the booths we stopped by at the Lawn and Garden Show this weekend belonged to a local bee farm, Koelzer Bee Farm, and they were selling fresh honey and bees wax products.  They were guaranteeing that their lotion bars will "cure" psoriasis and eczema or they will give your money back and, since I constantly fight psoriasis on my knuckles and dry cuticles, I decided to try it out.  They had some samples to try, and it seemed heavenly!  Not at all greasy and it made my hands feel so soft.  So I bought the celtic heart you see above.  I just love the design.
However, the price of $8.00 for a small bar and $15.00 for a small bar seemed really high, and I was curious if this was something I could make myself.  So I went looking for a simple recipe that only contains those ingredients and I ran across this one:


3 oz beeswax
3 oz shea butter or cocoa butter (I'm going to split this into 1/2 cocoa and 1/2 shea)
3 oz coconut oil
1 to 2 teaspoons fragrant oil (if desired)

  1. Chop the beeswax finely (will allow it to melt faster).
  2. Melt the beeswax, shea butter and cocoa butter together in top of double boiler (or a few minutes in the microwave).  Blend together.
  3. Slowly blend in fragrance oil, if desired, while rapidly stirring.
  4. Let the mix cool slightly, then pour into soap or candy molds and let harden.
  5. Pop out of molds and place in little zip lock bags.
  6. To apply, just roll around in your hands and the bar will melt as it gets warmer.  Then you can apply to your hands, cracked feet, elbows, lips...anywhere!  Shelf life on this is somewhere between 6 months to 1 year.  Do not refrigerate!

I'm definitely going to try making this myself as soon as I can get my hands on the ingredients, and it will be fun finding some neat candy molds for this project. 

If you want to play with the amounts for the ingredients in the recipe (like me), just know the following:

Shea butter:  gives the lotion a creamy consistency. Melts at 76 degrees.
Cocoa Butter:  adds moisturizers and hardness. If your lotion seems too "melty", increase the amount of cocoa butter slightly.  Melts at 120 degrees.
Beeswax:  affects solidity and hardness and protects the "lotion" from washing off when you wash your hands.  More beeswax will equal a harder bar.  Melts at 160 degrees.

Have you ever tried making your own soap or lotion bar?  If so, I'd love to hear any tips or recipes that you'd be willing to share. 

Hope everyone has a great Monday!

Find out what other folks like me are doin' over at the Barn Hop.

Report from the Lawn and Garden Show

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A trio of gorgeous orchids.  I can grow veggies, but not these pretties!

Paula and I spent pretty much the entire day at the Lawn and Garden\Remodeling show today.  Lots of stuff to see, so I'll just give you the highlights here.

Operation Wildlife was there with several beautiful birds that they have rescued.  It's always a great time getting to see these birds up close and learning their stories.  If you're not familiar with Operation Wildlife, they're a publicly funded wildlife clinic that provides rehabilitation for injured or orphaned wild aminals in northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri.   They receive NO state or federal funding and rely solely on donations from the public.  Definitely a worthy cause.  If you'd like to learn more about or donate to them, visit their website.

Screech, a Red Screech Owl.  This little guy is only about 11 inches tall and was so close that we could have reached out and petted him. 

Beautiful peregrine falcon rescued after it was hit by a car.    I think her name was Mora(?)

Cranky Puppy on a New DIY Show? 

And, of course, THE event at the show was getting to hear Ahmed Hassan from HGTV's "Yard Crashers" speak.  I've met several celebrities in my time and Ahmed was probably the most engaging, down-to-earth celeb so far (although Emeril Lagasse is up there as well).  He kept the crowd going for 45 minutes and then spent another hour talking to folks, posing for pictures, and signing autographs.  Don't tell J., but both Paula and I got a hug from Ahmed.

His wildly successful show has resulted in several spin-offs, including House Crashers, Bathroom Crashers and Kitchen Crashers.  So I couldn't resist pitching him an idea for a new show. 

Whadda ya think?  I'd watch it.  Turns out Ahmed has been working on his own chicken coop at home.  Hey, HGTV or DIY producers:  if you need a designer, have your people call my people.  M'kay?

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