Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Till, Baby, Till!*

That's Mizz Tiller to you.
Oh yeah, the VP was working her ass off today.

This morning was sunny and mild and after looking at my rockin' Mother Earth News "when to plant" schedule for Washington state, I realized I better beat an egg out to garden and get some soil/poo tilled under.

The worms and microbes need several weeks to break down the poo and fibrous material, you see, and since I will be planting peas, lettuce and broccoli (hopefully - they are a touch runty right now) in the next 30 days I figured it was a good time.

After wrestling the tot into her sweatshirt (it wasn't that nice out) we exited the dwelling for some good old fashioned tillin'. I figure I've got about 45 minutes, at the most, of Tot Time where she can play by herself before the whining and wild looks start and I know her time is up. So I hustled. Ain't nothing like a 32 year old slightly out of shape woman scurrying around in her pea patch, wrenching the tiller back and forth, back and forth until her arms feel like jelly to really get a person ready for spring. I could work out, but I don't. I don't like to sweat. Hence the jelly arms. I am what I am.

We will have another snowstorm in February, which is how La Nina does it (bitch) but I think that will just about do it for us this season, and I'm ready to PLANT.

I've decided to do squash primarily in tires spread around the perimeter of the patch, mostly because I don't want to give up two beds for them, but also because I can plant earlier in tires, since the sun heats the soil quicker. I'm thinking early May for those and then succession planting. I'm going to intermix borage on the corners of beds and in some pots spread amongst the patch. Also some sweet peas. Because they are sweet and pretty and I have two packs of them.

I've started my onions and (runty) broccoli, and will start another flat of onions this weekend so I can succession plant those little bastards as well. I got onion sets from the nursery last year and if it wasn't for my substandard, heavy rocky soil, I think I could've had success. This year I amended heavily with fibrous material (straw and leaves) and manure (that was one of my cow manure beds) so I'm hoping this crop will get bigger and bolder than last year.

I also found cilantro and dill in my seed packets, so those bad boys will get started and cultivated under grow lights in the next couple of weeks before I transplant the babies outside.

Also, and splendidly, tomatoes will be started indoors in the next couple of weeks. I had much success with starting tomatoes from seed last year and can't wait to do it again this year. I did not do so well with staking and the weather didn't do so well with, you know, warmth, but all in all I'm jazzed for this new season. Even if we will exit the home before the full harvest is in.

The GM once told me that she would just "make a garden wherever I went" and that it was a continual process for her - and sometimes she had to leave gardens she really loved. The GM, as you may recall, can look nicely at something and it will grow instantly. She has a degree in botany, so....But that really helped me during a time late last year when I was stymied by the garden and our unsure future home plans. Then I realized I needed to think about my favorite quote - "get busy living or get busy dying" and just get going. The joy is in the process, not the destination.

So the VP, the Lindsey and the Tot got going. And now my beds look *almost* ready for planting.




*I in no way endorse the "drill baby drill" ethic that suits, bureaucrats and hillbillies try to sell to people who are either too stupid or too tired to understand what a bad fucking idea it is. I cannot fathom how destroying the environment for a nominal amount of gas or oil that all scientists agree would last us about 2 years can possibly be a good idea. It leaves me in awe that those same suits, bureaucrats and hillbillies don't understand that investing time, money and energy in renewable clean fuel (NOT COAL) is going to save our lives, the lives of our children and the only planet we have found, so far, that can sustain life.
Just saying.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Thin and Crispy Oatmeal Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies

Maybe I should come up with a different name for them, seeing as the name right now is ridiculously long. But I don't like titles that have nothing to do with the finished product so we're gonna stick with what we got.

I found an article online that talked about leaveners and how that impacts cookie dough and the finished product. I have been on a quest, as some of you know, for the perfect chocolate chip cookie for a while and hit on them HERE and now the quest moves on to oatmeal cookies.

I had a friend growing up whose mother was a chef. She made these oatmeal cookies that were so thin and crispy that they looked, sometimes, like lace dotted with raisins.

SO. STINKING. GOOD. I always wanted the recipe but she wouldn't give it to me (she was a kind of a bitch about that sort of thing) so I've been making substandard oatmeal cookies ever since - looking, looking, looking for my sweet little lace cookie.

*sigh*

This recipe today is very close to the ideal. This is a conglomeration of 3 different recipes and halved b/c I like cookies but hate to have a fuck ton just hanging out in my kitchen - they never get eaten and it's always a waste of precious ingredients. Also, I'm a tart and dark sort of girl - meaning I love me some cranberries, tart cherries, and dark, dark chocolate in just about all my baked things. I'm particular. So I've omitted raisins and added cranberries and semi-sweet chocolate chips. But of course, as with almost anything, feel free to add and subtract ingredients to your heart's content. It's really the dry ingredients that matter the most, anyways.



Thin and Crispy Oatmeal Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 C Flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (make sure it's fresh)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
7 tablespoons butter - softened
1/2 C white sugar
1/8 C brown sugar packed
1 smaller egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 C rolled oats (I used quick cook oats)
1/4 C coconut
1/4 C Dried Cranberries
1/4 C Choc Chips

*Preheat to 350
*Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl - set aside
*Cream butter and sugars
*Add egg and vanilla and beat away. Remember to scrape down your bowl every now and then.
*Add flour mixture (low speed)
*Add oats (low speed)
*Add coconut, cranberries and choc chips until just incorporated (low speed)

Get a tablespoon sized glob and roll it in your hands to make a ball and put on baking pans lined with parchment paper. Gently push the center to make them a little flatter.
Bake 13-15 minutes until edges are golden brown.

And enjoy.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Do Your Duty, America!


This was posted by someone on Facebook and I loved it so thought I would share it here.

As if keeping chickens is that easy. Well, I guess it could be. But it's not.

But I super love the idyllic picture of the little girl feeding the flock while the boy hammers a little chicken house together. All is fine and dandy in the land of Americana.

Yet, surprisingly, it's NOT that easy to keep chickens. Well, the mechanics of chicken keeping are easy - feed, provide shelter, collect eggs, repeat as desired. But the actualness (I'm making that a word) of keeping a backyard flock tends to rear it's ugly head to push that lovely little picture out of the way.

Such as, oh, I don't know, having little chickens who never lay eggs. Or who roost in the neighbors tree, despite having both wings clipped and being surrounded by a 6 foot privacy fence. Or, for instance, three hens who like to roost so high in an evergreen tree at night that their human protector can't get to them, but raccoons and opossums can. Of laying their eggs, all of a sudden, in the giant yard so that everyday is like a really oppressive egg hunt. For me.

Just as a for instance.

So what is chicken maven like me to do? I like free ranging the hens - our whole yard is surrounded by fence and relatively safe, but the incidentals, the actualness, if you will, keep getting in the way.

So they are all in the chicken tractor now - backed up to the coop and covered on one end in plastic. Sometimes I feel like the Frankenstein of the 1/4 acre - always concocting new living arrangements for the chickens. I could handle all of the above problems but the roosting in the neighbors tree is out of the question because I can't stand that woman and don't want to talk/look/tromp through her backyard EVER. And I have clipped the chickens wings. So, you know, I'm out of options.

Except for one.

  Ha ha ha.


 Joke's on you, ladies.


Not that I'm trying to be antagonistic towards them, I'm just trying to keep them alive and also protect my investment.

Your Farm In The City recommends 3-4 square feet of floor space per bird. I have 20 square feet of space in the run and 6 more under the coop to make 26 square feet for 5 birds. Not ideal. I'm going to have to rethink it and possibly make a new run after we move but for now it's okay. I'm going to do the deep litter method of keeping chickens which I will do another posting on.

So it appears all the chickens are now in the your fucked tractor. Poor babies. I'll be reevaluating my coop plans in the near future. Also, the coop design (or maybe no coop at all) will depend on where we live and what the land looks like. But for now, we are like the Marines - we just make do.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bottles and Waste

Trying not to get all vershmunckled (Yes. That's a word.) I cleaned out the fridge of all the homemade bottles of things that went bad during our power outage. And while I was able to save the most important items (like cheese - got a toddler? Then you NEED cheese) I didn't have enough space in the cooler during the storm to save it all.

Some things I just put in the backyard and hoped for the best. Others I knew were going to have to be tossed.

Between salsas, pickled jalapenos and banana peppers, chutney's, tomato, pear and apple sauces, and a couple wayward jars of chunk pears that I canned with light simple syrup, I had a ton of mason jars left over.


And more in the sink.

So when I stop to ask myself if canning food is worth it, all I have to do is look at how much of what we eat came from our garden and was canned and stored to be enjoyed in December. Then I realize that it is indeed worth the time and effort (if minimal expense) to can the things we love. Most notably sauces and salsas.

Canning is a relatively new thing for me - I've only been doing it the last year or so. I feel somewhat comfortable doing water bath canning, but have not attempted pressure canning. Something about the word "pressure" makes me think I'm gonna screw up, the top is going to fly off and something expensive will be shattered in the process. I know the chances of that happening are tiny compared with how many times I've burned myself water bath canning (not the mention the unfortunate demise of my plastic Starbucks water cup when it got just a little too close to the stove top.) but I can't muster the courage just yet.

I personally like canning in pint sized jars, myself. I can do quarts, but have to use a different pot and it makes a racket as the jars bump and grind against the bottom. My actually canning pot (meaning: designed for that purpose) can only handle pint sized and smaller, so I often can things in smaller jars. I can fit 7 in there at once, and I never (unless it's cucumbers) have that many jars to can in one sitting. I wish my garden was that productive!

I also found that pickling things is extra super fun and since I'm a salt-hound, pickled things go well with my sensibilities. I discovered, for instance, that pickling banana peppers makes peppercinis commonly found nestled in between condiments at your local Subway. I discovered this late in the season last year, as the banana peppers were heading out of the local fruit stands. That's one mistake that won't be repeated! We are now out of said peppercinis and I must wait another 6 months to get more. Boo.

I have earned "hippie" status among my friends - even though I work in an office setting and use my computer far more than the average bear - and I find I like that status. I like knowing how to can when most people don't. I like knowing the process of making soap using lye, water, fats and oils. I like knowing how to plant and harvest food for my family, even though I have to keep reminding myself that I like it when my counter is overflowing with cucumbers that need to be pickled and canned and it's 95 degrees outside. 

I love it all.

I even love my hippie designation. Now. how to make money off of it? Hmmmm.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Best Scraps to Feed Your Red Wriggler Worms

*And some scraps of thought for your mind, too.*

Worm composting is fun, safe and SLOW. In the end you get some great compost, but I must say, people like me who have worm bins and cultivate red wrigglers are complete dorks and do it for the fun of it - not the reward of extra compost or someplace to put our kitchen scraps. We do it for the fun and the science of it.

We do the things we do because for whatever reason we become smitten with ideas and then it takes root and then we get hooked. I'm using the generic WE in this post, because I know I'm in good company with the rest of the dorks out there who garden, keep animals, make soap or knit.

It's cheaper and easier to buy a sweater at Old Navy - but people who love to knit talk themselves into doing it because A) they love to craft and B) they are convinced what they make will look/feel/be better. Even though that may not always be true.

Right?

Same thing for gardeners. Time wise - it's easier (although not cheaper) to buy our own produce and fruits. Some would say that More Time = Better Return on Happiness. But gardeners like me LOVE getting out in the garden, fussing over little plants, pruning, building, mulching and harvesting. We are complete dorks for the work of it. Yeah, we could spend that time doing other things, but it's the ACT of gardening that we love, just like the ACT of knitting is a love. And that love is a very complex eco system of motivational factors - from food safety to product ethics to learning a new skill.

Hm. Seems I had a point here.

Oh, yeah.

When I look at worm composting, I understand that it takes time, it takes space, and it grosses people out. I get that and I love the process of it, and I invest time, money and energy in it so I can produce a product and feel good about the process of it.

We will always make time, money and energy for our priorities, FYI. Always. And when I was researching what to feed the little devils to make them eat more, and consequently produce more, here is what I have learned.

*Do not feed them egg cartons cut up. Something in the dye will kill them.
*Do not put in citrus fruits. Too acidic.
*Cut the scraps down into smaller pieces so they can move through them quicker. Usually 1 X 1 inch works well.
*Worms love poop. Give them some poop. But NOT dog, cat, human or rodent poop. Give them ONLY Horse, Sheep, Alpaca, Cow or Llama poop. Not even chicken poop as it tends to be too hot for them (too much nitrogen).
*When possible, shred newspaper in an actual shredder - not just by hand. The worms will break it down faster.
*No glossy ads from the newspaper - just stick to the regular pages.
*As long as you have a way for moisture to escape out the bottom, you can never hydrate the bin too much. Just make sure that hydration has a place to go
*You can add grass clipping, leaves, mulch, etc, but if your worm bin is inside, be prepared to have potato bugs and other varmints in with your worms. It won't hurt them, it'll just add to the bin environment.

When gardening, to boost up the natural night crawler and red wriggler population in your soil, you can amend the soil with shredded newspaper, hay and grass clippings (not gone to seed). We all know that, right? But did you know that you can throw expired food items out in the garden and either till it in or just rough some soil over it?

I have dumped old milk, beer, and buried bread crusts, egg shells, coffee grounds, orange rinds, rice, millet, yogurt, etc in my garden beds, both during the growing season and when it's lying fallow and I have noticed that the bug activity has gone way up. As it naturally will. I tend to bury my food waste, lest a garden rodent make an unwanted appearance and I never put protein, unless it's in dairy form, out in the beds.  I also won't throw nuts out there, as they invite Squirrels and Birds into the garden. I throw those things in the other part of the yard to entice them away from my garden beds.

I pick up huge bags of coffee grounds from Starbucks, carry home bags of shredded paper from my office, and always have a compost container going on my counter - sometimes for the chickens, sometimes for the worms, and sometimes for the beds. Depends on what mood I'm in.

So it's about being a steward of worms, really. Both indoors and out.

And being a giant dork. That too.

The process of gardening, worm composting, knitting, making soap or doing other crafty things is, I think, to close the loop. Do just one more thing with our own hands, instead of relying on other people to do it for us. Self-sufficiency is a buzz word right now right along with sustainability, but that is what we are doing. Removing one more cog from the equation and learning how to do it ourselves. And in that process of complete abandon to dorky things that we love, we learn new stuff and discard the stuff that doesn't work.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Broccoli and Onions are UP!

We finally got power back on yesterday at noon. I happened to be at home feeding the animals when it came on and was in the middle of a freak out (replete with repeating words and walking around in circles) as I had just locked myself out of my cold, dark and dreary house with the Tot inside, screaming her head off and very upset. 

 

There is nothing more upsetting that being 1) unable to stop your child from crying and 2) being locked out of your house with your screaming child on the inside.

 

But I gradually stopped chanting "shit, shit, SHIT" and found a rock and beat the crap out of my front door knob until it fell onto the ground in a twisted heap of metal. 

 

The door popped open and I was able to save the day. After wrecking the day. But whatever. 

 

And it was then that I noticed the power was on (Hooray!) and the onions and broccoli were up (Double Hooray!) I guess in my house all it takes is 3 straight days of freezing temperatures and no heat from the heat lamps or warming blanket to pop seeds up. 

 

Go figure. 


Because I mixed my own potting soil from things on hand, some of the sprouts are actually weed seeds, so I'll have to pick those out as I go, but that's no big deal. 


I'm getting excited about the new growing season and this first batch of things will be going in the ground in the next 2-3 months. (Yeah, it takes awhile). 


It's been an interesting week, but we are getting back on track, slowly but surely. The house has been cleaned up, the excess garbage taken out, the heaps of recycling (since they didn't come around last week) put out for pick up. We are making a dent in the things that need to be squared away. 


And it was oh so nice to sit down on my own couch last night and have something hot to drink while I watched a documentary on HBO. 


This snow/ice/wind storm taught me how to be careful what I wish for. 


I have always wanted to "rough it" more and not be so dependent on the infrastructure to keep me happy. I know now that in some ways roughing it is doable (making my own food, keeping a fire going) but in other ways it totally sucks (not having media or access to the world).


Also, I have been wishing for more light in my pea patch, as the encroaching evergreens and deciduous trees are throwing more and more shade into the patch, and the storm took care of it. Half of the big tree in my backyard split off and my neighbor lost several of her large evergreens, so there is more light streaming into the yard. Which is good, but the hinky loss of privacy is taking some getting used to. Not to mention wading knee deep in tree branches every time I go out to feed the chickens. 


I was also wishing for more kindling the other day and it seems the whole back yard is now full of it. Now I have to gather it, stack it and bring it in to dry. So. Yeah. Whatever. 


Lesson's learned. Careful what you wish for. Yadda,  yadda, yadda. 


I'm going to go do more cleanup, both inside and outside!



 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snowmaggeddon 2012 - Days 3, 4 and 5

The Ice Storm

(or Lindsey Tearing Her Hair Out)


I live in the Evergreen State. It is called this because we have a dominating presence of Evergreen trees that are huge and laden with branches filled with pine cones, needles, birds and everything else that lives in Evergreen Trees.

They are gorgeous. Until they are covered in 6 inches of snow and 2 inches of ice and start falling over. Into power lines, into trees, and into people.

When the ice storm arrived, I don't think anyone had any idea how bad it was gonna get and how quick it was gonna get bad. Within hours of our mega snowfall, the frozen rain started and there has been nothing but trouble ever since. Over 250,000 people are without power in this part of the state. Mostly in rural areas (where my neighborhood borders) and the ex-urbs (the suburbs of suburbs).


People in these parts don't really have generators. We rely on Puget Sound Energy to keep us in lights (and food, and hot water, and sanity). And PSE is kicking ass to try and get the lights on, but most people like ME have been without power since Thursday morning and are staying with relatives. I am lucky - I have the GM and friends who have power close by and we have enough places to stay. But being out of power and away from home for days on end with a toddler is no one's idea of a good time.

In fact, it's my idea of the worst possible time ever. Only slightly eclipsed by the day we spent at home in freezing temperatures playing board games and trying to be creative with snacks before we eventually escaped.


When the huge branches of the Evergreen Trees surrounding our property started to crack, crack, whoosh to the ground, I got nervous and booked it for safer venues, while the H stayed to guard the homeplace.

Now. I'm no fool. I saw the storm coming a week ago and we got prepared. We had plenty of food (non-perishables), wood for the stove, and diapers galore. Pet food, candles, cars gassed up, etc. Have I mentioned that I don't like crowds? I like to be prepared so I don't have to rush out and be among people in their frantic, ridiculous, "I can't believe this is happening" state. When the power went out, all our important perishables went into a cooler and out into the back yard to stay cool and we hunkered down.

Here are some lessons that I have learned about myself and about weather and power problems:

*There are pros and cons. Pros would be that I had to clean out my freezer and refrigerator today when I went to feed the chickens because everything has defrosted and can't be refrozen. Meaning: I have to throw it all out. Which leads to the con- I have to throw out all my homemade chicken stock, beans, peas, peppers, apple slices, pie filling, peaches, and egg rolls that I had stored in my freezer.

We won't go into how much that is going to cost to replace. Or how much time I wasted putting it all up to have it tossed 6 months later.

*I am the baddest bitch there ever was when I have to drive on ice, slush and snow. In a car that also functions as a go-kart. I rule. I don't like it, but I can't hold my own.

*If you don't have a generator, at least have natural gas for your A) hot water heater B) the stove ~and~ C) the fireplace. Because if you lose power, you'll have hot food, hot water, and a fire. And that's just fine...

*Having an automatic car during a black out is preferable because when you have to sit in a 2 mile backup for one stop light that is out, you can get pretty irritated and sore if you drive a stick. I drive a stick. Just saying.

*When the power goes out, it is boring. Booorrrriiinnngggg. Grit your teeth, shake your head and pray you don't take hostages just to spice things up boring. Fuck.

*People forget to drive when things get serious in the weather department. It's prison rules down here right now. Every man for himself and for godssake, don't drop the soap. And ALL the cops have mysteriously disappeared. You'd think this joint would be lousy with them, but oh, no. It's weird.

*No matter how many times you check the PSE website (at 3:30am or 3:45am or 4:00am as you are up with a cranky toddler who has trouble sleeping in a pack and play) it won't make your power come back on faster. I've tried. It won't. Praying doesn't do it either. Neither does swearing, making ultimatums or placing bets. Nothing works.

*It SO NICE to have awesome family and friends around. The GM has opened up her house to us and as usual it is very easy to be here. There is power, a fireplace and food. I am *relatively* happy. Although being away from home is hard for me, being at the GM's is not. I visited friends today for a change of scenery and they made me lunch and my BF even changed the tot's diaper when I couldn't get off the couch - I was sluggish with pasta at that point. SO NICE.

*I am way too dependent on technology. And I like it. I like my phone. I like my computer and I LOVE TV. Being without was hard and scary and upsetting. I felt cutoff and alone. I'm not good at feeling cutoff and alone. I didn't even have cell service! I would not be able to hack it as a country mouse without technology. I love gardening, growing my own food, and all the animal husbandry stuff, but I want to transition at the end of the evening from that to checking my email, and watching an episode of House Hunters. I will not apologize for being addicted to media! (Nor should you....)

Anyhow. It's off to watch TV and sit around. No chores and miles away from home leaves my time strangely unstructured and I have a hard time thinking about what to do. Life has been disrupted. But it will get back to usual soon.

I'm just glad when our giant tree in the backyard split in two, the side that fell landed right next to the chicken coop and not ON it. Small favors and don't I appreciate them!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snowmaggeddon 2012

Day 2

We woke up this morning to 7 more inches of beautiful powder. Outside it was crisp and bright and the snow was still falling - everything was soft, soft, soft.

In the Northwest, this is a big deal. Businesses close, schools close, roads close. We cover it on the news. It would be like if Alabama voted straight democratic in the next election. It's a Big Deal. People started hoarding supplies 2 days ago. I wish I was making that up, but I'm not. Hoarding supplies. For snow that will be here for maybe the next 24 hours.

I promptly went outside to dig out the chickens. The little chicken's tractor was completely buried, but last night I wedged it in a corner so they would escape the worst of the wind and cold. Seems to have worked out well as they still had a nice patch to walk around on. I fed and watered the eggless bastards and moved on to the divas in Coup B.


Ladies? Oh, Laaadieeesss.

"We're not comin' out. No way, no how."

Now why oh why wouldn't they want to come out and flounder around the yard in chest deep snow that offered absolutely no hope of any bug, insect or other piece of food? Crazy Chickens.

When a yard looks as pretty as this?
 

The snow saga continues. It's melting now, and getting warmer. I have the distinct need to get out of my house and spend time AWAY from my H (all married women will agree with me that there is such a thing as too much quality time with your spouse and the choices are leave the premises or kill him and hide the body) and I'm anxious to get back to work. But something or someone has seen fit to give us a day of rest and far be it from me to look the paradigm in the eye and say fuck you. 

So. I will be online, working on my website, working on my blogs, and enjoying some peace and quiet known as a snowy naptime. 

I love naptime. Just ever so much. The Tot is a wonder to behold, but even wonders need to cease for a couple of hours.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wagon Train Cookies

These have been in my family for a while. I think they started out with my Grandma, then went to my mom and when I got old enough to learn how to work on oven, I got the recipe.

This is one my favorite cookies - soft yet dense, light yet super chocolatey. Plus, the recipe dates back, I think, from the Great Depression (or maybe I just hope it does, because that makes for a cool story).

Using whole ingredients makes this recipe super easy with stuff usually found in a typical bakers pantry.


Wagon Train Cookies

4 Eggs - beat until frothy
2 C Sugar - add and beat

Melt together:
1/2 C butter and
4 squares bakers chocolate (the unsweetened kind)
Set aside to cool a little then mix into the egg/sugar mixture.

Add:
2 C. flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla (Mexican vanilla is best)

Chill in the freezer for 2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator
Form into little balls (about a tablespoon full)
Roll in powdered sugar and put on a baking sheet with parchment paper on it. Or an ungreased sheet. Don't flatten them, just leave them in ball form.

Bake 12 minutes at 350 degrees. They will come out mildly crunchy around the edges and soft in the middle.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Snow Day

It snowed on the 1/4 acre and what a beautiful day it was.

My normal day off rendered me jazzed about the falling snow. I didn't have to be anywhere, I didn't need to do anything. I could just enjoy the day with the Tot and the H.


In typical form, whenever it starts to snow, I immediately want to do three things at once: Bake, Put on boots and go outside, and read a book with a cup of coffee. It's like an interior civil war. The Tot was up and so we took a stroll down a pristine lane - untouched, crunchy snow. Absolutely fabulous.


There is a stillness and softness that happens when snow falls. The traffic noise disappears, the neighbors stop talking at the top of the lungs on their cellphones outside while smoking cigarettes, the dogs hush, and everything is covered in a blanket of wonderful, silent, white.


Even the chickens found the courage to venture out in a yard covered in the white stuff. For most of the morning, the darlings stayed under our evergreen tree trying to recuperate from the trauma of an evening of frigid snowfall, but then I came outside with the kitchen scraps and they somehow mustered the ability to come to the fence to investigate. Brave. Oh, so brave.


Several other projects were completed today, including rearranging the "soap room" (really just our spare room off the side of the house) and laundry. But those are mundane in a day of extraordinary snowfall. A few weeks too late for Christmas, but we'll take it nonetheless.

Snow + Day Off = Awesome.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Homemade Seed Starting Mix

Today was seed starting day! First seeds 2012! Hooray!


I didn't want to go buy seed starting mix so I looked up how to mix it myself and hoped that I had the ingredients on hand.

Typically a good seed starting mix will have enough light material to allow the infant root starts greater ease at penetrating, enough nutrient material to help seeds get a good start, and enough loft to allow good drainage to ward off rot.

A good mix is typically:
4 parts screened compost
1 part pearlite
1 part vermiculite
I part coir or peat

I did not have pearlite or vermiculite, but I did have coir, screened compost and worm castings, so I mixed and mashed, and added compost rich in sand (from the alpaca farm) and came up with a good mix, I think, to start some onion and broccoli seeds.


I made a pact not to start too late with the onion seeds and I think Mid-January is just right. It takes a while for these onions to sprout and get big enough to transplant out - about 6-8 weeks - and they need to go out 4 weeks prior to the last frost.


I have a love / hate relationship with onions. I love to eat them, and hate growing them - from seeds, from starts or from sets. I blame the crappy soil in my back beds. Very sandy and rocky and pretty heavy. I have spent the last two years building up those beds, so we will see this year if it was worth it.

Better be.

Those tedious freaking onions need to get big and bulbous. Other fruits and veggies I have given up on b/c it just wasn't worth it to me to grow them and they annoyed me. Like Strawberries (I got tired of the offshoots colonizing my pea patch), or potatoes (not this year - no siree). But onions I feel a perpetual urge to master.

But they really do piss me off.

They don't compete well with weeds, so I have to constantly weed the onion bed. They grow slow, which inflames my lack of patience. And they are very finicky with sun -  not to little, not too much.

Uppity Alliums.

But whatever. I am nothing if not tenacious. I will win over onions.

The battle starts today. Giddyup.

Anyone else starting seeds?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Brrrrrrr

It was a cold morning here on the 1/4 acre. They say we might get snow in the next week. It will be the first of the season and sure to cause all sorts of North-westerners ridiculous amounts of consternation in the days to come.


Ice on everything and a morning full of 10,000 twinkles of frosty light. The Chickens were having none of it.

The ladies high stepped around the yard until a patch of grass defrosted enough for them to place their polly prissy pants toes on. Oh, my.

Even the dog and cats weren't impressed and after several seconds of hurried squatting in the grass they were lined up waiting for the door to open and allow them back into cozy beds.


Mind you, the temperature at night is only around 29 or so. Nothing like other parts of the country. I don't mind the cold, in fact, I kind of like it. The people in my community, however, get a very hustled sort of inane urgency when the temperature drops and the threat of snow looms. Despite the fact that it almost always turns into rain, and the most we've been out of commission is a day. Like, ever. One whole day. But some sort of transient psychosis falls over the Northwest when snow is forecasted. People jam the grocery stores, line up at Les Schwab for snow tires, and start driving like morons. Funny thing is most people have at least 3 days of food stored away and are able to cobble together some sort of forage when they can't get to the Costco for a slice of pizza and a soft drink, but feel like they have to "stock up!" to make sure they have everything they need. Sometimes it feels like people spend so much time preparing they don't actually spend any time enjoying whatever activity they are preparing for!

I spent time in Anchorage back in the day and I remember the only crazed feelings came when the snow got so deep it clogged the Wendy's drive thru and we couldn't get those delicious fries. I remember peeling donuts in a little Nissan Truck in a parking lot at midnight with the Northern Lights dancing overhead (until we got stuck in a snow drift and had to walk a mile to a friends house). The snow and cold there were manageable because people dealt with it all the time. No biggie. We had warming blankets plugged into poles in the parking lot of our apartment complex to keep our car's engines from freezing. Last winter in Seattle we had a major snowfall. It took some people 12 hours to get home from Seattle to the outlying areas b/c the highways were stopped.

It snowed 10 inches that day - less or more depending on where you were. They covered it for a week on the news. It made me giggle. Giggle from my couch with a steaming cup of coffee in my hand, but giggle nonetheless.

Anyhow - hope everyone is keeping warm where they are and has a very happy start to the weekend!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Whoops - Technical Difficulty

So the blog is all white right now.

I am changing some things around and in the meantime the blog will look like this.

Bland, boring, irritatingly WHITE.

But - It will be back in effect very soon!

No Seed Ordering For Me!


Out of pure inquisitiveness, I pulled out all my saved seeds from the last year and spread them over my outside table. PS - it was 37 degrees outside while I did this but the tot HAD to go outside and run out some of her pent up, I've been sick all week, I've got to blow off some steam energy.

I realized I don't have to buy any seeds this year. I don't have to, but I want to. I want to get pickling cucumbers and all I have are Dragon's Egg, which are too big to pickle. So I will head over to Baker Creek Online store sometime in March and get some of those seeds ordered.

I have basil, chives, borage, and parlsey. I have long day onions, tomatoes galore (some in packages I didn't even open from last year), Winter and Summer Squash, including Turbin and Sweet Delicata squash, and what can only appropriately be called a fuck-ton of peas and beans. I have 2 kinds of lettuce and broccoli.  I even have 4 heirloom Scarlet Runner beans that I picked up from The Seattle Farm Co-op Barter and Potluck in the fall. Some awesome guy was giving them away. I wanted to take them all but I took 4 because I am nothing if not full of restraint.*

I even have sunflowers that I carefully picked one by one from giant dried sunflower heads. I should get a medal, dammit. Those were tedious.

So it appears that I am set. Which is odd. I feel strangely happy/hollow. I always look forward to curling up with the seed catalog (which has not arrived yet, FYI) and picking out the funky, the fabulous, the wonderful for my garden. But this year I don't need to do that. I even found, to my chagrin, a box of seeds from the year-before-last underneath the tupperware in the kitchen. I'm not super good at organizing, and so it's no surprise that they were in there just waiting for me to notice them. I'm happy I don't have to spend money this year, but hollow without my ritual.

I will curl up, instead, with my latest edition of Mother Earth News that showed up today, even though I read most of it digitally, and that will have to do. It's an issue about bread, and since my bread quest continues (I will post soon about GLORIOUS English Muffin bread) I could use any help I can get.

At this point, all I know about my garden plan is that I am going to do Squash in tires again, spaced around the perimeter of the patch, which gets wonderful full, hot sun. I know I need to rotate my peas and beans and that the onions will go in the back bed that gets the least hot sun - along with lettuce. I know that I want to do pumpkins again this year and that I need to start them earlier. There is a conversation going in my head of what to do with the bed closest to the house that gets hot sun for 5 hours and then shade the rest of the day (odd location) and so far squash, beans and peas have all done marginally good there, but not great. I know that I moved my inside worm bins to make room for flats of onion and tomato seeds and the H will not be happy because I have moved them closer to his jam room (a little recording studio that he has) until they are really just steps outside the door. They're quiet. He'll live.

I have made a pact to start everything earlier this year. So this weekend I will pluck a small packet of Onion seeds out of the mix and get them going under the grow lights.

Begin.


*Not.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Northwest Native Edible Plants

Wow. That title sounds super boring.

Sorry.

I have wanted to go on a "nature walk" to find out what around me is edible and could possibly be harvested. But I can't find one in my area anytime soon and since I have no patience when I want to know something, I turned to the Washington Native Plant Society for answers.

And answers I got, boy howdy.

I have been reading through some of my books on urban homesteading and farming, and there is always a part in there on foraging. Now, I am not the type to go hunting for mushrooms. Ever since my baby boy Pug ate a toxic mushroom and spent 12 hours salivating, seizing and paralyzed from the chest up, I have stayed away from all mushrooms except the safe and lovely kind that come vacuum sealed in the glossy grocery store right down the street. I'm not a hater, I just value my health and I don't put much stock in my ability to tell toxic from edible.

BUT

I want to know more about native plant species that I could walk down to the greenbelt and harvest this spring, summer or fall. I have read that Oregon Grapes can be harvested for their pectin and used instead of storebought pectin in jams and jellies. I like that. I also like free things.

So I scanned the website and educated myself on their full color posters about

Oregon Grape

Serviceberries

Thimbleberries

and Salmonberries

There are other low growing plants that are edible such as Camas Root and tree nuts such as Beaked Hazlenut but I tend to be a berry kind of gal and I don't see myself going for these guys too much.

Talk about far removed. I seem to remember a particularly big hazelnut tree on a walk that my friend and I take and I've always wondered what it is, because pollen gets all over the place during the spring. If I had allergies I'd be in trouble with that one.

Education is good. Sometimes I go to bed at night with an empty spot where I know some knowledge needs to be. It has been like this ever since I left Grad School. I spent so long in college that when I got out, I got goofy and missed all the learnin'. Since I can't afford more college, I have to stuff my noggin with ridiculous shreds of information that no one besides me and handful of people I know actually value. I totally want to be that guy who goes hiking out by Snoqualmie Pass just to harvest berries.

I'll leave some for the birds and squirrels, no worries.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The REAL Ways To Save Money Every Month

Smirk.

I went online to Google "how to save money" just to see if there were any fun facts or snippets that I could incorporate into my repertoire of simple, frugal living tasks to save us a bit more money every month.

What a laugh. A laugh, I say. Hardy har har har.

The most comprehensive list I found, entitled provocatively "How To Save Money During A Recession" had such fun things as:
1) Stop attending plays and musicals.
2) Eat out only once a week.
And, my personal favorite:
3) Learn how to wash clothes at home - don't use dry cleaning.

Whatever. Who are these swells? Nice job, 1%, of making the rest of us feel like complete losers/socially unacceptable pariahs because we don't take our Ann Taylor to the dry cleaners.

Guffaw.

So. I would like to present the REAL list of how to save money - when you have already stopped eating out, don't attend functions you have to pay for, and are trying to pay off student loans, monthly bills and raise a child in this corporate mudslide of ethics we call an American Economy.

1) When you buy juice, fill a glass with it to 1/3 and add 2/3 water.
2) Shop at thrift stores during the middle of the week in the morning to avoid the over-picked shelves of the weekend and the after school soccer mom onslaught. (No one wants that, sorry soccer moms.)
3) Cook from scratch. Not just at home. From scratch. With whole ingredients bought in bulk. No crap out of a box, no Pizza Pockets. From Scratch.
4) Learn HOW to cook from scratch. That's a good place to start.
5) Hang your clothes to dry even in the winter. Such as inside strung along rafters or in front of a sunny window on hangers. I have done both. Eat it, Puget Sound Energy.
6) Make your own cleaning supplies from everyday ingredients such as Baking Soda, Vinegar, Lemon and Borax. Then actually use them because they work, they're non toxic and they're cheap, not because its the "in" thing to do.
7) Don't go out. Ever. To anything you have to pay for. Like, ever.
8) Spend your "entertainment" money on cable and internet. For $200/month we can watch whatever we want, have pay channels and all the movies we can shake a large stick at. Versus one night out at $60 a pop. No contest. And crowds suck anyways.
9) Turn off lights wherever you are not physically standing or sitting. Join the Dark Nights campaign to turn off outdoor lights. When you see an Opossum in your backyard drawn in because the light is off, just suck in your breath super quick and expel it with a string of curse words while waving a MagLight in the air. That'll do it.
10) Join Costco and ONLY buy bulk items like flour, vegetables and toilet paper. Don't be drawn into their ridiculously good products that will only make you fat and unhappy. Like the Decadent World Chocolate box full of diverse yummy treats, or the 2 pack of camisoles. Because you will regret both purchases. Just saying.
11) Stop buying dryer sheets and use foil. Or dryer balls (I got mine from Target for $4 and they will last a year or more.)
12) Buy Jello in powder form and make it yourself. Don't buy those adorable little containers of already made jello. They just suck you in and cost a bundle for extra packaging and a false sense of security.
13) If you must have Starbucks at times, of which I do, then get a Starbucks card, get it registered and you will get free syrups and every 15 drinks you get a free one. Plus a free drink on your birthday. Saves a little on something you're already going to buy. 

And too many other tricks to count. We each have our awesome way of saving money, and the cool part is that there is no end to the creativity. I recently had a box fan blow up (yes, blow up - smoke and all) on me and I sat there eyeing it for 20 minutes trying to figure out what to use the pieces for. (perhaps use the plastic waffle pattern sides as a trellis attached to two poles? Hmmmmm.)

I grew up without a ton of money and the beauty part is that I never knew it. My house was always full of fresh flowers, handmade quilts, the smells of chicken in the oven, antiques and comfy old couches. I didn't realize how much money I didn't have until I got a job and was able to buy twinkies. We never had that stuff in the house growing up, because it's expensive junk food that has few positive perks to it (except the fact that they are SO GOOD.) The very act of having to watch our spending helped to cultivate an environment where everything was used, there was little waste, and the things we did have were quality things. And we just went without.

There is no rule that says we get to have everything we want, when we want it, in the amount that we desire. This recession should be evidence of that. Yeah, we are mad - a bunch of banker bitches played Russian roulette with our money and then when it didn't work out, we got saddled with the bill while the cry-baby capitalists walked away with MORE of our money.

But this is life. And we have to play the hand we are dealt. And there way too many more people out there in the same boat as me and my family then with the ridiculous swells who have to monitor how much they spend at the dry cleaners.

I'm going to crawl OFF my soap box now and admire my latest Goodwill find - does anyone out there have any useful tips on how to save money? If so - leave a message!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Homemade Ranch Dressing

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know this isn't a foodie blog, but there is an urban homesteading component and I think keeping whole ingredients in our cupboards and making more things from scratch is homesteady and I live in an urban environment so....

May I present my Homemade Ranch Dressing?

 This stuff is radness. In a bottle. Giddyup.

I actually got the idea from the Farmgirl Fare blog but tweaked it for my own palate and the palate of the Tot, who, at 22 months, is quite the pioneer of the palate when it comes to salad dressings. And salad. Which she can't eat with a fork yet, so she just shovels it in with her fingers. Leaving a goatee of salad dressing in her wake. The store bought salad dressing has something in it that gives her a rash around her mouth, so I set about to make something easy, cost effective and outrageously delicious.


Ranch Salad Dressing:
Mix together in a bowl, or in a large pourable cup:
1/2 C Sour Cream (nonfat is fine)
1/2 C Yogurt (nonfat is fine)
1/4 C Mayo
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Heaping 1/2 teaspoon of dried dill (less or more to your taste)
2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar
salt
pepper
enough milk to thin it to your liking. I have left it thick as a dip for veggies. I have added chives, and other herbs as I see fit.

This goes great with everything that ranch goes great with. I found an old decanter at the Goodwill and I have been bursting to use it, and now I have a great way to fill it. Although it's somewhat of a pain to get out of the new (old) decanter, but whatever. It looks cool. So what if I have to stand in my kitchen and shake the shit out of it for 5 minutes to get any dressing? Minor details.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pea Patch Resolutions

There are several New Year's Resolutions that I have thought of as it relates to my pea patch and the 1/4 acre. I am not a big fan of Resolutions, and I know it's supposed to be in good fun, but I don't enjoy feeling like a puppet of the advertising industry around the first of the year. Or really ever. I hate the health food adds, the way Food Network starts showing "healthy meals" shows, the way Target puts Special K on sale (that diet is SO STUPID). I feel manipulated and homogenized. Just this giant braying flock of consumers all doing, thinking, and feeling the same thing. 

Blech.

But, I started thinking this week about what I want to do differently in the back patch, and this started me thinking about resolutions for the patch, and that led to this post. I learned a lot last year. Like, a ton. And I want to direct those lessons into something productive. 

I also started subscribing to Mother Earth News, and their co-publication, Grit Magazine (all online through Overdrive. How Fabulous.) and have gotten some crazy awesome ideas from them. 

So the resolutions I came up with are part things I want to do better, things I want to try and things I want to try and get away with. Hee hee hee. 

Behold:

1) I want to raise cornish cross meat birds and butcher them for our consumption. Not, like, 150, but maybe start out with ten. I need to cut my milk teeth on something manageable. Would it stun you to know I have never killed an animal before? (Well, not true - I hit a squirrel once in my car, and I've been the butcher of millions of aphids). 

2) I will not raise any exotic (read: untested in this climate) veggies. I will stick with the proven winners, such as pickling cukes, paste tomatoes, Oregon Sugar Pod Peas, and Walla Walla onions. I will not let the glossy pages of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog get me. No sir...

3) I will use up seeds from last year first before opening new pack of seeds. I will not over order. I will show restraint. 

4) I will not buy any more animals that require long term care. Not until we figure out where we will be living next year. The Cornish Cross' hens get processed at 8-9.5 weeks of age and they can live in the tractor until they get big enough. 

5) I will amend my soil more. And better. I will become, as Joel Salatin says he is, a Soil and Grass Farmer. Because nothing will grow unless we take care of the soil. And grass. 

6) I WILL spend more time pruning and staking my tomato plants. If it's the last fucking thing I do. 

7) I will make this killer vertical herb garden I saw over at Seattle Seedling and affix it to my fence to gain more garden space for beans and such. I have two pallets waiting to be turned into useful things and not just impromtu trellises for runaway pumpkins.

8) I will plant my squash and pumpkins earlier and staggered to get more yield. 

9) I will water wiser and actually invest in a hand held water wand. Because my old wand broke and I haven't bought a new one and consequently watering is a serious HASSLE out of a blunt end of hose. And it washes my seeds away.

and finally:

10) I will enjoy my garden this year more because my daughter is old enough to start understanding the process of growing things and is at ease on the 1/4 acre. I will include her as much as possible and try to plant a tiny seed (seriously bad pun, sorry) of gardening in her mind. 

And now I have joined the ranks of everyone talking about their New Year's Resolutions. 

I guess there is no escaping it!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Easy Apple Pie with Homemade Crust

Well. This turned out ridiculously good.


And I have to say that I made most of it from my head - only borrowing Ina Garten's easy pie crust, because it's the best one around and a snap to make. But the rest of the pie - the ingredients for the filling and the topping were all mine. This is the first time I have not followed a recipe. The first time I set the oven and just "baked it till it was done".

I feel a little like the Lone Ranger of Pies. Where the hell is my Tonto?!?*

Filling
I make a bunch of filling when Apples are cheap (which for Seattle is like always) and then line a pie plate with parchment paper, put the filling in it, freeze it for 12 hours, lift the parchment and slide the frozen pie shaped mess into a plastic freezer bag and redeposit in the frezer. Then just take it out when you are ready, heat and serve. (Oh, and collect the compliments.)

Core, peel and slice 4-5 big apples - mix and match.(I use an apple corer/slicer - best purchase I've made in a while).
Put them in a bowl.
Add:
Squeeze of a half small lemon (about 1/2 teaspoon)
scant 1/4 C of flour
1 t of cinnamon
2 T Brown Sugar
1 T White Sugar
1/8 t cloves (optional)
and mix it all together.

Crust: Adapted from Ina Garten's Easy Pie Crust
6 T of very cold butter - unsalted (I use salted)
1.5 C Flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t sugar
scant 1/4 cup of vegetable shortening (I just add more butter)
3-5 T iced water

Put all ingredients except for the water in a Cuisinart fitted with a blade attachment and pulse 8-12 times till the butter is the size of peas.
Slowly add iced water while the Cuisinart is running until the dough forms a ball and rides the blade. Will be very fast.
Turn it out onto a floured surface and form into a patty - wrap in plastic wrap and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Crumbly Topping:
3 T Flour
2 T Brown Sugar
1 T White sugar
2 T cold butter
Mix in a Cuisinart until it forms crumbly peas sized balls.

Assemble:
Roll out pie crust and put in a 9 inch pie pan. Make sure to roll the dough big so you can fold up the edges. Fork some holes on the bottom.
Put in filling - frozen or otherwise.
Fold up the edges - kind of like a tart (see the picture)
Sprinkle with crumbly topping. Dot with butter if you want.

Bake at 350 for 45 -60 minutes. Keep checking after 45. Pie is done when the edges are golden brown and the filling is bubbling and awesome.

And enjoy.

This is my first recipe that I created by myself. Others will surely follow and this one is safe, so I'm not too worried about it. We never really follow anyone's recipe do we? We just look at it for guidelines and then go from there!




*Oh, right. He's at home watching football and taking care of the tot.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Best Manure To Use For Lasagna (No Dig) Gardening

Well, the jury will be out until the early spring when I till everything under, but I think I've found a winner when it comes to the best manure to use for no dig, or lasagna, gardening.

I am basing this on superficial, and not so superficial things I have learned and noticed.

I have 8 beds going now in my pea patch. There used to be more and there will be more come Spring, but chicken fencing is cutting two beds in half and I don't need to mulch those (they are my control beds - also known as my "lazy beds". I just don't wanna move fencing and the beds have already been heavily amended thus far.) Two beds are brand new - really just mulched over sod using manure, cardboard, leaf compost and various table scraps and odd and ends. Those are my "pure" lasagna beds. The others I have painstakingly dug up 42 years of grass and then amended the soil.

Backbreaking labor. I would not recommend this to anyone. If you have the time and inclination, I strongly recommend sheet mulching to kill sod. I also strongly recommend not planting grass in the first place, but, c'est la vie.

First, I put an add on Craigslist asking for farmers to get back to me if they had manure for me to come get and I specified that I want easy access to the pile and I want to just be able to come and get it whenever I can scrape together an hour or two of childcare for the tot. 10 people got back to me, and out of that 10, 3 are reliable sources. One guy was just a wacko, but with Craigslist, you take the good with the clinically insane.

I then, using my Saturn Ion, picked up manure for these three sources in large buckets and trucked them to my house, where I deposited 2 inches of manure, one layer of cardboard (or 5-6 layers of newspaper) and another two inches of manure and leaf compost (just broken down leaves).

Then I rubbed my aching back and made a cup of coffee and surveyed my hard work.


Beds one and two used horse manure, much of it was broken down but some chunks o' poo still survived. The red worm population was good. The broken down composted manure was light and airy. It also had some sawdust in it, which is good for cellulose material.  +

The llama poop, on the other hand, was not composted at all and I had to mix that with a significant amount of leaf matter, kitchen scraps, and some compost from the outside worm bins. It was okay. Zero population of red worms. -

Then, as if given to me by the angels:


Alpaca manure. I think the noise I heard was harps when I dug into the manure pile at Moonshadow Alpacas in Enumclaw. If anyone recalls, we attend the National Alpaca open house day at the end of summer and we visited Moondshadow this year. The ladies who run it are phenomenal - they obviously love what they do, love their animals and are breeding for the good of the breed, which I highly respect. They have some of the most beautiful Alpacas I have seen - chocolate brown, dark ebony, light vanilla - absolutely wonderful. WHEN (not if) I get my Alpacas, we will be buying from them.

And the manure was incredible - buckling under the weight of red worms, loamy and sandy, and broken down so well that at a distance, it looked like coffee grounds. I kept exclaiming as I raked it out that "this is poo, y'know?!? Just LOOK at it!" The only (bummer) bad part is that the poo pile is in a low place on the farm and getting the poo back to my car is a hassle. But Deb was kind enough to fire up her gas powered wheelbarrow and bring the buckets to the Ion. +++

So, obviously, the Alpacas won this round. But there are other reasons why this poo was the best: apparently in cow and horse manure, the weed seeds do not get broken down and so they come out in the poo and subsequently sprout in the garden. In Alpaca and Llama poo, the weed seeds are completely digested, hence they don't sprout in the spring. All poo, no filler.

Good things to look for in composted manure are: a high population of night crawlers and red worms, because that means the owners have not used too much wormer on their animals. Also, look for poo that has been composted down, but not completely disintegrated, because you want the red worms in your garden, and worms take off after they are done eating - especially is there are new piles of shit to eat.

Alpaca manure is best! I recommend calling around after a google search of local Alpaca farms to find a farmer willing to part with poo. I don't foresee that you will have a problem. Plus, added bonus is that you will get to see some Alpacas and they are the best, most gentle, lovely animals ever.

Let's make it a New Years Resolution to amend more soil! Battle cry of the gardeners! Amend more soil!

I feel that might not catch one, but hopefully using Alpaca poo will.

Happy Mulching!