Monday, July 15, 2013


For those readers out there that don't feel as though there is much actual homesteading going on at the Miller homestead, this post is for you!  For many months I've had a bunch of lower-quality meat sitting in my freezer that was all that was left of a deer harvested from Miller Homestead North.  I'd been half-heartedly looking for sausage casings at some local butchers to avail.  I finally decided to get serious and just order them from the internet.  Between the prep work, grinding, mixing, stuffing, and clean-up, it took me about 5 hours to make about 12lbs of sausage.  Yikes, they'd better be tasty!  I used all 9lbs of the remaining venison, and three pounds of ground pork in order to add some richness and juiciness. I turned that 12lbs of meat into 36 sausages.  I made bratwurst (a seasoning blend that came with the sausage casings), italian sausage (some of a seasoning blend that came with the casings plus some garlic, red wine, and cayenne pepper), and chorizo (a from-scratch internet recipe, minus the oregano).

Here they are drying on the counter.  Bratwurst back left, italian front left, and chorizo on the right.

I had reasonable confidence in the flavor of these sausages, but I was a bit concerned about the texture.  Most of the information I had seen on the Internet said to trim off all the silver-skin and connective tissue on the meat, though some people seemed to think that wasn't necessary.  I planned on removing it, but as I got into the trimming, there was so much of it and it was interwoven so much into the meat that I wouldn't have  had any meat left if I did try to cut it off.  I ended up just cutting off large, easy to remove pieces of connective tissue, left the rest, and hoped for the best.

Here is the finished product the next day.  Italian on the left, chorizo in the middle, and bratwurst on the right.
Good news!  No trace of any chewiness from any connective tissue.  Also, it is quite tasty!  The italian could use some more fennel (weird that I would actually want more fennel in something), but it tastes quite good.  The bratwurst might be a bit salty for me, but others (like my wife) like stuff saltier than I do.  The chorizo is probably the best, in my opinion.  Very good paprika flavor with a hint of smokiness and moderate spiciness level.  The downside to these sausages is that they are all rather dry.  There may have been a bit of over-cooking, but I think its mostly due to the leanness of the meat.  I'd seen some recipes that called for 50/50 mixes of venison and pork or 30% pork FAT with 70% venison.  I went with 75% venison and 25% ground pork, so I there is considerably less fat in these sausages than most sausages.  Sliced up and put in a sauce, I don't think you would notice the dryness.  Even alone, they are very much acceptable, which is good, because I have 33 more links in my freezer now!

The Orchard Is Alive

I'm happy to report that the orchard at Miller Homestead North is doing pretty well.  It appears that all the trees/bushes survived their transplant.  Most are doing well and growing, though the chestnuts took a pretty good beating when they started to open up before getting hit with a late spring hard frost.  Some of the apples are showing a strange wilting of the growing tips.  They had been getting quite a bit of rain, and I didn't see any sign of any bugs or disease beyond the wilting, so the cause is a mystery.  It  may just be the weird weather, but they were given a general-purpose spray just in case.  Everything else is green and growing.  The pictures below are the hazelnuts.  One close-up of a smaller one, and the other picture is down the row.  They are dramatically different sizes because the smaller ones were given to me by a friend at a young age, while the bigger ones are several year old nursery trees.  You can also see that the mixture of clover and grass surrounding the trees is growing well.  There are some holes due to spotty germination, but they should fill in.

Random Garden Update

Its been a very hot and wet start to the summer here at the Miller homestead.  Most of the garden has been doing pretty well.  We got a modest snow pea harvest.  Spring greens were again very poor this year.  The onion plants didn't seem to grow real big, but the bulbs are still in the ground, so we shall see what we end up with.  They are just about ready to harvest along with the shallots and garlic, both of which looked quite good above-ground.  Its currently broccoli harvest time.  The heads aren't all that big, but considering that they don't do real well in heat, I'll take what I can get.  On to the success stories....  We've been inundated with lettuce.  In the last few weeks, they've started to get tip burn from the heat and new seedings haven't been coming up well.  Thats OK, I'm about sick of lettuce.  Every year it seems as though I underestimate how big my potato plants are going to get.  They grow a couple feet high, then kind of fall over and grow sideways.  They have now grown about 4 feet away from their planting holes and are taking over nearby beds.  I'd better get a bumper crop of potatoes this year.  The pepper plants have put on a serious growth spurt and I'm letting them set fruit now instead of pinching off the flowers.  Should be another good year for bell and spicy peppers.  The pole beans are also doing their usual out-of control growth.  I really should only plant bush beans, but with my limited garden space and a big wall of my garage that they can grow up, it so tempting to plant the pole beans.  Of course, then they grow 8+ feet high and so dense that it is a serious struggle to find and harvest beans.  I lopped off the bean vines at about 7' high to try to get them to put more energy into beans and less into growth, but that only slowed them down for about a week.  Only bush beans next year!!

In the pic below, the beans are on the left side, peppers and broccoli front and center, lettuce front right.  Garlic and onions are on the right side, brussels sprouts in the center, and potatoes are all you can see in the back.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Planting Weekend

I had a pretty aggressive plan for the orchard planting weekend, but thanks to help from my parents and my wife, we got almost all of it done, if a bit behind schedule.

My parents arrived on wed night.  On thursday they fought with a 2wd truck that got stuck in the mud on the road down to the meadow and had mechanical issues, but managed to pick up several loads of pre-ordered fencing and mulch from agway and move the tractor down to the meadow before my wife and I arrived thursday night.

Friday was warm (60's) but windy and cloudy.  We tried out three different pH testing kits.  One was a digital probe that rarely gave any reading at all.  One was an old kit that my parents had that used indicator liquid put into a tube with soil and water.  That proved to be very difficult at best to read as the water remained cloudy and brown.  The third was a kit that I picked up from my local garden store at the last minute.  Similar to the liquid indicator, you put a small amount of dirt in a clear container and add water.  The indicator material is a capsule of powder.  When you open the capsule, pour the powder in, and shake it up, the solids settle out after a few seconds leaving a clear, colored liquid to compare to the pH scale.  There must be something in the powder that causes stuff to coagulate and precipitate out.  It worked quite well, and in the one location that we got a reading from the digital probe, it matched the capsule method.  The capsule kit is made by "Rapitest" and you can get it with different numbers of capsules.  I've seen it at a couple different stores and it will pop right up on a google search.  All the samples from the area that I had prepped for the orchard last year read between 6.0-6.5.  Another spot that was tested nearby in the field was 5.0.

We made great progress on Friday prepping the soil and digging holes.  Some of the holes were dug manually, which turned out to be easier than expected, though once you hit the compacted sand/clay layer about 8-14" down, you couldn't really get much deeper.  Simultaneously the tractor was digging holes(trenches) one bucket wide.

The idea being that it would be faster to dig the holes that way, and then we could just fill in the dirt on the sides of the trench that weren't needed for the tree.  By mid-afternoon we were well ahead of schedule and had completed all the soil prep work and dug all the holes.  We were about to start planting some trees when the leading edge of a cold front showed up.  Since we were ahead of schedule, we decided it would be a good time to stop for the day.

Saturday was in the upper 30's, cloudy, and quite windy.  Occasional sleet.  Unpleasant.  The plan was to plant almost everything that day.  Things moved along at a decent pace with the smaller hand-dug holes, but the tractor-dug holes ended up being rather time-consuming to fill back in.  We ended the day in the late afternoon with probably only about half of the ~55 trees planted.  Those that we did have planted were mulched and fenced.  

Sunday we got an early start.  When we got to the meadow the sun was just starting to come over the pines and melt the dusting of snow. Temps were in the mid 20's.  The water buckets had about an inch of ice on the top and sides.  As the day went on it warmed up into the 40's, clear, and light winds.  We decided to fill in all the remaining big tractor-dug holes with the tractor and re-dig by hand.  We made better progress after that, ending the day around 1:30 with almost all of the trees planted.  The only thing we didn't get planted at that time were blueberries that had been planted over by the northern pine plantation years ago and were to be transplanted to the orchard.  As of Sunday afternoon we had 50 trees planted, mulched, and fenced, plus a couple good sized beds of asparagus planted.  

My parents were staying an extra day, so they kindly volunteered to do the transplanting of the final blueberries as well as cover crop seeding on Monday.  Hopefully that went ok.

By the way, the watering was done using a couple of 55 gallon drums that my Dad was able to get from a friend.  We strapped them into the bucket on the tractor and drove them down to the brook where we used a generator to power a sump pump to get the water into the barrels.  We added a boiler drain spigot to each barrel that we connected to a garden hose.  Drove the tractor with the drums out into the field to do the watering.  It worked well enough, though not perfectly.

I'll be headed back up somewhere around Memorial Day to see what looks alive.  At that time I will also put either aluminum window screen or hardware cloth at the base of the trees for rodent protection.

Miller Homestead North

Its been quite some time since I have posted on here, but there has been a recent homesteading development that merits a few posts.  Miller homestead is expanding, and there is now a Miller homestead north!  Our family purchased a property in the Adirondacks in the 1940's, part of which was a very small scale dairy farm.  A homestead, if you will.  Since that time, much of the pasture land has been fallow.  Last spring several acres of the former pasture land was cleared of saplings and brush.  One area of it was set aside for a future orchard and soil preparations were begun.

The soil is very sandy and acidic (pH was approximately 4.5).  The area was fertilized, limed, tilled, and seeded with buckwheat as a cover crop.  The buckwheat grew quite well.  My mom was checking out the variety of insects attracted to the flowers.

In the fall, the area was again fertilized, tilled, and seeded, this time with oats.  The oats were seeded in mid-september, and that did not seem to give it enough time to really get going before winter hit, but at least the soil was in much better shape than it was in the spring.

Over the winter I spent quite a bit of time planning out what to plant in the new orchard area in the spring.  I ordered trees from several different different nurseries and planned to put them in the ground in late april.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Compostable bags?

We do quite a bit of composting here at the homestead.  Probably somewhere in the range of 100-200lbs of vegetables, lawn waste, and other stuff each year.  I thought it was interesting when Sun Chips came out with fully compostable bags a couple of years ago. (Strangely, they stopped selling them because people thought the bags were too noisy?!)  There were even pictures on the back showing different stages of a bag decomposing over 12 weeks.  After eating a bag of chips, I put a bag in a compost pile (this was 2 years ago).  This wasn't at home, it was at a cottage in the Adirondacks.  I was back there again last week and decided to check on the bag.  Here it is.  It doesn't look like there has been any decomposition at all in the last 2 years!  It was partially buried under a bunch of other stuff, so it had plenty of contact with the soil/compost.  False advertising!!

Garden Update

 Here is how the garden looked as of a couple days ago.
A few nice looking lettuce patches in serious need of thinning.
 The results of the thinning....1.5 lbs of good looking young lettuce plants.
 Unfortunately the next day after I did the thinning of the lettuce, some critter came in and ate a bunch of the remaining lettuce plants.  That seems to happen somewhat often for some reason.  No animal activity, but then I thin some plants and something comes along and eats some of the remaining plants.  Very frustrating.  Also frustrating is that the same animal mauled the two remaining broccoli plants that weren't previously attacked.  Clearly this is not a small animal, as it broke off 1/4" stems and ate 6-8" long leaves.  If we were out in the suburbs, I'd guess a woodchuck, but I have no idea what around here could/would do this.
 Up until the last couple days it has been hot and dry here.  I had to water the garden basically every day.  This was a bit of a problem last year as well.  I have noticed that the few areas of the garden that have a layer of last year's leaves as mulch stay moist much longer, have far more worm/insect activity going on under the soil, and have less weeds.  With that in mind, I figured that it would be a good idea to mulch the rest of the garden.  Newspapers and straw are two cheap mulches that I thought of.  I tried using newspapers last year, but they kept blowing away, even with small rocks as weights, so I'll try straw this year.

I calculated the volume of a standard sized bale of straw and assuming I wanted 1" thick, I calculated 4-5 bales of straw.  The lady at the garden/farm center said $5.50 for a bale of straw, but its a big bale of straw.  She showed me rough sizes with her arms, and it looked like standard size to me, so I got 4.  Turns out they really are pretty big, and quite compacted.  I would guess 40-50lbs per bale.
I started spreading it out about 2" deep.  Muffin was supervising.
Jaime also joined in on the supervision.
It turns out that there is a lot of straw in those bales!  One bale probably would have been perfectly fine.  I ended up using two bales and spreading it on the paths as well as putting thick layers on some weedy areas around the edges of the garden.