Dabbling

I think sometimes this blog can get a little confusing. We’ve had people ask us if we’d up-and-moved to Glen Aubrey! No, no, no. We’re still here… in Rochester, if you’re still confused. We’ll be here for just about another year, an estimate of 42 and a half weeks (Casey loves his countdowns!). We have been down in Glen Aubrey to help with the “farm” on 4 occasions this summer, with one more coming up (look for a “Summer Summary” blog post in a couple of weeks!:)

One other thing before I jump into the fun stuff. There is one thing that makes me feel uncomfortable about blogging, and that is when we come off sounding like experts, or that we’re sure of our plans. Of course we feel like we are being led to start the Hust Roost, and we feel that we should shoot for our dreams and work hard, but we know that if God is not FOR it, it won’t amount to anything. It’s easy to get confident because we have a great idea in our heads, but in reality it could be a lot harder than we picture. But… whether the idea thrives or fails (and I’m sure there will be some of both!) we hope to glorify God through it all.

Anyways… time for some dabbling! Back at the “ranch” (our little apartment) we’ve been using our spare time this summer to learn and try whatever we can.

Baking
Occasionally I bake a loaf or two of bread, hoping that I’ll eventually figure out the strategies and ingredients that work best for me (aka the easiest). I found a great book the other week that goes through the basics of WHY you use different strategies, basically the science behind the “art.” When I finish skimming the book I’ll try baking a loaf and see if my learning has improved my baking… I’m going for less dense and more fluffy! Pies, bagels and doughnuts are also on the list for this summer, just to experiment and see what we enjoy baking, potentially for the future store!

Gardening
Another thing we’ve been dabbling in since May has been our own garden! Of course for Casey this is old news, but I’ve never had a vegetable garden. Some things I’ve learned have been:
1. Gardening takes patience. It seems to take forever and ever for things to start growing…

it took a month to get this far

At least until it gets really warm….

you could practically see the pole-beans growing a foot a day!

Do you see that big basil plant on the step? I finally caved and bought one from Wegmans since our other basil plants are still only 3 inches tall 🙁 See them in the background? Patience is a great virtue (and I could use more of it) but I learned that we should definitely start some seeds indoors!
2. Rain is a wonderful thing which I will never complain about! That way we don’t have to water the garden. 🙂
3. Good fertilizer is key for speed of growth… but you don’t have to waste money on store-bought chemicals! Crushed egg shells add calcium that peppers and tomatoes need, green compost and manure adds nitrogen, etc…
3. Veggies right out of the garden really do taste better than the store! Fresh peas, zucchini, asparagus, radishes… all taste good enough to eat raw with no veggie dip!

Casey enjoying one of his favorites, a ruby radish!
Behind him you can see the broccoli.

In our little garden we grew a row each of: arugula, leaf lettuce, onions, beets, radishes, broccoli, hot pepper, green bean, and peas. We also have 4 tomato plants, a zucchini plant, an acorn squash plant and some herbs… oh, and one lone carrot (that was me who planted the row of carrots, and I messed up!!)

So far we’ve harvested arugula, lettuce, radishes, onions, peppers, and peas!

a beautiful arugula salad

We were very blessed that our landlord allowed us to have this opportunity!!!




Jamming
We recently discovered the JACKPOT for blackberries! Our apartment is across the street from a field and a cemetery. All around the borders there are the hugest blackberry bushes! We’ve been out picking every other day since we discovered them, and each time we seem to get about THIS many:

probably about 2 quarts here

We couldn’t possibly eat them all so Casey suggested jam (or at least we did not want to test that possibility)! Now I wasn’t so sure about jam because I thought you needed a bunch of equipment, but Casey assured me it was easy. We found that we could just sterilize the jars in the toaster oven set at 300 degrees. Also, Casey found online that I should cover the berries in sugar and let them sit for a while. Sounded good to me!

After a few hours sitting with sugar

Later when researching I found out there is a reason you do this! The high concentration of sugar draws the juice out of the berries (osmotic pressure) and also pulls the pectin out with it. Now pectin is something that is absolutely necessary for jamming..  it’s the substance that causes the berry mush to gel up when you heat it. Most people buy pectin at the store but it’s a natural component of all fruit in the cell walls (some fruits have more than others though). I wanted to try it without store-bought pectin.
I was surprised that I had all the rest of the ingredients… lemon juice and sugar! Lemon juice is necessary to draw more pectin out of the fruit. The sugar (besides being for flavor) is to preserve the jam. No bacteria can grow when there’s a high concentration of sugar! You can also add whatever flavors you want. I did a batch (with Claire) where we added clove…  it smelled like Christmas! I did another batch where I added red wine and clove. And then the final batch… I added cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and ginger! All have been sampled and approved, even given away. 🙂 Here are the instructions I followed if you are interested: http://highheelgourmet.com/2013/07/04/basic-jam-for-beginners/

Here are some of the results:

a decent mess
We actually made 2 and a half more jars!

A nice mess and LOTS of blackberry jam… 🙂

Hatching our Chicken Schemes

A strong argument could be made that chickens were our gateway hobby into the farming frame of mind. Sure, we always had a garden, but perhaps because we always had one, it was normal. Getting chickens, for us, was not normal. My older brother, Tyler, talked my Dad into letting him get them around five years ago. We learned as we went. I remember hastily constructing a coop with Tyler and Josh Thorpe because the chicks were getting too big for Grandpa’s garage, and Grandpa was about to lay an egg himself.

We quickly discovered two things. Chickens were pretty easy to raise, and they were fun. Once Tyler and I both moved out, we were slightly surprised that my Dad kept buying more chickens to renew the flock each year. Each time we came home he would tell us all about some crazy thing one of the birds did or show us how a certain one would roost on his arm and eat out of his hand. As the idea for the Hust Roost formed, there was never any doubt that chickens, both for meat and eggs, would be one of our major enterprises.

This Spring, we bought thirty more chicks to add to the fifteen layers we already have, and Rachel brought down a slightly deformed chicken she hatched in her Cell Biology class (we call him Gimpy, or “the Gimp”). Half we bought as hens, and the other half was straight run, meaning it wasn’t determined if they were hens or roosters. We ended up with around twenty-five hens, and come this fall, we should be getting over two dozen eggs a day!

We are planning on keeping three roosters this year so that next year we can hatch our own eggs (the rest of the roosters will join us for a barbecue in a couple weeks). From those hatchlings, we can keep some for laying eggs, sell others as chicks, and keep some to sell as meat or eat them ourselves a couple months down the road. We also plan on buying some meat chickens in the spring— the ones we have now, rhode island reds, are a hybrid bird (for meat and egg-laying), but are best known for their egg-laying abilities.

We have already expanded the chicken coop and run, but it is about to get bigger. We currently have two coops, the main one that I built with Tyler for the older birds, and a smaller one with the younger birds in it. This weekend, we plan on cleaning out the barn and expanding the smaller coop for the younger birds, who are getting a bit cramped. Long term, we plan to have a few different coops (for layers, roosters, chicks, and whatever else we would need them for) that are easily accessible and viewable for anybody who visits the Hust Roost.

Our Ultimate Goal

As work and planning continue to go into making the Hust Roost a functioning farm, all of us involved have felt the need to identify the ultimate goal of our venture. While we very much enjoy what we are doing thus far and planning on doing in the future, we know that if we did not keep our main goals in focus, we would be in danger of never achieving them.

After a few lengthy discussions, we boiled the ultimate goal of the Hust Roost down to the simple act of devoting ourselves to the Lord. It is our desire to give our plans to the Lord and see where He takes us. While it is difficult to hand over the reins to God, we believe that this is the best thing that we can possibly do, not only for the formation of our farm, but also for the formation of our souls.

We believe that God is calling us to lead humble, honest lives where we strive to be a blessing to all of those around us. With God’s hands directing our imperfect efforts, we hope and pray that the Hust Roost will be a community business that is more interested in helping and encouraging others, building relationships, and being an example of Jesus’ love than making a buck.

Don’t get me wrong, we would love for the Hust Roost to eventually be a profitable enterprise that we can make a living off of. Once we move down, we are planning on working part-time to make ends meet as long as necessary (which will be made easier by the growing self-sufficiency of the farm). Life has so many more aspects to it than money, and it is one of our goals not to prioritize money above other, more important things.

My father has always told me that there are three important aspects to a job. 1) Do you make enough money? 2) Do you feel like you are making a difference in the world? 3) Do you enjoy it? We view the Hust Roost as a place where we can make a big difference in our community and enjoy doing it with people that we love. We figure that if we can do something that we love, make a difference, have a great environment to raise a family, and make enough money to get by, our lives will be well-lived. We are not just looking for a job that we can love, we are looking for a lifestyle that will please our Heavenly Father.

May Days

The last couple of weekends in May have broken some new ground for the Hust Roost!
Here you can see Tom and Casey literally breaking some ground. Whew, they spent their whole Sunday afternoon on that section!! The goal was to expand the garden on both sides, nearly doubling the amount of growing space! (If anyone is wondering, this is in Casey’s Dad’s yard in Glen Aubrey, NY).
Casey and Gramps stirring up rocks
After the unwanted grass was ripped out (and used to fill the old fire pit), we had lots of rock-picking to do. The garden is right next to a creek bed, so the soil is filled with rocks… Including some big enough to be our grave stones! (Sorryyy, no pictures). Once you remove all those, though, the soil is great.
This picture shows the new organization for the expanded garden. Each bed is about 10 x 4 feet and can hold two or three rows of veggies. Each bed will get a number so we can record what crops went where each year, and then rotate them! Also, my favorite part, the beds make it so we can easily walk through to weed, pick and plant. Not to mention… each beds is designed to fit under a “hoop house.”
 (What’s that? See below!)


These pictures show the assembly of a “hoop house.” They are made from PVC-pipes bent over a wooden frame, with a clear plastic sheet stapled over top. These are basically mini greenhouses used to extend growing seasons, making it so we can start growing earlier in the spring and stop growing later in the fall.
More veggies!!!

<—All done!!! Well, besides the plastic sheet.
And besides the rest of them we want to make…
I think now that Casey and his Dad know what they’re doing, the rest will go faster. 🙂

Mulching the blueberries with chicken manure- they love it!

The new batch of Rhode Island Red chicks was moved from the garage to the barn. Some of these will grow up to join the other laying hens, but the roosters, well… they’ll join us for the chicken barbecue in July!

The hens enjoying their new outdoor pens, courtesy of Tom and Casey.

I caught Gramps planting some broccoli as he watched all the excitement next-door. He grows his sprouts on the windowsill, then transplants them into his fancy raised-bucket-garden. Apparently he’s the broccoli expert! I am sure learning a lot from the Husts.

~Rachel

Pulverizing Peanuts!!!

Look at those deliciously pulverized peanuts!!! If that description sounds violent, it’s because it was. Have you ever learned about the ancient wine-making process, where people stomped on grapes all day  till the roads looked like rivers of blood? Well… this process is entirely different… but those peanuts still went through a lot.

First, they were ripped out of the comfort of their little pods.

Then, their bare backs were roasted at 350 degrees for 3-5 minutes before being poured into… the blender. (Dun dun dunnn). Our sources told us that a food processor works best, but that a blender could work, too. Good thing my Grammy gave us this power horse! It got a little hot, but after a couple minutes the peanuts were powder… But not peanut butter.. Apparently, a little oil will help get the creaming started, so we added a couple teaspoons of canola. That did the trick! Soon, we added the other ingredients- 1-1/2 teaspoons of molasses and 1 teaspoon of salt.

And got this! It’s strangely lighter in color than normal peanut butter, which makes me wonder what exactly they do to it! (Don’t worry, we will still buy it from the store too- the price isn’t much different from the normal kind at all. BUT it is probably 5x cheaper than the “natural” variety, and tastes so much more like peanut than sugar and other flavors. 🙂
 After tasting his raspberry jam and peanut butter sandwich, Casey (I quote)
“was scared at how good it was.”

That was interesting… and easy!

Today’s project took only a few minutes of prep and a couple hours of waiting, and produced this vat of white, yummy goodness! It’s yogurt 🙂

Again, Casey looked up all the details (this is what happens when I’m doing homework all the time and he’s bored!)

Here’s how we did it:
-Heated milk (about a quart) in a saucepan till it reached 185 degrees F.
-Meanwhile, let a half cup of yogurt sit outside the fridge to get warm.
-As soon as the milk hit 185, we removed it from the stove to cool to 110 degrees.
-As soon as the milk hit 110, we mixed in the yogurt (as well as a little vanilla pudding mix- extra for flavor, and for sugar for those bacteria to eat!)
-Then we poured the concoction in this jar, screwed the lid on tight, and put the whole jar in a crockpot set to the Warm setting.
-Then we filled the rest of the crockpot with warm water to create a warm, cozy bath for the yogurt.
-We checked the crockpot water intermittently (which for Casey meant every 10 minutes!) to make sure it was staying 110-120 degrees.
-At 5 hours, we took it out, and it was thick, curdle-y Yogurt!!

To get rid of the curdles we mixed it up well, then let it sit in the fridge to thicken.

Later when we tried it, it was a little watery (this is why people add dry milk powder to it!), so we poured it through a cheesecloth, aka T-shirt. 😉

We mixed some strawberry jam/sauce into it for extra flavor and it was delicious!

I liked the consistency and flavor better than store-bought, but that could just be me. It was milder tasting (less tangy) than the store-bought, but if we let it incubate longer, it would probably have been tangier. We will definitely be experimenting with this (Casey says another batch is due this week!) since it’s so easy, and also cheap… and let’s be honest, we’re a little obsessed with frugality. 😉

First Syrup of the Season (and of our lives, ever!)

I was told by a friend that spring seems to come more quickly when you have maple syrup to boil down! Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but it sure adds festivity to the coming of spring (which is already a wonderful thing)!

We got some spiles (the metal spouts you plug into trees) for Christmas this year, and then Casey researched the ins and outs of the process, as he is so good at doing. I swear he does more research and reading now than when he was in school! 😉

Anyways, here is the first boil-down session, which we did right in our kitchen. This was about 3 gallons of sap (that was all we got from the two trees through most of March- it was a cold winter!)
Here you see Casey’s idea to prepare pancakes ahead for the morning. 🙂
And this here was our final product. You can see by the reference point of the apple that we only got about half a pint from the 3 gallons! But most of the pay-off was the fun and experience for the future.
And it is pretty exciting to put your own syrup on pancakes. It tastes like the real thing- and it is!
P.S. the first batch of syrup ended up being too thick, and crystallized into sugar, which was just as delicious. The second time around we made 3x as much, and it was just right.