Beer making and garlic braiding

Tom and I are attending 'Beer School' through The Kitchn. Last week most of our assignments were preparing us for the actual brewing of beer, and yesterday our task was to go shopping for all the equipment we needed.

We visited our local brew store and had a fun time gathering up our list, which included strange-sounding things like 'hydrometer' and 'airlock.' We also got our grains. We are making an all-grain beer, which is apparently more flavorful but is a bit harder. It was fun to go into the 'grain room' and taste and smell all the grains. We also enjoyed milling the grains right there in the shop.

Employee Nolan helps us navigate milling
We have everything at home now, it set us back about $119 but we already had a significant amount of the kitchen items needed. If you had to start by getting that stuff too (stockpot, thermometer, etc) it would be quite a bit more costly.

I'm guessing that we may begin the brewing very soon. We're excited to get started making our first amber ale!

Today my fruit trees arrived from Stark Brothers, impeccably packed as usual. I soaked them in water for several hours while I prepared the beds. Last week I took out a huge ceonothus and many sunroses from along our North fence. The first thing I had to do today was borrow my father's ax and hack the stumps to pieces. I gotta tell you, nothing makes me more exhausted than using the ax. I always end up with numb hands and arms, literally dripping sweat. How did all the pioneers clear their land with just an ax? It blows my mind, every time I use this tool. Respect, pioneer dudes.

Next I needed to clear the land of mulch and dig some holes. Clay clay clay. Digging is the second-most exhausting thing in our hard-as-rock earth. I shall sleep well tonight.

Sunrose is gone, time for cherry trees...

...and here they are

only the ceonothus stump left.... a plum tree

I put wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of good compost in these areas, and mixed up a huge amount of flower and herb seeds, then broadcast them over the dirt. Tom hooked up drips, and in a few weeks, we'll see how these guys are doing. These trees probably won't fruit for at least two years. Planning for the future, yo. In the meantime, we'll hopefully get a nice pollinator garden going.

By the way, those cinder blocks you see in the plum tree picture are for the new rain barrel I ordered. Turns out, they don't make them the way they did five years ago when we got our old one; they no longer make them with removable lids. So you must use the spigot to fill your watering cans. (I guess it's a safety issue?) Therefore, they need to be up on blocks. Also in this picture is a small strip of bark for Joe. He likes to lie in this spot, and I keep taking away his favorite places. I couldn't bear to do it again.

I also made my garlic braids. The garlic was harvested two weeks ago and placed to cure on top of our chicken coop. It had gotten quite dry in the curing period, so I decided to go ahead and braid it. You start out with three bulbs, wired together. Then you braid, adding another bulb to the middle each time. It's a little like French braiding hair (which I was never very good at). When you've reached the top, you secure with twine, making a knot at the front and then at the back, then making a loop with which to hang the braid.

Still a little green in the middle; that will dry with time

Dad has finished my canning shelf, which has knobs on which to hang these garlic braids, and I'll be installing that next weekend.

You may recall that I made Thieves Vinegar a few weeks ago. I decanted it in to a spray bottle and used it to clean the kitchen, the shower, and our wooden dining room table this weekend. I'm happy to report that it works excellently on all those surfaces. It smells good, too - very minty. And yes, vinegar-y too. But after using chemical cleaners most of my life, it was a nice change. I guess you just have to decide what you want to smell when you're done cleaning.

I put some in another spray bottle to take to work tomorrow - what with the kids' diagnosis', sensitivities, and allergies, we try to use natural cleaning products whenever possible. So we can use this to clean the lunch and station tables when we are done.

I can think of lots of other uses for this too - I'll try it as a clothes softener this week. Vinegar naturally softens clothes and it doesn't leave a vinegar smell on them, apparently. Much better for the environment than regular fabric softeners. Plus, if we go with a graywater system, we're going to need to use different detergents/softeners anyway.

I'm desperate to plant basil and get it started, but I'm loathe to pull out the kale until it's really and truly done. So I'm leaving the kale for now, and I planted some interim basil between and among the peppers. I ordered more seeds and will just plan on succession planting once the kale is finished. I also had to re-seed a few items. You see, we've attracted an intrepid scrub jay to our yard. He came for the chicken coop. He discovered that the chickens will sometimes, in their enthusiastic scratching and digging, pitch a treat out through the fencing of their coop. He sees them scratching and comes down, perches on the edge of a raised bed, and waits for any morsel that comes sailing out. Smart bird. Apparently he's also seen me seeding beds, because I've seen him steal the seeds once I've planted them. So I have to be stealthy. I have to make sure he's not around before I go out and bury and few furtive grains of corn or beans. I feel silly looking out for a BIRD, but there it is.

Finally, we tried to get to the fence gates. We've taken to parking our cars as close to our gates as possible (three gates, two cars - one gate is always unprotected) because the damn deer are hopping the fences to get in, now that they can't get over the fence. Beans - eaten! Strawberries - eaten! ARGH. And we just didn't get to the new fences this weekend. It's top of our list, next weekend.

And that's the news from Poppy Corners this second weekend of May. Have a good week, everyone!