Friday, April 17, 2015

Morel Season begins!!

About 15 years ago, not long after moving down to VA, my friend and i were hiking through our woods and stumbled upon a morel patch.  She was the first to notice them, and once we'd seen one the other just seemed magically begin appearing.  This was the beginning of my morel hunting addiction. 

Every year since then, i've gone out in the early spring morel hunting.  That original magical patch dried up years ago, but we have learned what to look for and when to look and over the years have found several new patches.

Morels need very specific conditions in order to grow. The soil temperature has to be perfect, and  there are several things to look for that hint towards the perfect time.  Once the bloodroot begins to bloom i start looking for the trillium and mayapples.

Toadshade Trillium was the first to appear. So i started walking through the wood each day looking for a sign of the morels. 

Then the Red trillium aka Stinking Benjamin, started popping up, along with the mayapples.  As soon as i saw the trillium and mayapples coming up, i knew the temps were right. We had a several days of rain, and everything seemed to be popping up overnight.   This is the best indication that the soil temp is perfect, and the rais is what really gets them going.

i went out hiking in the rain to my favorite spots to look for the elusive morel. i saw several of these orange newts, which is another good indication that the soil temp is correct.  Last year i found a bunch of these guys and while squatting down to get a picture of one i found the morels. So now i think of these guys as the morel guardians since i always seem to find them in the same area that i find the mushrooms.

Last year i stumbled upon a honey hole. So as soon as i noticed the right conditions i started checking for morels.  i've been going out almost every day, but not finding any. After looking back at some older posts i knew that i've typically found them around April 30th- May 5th,  but the flowers are blooming earlier this year. So the mushrooms should be here.  i scoured the area, but didn't find a thing, just as i'm about to give up i look down and see it. 

As always once you see that first one, the the others just sort of magically appear. They were small, and extremely difficult to find. i left several that were too small to pick and will check again in a few days after they've had some time to grow. 

Morel hunting has become a favorite family activity in the spring. The kids are great at spotting the morels and can recognize the different flowers, knows most of their names, and are learning all the signs of when and where to start looking for morels.  

There are very few other fungus that look like morels, so identification is easy.  However, if you've never hunted morels before make sure and familiarize yourself with false morels and other look-a-likes.   You can find a bit of info on knowing the difference here . The most obvious difference is that morels are hollow. Both the cap and the stem is hollow. So if you are unsure if you have a morel or a false morel, split the stem in half. The false morel will be full of cottony fiber and plant tissues, while the morel is smooth and hollow.  Never consume any wild mushroom unless you are 100% sure of what it is. 

Happy Mushroom hunting!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lundberg Organic Brown Rice, Gluten-free, Vegan Pasta Review.

i recently had to opportunity to try out Lundberg Farms Organic Brown Rice Pasta meals. These come in a variety of flavors, are gluten-free, vegan, non-gmo, organic and made with whole grains.  

 Lundberg Farms is committed to producing the finest quality rice and rice products for your family since 1937, the Lundberg family has been growing healthy, great tasting rice while respecting and sustaining the earth. today, the third and fourth generations carry on the family heritage by using eco-positive farming methods that produce wholesome, healthful rice, rice cakes, rice chips and risottos while improving and protecting the environment for generations to come.

Lundberg Family Farms is family-owned and operated. It is a proud participant of the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization created by leaders representing all sectors of the organic and natural products industry in the U.S. and Canada, to offer consumers a consistent non-GMO choice for organic and natural products.

Although we are not a vegan or gluten free family, i was excited to try these out.  The flavors looked intriguing, and there are times when you need to whip up a quick meal. They are very easy to make, you just boil the water then add the pasta and seasoning pack and then let it simmer around 7 minutes.  The sauce thickens as it cools.

This was my first time trying a gluten-free pasta. It had a slightly different smell when it was cooking, that i wasn't quite sure about. However, the finished product looked and tasted like regular pasta. These meals make a nice side dish, but could easily be spiced up to make more of a meal. 

Lundberg farms pasta is not only tasty, it is also affordable. The ingredients are all natural and easy to pronounce, making it a really nice alternative to many of the pasta mixes on the market that contain food coloring and artificial flavors.  These were easy enough for my 13 year old to make himself.  We really enjoyed these pasta dishes and  look forward to trying some of the other Lundberg products and flavors

*disclaimer. i do not receive any monetary compensation for my reviews.  i occasionally receive free products to review or giveaway, but all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Milkweed pod babies- Nature crafts revisited

i recently had the opportunity to re-visit these milkweed pod babies crafts.  My daughter and i had so much fun making them a few years ago, that i thought i'd share them again. We first came across the idea on  The original tutorial is no longer there, so i thought i'd post one for anyone interested in making them.  They are very easy and so adorable!

All you need for this craft is some milkweed pods, pipe cleaners, wooden beads, wool roving and acorn caps.  One pipe cleaner makes 3 babies.

Cut your pipe cleaner in three equal pieces, that are approx. 4" long. Fold in half, and slide your bead on. Then fold down the very ends of the pipe cleaner and and add a bit of glue. You can glue your acorn cap to the top of the head now.

i used a small section of wool roving that was about 12" long.   Place the end of the wool on the pipecleaner, and begin wrapping the body.  Once you get to the bottom wrap it back toward the top, and finish it off by wrapping the end tightly at the neck or base of the bead.  Now you can add a face if you want, or leave it without.  

My daughter wanted to glue a little of the milkweed fluff inside our milkweed pod to make it more comfy for the baby. :) 

These are a great project for almost any age, and look lovely as part of a nature table or in a dollhouse with a bendy doll family. They would make a great project for a waldorf class or girl scout craft. 

Hopefully the tutorial is easy to understand, let me know if anything is unclear. Have fun!

Around the Homestead- Garden Season, Progress and Planting fruit trees.

Spring is always such a wonderfully busy time of year. It has been several years since we've had any real time to do real things on our property. For a while there was the financial struggle, then Kenan's glass business really started to do well, but there just wasn't enough time to do all the work that needed to be done. Then in 2013, we lost everything in a fire and had to start completely over. 

We are beginning to feel somewhat recovered, and are really trying to catch up and make some major progress this spring. Broke my heart when we had to clear some land, but now we have a great place to plant an orchard! Put in 6 new fruit trees so far. Kenan has been busting his butt to get stuff done so i can get planting!

The gardens have been tilled and fenced. This is garden #3. It use to be my cold crop garden, but after clearing some of our land it is now getting full sun. So i will probably plant mostly beans and squash in this spot this year, still trying to plan out where everything will go.


Garden #4 is inside the goat field. It's been tilled and fenced, and potatoes have been planted. This year i put in blue, purple, red, yellow and white potatoes.  i'm going to put something in with them, possibly beans and onions, but i haven't decided what i'm going to plant in here yet. Last year i planted corn and squash in this bed, and the temptation for the goats was too much and they broke down the fence and ate all of the corn right down to the ground. They didn't bother the squash at all though, so i may try planting squash as a border. 

The tiered beds have been tilled and expanded. :) Always expanding.

Garden #2, is my early spring garden. There are 3 small raised beds in this garden. One has asparagus, garlic and lettuce. Another is strawberries and garlic and the last one i put in beets and carrots. My soil is so full of clay and rocks, my root veggies never do very well.  So i thought i'd try them in the raised bed.  i also have sugar peas planted along the fence, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, spinach, garlic and kale in this garden.  i planted packman broccoli, which has always done really we for me. i also planted Romanesco (fractal) broccoli, Sicilian violet cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli. i tried some of these last year, but they didn't do well. i got an earlier start on them this year and am hoping they will well.

i've got all kinds of pants started inside my little cheap greenhouse.  The wind rocked it pretty good last week and the shelves fell off, so i had to restart a bunch of tomatoes.  i reinforced the greenhouse to hopefully keep it from rocking as much and ziptied the shelves, so they can't fall off as easily. When i first saw the greenhouse i was devastated, as it looked like i'd lost almost everything. However once i started lifting up the posts i found i was able to recover almost everything.

First garden harvest was this week. Most of these baby greens came from my hoop house (pvc hoops covered in plastic). As i was weeding the lettuce i picked and  added some dandelion and chickweed to the salad. Also picked a couple asparagus, and added the sweet violets for color. 

Besides getting the garden tilled and fenced, husband put in a rope swing for the kids. He  transplanted several nice peach trees, and moved the Nanking cherry bush which had been dug and dumped on the edge of the driveway during construction.  

He is also working on cleaning up the land that was cleared, and has already started planting fruit trees in what will hopefully eventually be a small orchard. We planted several apple trees; Winesap, Stayman - Winesap, Red Delicious, and Honeycrisp. We are planning to add a couple more including a pink lady and a Gala. We also put in Tartarian black cherry and  another Moonglow pear tree.  We have another cherry tree, two plum trees and 4 blueberry bushes that need to be transplanted into the new location.  Once the cleared land has been cleaned up we'll be putting in more blueberry bushes there.

We also planted a new Clematis vine, Crepe Myrtle bush, Wisteria vine, and 2 new Lilac bushes. We are just starting to work on the landscaping a bit.    We're having a week of rain, so everything is really just starting to come up and grow but we have to put our outside work on hold a bit. i'm already loving the progress, though. We are getting our chicken coops set up better, so that we can travel a bit without worrying so much about them.  The way they are set up now, they have to be closed in every night, or we risk predators getting in and killing them. So even an overnight trip is stressful. i'm hoping the new improvements to the coop and feeders with make things easier, and allow up to travel a bit again.  i love the springtime.  i love all the new growth and transformations. It always feels like the beginning of everything.

I think that no matter how old or infirm I may become, I will always plant a large garden in the spring. Who can resist the feelings of hope and joy that one gets from participating in nature’s rebirth? ~Edward Giobbi

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chickens, Chicks and Chicken tractors.

New peeps!!  i'm so excited that one of game hens became broody earlier this spring. Game hens are known for hiding eggs and going broody often. She decided to set right in one of my main nesting boxes, so i was able to remove most of the eggs and then hand pick the eggs to stick under her. She had one of her own eggs, 6 olive egger eggs and a Mottled Java egg.  i mark the eggs with a sharpie, either putting the date that she begins setting or a big X on the egg. That way if other hens continue to lay in the nest, i know which ones are fresh and which are incubating.

On day 21, i was so thrilled to find this sweet little peep in the nest.  This little guy hatched out of the Java egg.  i began picking up the other eggs and tapping them, and found three olive eggs with pip marks.  i tapped one and it tapped back. Then i began to hear peeping from inside those 3 eggs.  i went back to check on them several times that day, but they hadn't hatched yet.

The next morning when i went out to check i found 4 new peeps. :) The first one is a Mottled Java cross. i'm not sure who the daddy is, but probably a BCM.  The other 3 are Olive egger cross. i believe the two black chicks are Olive egger/ BCM cross so they should grow up to lay dark olive eggs (if they are girls of course).  The chipmunk patterned chick was also an olive egg, so it's daddy is either the Cream Legbar rooster or my main rooster, which i believe is an easter egger. So who knows what color eggs it will lay. :)   i'm really thrilled that was able to hatch out some of the olive eggs. 

i have a second hen broody, and she is setting on another 4 olive eggs, 3 Black star (XL brown) and another Java egg. These are due to hatch the first week of May.  i believe the BCM (Black Copper Maran) is the daddy to most of these, so i'm really looking forward to the variety of egg colors i should be getting this fall. 

As much as i love having all of these animals, you end up rather tied down. It's difficult to find a reliable house sitter/pet sitter if we want to go away at all, and i hate asking friends because i know it's a huge inconvenience to ask them to come out every day and i don't want them to agree because they feel obligated. So we've been working to really improve our animal set up so that we can go away for a day or two without constant worry. Although i have two coops with fencing, my tiny peeps can not get in the main one because of the steep ramp.

Although they could get into the smaller coop, mama hen is very protective of her chicks and will attack the other birds that are in there.  So she really need a small safe area, for her and her chicks to hang out in when we are not here to help them into the main coop. So the husband made me this simple A-frame chicken tractor, which is the perfect size for mama and her peeps. The chicken wire is double layered and staggered, to hopefully keep snakes out. i also had him leave the extra chicken wire along the bottom so i can puts rocks on it or something to make it difficult for anything to squeeze under. 

Once kenan had it finished, my girl and i gave it a quick stain. Then we moved mama hen and her peeps into the new enclosure.  This is the first 'chicken tractor' kenan has built and i think he did a great job with the design. He was originally going to put the door in the back so you could access the little chicken house, but i suggested he move it to the front so it's easy to fill food and water containers. Now that it's complete, i realize that it should probably have a door on both ends. My daughter is dying to get her hands on those cute little peeps, but every time she gets near mama hen hides them in the little chicken house. :)

This is too small to keep chickens in full time, but is great for mamas and peeps and it's also good for breeding pairs. Once my BCM pullets begin laying, i'll be able to put them in here with the BCM roo an guarantee some BCM chicks, rather than barnyard mix which tends to happen when you have multiple roosters. 

Our next project is to replace our current chicken feeders with PVC tube feeders, so we can give them a ton of food at one time and not have to worry about it getting wet/molding/spilling etc. 

i'm really excited to see all the progress we are making this year. i'll continue to post progress updates as we finish each goal.  Gardens have been tilled, and a few things planted so i'll be updating on all of that soon. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

McAfee's Knob- Appalachian Trail hiking

This past weekend the weather was fantastic and so we decided to hike another spot on the Appalachian trail. We decided on McAfee's knob which is located very close to Dragon's tooth, where we hiked the previous weekend. McAfee's knob is the most photographed site along the AT. The Knob has an almost 270 degree panorama of the Catawba Valley and North Mountain to the west, Tinker Cliffs to the north and the Roanoke Valley to the east. The hike is almost 8 miles round trip, which is a pretty long hike for us.

So before leaving, Kenan googled the directions.  All was well, until we went to turn down the road listed in our directions as the route to McAfee's knob. Ha ha.  This sign completely cracked me up. 'Don't let me have to shoot your ass" ha ha. This poor guy must deal with AT hikers constantly who trusted the google directions. So we sat in the driveway and looked up different directions to access it. We figured out that we had to go back to the Appalachian trail access parking lot, and follow the trail from there. Although the lot was marked for the Appalachian trail access, there was no obvious sign that it was the way to McAfee's knob.  We had to look on the AT map on the Kiosk. They also had a porta-jon  for before you get started,which is helpful if you're hiking with kids:) 

Once you get going, you'll see the signs. :)

Wildflowers were just beginning to bloom.  We spotted a bunch of these spring beauty, also saw forsythia, wood violets and a pretty white flowering tree. The hike itself was a bit strenuous if you are completely out of shape like i am. 

All along the AP are these shelters. There is two day limit on them i believe, but folks can staty here to get out of the rain or set up camp if they are stopping. Each one had a journal where folks who stayed at them could leave their name or write whatever they were feeling. i thought it was pretty neat.  My girl exhausted from hiking, laid every chance she could get.

Stopped for a picture break. We stopped for a lot of breaks. :) These white flowering bushes were everywhere, not sure what they were.

The views at the top were amazing.  It was definitely worth the hike. 

i  told them to go out on the rock, but i would let them walk all the way to the end. hee hee. Made my knees weak just watching them. 

i took a ton of pictures.  It was really an amazing overlook.

Some kind man offered to take our pictures, which is always nice because i'm typically never in the pictures. However i was munching away on a granola bar and had a mouth full that i couldn't get swallowed before he started snapping pictures. So i've got the chipmunk cheek look because my mouth was full and i couldn't smile. lol.

That bit of white in the distance on the right is the Roanoke Valley.

Although this hike definitely kicked my butt, it has really made me want to get into better shape so we can do more of these AT hikes.  The husband is already making plans to do the AT with my boy when he graduates high school. i'm not sure i'd want to do the entire AT at one time, but i love the idea of hiking different parts of it at different times. 

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but Nature's sources never fail." ~John Muir, Our National Parks

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Dragon's tooth- Appalachian trail hiking

In the spring,  we like to take advantage of the beautiful weather get outside and hike any chance we can. We are in the prime area for hiking. We are centrally located to the New River Trail, the Blue Ridge parkway and the Appalachian trail. We also have many other local places to hike like Buffalo Mountain, Rock Castle Gorge and the Cascades.

We hike all of local places each year and have been working our way down different parts of the New River trail.  This year, we began looking for different areas of the Appalachian trail to hike.

Our first  AT hike of the spring was Dragon's Tooth. Dagon's Tooth is a unique geological feature that consists of Tuscarora quartzite spires which outcrop on the top of cove Mountain. The tallest tooth projects roughly 35 feet above the surrounding rock. The trail to Dragon's tooth ascends steep, rugged outcrops of quartzite which form the spine of Cove Mountain and North Mountain. The spine is known as Dragon's back.

This was a pretty difficult hike, for us having sat on our butts all winter. It is only 4.5 miles round trip, but it is very strenuous and the terrain is extremely rough in spots.  

Several areas of this hike require you to actually scale the rocks. They do have hand grips in some of the rocks, but some of them like this picture did not. climbing up this area was much scarier than climbing down. It is hard to how steep this area actually is in the photo, but it felt like we were having to climb straight up the rocks. what you can't see in these pictures, is that there is a pretty good drop off next to the trail on the bottom. Making this the most terrifying part of the hike. 

Both hands and feet are required to get down the rocks here.  Coming down was much easier than going up.  Honestly, i was surprised by the amount of older folks, kids and dogs that were hiking.  This is not an easy trail, and i would not take little kids on it. My kids are 8 and 13 and did fine, but there were some scary areas, narrow legdes and the climbing was pretty strenuous and difficult in parts.

i didn't get any photos of the climb up, because we had to use both hands and were just concerned with the climb. Kenan was the first to climb down, so he snapped a couple pictures of us descending. It is a very hands on hike. You have climb using both hands and feet and sometimes knees as well.

The views at the top make the hike completely worthwhile. The views are truly incredible.

At the top of Dragon's tooth, we rested and had some snacks before heading back down. 

Had to take a selfie of course. ;)

i would have loved to get  a picture of my family sitting where the guy in the orange shirt is, but we had to settle for the base of the 'tooth'.  It's hard to see, but that's my family standing in the shadow. It's give an idea of how large the quartzite formations are. 

This was a great hike to start the year, although it was much more challenging than many of our other hikes we truly enjoyed it. Looking forward to exploring more places along the Appalachian trail this spring/summer.  We all need to work on getting in better shape though, the AT is serious hiking.

"Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."-John Muir

Friday, April 3, 2015

No-bake bird nest cookies

No Bake Bird Nest cookies
2 Cups Sugar
1 stick butter
1/2tsp vanilla
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup milk
3 cups oats

green food coloring(optional)
jelly beans or chocolate egg candies.

Place about 1 cup of coconut in a bowl and add a few drops of green food coloring. Use a fork to stir it until all the coconut is green.

Mix sugar, cocoa, butter and milk. Boil for 3 min. Remove from heat. Add vanilla, peanut butter and oats. Coat well, and drop by rounded tablespoon on tin foil/waxed paper. Press spoon into center of cookie to give it a nest shape. Then place a big pinch of the coconut in the center of each cookie and decorate with jelly beans/candy.