Spring Projects and a New Shed

Reader Contribution by Virginia Hawthorn
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Goodness! I started this posting as a New Year’s message and here it is, spring already. I was feeling guilty in January because I had skipped December – but now I’ve managed to skip January, February, and a good part of March. It has been a busy, busy winter: Holidays; cataract surgery; getting ready for income tax time; several messy, snowy, muddy storms; and a lot of personal and farm projects that keep begging for attention. The weather has been a roller coaster ride: cold, miserable and wet, then warming up and drying out, then the wind comes screaming along, then back to cold and miserable, then 72 degrees and lovely sunshine.

Nearly 5 inches of snow.

In spite of discomforts and muddy footprints, I should not complain about cold and wet weather. Our winter up to February had been dangerously warm and mild, so this late build-up of snow in the mountains will be an enormous help, as we have been in a severe drought period for several years. In the past two months, snow has been measured in feet rather than inches in the high northern mountains of New Mexico and southern Colorado, a definite cause for celebration down here in the valleys, where the melting snow will feed our streams and rivers and fill our empty reservoirs. These late winter storms are good in yet another way, because spring was trying to spring too soon, so these periodic cold spells help hold the trees back and also keep us from submitting to the temptation of planting things too early. That way lies disaster!

Our front porch railing.

Snow on Ladron Peak, our favorite mountain.

Spring farm chores are keeping us occupied. It seems like everything needs trimming, cleaning, mowing, and attending to in one way or another. Lessons learned while trimming brush: Always wear long sleeves and gauntlet type work gloves; never wear a fuzzy sweater, even if it is your oldest, rattiest one. And take an antihistamine before you start.

Defensive gear.

One of the best things about approaching spring and longer days is that our chickens are laying again. During the darkest winter days production dropped down to as few as only one a day for a couple of days, but now we’re back up to about a dozen or more daily, and one of our lady ducks is also giving us an egg each day. Our egg customers are happy again, and so are we.

The plan is to bring in a couple dozen baby chicks very soon to build up our supply of layers. During a lovely warm break in the weather, the Farmer and the Farmer’s husband cut and baled the back pasture, which had been allowed to winter over uncut. These bales will make wonderful garden mulch and thick bedding for the chickens and ducks and dogs. There is nothing that makes our ladies happier than having a new bale of hay to rip to pieces, spreading it all around and picking out the tasty bugs and seeds.

Another sure sign of spring is all of the activity around us as the bigger farms are made ready for planting. Large equipment rumbles around, even into the night. Workers are cleaning out the irrigation ditches and burning debris, and some fields have already been irrigated for the first time this year. Our sandhill cranes and snow geese are heading north, the hummingbirds will arrive soon, and doves are already looking for suitable nesting places on our porch rafters.

Learning to Live Small

Living Small is the guiding theme of my blog offerings, sometimes more obvious than at other times, but the idea is there all the same. I’ve decided to add some ideas for “Learning to Live Small” in every installment. We live on a small farm – less than 4 actively working acres. My daughter and her husband live in a fairly small home, a straw bale and adobe place she designed and they built, with a large sunroom across the south side. Their heating bills are small indeed. I live in a very small home designed by my daughter and myself, built with large double pane windows facing south, and high R-value insulation. And now that solar units have been installed, the electric bills for both houses are less than small. They are negative!

Solar panels going up!

In order to squeeze myself, my possessions, and the kitty into these small quarters, we built a small 3-by-6-foot shed at the back of the house, which holds a remarkable amount. I ordered the plans on the Internet from iCreatables Home & Garden, which worked out just great. They have tons of plans and ideas, and I received great service. The plan came with clear instructions and a detailed materials list. When I decided on a narrower door, the modified plan for the front wall and door came flying back almost immediately at no extra charge!

Building this magnificent structure took much longer than I had hoped, but then, what doesn’t? Part of the problem was a very wet fall, with several rain delays. But with a lot of help from family, it’s finally done, painted to match the house, and chock full of my stuff.

Luckily, there was enough leftover material to build the inside shelving. I have made a vow, now made public and in writing, that this shed shall be used for things that I want and need, NOT for stashing boxes of stuff that I plan to sort through “someday.” So far, I have successfully stuck to my resolution, and the shed is nearly full and fairly well-organized. In future editions I plan to report on my methods of painless (well, mostly painless) downsizing.

Starting on the back.

After a long rain delay.

TA DA – it’s done!

Already full of stuff.

Kitty on shed guard duty.

Cooking to Save Money and Work at the Same Time

I’m always amazed at the high price for store-bought granola, which is often not so good anyway. So it’s time for a quick and easy recipe for super delicious homemade granola using only one pan and a big wooden spoon. No more spreading the mixture out on cookie sheets, trying to stir it now and then without spilling some of it in the bottom of the oven, and spending the rest of your afternoon cleaning the kitchen. I actually saw someone on TV showing how to make granola using a small bowl, a large bowl, a skillet, and three baking sheets, plus the storage container. The advantage of being a celebrity chef is that you don’t have to do your own dishes.

A few simple rules:

1) Use a large, deep skillet. My favorite is a wok, which has nice sloped sides, giving you plenty of stirring room.

2) Assemble all your ingredients first. This process goes as fast as a stir-fry once you get started – less than 10 minutes, start to finish.

3) Don’t worry about details and measurements too much. Granola is very forgiving, so be creative and feel free to improvise and try new ideas. I’ll give you my basic recipe and then some suggestions for variety.

Ginny’s One-Pan Granola

4 cups rolled oats – use old fashioned if you like a hefty chewy granola, try quick cooking for a softer style
1/2 cup chopped nuts – mix or match any you like, maybe part sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon flax seed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup canola or other light oil
1/4 cup honey 

Optional add-ins before cooking:

  • Chopped crystalized ginger – I always add a big handful, so good!

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons wheat germ

  • Other spices instead of or in addition to cinnamon – apple or pumpkin pie combination? Cardamom? Try your own special favorites

  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes

  • Substitute maple syrup or agave nectar for the honey

  • I’m thinking of using some crunchy peanut butter and reducing the oil somewhat. I hope it won’t be too messy

  • How about the few odds and ends of crunchy breakfast cereals at the bottom of the boxes

  • Use your imagination

Directions: If you wish, you can toast the nuts in the dry skillet first and pour them onto a plate to add at the end. I don’t bother to do this because everything seems to toast together, and I’m a lazy cook. Thoroughly mix everything together in the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.

You’re done!

Remove from heat and stir a bit to help cool the mixture and keep it from continuing to cook. My wok cools very quickly, but a heavy iron skillet will probably hold the heat much longer, so adjust time accordingly or pour the mixture into a bowl to cool. Store in an air-tight container.

Optional add-ins after cooking:

  • Chopped dried fruit, your favorite(s) – you may want to add these as you use the granola so the fruit doesn’t dry out and the granola doesn’t get soggy or sticky

  • Chocolate, butterscotch, peanut butter or vanilla chips – granola should be cool first.

  • Use your own inspiration

Yum! Yum! Yum!

Happy Springtime, everyone!

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