The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Preserving peppers, pt 1

Fresh cayenne peppers harvested from garden

Its harvest time at the Grovestead, and that means getting creative with where to put stuff. And unless you can eat 4.6 lbs of hot peppers all at once, that means preserving them.

So I did a quick bit of research and came up with two ways to save the harvest of our hot peppers. For our cayennes, a simple dehydrated pepper was the easiest.

The first step was to cut into the peppers lengthwise. Not cut in half, just cut into to let the water evaporate.

Cutting cayenne peppers to be dehydrated

Next place the cayenne peppers on food dehydrator racks.

Cayenne peppers on dehydrator racks

Set the dehydrator run for several hours at 135-degrees. I let mine run overnight. This is what they look like when done:

Cayenne peppers after being dehydrated

The last step was to throw them in a mason jar.

Dehydrated cayenne peppers placed in mason jar

That’s it! A full jar of homegrown cayenne peppers ready for any recipe.

First apple

First apple harvested from our orchard

We enjoyed our first homegrown apple from our apple orchard yesterday. The Zestar variety ripens earlier than the rest, by the end of August. It tasted similar to a Honeycrisp but more tart. It was especially sweet since we have so few apples this year, having to pick most of the blossoms to force the roots to establish, then losing most of what remained to wind and worms.

Overall, I’m happy with our orchard’s progress. There were some mishaps to be sure, like the Harralson that got so weighted down with apples that three branches broke. Cedar Apple Rust, a common fungal disease has infected other trees but can be easily treated with a fungicide spray. And of course watering the apple trees every day with 5-gallon buckets for the first six weeks was a chore. But seems like we’ve done ok, overall. From here on out the maintenance decreases and the fruit increases.

Watching chickens grow

Comparison of chickens week one to week four

If it looks like our broiler chickens are doubling in size every week, that’s because they are. We received the box of chickens in the mail just one short month ago.  Already they’re the size of rotisserie chickens you’d see near the checkout lanes of the grocery store.

We had a few vacations this month with different family clans and had neighbors helping care for the rapidly growing chicks. Upon returning from each trip we couldn’t believe how big the chicks were getting. So far the thirty birds have gobbled up over 150 lbs of feed and they’re only half-grown.

Growing chicks in the pen

Growing chicks running

Closeup of our growing broiler chickens

The harvest begins

Really really spicy pepper

With the exception of cucumbers and sweet peas which started ripening in late June, we’ve been waiting patiently for most of our garden to get to the harvest stage. It looks like harvest is now upon us. In the past week I have harvested:

  • 65 lbs of potatoes (about 1/4 our crop)
  • 7.5 lbs of beets
  • 9 lbs of tomatoes (with many more coming)

Tomatoes ripening

Tomato harvest

Digging potatoes out of the ground

Potato harvest

We’ve also plucked salad greens, cabbage, swiss chard, beans, carrots, eggplant and late-season strawberries.

Plenty of peppers are ready to harvest too, like this one called Cherry Bomb, because it feels like a bomb went off in your mouth if you try to eat one:

Peppers ripening

The sweet corn is just about ready too, except we came home from a family vacation to find many of the best stalks shredded and ears of corn eaten. It was raccoons, of course.

Raccoons got into our sweet corn

It’s the risk I take, not having a fence. I would have been more upset except the anemic growth of our corn this year didn’t produce much. I either planted the corn too close together or the weed pressure was too high (or both). However, in my no-till experiment, the corn stalks are mammoth. Look for a post on that later.

My pumpkins are growing great but watermelon and cantaloupe are struggling. Again, I think the weeds won the day in my melon patch.

Rainbow in the distance

Building a mobile chicken coop, step-by-step

Finished chicken tracktor

Chickens do two things with stunning regularity: eat and poop. The idea of a mobile chicken coop, or “chicken tractor” as it is sometimes called, is to keep the chickens from overgrazing a single patch of yard while spreading the free fertilizer as thin as possible. This has olfactory benefits as well.

Many people with chicken tractors will rotate them into garden beds after harvesting vegetables. The chickens scratch up the soil, picking out all the unfavorable bugs and grubs and leave behind a high-nitrogen boost for next year’s planting.

Chicken tractors come in all shapes and sizes. But they all have wheels. I wanted something very simple to build, but also easy to clean. So I built mine in two parts.

On the bottom is the wheeled base, 8-feet long by 6-feet wide. It resembles a trailer without sides.

Base and wheel wells of the mobile chicken coop

On top of the base, I built an A-frame structure and covered it with plywood. This is a very easy design and went together quickly with the help of my friend and fellow chicken aficionado, Brenton.

Mobile chicken coop basic frame

Plywood sheathing on chicken tractor

A view inside the chicken tractor

After the frame was built and plywood attached, I cut out window and door flaps and installed hardware cloth inside the windows to prevent critters from getting in.

Installing hardware cloth over the window hatches on our mobile chicken coop

Nailgunning some trim onto the chicken tractor

After it was all assembled, I of course had to paint it our favorite combo of barn-red with white trim. Ivar helped me out.

Painting the mobile chicken coop

Baby chicks need very controlled temperatures the first week of life, so I hung a heat lamp inside before moving the chicks out.

Heatlamp hung inside the mobile chicken coop to keep the baby chicks warm

We kept the coop and baby chickens inside the garage for the first several days but finally, it was time to move the coop outside.

The final piece of this setup was a perimeter fence. This lets the chickens roam outside the coop but confines them to the space where I want them. It also keeps other animals, like our cats, out.

Our cats were particularly interested in the new coop

So far, it’s been a successful build. There’s plenty of space for our 30+ chicks. I have moved the fence and coop a few times and it works as it’s supposed to.

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