Those Spoiled Ducks: The Pond

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Gladys and Amelia are indeed as pampered and spoiled as any fat Pekins can be. Which was of course entirely predictable due to my husband’s tendency to spoil his pets unmercifully. Gladys, in fact, still insists on being tucked in to the coop every night, and she’s pushing 15 pounds of what one of the grandsons calls “Jabba The Duck.”

Thus it was over the last couple of weeks when the bitter cold gave way to days in the 50s and 60s, that the family was called together to finally finish the duck pond project begun last spring and not finished beyond a hole big enough for the plastic kiddie wading pool that served as bath until now. In this picture you can see my elder daughter the experienced labor straw boss overseeing the elder grandsons as they widened and deepened the depression that would hold the pond liner.

spoild ducksNow, any project that requires more than a year’s worth of planning – usually over beers around the campfire across the back yard from the someday pond – can’t just be as easy as digging out a hole, laying down the liner, and filling it with water. Because it’s a duck pond, and ducks poop in their ponds just like bears poop in the woods, it has to have drainage capability that will allow it to be emptied and hosed down occasionally (I figure from size and depth about once a month). This means the deepest part must have a drain mechanism and a stopper on a chain we can pull, plus a length of pipe extending through the back dirt wall to channel the dirty pond water to the downslope. From a year’s worth of kiddie pool clean-outs plus filling and draining the pond-pond as we engineered over the past couple of weeks, there’s already a water-cut arroyo bisecting the back-back yard extending past the shed to the drop-off at forest edge.

Antioxidants vs Radiation: Lemon Balm!

Lemon_Balm!Most of us who are committed to the homesteading lifestyle are committed because we perceive the value of living closer to the earth, taking responsibility for ourselves per the ‘conveniences’ of life, and care a great deal about the general health and well-being of ouselves, our families and our communities. A lot of us grow a lot of our own foodstuffs so that we can know “what’s in it” when we eat it, and some also raise their own livestock to receive that high quality protein from a source unconnected with the impersonal death industry that meat and dairy production has become in this modern age.

And for the general robustness of our bodily defense and repair mechanisms – so important to maintaining health and promoting longevity – the value of antioxidants is something we’re familiar with. Antioxidants serve to reduce the amount of “free radicals” in our bodies. Free radicals are loose, fast-moving electrons (and sometimes positrons) that damage molecules and cells by knocking electron shells of atoms out of whack, thereby disrupting molecular bonds. And while a certain amount of oxidative reactions are part of normal metabolic processes, excess amounts of it can cause all sorts of problems. So plants and animals maintain multiple types of antioxidants to balance the processes, such as vitamins C, A and E, glutathione, certain enzymes and peroxidases, etc. which protect against oxidative stress which can cause neurodegenerative diseases, the ailments of aging, and even cancer.

A great deal is known from medical research about antioxidants and their protective uses, and a great many people take supplements or choose high-antioxidant foods as part of their healthy diet. Here is what some doctors have to say about it…

“Free radicals appear to play a central role in virtually every disease you can name, either directly or secondarily.”
Russell A. Blaylock, M.D.

“There is now overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating that people who eat a diet rich in antioxidants and take antioxidant supplements will live longer, healthier lives.”
Lester Packer, PhD.

Okay, okay. We’re convinced. Many of us even know which of the foods we choose to grow and/or eat pack the most antioxidant whallop. But what about antioxidants that are used to prevent damage from oxidative health hazards most of us are not all that familiar with? Like, say, radiation exposure.

Best Thanksgiving Perk: Cranberries

CranberriesThanksgiving is just over a week away, which means one of my absolute favorite fruits are now being sold fresh in bags – often on half price sale – at grocery stores everywhere. For Thanksgiving I use just one of those 12-ounce bags to make my famous Crackberry Sauce (regular whole cranberry sauce with a bag of frozen blackberries added). But I buy as many as I can afford when they go on sale so I can dry them as “craisins.”

I’ve written quite a bit about how much I like drying food from the garden rather than canning. Which is a hot and expensive way of preserving things. But this time of year my handy-dandy home-made solar dryer is fairly useless, there’s just not enough hours of sun to make it work. So I use the oven, which can also be a relatively expensive proposition. Still, good craisins are expensive from the store in those little brand name bags, so it works out fairly. Even better, if you make your own craisins at home you can do some pretty spectacular things with them flavor-wise.

This year I’m doing the “Double-Dry” method for orange flavored craisins. It’s easy enough – just dry the craisins in single layers on flat baking sheets in a barely warm oven – I use the lowest setting, 150º – and keep the door propped open a couple of inches to allow the moisture to escape in natural convection. Takes awhile, and many of the berries retain their size and shape until they’ve cooled completely and wrinkle up into the ‘usual’ raisin-like form. I put these into a glass bowl and cover them with hot orange juice. Then cover the bowl and let the berries reconstitute. Then dry them again.

You could use any type of fruit juice to flavor your craisins, even wine or brandy if you want. Just be sure to label the containers you put them in so they don’t get mixed up. They are wonderful additions to holiday cakes, breads and cookies, or just as handy snacks. If you want your craisins to be sweeter, just thoroughly dissolve a tablespoon or two of sugar or honey in the reconstituting juice, it will get absorbed.

It’s cranberries this time of year, but drying and double-drying fresh fruit works any time of year, whenever the local harvest has big lots at the farmer’s market. I haven’t yet double-dried apples, as dried apple slices go so fast as snacks around here that it seems the hoards just stand around drooling to get them as fast as they can be produced. But if ever I did happen to have dried enough for, say, a Thanksgiving pie, I’d probably reconstitute them in spiced juice (mulled cider or even wine) just before putting them into the pie crust, using leftover juice as part of the filling. Just add sugar and corn starch to thicken.

Cranberries don’t grow in my locale, but blueberries sure do. I’m planning to dedicate several terraces on the upper yard slope to the ridge to blueberries, once I find a good source of thinned bushes I can get for free. Say, 4 100-foot rows of good producers, which works out to ~25 bushes per row spaced at 4′. Good producers will return ~5 pounds of berries per bush (some will give 10, but I’m being conservative here). Once they’re producing at that level, I’ll be getting an average crop of 500 pounds a year! That’s big enough to supply my family and friends as well as the local munchy market. Besides, blueberries come in high summer, which would let me use the sun instead of expensive electricity to do the drying.