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Lynx Tracks – Exciting First for Us

Lynx Tracks – Exciting First for Us

Lynx Tracks in the Snow

We’re making the most of our backwoods road riding this month while we wait for winter to give up and let spring move in. The roads are still frozen and the frost hasn’t started working its way out of the ground yet. From last weekend to this, the ice has gained rather than lost area at the outlets and along moving water. It’s moving backward. Finding lynx tracks in the snow last weekend was a highlight of winter and a first for me.

lynx tracks, lynx in Maine, tracks,

Talking With the Warden

I talked with our local game warden about our trespasser and the lynx. He’s familiar with the lynx but hadn’t seen signs of him in a couple of  years, and he was happy to hear he’s still around. They’re beautiful cats. I said I was 99.9% sure we’d seen lynx tracks, and he replied that they are “awesome and impressive. If you think you saw lynx tracks that’s what you saw.” On top of a heavy crust and with a little fresh snow on top, the tracks are the size of my palm.

The front foot is in front/on bottom, and the back foot steps on part of the front foot. It’s an easy size and pattern to recognize.

These lynx tracks belong to a cat in Topsfield. There are five sets of tracks near Grand Lake Stream. A few years ago lynx in the area were little more than rumors. We knew they’d move in eventually as these “endangered” (pffft  No they’re not, that’s ridiculous.) animals with a small population continue to reproduce and spread out. If you’re standing on one side of the US/New Brunswick, Canada border they’re endangered. On the other side, in Canada, they are a species with a healthy and growing population. (off the soapbox now)

Hollow Bones

I learned during our conversation that lynx have hollow bones, part of what makes it easier for them to stay on top of the snow. A thick crust, huge round “snowshoe” feet, and hollow bones. How absolutely cool is that. There are two tracks below. The front foot is on the bottom, back foot partially covers the front. The scratch mark is consistent on the left side, and I think it’s the front foot scuffing the snow.

lynx tracks, snow, maine

What Do Lynx Eat?

We know the lynx are around. They’re on two sides of us and have been for at least a few years. They follow the snowshoe hare population, their main diet. The hare population has recovered since the winter of 2014/15 when local hares were all but wiped out. I don’t know that they’d be a threat to the poultry or much of a threat to deer. Now that I’ve learned more, I’m less concerned about increased danger to my poultry. Interesting, the things you learn as a result of riding a backwoods road for an hour.

Backwoods roads were muddy this weekend so went to see elk instead. Elk. In Maine. Tis true. Instead of buying a side of farm-raised beef we’re considering harvesting a farm-raised elk. Thinking about it. I have pictures of course. I’ll share a couple tomorrow.

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How to Make Bacon

How to Make Bacon

How to Make Bacon

Before I cured our first bacon I did a lot of research online. How to make bacon. If you Google that you’ll get how to cook bacon and recipes using bacon but not nearly as many links to how to MAKE bacon. I probably should have used “cure” instead of make. Susy at Chiot’s Run made bacon that looked incredible. “I can do that,” I thought. If I’m going to eat bacon I want it to be slab, salty but not too salty, and I want something a little different at times. Plain, quality bacon is excellent but homemade Maple Bourbon bacon – seriously. It’s one of life’s great pleasures.

You can use pork belly from a pig you raised, bought locally, or ordered from the butcher. When we’re in danger of running out of bacon I call a local slaughter house / butcher and put in my order. If they aren’t killing pigs at the time I’ll call a small market in Lincoln that has a great meat department. They’ll order pork belly, flank steak or most anything else out of the ordinary.

No matter which flavor(s) you make, flip the pork belly twice a day to make sure all of it soaks in the brine.

Disclaimer

I don’t use Insta Cure (pink salt). Our bacon is stored in the freezer until we use it and/or smoked. Smoking heats it to a proper temperature. Do your research and make your own decisions.

Tips

Ask to have the rind (skin) removed. You can do it but there’s no extra to have it done for you and it will, at least in my case, be smoother. I didn’t think to ask a new-to-us butcher to remove the skin on last year’s pork belly. I’d looked up how to make bacon and found myself needing to find out how to remove the skin from a pork belly. I lost some of the meat. Live and learn.

If you over salt the bacon, soak it in cold water for a couple of hours. Drain, rinse, fry a small piece and be sure it’s okay. If not, soak, drain and try it again.

Taste the Blend

If you’re mixing something like maple syrup and bourbon, taste it before you put it on the pork belly. If you don’t like it as it is you probably won’t like it later when the bacon is finished.

Variety

This recipe is for Maple Bourbon bacon. I’m tucking some suggestions in, too.

Cracked Pepper Bacon

Crack the pepper when you’re ready to use it. After patting the pork belly dry, coat it with the salt and then the cracked pepper.

Maple Bacon

I think the most common flavored bacon is Maple. You may use maple syrup or maple sugar. I prefer to salt the bacon for a day or two before adding the maple. Drain the liquid that has been pulled from the pork belly, salt it again, and then pat in the maple sugar or pour in the maple syrup. The salt will pull more liquid from the pork belly to make more brine.

How to make bacon – did you know it’s this simple!?!

Moose Browse – Late Winter in Maine’s Woods

Moose Browse – Late Winter in Maine’s Woods

Moose Browse

It’s still very much winter here in northeastern Maine. Snow is measured in feet in parts of our woodlot. Branches I don’t notice when the ground is bare have to be ducked under now. The bobcat is still hunting snowshoe hare in sight of the house and now, there’s a fisher passing through. I find their tracks in the snow. And speaking of tracks in the snow, last weekend I found tracks that made us stop the truck and back up. I’ll share them tomorrow. Back to moose browse. We were looking at a logging job in an area there are a lot of moose. A pile of cedar logs that hadn’t been delimbed yet served as moose browse.


moose browse, cedar, what do moose eat, winter
moose browse, twigs, cedar

Moose Track in Snow

moose track in snow, moose browseMoose aren’t having a hard time with the snow. Their legs are long enough to deal with a foot or two with ease. They leave tracks that are so large their hard to mistake even if you see them from a distance. They’re large, deep and far apart. In a winter with deep snow they’re easier to see on plowed roads and snowmobile trails. If you have a vehicle that will take you safely down woods roads to timber harvests after the harvest is complete, you might find them browsing cedar tops left behind.

Other than old age, moose are it’s most likely to die because of winter ticks, also known as moose ticks. We haven’t seen this yet this winter but we know it’s happening. Watch for bare spots in their coat, blood and hair on the snow where they’ve bedded down, and emaciated moose, especially calves. It’s a sad thing to see and awful way to die.

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Expensive Fresh Vegetables – Covering the High Tunnel

Expensive Fresh Vegetables – Covering the High Tunnel

Expensive Fresh Vegetables

Wow. It’s easy to lose track of the expense associated with buying fresh vegetables in the winter. We’ve had hoop houses and high tunnels for over a decade. This is our first winter in eight years without a tunnel. It’s uncovered to let the snow and rain wash the soil. Expensive fresh vegetables made up the majority of our monthly grocery shopping trip last weekend, and shoved me into accepting the cost of poly.
baby beet greens, expensive fresh vegetables
baby swiss chard, pot o gold, swiss chard, expensive fresh vegetablesI’ve been feeling bad about the cost of poly to re-cover the tunnel. It’s going to cost around $800. Buying vegetables made the $800 feel insignificant. The poly will last a minimum of four years but more likely eight, the same as the poly we removed last fall. At $100 a year, that’s a bargain. Here’s what we spent on vegetables.

Price x Cost
Zucchini  $1.99 x 1.23 lbs = $2.55
Scallions .99
Red onion 1.99 x .85 = 1.69
Asparagus 1.08 x 2.49 = 2.69
Celery 1.69
European cucumber 1.99
Kale 1.99
Tomatoes (Backyard Beauties, grown in Maine) 2.69 x 2.04 = 5.49
Jalapeno 2.69 x .15 = .40
Bell pepper (green) 1.99 x 1.29 = 2.57
Spaghetti squash 1.29 x 2.64 = 3.41
Sweet white onions (3#) 2.99
Portabella caps (2) 2.99
Spinach (4 oz) 2.99
Romaine hearts (3) 3.49
“Produce” (I don’t remember what this is) 3.99
TOTAL: $41.71

The vegetables will last us about a week. We’re eating broccoli, cauliflower and green beans from the freezer as well.

high tunnel, winter, winter growing, winter vegetables, expensive fresh vegetables

Eating Out of Season

There isn’t a lot on the list that we grow in the tunnel in winter. Being in the store with the vegetables in front of us when we’re starving for fresh veggies (as fresh as you can get in a grocery, especially out of season things) made it easy to splurge. It was too easy to eat out of season, something we generally don’t do. If the tunnel were covered we’d be eating carrots, radishes, turnip, spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard, arugula, tatsoi, boc choi (instead of celery), lettuce and leeks. They would be truly fresh, honestly organic, and in better condition.

We would be buying onions, scallions, mushrooms and an occasional tomato or pepper even if the tunnel were covered. We’re out of last year’s onions, and we like fresh mushrooms better than dehydrated in some dishes.

If we continued to spend $41 a week on expensive fresh vegetables for a winter we’d spend more than $600. It’s a lot less expensive to spend the money on the poly cover for the high tunnel. I’m placing that call now!

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When Strangers Trespass – Life in the Rural Woods

When Strangers Trespass – Life in the Rural Woods

When Strangers Trespass

I’m a little freaked out. I usually know what’s going on here. Intuition, observation and game cameras keep me on top of what’s happening. It’s nothing to grab a gun and meet trespassers at the end of the road in our wood yard. There have been four uncomfortable situations when strangers trespass in the 18 years we’ve lived out here in the woods. Once, someone took firewood. He didn’t know the land had been sold and that he couldn’t take wood anymore. We straightened that out quickly.

The second incident involved out-of-state hunters who grew up hunting this piece of land and weren’t going to stop because it had been sold again. They. Were. Mistaken. Funny story, that one. They left the keys in the ignition. I shoved them up the tailpipe and left a note inviting them to have a chat with me at the house. In return, they’d get their keys. They had little choice. They haven’t been back.

Someone stole firewood and I went after him. Didn’t catch up to him thankfully. He’s in prison again for something far worse than firewood. Trying to kill a game warden and drugs are on his list.

This time, someone was here while I was here, and I didn’t know. This stranger in a blue coat, probably a tall man, was caught on camera, but only an arm. The camera that would have shown his entire body including face didn’t have a card. I’d been too lazy to take an empty card out there. He is a fortunate trespasser. The place where he entered is clearly marked – No Trespassing. This is the bobcat camera trap, on a trail off a trail, not visible from the road.

when strangers trespass

Dealing with Trespassers

So, what happens with strangers are trespassers? I take Ruger with me when I go out, every single time I go out. A Ruger 9mm, a birthday gift two years ago to help me stay safe from predators. I’m not worried about the four-footed predators all that much. It’s the two-footed trespassers that piss me off and make me feel unsafe and creeped out, and pissed off. I mentioned pissed off, right?

Law enforcement will be around, and so will I.

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This Writing Thing – It’s Still Winter on the Homestead

This Writing Thing – It’s Still Winter on the Homestead

This writing thing…

…it’s become all-consuming, this writing thing. It’s still very much winter on the homestead so I’m taking advantage of the last quiet days of the season. If I’m at home I’m working on the book. Thanks to Brenda at Forest North, the process is going well. She’s taught me a few things and given useful feedback to help me get and stay on the right track. “What’s up with the peas, Robin?” “I’d like to know more about _______.” The suggestions she’s given me on some nontraditional ways suit me well. The uninterrupted time I’m spending writing is different than time spent in previous winters. This time will continue through the year. There is a big change. Some of you will flinch. I’m cutting back on coffee. Two cups in the morning and that’s it. I’m drinking two cups of tea in the afternoon and a lot of water. I realized how sluggish I am when the caffeine wears off, and how much more caffeine I needed to feel energetic. I’m as energetic as a sloth going up hill during a March blizzard in Maine, but it will get better. So, there’s that. A writer who isn’t binging on coffee.

Bobcat Update

It’s quiet around here. We’ve had another blizzard, this one not as bad as the first. I’m ready for spring but happy to have more time to snowshoe. The bobcat is still passing through but not coming close to the house or poultry. I like knowing he’s around even when it’s a pic of his back half on the game camera. With fresh snow, we might to get track him a bit this weekend.

this writing thing, Forest North, Forest North BooksSeed withdrawl is getting to me. I haven’t started a single seed yet. I keep saying I’m going to and then remind myself that I’ll be buying cool crops from Shanna, and that we aren’t sure yet when we’ll have the high tunnel recovered. No rush this year. That’s a big adjustment.

Coming up – I need to do something. Something that requires being out of this chair. I have rosemary and orange essential oils and will be making soap soon. There’s an anti-bacterial balm I want to make for cuts and scrapes.

Starting Pumpkins and Squash Early to Extend Their Growing Season

Starting Pumpkins and Squash Early to Extend Their Growing Season

Starting Pumpkins and Squash Early

I’m all about pumpkins—big, tiny, huge, warty, orange, white, or striped, if it’s a pumpkin I love it. Squash catch my eye with their lumps and bumps, smooth skin and deeply carved lobes. Both get bonus points for excellent flavor and long-term storage ability. Varieties the deer like are on my list. I bought pumpkins for the deer last fall and they’re still sitting in the food plot, nibbled on and passed up. If I grow a variety that’s new to us and we end up not liking the texture or flavor the poultry will probably devour it in the middle of winter. Being limited to one hundred dependable frost free days a year doesn’t allow for some of the pumpkin and squash varieties I love. It means starting pumpkins and squash early gives me the best chance of successfully growing some of my favorites.

It isn’t safe to plant our pumpkins and squash seedlings outdoors until the soil warms and the danger of frost passes in early June. Trays of six packs sit in the bay window to warm in the sun, on a shelf above my desk, and under grow lights where the soil stays a little warmer. On warm, still or barely breezy days I move the seedlings outside so they don’t stretch to reach light. Make sure the grow light is no more than two inches from the top of the seedling and adjust as the plants grow. If they’re getting tall and weak the light is too far away. A fan gently blowing around the seedlings will help strengthen the stems.

How to Transplant Vine Crops

Most of us have probably heard “you can’t transplant vine plants.” You can as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.

  • First, don’t start the seeds too early. I plant mine in six packs and individual pots three to four weeks prior to when I expect to transplant them into the garden. Seedlings that have no more than two sets of true leaves transplant easier than older plants that are susceptible to transplant shock.
  • Second, choose containers that are large enough to support root growth without the plants becoming root bound. I try to avoid moving the seedlings into larger pots before transplanting to the garden but it’s sometimes unavoidable. Use a container larger in width and depth than you expect to need.
  • Third, keep the seedlings under grow lights and outdoors as much as possible. If they have inadequate lighting they’ll stretch toward the nearest light source, as plants do, and become leggy. Vine crops have very wet, somewhat fragile stems. Leggy stems are weaker than short, dense stems.

Prepare the Soil

Prepare the soil before transplanting day. You’ll need rich soil to support the plants through maturity and might want to side dress later in the season.

Mounds warm up faster than flat soil. IRT (infrared transmissible) mulch will warm the soil and has the added benefit of blocking weeds. Low tunnels will help you get an early start with vine crops. A low tunnel with IRT provides two to three weeks of extra time by setting them up early to warm the soil. Short growing seasons don’t have to strictly limit us to varieties that mature in under 100 days. Starting pumpkins and squash early add varieties to what you can grow in your short-season garden.

Maple Walnut Pound Cake

Maple Walnut Pound Cake

Maple Walnut Pound Cake

It’s maple season again. Our friends at Chandler’s Sugar Shack in Kossuth are tapping 4,000+ trees this year. It wasn’t that long ago that they started out with less than 200 and now here they are with a sugar “shack” the square footage (or more) of our house and thousands of thousands…and thousands of taps. I decided to use some of our syrup to make Maple Walnut Pound Cake. Oh my gosh. It’s just enough maple flavor without being overwhelming, and not too sweet.

If it lasts more than a few days, pound cake loses its quality. By day four or five I didn’t want another slice but didn’t want it to go to waste. I turned the rest of the pound cake into one-inch slices, dipped it in an egg and milk mixture, and made Maple Walnut Pound Cake French Toast. That’s a mouthful – literally and figuratively. It was delicious!

maple walnut pound cake, pound cake recipe, On The Fire, Big Wild Radio, maple glaze recipe, maple syrup recipe

Maple glaze, maple walnut pound cake, maple syrup recipes, Chandler's Sugar Shack
maple glaze recipe, maple walnut pound cake, maple walnut, maple syrup recipes
Maple Glaze

I wanted a nice glaze on the pound cake and wanted to use maple syrup. I think this turned out well! This would be great as a glaze on cookies, over cupcakes or as a substitute for maple syrup on pancakes and waffles.

Substitute for Cake Flour

If you don’t have cake flour in the pantry (I didn’t) you can make your own. Measure one level cup of all-purpose flour. Remove two level tablespoons of flour and replace it with two level tablespoons of corn starch. Corn starch lowers the protein level of the flour. Protein turns to gluten, and gluten is what makes breads chewy. A little less protein is a little less gluten and that makes the flour lighter.

Cake flour is around 8% protein. All-purpose flour is around 10% protein.

And now you know! Really, it’s the simple things in the kitchen that delight me the most.

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Deviled Eggs – Classic Recipe And Twists

Deviled Eggs – Classic Recipe And Twists

Deviled Eggs

The mid-winter point is like an on switch for the ducks and chickens. We went from buying a few dozen eggs between Christmas and the end of January to having five dozen eggs in the fridge. The dogs are having scrambled cracked or frozen eggs for breakfast. What do you do when you have a lot of eggs all of a sudden? Deviled eggs.

I love this traditional Deviled eggs recipes and also love variety. There are five twists to the basic recipe included below.

Tips for Deviled Eggs

    • If the egg yolks are dark around the outside they’ve been overcooked. Cut the time by three or four minutes next time you boil eggs.
    • If you’re making a lot of Deviled eggs you can make the filling process easier. Fill a zippered plastic bag with the filling, cut a small piece out of a bottom corner, and squeeze the filling into the whites.
    • If a white won’t sit well you can take a small slice off the bottom to make it flat.

deviled eggs, over cooked, green yolk, On The Fire, Gunderson, Gundy

How Long Do You Boil Eggs?

I use a simple method for boiling eggs. Place a single layer of eggs on the bottom of the pan. Cover the eggs with cold water. The water should be two inches higher than the eggs. Bring the water to a full rolling boil. As soon as it reaches that state, remove the pan from the heat and set the timer.

For hard boiled eggs, follow these times:

  • Duck and extra large chicken eggs – 15 minutes
  • Large eggs – 12 minutes
  • Medium eggs – 9 minutes

Dump the hot water and fill the pan with cold water until the water continues to run cold out of the pan. It will take a minute to cool the pan. I like to peel the eggs immediately.

I use older eggs for hard boiled to make peeling easy. If you can hear the egg rattle inside the shell and you know it’s not spoiled, the egg should peel easily. The egg is dehydrating and pulling away from the shell.

Add these variations to the crumbled yolks.

Avocado Deviled Eggs – 1/4 cup mayo, 3 tablespoons mashed avocado, 1 teaspoon salt.

Ranch – add 1 tablespoon dry ranch dip mix to 1/4 cup mayo.

Bacon & Blue Cheese – use the Bacon & Blue Cheese dip recipe or mix 2 tablespoons each mayo and the dip.

Pizza – 1/4 cup mayo, 2 tablespoons finely chopped pepperoni, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, 1/4 teaspoon pizza seasoning (or Italian seasoning). Mix all together.

Pesto – 1/4 cup mayo, 1 teaspoon mustard, 1 tablespoon well-drained pesto, 1/2 teaspoon salt.

 

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Raised Beds in the High Tunnel

Raised Beds in the High Tunnel

Raised Beds

I’ve missed fresh greens from the  high tunnel a lot this winter. Watching the melting snow this week, I realized we’ll probably get to re-cover the tunnel earlier than expected. All we need (ha ha…we need everything) is the poly and to make a few repairs, and for the snow to melt around the frame and more to not fall, and the wind to not blow while we get a tremendous potential kite on the frame and secured. Then we’ll have to build raised beds. That’s all…

In the meantime, I’m planning the growing seasons in the tunnel. If we get the tunnel covered by the end of March, highly unlikely, I won’t be too far behind in planting the tomatoes. The soil will need to drain and be amended, the raised beds built and filled, and the seedlings in the ground by the third week in April to be on schedule. Dream big, I’m told often these days. I’m hoping.

Raised Beds in the High Tunnel

I have the raised beds figured out. I want the tunnel to be productive and attractive. I’ll be growing some plants, roses I’m trying to root if all goes well, for their beauty. I want the Silkies to spend the winter in there so they’ll have a small portable house to spend the night in. I want a place to sit and work on a sunny winter day when it’s warm and bright inside. So many plans. If I get a tenth of it done this year I’ll be happy.

The top of the drawing is the south side. The sun rises on the left / east, right behind the tunnel, in June. The beds are 4′ x 8′ x 10″ and 4′ x 16′ x 10″.  There’s a little work space between the six on the south side. The space between end walls and the beds is 6′. I’ll have a compost bin on the northeast corner. The door is on the right / west end. raised beds, high tunnel

The Short and Tall of It

The sun shines on a corner of the north wall for a couple of weeks a year. Shadows aren’t cast from that side so it’s the best place to grow the tall plants. I have the tomatoes and cucumbers growing up twine on that side most of the time. The shadows they cast don’t hit other plants. The short plants are on the south side so they get full sun all day.

There will be some crop rotation as the plan comes together. A full bed of carrots, another of with rows of beets, turnip, rutabaga, parsnips, probably a potato or two. Everything I’m going to grow but pumpkins and maybe a few winter squash will be grown in the raised beds in the high tunnel. I still plan to buy a lot from a local grower. <insert feelings of withdrawals here>

I’ll keep notes here as we build the beds, get them filled and the soil amended, plant, weed, harvest, and replant this year. Let’s hope for getting on schedule by re-covering so we get back to growing great food in raised beds in the high tunnel.