Welcome to Cranky Puppy Farm!

This blog belongs to two Gen X-er's smackdab in downtown Kansas City where we've been renovating and decorating two old Victorians built in the 1890's. Our life is filled with 3 demanding Pomeranians (1 of them cranky, of course), honking cars, noisy neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life but we dream of the day when we can move to our 40-acre farm and hear nothing but the wind and the cows next door. Until then, we're chronicling our triumphs and mishaps here as we try to garden and preserve on 2 city lots, raise chickens, and learn all those things we should have learned from our grandparents. Welcome to our world - we hope you'll stay awhile!

Still Made In America

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

DISCLAIMER:  I wasn't asked to write this and I didn't receive any payment for this post.  I just think this product is darn cool.  But now that I think about it: if anyone would like to pay me, I'd be happy to send along my pertinents.  :-)
It seems that just about everything you pick up in the stores nowadays has "Made in *some other place*" stamped on it.  Usually it's made in China, Taiwan or Mexico.  I always try to find products that are still made in the good ol' USA even if they are slightly higher in price - that's usually because they are higher in quality as well. 
I'd rather pay more for a product now than have to spend more later replacing it 2 or 3 times.  Wouldn't you?
So I was thrilled when I received a package today from The Deliberate Agrarian, as I've been waiting with baited breath for 3 years while he perfected his clothespin design.  You see, there are NO American-made clothespins any more.  I have searched high and low, only to find out that the last American clothespin was made in the late 2000's.  That's probably due to more folks using their dryers than hanging out their clothes.  I'll admit - I'm one of those people.  That is, I was until I got serious about this "save energy and go solar" kick.
I have really have fond memories of hanging out the sheets to dry with my grandmother in the sunshine.  It was fun to spend time with her and the clothes always smelled so fresh when we brought them in.  The minute she went inside, we kids were playing hide n' go seek or tag and running through the irresistible clothesline.  The sheets made a great place to hide behind.  You just better hope grandma didn't see you or you'd get yelled at.  Get away from that clothesline!
So back to my package:  it contained the set of pins that I'd ordered a few weeks before.  Aren't they beauties?
If you want to support an American homegrown company and pick up some of your own pins, you've got 4 options:
Buy assembled clothespins for $2.00 per pin
I opted for the second option, as it's really not hard to assemble these and they come with instructions and everything you need.  The 4th option above is for hardcore woodworkers, obviously, but if you've got a handy hubby with the right tools that might be the right way to go.  It'd keep him in the woodshop and out of your hair, I guess!
I'd recommend you bookmark The Deliberate Agrarian's blog and spend some time browsing around.  He's an interesting guy with some interesting ideas on agriculture and history and an inventor's mind.  You can read all about the hoe, composter, fruit press and other items that he's invented\built.  He meets my definition of what an American is.
I wish this guy was our neighbor.
Til later,

Solar: Is it Worth It?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

(Welcome to the second post in the series for our solar energy project.
 Click here to start at the beginning! )
Source:  SolarPros, a great site for solar information!

If you don't like paying the electric company, then the answer to whether solar is worth it is yes.

But let's tackle the affordability issue, since solar has suffered from a "bad rap" that it's way too expensive for us Average Joe's.  I certainly thought that and you can see the numbers on the graphic up there.  But the proverbial planets have aligned and now is actually a really great time to get solar installed for free or somewhere close to it.  In fact, the window is closing and we may not see this opportunity again in our lifetime. 

Federal Tax Incentives of 30%

If there's anything good that came out of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, it was the extension of the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit and removal of the $2,000 limit.  Through 2016, any taxpayer can claim a credit of 30% of the installed costs of renewable energy systems and there is no limit on how much you can get back.  You can claim this credit on any property that you own (not just your primary home) as long as it's installed before December 31, 2016. 

So....right off the bat, you can get 30% of the cost back.  But there are some gotchas here:
  1. You have to pay the money for the installation up front.
  2. You have to have enough tax liability. In other words, if your 30% of the install comes to $4,000, then your total tax liability would have to at least be that.  That's not what you owe or are getting - it's the total tax you have paid over the year PLUS whatever you still owe.
  3. You don't get your money back until after you file your taxes.   

But don't despair...there are other ways to get this paid for.

State and Local Utility Incentives
Many states and utilities also offer incentives that can be taken in conjunction with federal incentives.  The website www.dsireusa.org has an up-to-date database of all the available incentives and it's searchable by state.  That's how I found out that our local utility, Kansas City Power & Light, is offering a $2.00 per installed watt rebate for up to 25kW.  There are usually stipulations on how the system operates so make sure you read all the fine print and click the links for your own state\utility. 
Unfortunately, Missouri doesn't offer any rebates that will help us here in Kansas City. However, they do have a program called REAP that is a great program for anyone in a rural area running a small business from their property. 

Question:  Are state or utility rebates considered taxable income by the federal government?

Answer:  No! However, the amount you can claim back from the federal government is reduced by the amount of the state\utility rebates.  In other words, if the total solar cost is $30,000 and you get $22,000 back from the utility, then you can only claim the 30% federal credit on the difference ($8,000).  So this is truly free money to help with your installation.

Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs)

This doesn't apply to Missouri, but many states have adopted standards that require a portion of the state’s electricity mix to come from solar energy.  Illinois and Michigan are just two examples. In states with SRECs, you can get paid above and beyond just the value of the power generated.  Again, check the dsireusa.org website for information specific to your state.

Can I earn money from the power generated by a solar system on my home?

The answer is "it depends on your utility".  Many utilities provide a service called "net metering" where any excess electricity generated by a customer's grid-tied solar system is credited back on the customer's electricity bill. Check the DSire site I mentioned above to find out information about your local utility and whether or not they support this and how it works.
Here in Missouri, it's paid back at the "avoided cost rate" and then any credit that isn't used at the end of the year is forfeited.  Other states allows you to carry the credit and pay you back at the retail rate. I have no idea what KCPL's avoided cost rate is and can't find any info on the web, so I'm going to have to call them and find out. 
The point here is that you don't want to install too big of a system because you'll just lose money.
What if I don't have the up-front money?
The money required to install a decent solar array can easily exceed $15,000. Even with rebates and tax credits, that can be a huge hurdle and that's where leasing comes in.  Solar installers are now offering a "zero down" option where they install the system for you at zero cost (some require a $500 deposit here in KC) and then you make low monthly payments to them for the electricity that is generated.  One neighbor of ours just had a 25kWH system installed for free, it powers his entire house and aquaponics operation and he pays only $25 per month for his electricity.  Not bad!
But when you start looking deeper, things start to fall apart:
  • You sign over all rights to your federal, state and utility rebates to the installer.
  • You're still paying for electricity! 
In my neighbor's case, that system is way bigger than what they need so they're generating electricity and selling it back to the utility. But they're not getting paid for it - the installers are.  And they're still paying $25 per month and will have to do so for the 15-year life of the contract.  Here's how their leased system would compare with one that was purchased:
I used $150 as the average monthly electrical bill because it's pretty close to our average.  So while our neighbors are paying $25 per month, we'd be keeping that $150 in the bank because the solar panels provide 100% of our electricity.  Over the 15 year life of the lease agreement, our neighbors would be out of pocket for $4,500 when they could have bought the system and been $27,000 richer over the same time period. 
Which would you choose?  It's a no-brainer.
But we're still back to how to fund solar if you don't have the money.  I'd like to offer some creative solutions:
  1. Install it yourself.  Labor is about half the cost of the system and, if you're at all handy, you can do this yourself.  I'm going to be sharing lots of resources that will help out DIYers and I'll be documenting our own DIY installation as well.
  2. Take out a home equity loan to cover the cost.  You'll get back most, if not all, of the cost and can pay off the loan quickly.
  3. Check with local banks, your city or your state.  Many of them offer grants or special short-term loans just for solar installations.
  4. Consider buying a smaller solar system and adding on as you have the funds.

Okay, we've established that going solar is worth it and some options for how to pay for it.  In our next post in this series, we'll talk about how to decrease your energy usage to save money on the electrical bill (and buy a smaller solar system!)

Click here to go to my next post about our solar project.

Goal #1: Solar Energy

Friday, January 24, 2014

I just paid our electric bill for this month and it was  $184.71 for a month that was bitterly cold.  That may not seem too bad for a big ol' 3-story Victorian with questionable insulation, but I know we can do better.  In the summer, the pain comes when the 5-ton air conditioner kicks on and runs the bills up into the $300 range during July and August.  Summers here can be brutal. 

I really hate writing that check to the Power & Light company.  Not only that, but the idea of generating my own energy is really intriguing - especially since it's "free" in the form of sunshine. 
Until recently, that word "free" didn't go along with solar power because the panels themselves were REALLY expensive.  But, with the tax incentives from state and local governments, utility company rebates, and leasing options that are available, you actually CAN get solar installed for free or something close to it.
This is our #1 Goal for 2014, and I'm going to try it.  And we're gonna DIY it to save money.  Lots of people have done it themselves, so it's not something to be scared of. (I think I can, I think I can!)
We've got a lot to learn and my plan is to take you along with us here on the blog as we make decisions. I'll be talking about things like:
  • is solar worth it?  (the economics of it all and the dreaded "return on investment")
  • what rebates and incentives are available?
  • determining placement of your solar panels
  • sizing your solar array
  • on-grid vs. off-grid
  • details of how everything connects together
  • the best tools and resources on the web for solar (especially DIYers!)

We start tomorrow with a look at whether solar is worth it and how I think I can get it installed for free.  Hope you'll join me as we embark down this path!

Click here for the next post in the Solar Series.
I'm sharing this series on solar with the weekly Homestead Barn Hop.  It's a great place to find out about gardening, homesteading, chickens and lots more.  Go check it out! 

Scenes from St. Joe (PIC HEAVY)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

This weekend, J. and I took a little trip up to St. Joseph, Missouri where we hit the Menards for some cheap LED light bulbs, had some lunch, and then decided to take in some sights before heading back home.

For those of you who aren't local, St. Joseph (or "St. Joe" to the locals) is famous for two things:  (1) it was the starting point for the Pony Express and (2) it's where Jesse James died.  I believe the saying is "where the Pony Express started and where Jesse James ended."  The house he died in is now a museum, complete with the bullet hole from the shot that killed him.

St. Joe is located on the Missouri River about 45 minutes north of Kansas City, which makes it a popular place for commuters to the city.  Particularly old house lovers who don't mind commuting, as St. Joe is much older than Kansas City.  It was established in 1843 and was much larger for some time than the fledgling Kansas City.  Many of the original houses are still standing and are some of the most beautiful high Victorian structures in the Midwest.

Which brings us to the purpose of this post....  old house porn!!!

This one was my favorite....

Until we turned the corner and saw this one...

Just look at the detail on the turret.  It's like a wedding cake!

And the carvings on the porch...

And the carved crane and owl details around the stained glass window...

Just beautiful!  And oh-so-high-Victorian.  My guess is that this is one of the earliest houses in the area. I'd love to know the history. 

A little blurry...sorry!
Mixed in with the beautifully restored houses are others that need more TLC.

While some people would run screaming from this, I see nothing but possibility.

Check out the turret on this one....

This is the Whiskey Mansion, which is now a popular bed and breakfast.

And these two "sisters" were sitting side by side...
Sister to the previous house below.  Can you see the similarities?
Now we're getting into the more Italianate style with the house below:

And one more for the road.  Someone's done some good work on this one, but they're in sad need of some expert porch builders.  I think J. and I could make a fortune up here rebuilding these elaborate porches.  

What a neat place, huh? 

Looking Back at 2013

Monday, January 20, 2014

I just realized that we're halfway through January, so I really need to get off my rear and take a look at how we did on our goals for 2013 and start planning for this new year.

This year's garden fared much better than in 2012, since we didn't have all that oppressive heat and drought.  But I couldn't grow a pepper or jalapeno this year to save my life.  This year, we'll be moving those into the concrete containers next to the garage since I accidentally discovered that they LOVE the heat reflected off the garage and retained by the concrete planters.  Hey...gardening is an art, right?  Sometimes you discover you're a Picasso and didn't know it.

Looking at the list of goals from last year, I think I may have been just a tad bit over-ambitious.  Look at how long that list is!  I mean, was I trying to plan out our entire year in one day?

We did accomplish some biggies:

  1. Selling the 1893 Victorian that we lovingly restored.
  2. Paying off the farm.  It's all ours now!
  3. We didn't just replace the leaky roof on the addition.  We had professionals replace the entire roof for just the cost of materials + they put a membrane roof over the almost-flat addition.  No more leaks!
  4. The garden beds are no more.  We bulldozed them over in favor of a much bigger garden in 2014.  I gave us a "D" on this only because I wanted to get a whole mess of horse manure dumped on it before winter and that didn't happen. 
  5. There are some new additions to the garden:  2 new dwarf cherry trees and 3 new semi-dwarf apple trees.  And a crap load of blackberries.

Even though not everything on the list got accomplished, I still feel really good about what we were able to do in 2013.  And I feel even more excited about 2014. 

Speaking of 2014, how about some goals, girl?  And keep it light, would ya?

  • Develop a plan for our much bigger garden.  Oh, the seed catalogs are a-flying.  More on that to come!
  • Install solar panels to power our house.  I've been doing a ton of research on this and you wouldn't believe how easy this is to DIY.  Stay tuned and find out how to do this for FREE here in the KC area.
  • Finish up renovations on the travel trailer and get it moved to the farm to make room for...
  • Build a garage in the backyard.  We need space to store and work on tractors, etc.
  • Successfully grow tomato from seed.  Last year’s try was pretty pitiful and the seedlings ended up VERY leggy.  I’d really love to experiment with soil blocking and grafting.
  • Re-establish the strawberry bed. (Ahem..I may have let it the rye grass overtake the bed and kill it last year.)
  • Grow corn and\or other edibles specifically for the chickens.  I’d like to see if I can cut down on the amount of chicken feed that we’re buying.  This one was on my list for last year.
  • Finish the rain barrel project.  This will be expanded to include a water capture system for the new solar panels. 
  • Build at least one compost bin. 
  • Learn beekeeping.  I've already signed up for an all-day class from the Midwestern Beekeepers Association in February. 
  • Become proficient in playing the 5-string banjo.
  • Start an herb garden and learn how to dry and store them.  And, while I’m at it, learn how they can be used in herbal remedies and medicines.
  • Enjoy every minute.
I think that's a pretty good do-able list and, as is typical when it's cold outside, I am now *chompin' at the bit* to get out there and get started.

How about you?  What’s on your project list for 2014?

New Events Added

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Spring is coming, and now's a great time to get out there and learn some new stuff.  As I mentioned, I'm collecting events, classes, online webinars, in-person seminars, freebie talks, demos, etc. that have anything to do with farming, homesteading, livestock and all those other goodies. 

You can find the list of upcoming events on the Event Calendar (or click the link on the right sidebar).

This week, I've added a ton of really great stuff.  You'll find these on the calendar under the date indicated (or click the link to view or add to your own Gmail calendar):

Lecture: Permaculture Design of Urban Food Forests (January 18th)
This Master Gardener lecture by Michael Almon, the developer of Forest Floor Permaculture, a nut and fruit centered forest garden in Lawrence, KS.  In the permaculture garden of perennial food crops, there’s no need to till every year, much of the weeding is eliminated with groundcovers, shade trees and shrubs will bear food, and irrigation needs will be reduced. Cost: FREE

Vegetable Gardening Workshop (January 25th)
Vegetable gardening is as popular as ever, whether in your backyard or in one of the many community gardens throughout the metro. This workshop in Olathe, Kansas will help vegetable gardeners learn more and to be successful in their gardening efforts.  The featured speaker for the session will be Kansas State University Research and Extension Vegetable Specialist Cary Rivard, Ph.D. Dr. Rivard will discuss watering, weed control and growing great tomatoes.  You will also learn new tips for eating fresh from the garden presented by Olathe Medical Center.  Cost:  Registration is $5 per person and includes refreshments.

Cultivate KC's Annual Farmers and Friends Meeting (February 1st)
Come meet other growers and supporters and learn about Cultivate Kansas City’s projects over the past year.  The event will include pie, coffee, conversation, and learning together (and, if you’d like to bring a pie or two, it would be much appreciated!). The event will have a “Dreamers and Doers” panel, and some group visioning activities that are fun and creative.  The goals of the Annual Farmers & Friends Meeting are to create a space for peer-to-peer learning; to facilitate an opportunity for growers to connect to share challenges, solutions and enthusiasm; to share information about local resources; and to give a “whole systems” or big picture vision of urban growing in Kansas City. Each year the event strives to connect our daily work as farmers, gardeners, food advocates and friends to the vision of the community we want to build with a farm in every neighborhood and access to fresh, healthy, affordable food for all people.  Cost: FREE.  Please bring a homemade (and preferably homegrown or locally sourced) dish to share.

Missouri Beginning Farmers 18th Annual Greenhouse Growers School (February 6)
This is a whole-day event in Columbia, Missouri that covers topics including growing your profits,  an intro to hydroponics, high tunnel design and construction, compost, biofuelds, etc.  Cost is $30.

Missouri Beginning Farmers Webinar Series
MBF is also hosting a whole slew of FREE online webinars on goats, beginning farm financing, and other topics.  They're all on the event calendar.

5th Annual Kaw Valley Seed Fair (February 8th)
The annual Kaw Valley Seed Fair in Lawrence, Kansas is a pre-spring celebration where people can share seeds, information and other resources.  The fair features a free seed exchange that includes books, catalogs and other gardening and seed-saving materials, plus exhibits, local producers and food for sale. Cost:  FREE

Planting and Preserving Workshop (February 13th)
Have you tried to grow enough in your garden to save for the winter, but ended up with too many hot peppers and not enough tomatoes? Do you want to preserve your harvest but have no idea where to start? This workshop in Wichita, Kansas will walk you through what you need to know to plant a garden that will fill your canning jars or freezer. During the second half of the class, you will learn about different preservation methods and what tools and materials you will need to be successful.  Cost: $5.00.

Women Managing the Farm Annual Conference (February 13th - 14th)
The Women Managing the Farm Conference was created to aid women who are helping to grow the nation’s food supply whether by design, marriage or inheritance.   "The Heart of Agriculture" is this year's conference theme.  Over the two days of the conference, presentations regarding business planning, health, managing employees and more will be interspersed with opportunities for networking and learning from others attending the conference. Pre-conference workshops will also be available this year to provide hands-on learning opportunities.   Cost: $145 through 1/30/13; after that date, $170.

KC Master Gardeners Spring Seminar (March 15th)
Join the Master Gardeners of Greater Kansas City for their 13th annual Spring Gardening Seminar. There are myriad of interesting topics, including edible landscaping, seed saving and starting, pruning, native species planting, and much more.  Cost: $49 before 2/14; $69 after that date.

Mega-List of Heirloom Seed Suppliers

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Where have I been the past couple of days? 
Knee-deep and wading through this gigantic list of sources for heirloom seeds that I found over at Off-Grind.info. (If you're  not sure what "heirloom" means, click here to find out).  If you're an organic grower or heirloom variety nut like me, then you'll definitely want to check this out.
When I started going through the list, it only had 100 entries and now it's up to 230 suppliers from the US, Canada and all over the world!  Sorted by state, it's easy to see if there are any close to you.  I guess I'm kind of amazed that there aren't more listed in Missouri or Kansas.
There are so many different "undiscovered" varieties of veggies that many of us have never tried before. And some of them have been lost over time because no one was actively saving seeds from those plants.  So I'm so glad to see this list of seed savers is growing.
This year, J. wants to try growing some beets and I'm looking at the variety called Early Wonder from Baker Creek Seeds.  It dates back to before 1811 and is a full-bodied beet that is supposed to be perfect for pickling, which is what J. wants to do with them.  Should be a fun learning experience because I hadn't even tried a beet in my life until about a week ago.
  Can you believe that?
How about you? 
Are you going to try out any heirloom varieties in your garden this year? 

A Welcome Warm-up

Monday, January 13, 2014

Yesterday, it was 64 degrees.
That's certainly MUCH more hospitable climate than what we had almost two weeks ago as the Polar Vortex whirled overhead.
So I put on a sweatshirt, grabbed the copy of "Lone Survivor" that I had bought J. for Christmas and headed outside to supervise recess for the girls. 
Like me, they were happy to get out after being cooped up (literally!) for 5 days and spent several hours destroying the compost pile and digging around in the freshly dug garden.
Apparently someone was having so much fun that they couldn't be bothered to go back to the coop to lay, so they left their egg sitting in the middle of the muddy garden plot.  My shoes must have weighed an extra 5 pounds each after I went out to retrieve it.
It was a nice reprieve from our normal January cold.  A beautiful day that, like a rare bird in your camera lens, you have to capture before it is gone in the blink of your eye. 
And now we're back in the 40's.  Still, that's better than -5!
After putting the chickens in the coop for bed time, I finished the last few pages and then headed inside.  If you haven't seen the "Lone Survivor" movie, I recommend that you do.  It opened nationwide to over twice what they thought it was going to, and I'd like to think that's because we Americans still support and respect our military. We tried unsuccessfully to get in twice and finally got to watch it during the first showing on Sunday morning.
I found it a hard movie to watch, and I was glad that I read the book before I saw it, as I could hear Marcus Lutrell's own words in my mind as I watched.  Of course, the movie does take some liberties with what really happened, but that's to be expected.
Well, trees are budding and the snow is almost gone.  Seed catalogs are arriving daily.  Can you smell Spring in the air?  What do we have?  7 more weeks?

When Life Gives You Apples..

Sunday, January 12, 2014

J. and I just hit paydirt. Nope, not the lottery kind (although, wouldn't that be nice?) While picking up some groceries at the local Hyvee, I found some seriously awesome coupons for $2.00 off any apple purchase and $2.00 off any meat purchase. Not only were we able to pick up 10 pounds of ground beef for just $49 cents per pound, but we also came home with box full of 30 pounds of apples FOR FREE. Awesome!

So now what to do with them?   I can't decide either, so how about we start with baked apples and apple chips?

Baked Apples
These are so yummy and easy to make and, boy, do they make your house smell great while they're baking.  All you need is a baking dish, some apples and some butter, brown sugar and cinnamon.  You can even get creative and top them with some raisins or pecans also. 
4 large good baking apples, such as Rome Beauty, Golden Delicious, or Jonagold
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tbsp butter
3/4 cup boiling water

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Wash the apples and remove their cores, leaving about 1/2 inch of the bottom of the apples. It helps if you have an apple corer, but if not, you can use a paring knife to cut out first the stem area, and then the core. Use a spoon to dig out the seeds. Make the holes about 3/4-inch to an inch wide.
  3. Place the apples in a baking dish.
  4. Melt the butter in a pan (or in the microwave).  I like to do this in a microwavable measuring cup because it's easier to pour the mixture into the apples.
  5. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and stir until mixed.  Pour the  mixture into the apples until they are just about to brim over.
  6. Add boiling water to the baking pan.
  7. Bake 30-40 minutes, until tender, but not mushy. Remove from the oven and baste the apples several times with the pan juices.
  8. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream on the side.
Trust me, these are yummy!   But we've still got 29 pounds of apples left and I want to make another favorite snack:  apple chips. 
Apple Chips
J. and I fell in love with apple chips after trying a bag of them at the local theater.  I rushed home after the movie to find out how to make this healthier alternative to potato chips and was pleasantly surprised to find that it's pretty darn easy.  That is, if you have the right tool:  a mandolin slicer.
2 medium sized apples
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 225°F.
  2. Stir together the cinnamon and sugar to combine. Or just use pre-mixed cinnamon-sugar.
  3. Decide whether or not to core your apples.  Just in case you don't know:  apple seeds are poisonous, but you'd have to eat a ton of them before they ever effected you.  Not coring them will give you a star shape in the middle of your chips, so they'll be prettier than if you core them.  J. doesn't like the core, so we cored all of ours.
  4. Slice the apples thinly with a mandolin slicer or a  very sharp knife.  Trust me, you want to use a mandolin slicer because it only takes about 20 seconds to slice the whole apple with one.  You'll be there are all day if you try to use a knife.  I know...I tried it and then ran out to get a mandolin.

  5. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper, and place the apple slices side by side on the parchment, in a single layer. Make sure not to overlap the apple slices or place them on top of each other, otherwise they won't crisp up.

  6. Sprinkle the apple slices with the cinnamon sugar. 
  7. Bake the apple slices for 1 hour, then remove them from the oven and flip them over. The apples will be floppy, but they will crisp up later.

  8. Return the apple slices to the oven for another hour
  9. Turn the oven off, letting the apple chips cool completely in the oven. This is when they will crisp up. Store in an airtight container.

Did I mention that these are fat free? And, if you don't want all that sugar, opt for a sweeter apple like HoneyCrisp or Gala and just dust with a little cinnamon.  I suspect you're going to end up addicted like we are, because these are just plain yummy.  And, again, baking apples or apple chips will make your house smell delish.
By the way, these are great to make when you're done baking something else and the oven is already heated up.  Just turn the heat down to 225, slice some apples up and go!
If you try either of these, let me know how they turn out.  We have Jonagolds, which are a combination between a Jonathan and Golden Delicious.  They're sweet, but not as sweet as Honeycrisps are but they held up well to the baking.  If you use other varieties, I'd love to hear how they turn out if you don't mind leaving a comment.
Hope you enjoy these two recipes!

More Events: Maple Sugaring and Cropland Investing

Thursday, January 09, 2014

I just added two new events to the calendar tonight that might be of interest.  While there are lots of online events on the Cranky Puppy Events Calendar, these two are local to the Kansas City area.  So my apologies to those of you who are not in the immediate area.

The first class is FREE and it's one that J. and I wanted to attend last year, but the class filled up within just a couple of hours of the registration opening up.  Trust me...I have this on my calendar and on my speed dial for February 1st, because I.will.not.miss.this.sugaring.class.this.year!

Maple Sugaring

Location: Burr Oak Woods Nature Center
Date: Saturday, March 1, 2014, 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM
Cost: FREE

Ummm....maple syrup!  In our culture of a supermarket in every neighborhood; it is almost magical and spectacular to be able to make something delicious to eat out of some liquid flowing out of a tree. Savor this wonder of nature by learning how to pick the right tree, tap it and collect the sap, and then make delicious syrup from native trees. For more information, email burr.oak@mdc.mo.gov.   Note that registration for this begins February 1st at 816-228-3766 (all ages). 

The Missouri Department of Conservation has lots of great activities and classes for all ages.  Check out the list at http://mdc.mo.gov/events/location/Burr%20Oak%20Woods/heading/Burr%20Oak%20Woods%20Nature%20Center.


Investing in Cropland

Location: Tomahawk Ridge Community Center, 11902 Lowell Overland Park, KS 66213
Date: Tuesday, January 14, 2014, 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Cost: FREE

Have you ever daydreamed about a house in the country, rolling farmland, and dusty country roads?  How about quitting your day job to become a farmer?  Well, it all starts with land.  On January 14th, Bill and Brad Gaughan, founding partners of Rural KC Real Estate, will discuss the opportunities, the risks and the process for investing in cropland.
For more information or to register, visit KCLandSeminar.com or call Rural KC at (913) 837-4665.


Potatoes and Trees

Now what do those two things have in common, you might ask? The answer is that it's time for you Missourians (or Kansans) to put in your orders if you're looking to expand your orchard or plant organic potatoes this Spring. These both go fast, so don't dilly-dally around!

Bulk Seed Potatoes from Cultivate KC

 A great organization here in KC called "Cultivate Kansas City" puts together a combined order for Kansas City area growers with Potato Garden so you can get certified organic and certified natural potatoes at a bulk rate.  These are non-GMO and are naturally grown without the use of chemicals, pesticides, fungicides, or synthetic fertilizers.  They're also guaranteed to be disease free.

Now for the particulars of how this works:
  1. You must purchase a minimum of 50 pounds total, although you can specify a mix of varieties.
  2. Click here to view the catalog and place your order.  You can pay with PayPal immediately or mail a check in (the check must be received within 3 business days). 
  3. Processing Fee:  There is a $5.00 processing fee for each order (this is hidden on your invoice but will show up when you pay online.)
  4. Shipping costs: are paid when you pick up the potatoes (around 30 cents per pound).
  5. Sales tax:  If you are a gardener growing for personal consumption, you must pay Wyandotte County Sales Tax of 8.925% upon pickup.  If you are a farmer and will be selling the potatoes you grow then you must fill out the Agricultural Exemption Certificate upon pickup.  If you work with a non-profit, school or religious organization and hold a Tax Entity Exemption Certificate with the Kansas Department of Revenue, you must present a copy of your Tax Exempt Certificate and pay for your order with a company check in order to be tax exempt.
  6. Pickup:  When the seed potatoes arrive (usually sometime in March, depending on weather), you pick up your order on the scheduled day. As soon as we know the delivery date, we will schedule one day only for pickup. If you cannot attend, you must send someone to pick up your order.  The pick-up location will be determined based on the size of the order, but will be at or near the Gibbs Road Farm (4223 Gibbs Road, Kansas City, KS).

Tree Orders from the Missouri Department of Conservation

Just a reminder that we are well into the period where you can order some free tree or shrub seedlings from MODOC.  As usual, they are offering a  wide variety of shade, ornamental, and edible tree seedlings.  The price per pack of 10 year-old seedlings is $6 to $64, depending on variety. Orders can be submitted via Internet, mail or fax and must be received by April 30, 2013. 

For more information and the order form, visit http://mdc.mo.gov/your-property/seedling-orders-and-planting-guide/seedling-order-how.

Note from Cranky:  J.'s stepfather has planted almost his entire acreage with walnut and pecan trees through this program and we're considering starting to plant on our 40 acres so the trees will be established when we build our house.  This program is an extremely cheap way to get some quality tree seedlings.  They're around 12" to 18" tall when you receive them, so they'll take some time to grow up and be fruitful.  If you're interested, get started now because they usually run out of the most popular very early.

Way Too Cold

Monday, January 06, 2014

The Farmers Almanac for this week says "Warmest days January 6th through 8th."  Good grief, I hope not!

There should be a law against having to go to work when it's this cold!
On the news today, they said that you hadn't seen weather this cold in the Kansas City area if you were younger than 40.  First of all, that made me feel really old.  But then I realized that I must have been too young to remember it because, well.....I don't remember it ever being this cold.  Not to be graphic, but you know it's cold when you go outside and your boogers freeze in your nose.
I suppose I shouldn't even be whining, since it's negative 40 to negative 50 in Montana, North Dakota, etc.  Holy cow!  Are you guys OK up there?!
Change is coming though, with a gradual warm-up here starting Wednesday and a weekend that's supposed to solidly in the mid to upper 40's.  Anything beats this.  I certainly know that I and the chickens will be glad to be able to get out after being "cooped up".  *grin*   See what I did there?
Speaking of the coop...the temp inside is holding at 23 degrees.  Not idea for us humans, but the hens should come through this cold spell just fine.
Stay warm, my friends!

Dangerous Cold: Don't Forget Your Animals!

Sunday, January 05, 2014

It's 7 degrees outside right now. Brrrr! Put a negative sign in front of that and that's where our temp is supposed to be when morning breaks. With the wind howling outside (I can hear my wind chimes singing on the deck), the wind chills are going to be around -30 to -40 when we head off to work.

Folks, that's dangerously cold and in a territory that hasn't been seen around these here parts since I was born over 40 years ago. Temps like that can freeze exposed skin in a matter of minutes, so be careful to get all bundled up if you have to go outside.   (By the way....check out what the Almanac says over there on the right sidebar.  "Warmest on the 6th", my *^&$%##%%$!)

Okay, I know you guys know this but it's probably worth saying again.  Remember.....if the cold is dangerous for you, it's dangerous for your animals also. Please bring your pets inside if at all possible. If you can't, make sure they have a warm place to get to and keep an eye on them for any signs on hypothermia (shivering is a good sign). Obviously, you probably aren't going to bring your chickens in to hang out in the family room with you (although my friend Paula used to!). But I thought I would trot out some tips from one of my original posts from back in 2012 on how you can keep your feathered friends warm and toasty when cold weather hits.

Chickens basically have nice feathered coats, so they're relatively cold hardy.  We prepared for the cold by shutting them in the coop, putting the brooder lamp up over the roost and adding a ceramic heater.  As a result, the current temp is running 20+ degrees higher than the outside temp.  Also, the hens put off quite a bit of their own heat as well so they'll keep each other warm while they're roosting. 

But, other than putting up heaters or brooder lamps, here are some other things you can do to keep your hens toasty:

  1. Keep their water from freezing.  Either use a heated dog bowl or the farm\critter supply stores sell heater bases that go under the galvanized chicken waterers.  If you have neither of these, make sure you check their water regularly and break up any ice that may have formed.
  2. Use a wooden roost for them to sleep on.  Galvanized metal is way too cold for their feet. Also, make sure there is room for at least 6 inches between each hen.  When it's cold, they will fluff out their feathers as added insulation and they'll need room to do so.
  3. Fight frostbite.  Combs and feet aren't protected by all those feathers and are susceptible to the cold - especially if you have large breed chickens with large wattles or combs.  One way to prevent frostbite is to cover them with Vaseline, petroleum jelly or even olive oil.  Do this after they've gone to bed for the night and it will be much easier.  Trust me. 
  4. Give them a treat.  While not a replacement for daily food, feeding scratch, sunflower seeds, and cracked corn as a treat will actually help to raise a hen's body temperature. Just a couple of handfuls every evening is what I normally feed.  And I've been known to give them some yummy warm oatmeal as well.
  5. Use the deep litter method.  Rather than cleaning the coop every month, just deep clean the coop in the spring and layer on a fresh layer of bedding every month.  As it packs down, it will provide insulation to the coop and the hens enjoy scratching it up if you throw some corn or sunflower seeds in there.  I initially thought this would  smell to high heaven but, believe it or not, it doesn't!
  6. Shovel a path.   If it snows, clear a path in the run or the yard for them so they don't have to bust through snow and get wet. If you're a chicken herder like me, you know that chickens hate getting wet. 
  7. Collect eggs regularly.  This doesn't really help the chickens, but it will prevent your eggs from freezing.

I hope you found these tips to be useful.  If you've got any other tips about keeping our beloved chooks warm (other than plopping them in front of the fireplace), I'd love to hear them.  Leave me a comment!

Lots O' Learning Opportunities

Saturday, January 04, 2014

My fav seed catalog so far...Baker Creek Seeds!
 It's that time of year....you know, the time when your poor mailman starts muttering under his breath because you've gotten so many seed catalogs that he can't stuff them all into your overflowing mailbox?  Such is my exuberance for gardening that I think I may have to have mercy on his poor soul and go buy one of those huge rural mailboxes.  Or maybe I can ease the pain with some tomatoes and fresh eggs...hmmm, that's an idea!

So the catalogs are starting to arrive and it's a good thing, because it's so stinking cold that your breath freezes before it ever leaves your lungs.  Nope, not going outside right now.

But catalogs aren't the only way to scratch that gardening itch.  I've just spent the better part of today updating the Events Calendar here at Cranky Puppy with all kinds of online and local Kansas\Missouri workshops, seminars and online classes.  Lots of them are free or only a nominal cost and they cover all kinds of topics:

  • Urban gardening\farming
  • Managing a small orchard
  • Fruit tree or small fruit production (blackberries, strawberries, etc.)
  • Keeping chickens
  • Permaculture and composting
  • Organic pest management (insects, weeds, etc.)
  • Pond management
  • ...and more!

Some of these events require advance registration, so I recommend you browse through the extensive calendar now, see if there's anything you're interested in and get registered quickly.  Some of these are known to fill up pretty quickly - especially the Conservation Extension classes.

This is everything that I could find, but there is more to come because I'm still waiting on several of my sources to post their workshop schedules for 2014.  As I get more details, I'll be sure to post the additions here and let you know.

It's a great time to commit to learning a new skill or exploring a new topic.  What are you waiting for?

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