Sunday, May 29, 2011

Red Barn Brewing

Our latest and greatest adventure: home brewing. We had purchased a book a while back in hopes of actually getting started, however, we found ourselves limited by time and not wanting to get in way over our head. A visit from my friend Bruce, though, changed our mind on the whole concept. With his encouragement, he and I paid a visit to the Lebanon Health Food Store (LHFS) where he informed me of the equipment which would be necessary to get our feet wet. A day later, and we had read the first "beginner's chapter" of our brewing book and were off to LHFS to get our supplies!

While what we did is still considered brewing, it was by no means complicated. The simplest way to start is by brewing with only malt extracts. This means that all of the grains have been malted, mashed and evaporated with the hop extracts mixed in (for the case of hopped extracts). In terms of brewing, this greatly reduces the amount of time and effort necessary for a successful brew; perfect for newbies.

The very first thing is to sanitize EVERYTHING that could possibly come into contact with the beer. This is accomplished using StarSan, an acid based, food safe, rinse free solution. Mix with water and soak whatever needs to get sanitized. After a quick air dry the tools are ready to go!

Actually brewing was quite simple: we mixed the malt extracts (hopped and unhopped) in a large stock pot with 1.5 gallons of water and boiled the mixture for 45 minutes. The wort (the hot mix of grain and hops) is then added to 3 (in our case 3.5) gallons of cold tap water in a Better Bottle and left to cool down to ~75 degrees F. If you've ever taken a course on Thermodynamics or even basic chemistry you know cooling 5 gallons of a water mixture takes FOREVER.

Finally, though, the wort reached the desired temperature and we were able to measure the original gravity (a measure of the wort density to that of water) and pitch the yeast (pitch is a fancy brewing term for add).

Above we see the wort in a state where the yeast has started to work it's magic and is beginning to produce the first bit of CO2. Below, we have the wort with the yeast several hours later. The yeast has really started to pick up the pace and is creating a vast amount of CO2 as it produces the alcohol for the beer.

Oh, so you're wondering some of the specifics of the beer? Well, right now we don't have a lot of information to give, as the wort is currently fermenting. We can provide some simple details:

Name: Night Barn
Style: Nut Brown Ale
Original gravity: 1.046

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Garden Update!

Our garden has some tiny sprouts, growing bigger by the day! Soon it will be safe to plant the seeds and seedlings that are more sensitive to frost (yes there is still a chance of that happening this year). Until then, just one quarter of our garden has made the transformation from "looks like a grave" to "looks like a garden."

I took these photos almost a week ago.

By now the beets are tall enough to need thinning out. And the rows of carrots and parsnips are also looking quite good.

The peas are also growing rather quickly.

Hopefully they will start to grow up this stick thing we built for them to grow on. We figured, why buy something for the peas to grow on, when we can just construct one with forest-items. We gathered up these sticks and tied them into this lattice using the crazy huge root we dug up while make the garden, as well as some of the bark I pulled off of the sticks we gathered.

We are so resourceful. Not that I'm proud of that or anything ;)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Foraging Fiddleheads

Spring in the Northeast is a glorious time of year. The snow is kinda, almost gone, the trees are beginning to bud, the Sun returns after a 6 month hiatus, and all varieties of birds start reappearing. With this change in season, we have taken more interest in the latter part of hunting and gathering.

Recently, we have taken to scouring the forests on our respective lands in search of the elusive morel. Unfortunately, we have yet to gather any, most likely due to the chillier weather that is still hanging around from Winter. However, while venturing for morels last evening, we happened upon another great gatherer's find!


It was an accidental find, but one we were happy to capitalize on, despite not knowing if we actually enjoy the taste of fiddleheads. We therefore picked conservatively. It appeared that the fiddlehead season is slightly past it's prime, as many of the fronds had already unraveled into ferns.

How does one eat a fiddlehead fern? We weren't sure either, before yesterday, but it just so happens that before we went morel/fiddlehead gathering we stumbled upon a basket of fiddleheads in the Hanover Coop (priced at $6.99 per lb, mind you) and above the basket was a tag which described the cooking process. We didn't think much of it until we actually found the fiddleheads last night! Turns out, to reduce the risk of side effects of potential toxins, boiling the fiddleheads for 10 minutes is recommended with at least one or two changes of water. Mmmm, delicious.

The boiling and eating process will likely take place tonight before we head to contra. So a warning to the contra people, if we're hunched over in pain, it's probably due to the food borne illness that may or may not be associated with fiddleheads.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Our Garden!

This weekend it was time to construct our garden. Two weeks ago we took a trip to the Home Depot to buy supplies to make some beautiful raised garden beds. We left the store with one packet of zucchini seeds. For the amount of space we wanted, the cost of building the garden boxes was high. As in, over $100 high. Plus the dirt to fill them would have been another $150 at least. So we left the Home Depot feeling very disappointed, but got some dinner and felt slightly less disappointed.

We spent a lot of time trying to figure out a new plan. After talking with Julie we thought my landlord would have some spare lumber under the barn that we could use. There was really only enough for one garden box though. Plus we would still have to buy a lot of dirt.

There was also talk by one of the meg'n'greg team (I'll let you figure out who that was) of acquiring some of the old railroad ties that were piled up all along the railroad that runs by the barn. Unfortunately this did not seem entirely legal, and we also figured that these might be pressure treated, in which case we would not want to be growing food out of them.

A new hope for our plans of a beautiful garden was restored when my landlord told us, "You only need to make the boxes if you want to be fancy." Good point! I do like to be fancy, but strongly prefer being thrifty. The soil at the barn is not good, so we would still need to get a scoop of dirt, but we had known that would be a cost the whole time. So the latest and greatest plan would be: borrow my landlord's tiller and build a garden in the ground. I think a classic, in-ground garden is more our style anyhow. And we would get one scoop of dirt to spread on top to make the soil good for growing. This way we could have a bigger area for gardening, without needing two scoops of dirt, since we could spread the top layer a bit thinner. Mind you, when I say "dirt" I mean composted cow manure. Nothing but the best for our garden.

This past weekend was a beautiful, warm and sunny weekend. On Saturday morning we checked in with my landlord to get some tools and the tiller. He suggested, and Greg agreed, that it would be best to pull up the sod first, and then till the dirt underneath. I was thinking that tilling the grass was fine with me, but I had to agree that the extra work would be worth it, so that we would not have a bunch of grass and weeds (at least not as many) growing in the garden in a couple months.

And so we begin.

Here is Greg, shoveling the border of the garden. He also used the shovel to mark out a grid through the whole garden, in order to have squares of sod that we (really just he) could pick up and move. After Greg shoveled the squares, I used the pitchfork tool to pull the square of sod up from the ground.

I also focused on rock removal. I doubt this pile comprised even 1/10th of what we were to pull out of the plot.

This photo actually has nothing to do with the garden. This is the trench my landlord dug to bury the wire for the well pump. It was a day for manual labor at the barn.

Meanwhile, back at the garden, Greg was busy finding the second yield of the garden (the first being rocks).

We kept finding these root vegetable-looking things. They looked like little parsnips, and smelled like carrots. Greg tasted a bit and said it was alright.

Here we have some action shots of sod removal.

Pick it up.

And carry it to the wheelbarrow. I promise that all of the other sod squares were more perfect squares which could be carried with much more grace.

Here is proof that I worked too.

This is how I used the pronger-tool to rip up the sod square.

At the end of the day on Saturday we were quite exhausted. Too exhausted to bother taking a photo of the final plot of sod-free ground that was slowly but surely becoming our garden. Or maybe, as the designated rock-remover, I was just too embarrassed to have a photo showing just how many rocks were not removed from the plot.

On Sunday afternoon our dirt scoop was delivered. We smoothed it out, and then put some of the rocks back in. As footpaths. We figured it would be good to have designated footpaths through the garden. Plus it looks good that way. And we had so many rocks leftover that we surrounded the entire thing with rocks. And we still had two wheelbarrows-full of rocks leftover. For sure, we got a lot of rocks.

I present to you, our garden (plants coming soon).

It turns out, the in-ground garden can look pretty fancy after all! Here is another view, which shows the footpaths rather well.

I am definitely of the opinion that all the hard work was worth it.