We Built A Shop And Learned So Much

When we bought our property in early 2018 it came with no garage nor shop. Well, we had it all planned out. We’d build a shop. I mean, how hard could that be? (Start laughing now….) We figured it would take time, but we didn’t expect it would take 17 months and 4 days from moving to using our shop. Lesson learned. Building small sheds is easy enough….but when working with raw land it will take time. What took the most time? First we had to decide on how we wanted the shop to like like. Then who to build it. We signed a contract end of summer of 2018 with a builder. Then we had to find local help to do the clearing, grading and getting the site ready. This took considerable time – and we got to experience “island time” first hand. The land shaping company we were recommended to use by the builder ghosted us. Twice. We found a different company that did the job – and showed up on time. But at that point we were 2 months behind schedule. They did a great job taking a site that was an overgrown forest full of dig pits, and shaping it into a usable slab.

So, with many photos to show how the land was shaped and built on, walk through with us on our adventure. Starting in April of 2019 to its completion in August of 2019.

The shop was built in an area that had been cleared long ago, then an ill managed forest regrew. It was mostly thin, tall Hemlocks in poor shape. The forest was choked, dim, and unhealthy.

One of the big issues we faced when we bought the land was finding “dig pits” in this area. Our only guess is they were taking top soil for jobs, as he was a contractor. At some point when the land was first developed he had planned to build a shop but never did. After that, he dig up holes making it nearly impossible to access the upper land. By this picture in April we had filled in the main hole in the “driveway” to the upper part. We had cut back the forest so we could get the tractor around it. There were multiple holes 6 feet deep and 20 to 40 feet long.

This was the access road from the other side (hole is in the distance). Typical over grown forest.

When our land shapers showed up, we had them clear 100 feet of land length wise.

This was drudgery work and involved many thin, and dead, trees coming down, and many, many root balls being dug up.

Clearing and root ball piles starting to show.

Nearly done with phase 1. We gave away a lot of the Hemlocks to people needing firewood.

We paid to have them run the slash fire, coming in as the most likely last commercial fire permit issued for the season before the burn ban started for the summer.

For a commercial slash fire there must be an excavator on site to tend to it. It’s the only feasible way to get rid of that many tree stumps. And while they had the fire going……

They cleared the flat area across the way. And they even let Walker drive the ancient bulldozer. He was over the moon about that!

We think this is where the previous owner wanted to have his shop built. It was mostly flat and had been cleared. However, he had left a massive burn pile in the center of old rotting trees. It was so old there was a 40 foot Alder tree growing in it! It didn’t add much to have this section cleared and flattened more, and we know we will either farm it, or do building on it.

The fire was left for a month to burn out. Yes. A month. This is how building takes so long. We knew it would eat up time though. Burning on the build site was the best choice, as it wasn’t near property lines, where we might have had neighbors complaining to the fire department.

Pano of the build site, with the fire in the center. The road up to the site was also rebuilt.

While all that was happening they created a decent driveway down by the house. When we moved in, the driveway was a tight lollypop loop that was hard to navigate. You couldn’t see through it, and UPS and similar had to often back and fill to make it around. This was after we had cut down all the trees and the crew was getting ready to haul out the extra soil. (They were also building the driveway to the upper then.)

The difference was huge. Suddenly you could park. You could drive. No tree stumps to hit. No scratching of paint….

Back to work, they were digging the fire pit open, a month later it was still burning inside.

Shaping, moving and more shaping.

Slowly you could see the building pad take shape.

Ecology blocks to finish the corner. But flat. Flat finally.

Pano of the road up to the building site.

Then it just sat. Done and waiting. Waiting on the builders. And it felt like it would never happen but in June supplies started showing up.

Then it started.

Day one. Poles in.

Day 2. Framing went up.

Day 3. Roof was built.

Day 4 the roof started going on.

From the woods.

Day 5 the sidewalls and insulation started going up, as did the siding.

Starting to take shape.

Side view.

Looking at the sides.

Concrete day.

The stoop and the boys.

Walker wrote his big.

Alistaire used a stick.

Concrete done. Then….to let it sit and cure, and dry out.

The view of the back. Not long after this, the gutters were installed. The back wall ones are tied in for later connecting to water tanks behind.

Then we had a lean to installed at the end. This allows for vehicle storage.

Finally the floors were dry…and the doors were installed at the end of August.

And then….17 months later, we had a shop. That is like nearly instant, no?

The road still needs to be finished, and the lean to needs gutters, and electric needs to be run…..but it’s close enough, and we can use it finally.

But I can’t say I want to build a house anytime soon after this…..

~Sarah

August On The Farm

It’s been so busy that I sat down today and realized it was already halfway through September. And the start of the third week of school for the boys. August slipped by quickly.

I showed up a couple times at the South Whidbey Tilth Farmers Market.

With freshly dried herbs from our farm.

I really do. I think that is obvious 😉

For the first time in over 3 years we had no forest fires marring the sunsets, nor the air. It was a great feeling to be able to work outside in the evenings, and be able to breathe.

A flower I encountered and need to grow next year.

A bonus from our 18 month long thinning of forest. This was left behind by the previous owners, and it didn’t bloom last year (far too much shade from Hemlocks and Cedar trees). With the pruning and thinning, this year it shone.

We had a good berry year. Every day we’d pick like this, and fill up with plenty left over.

Another bonus of the thinning? The Evergreen Huckleberry plants thrived this year, with so much sun for the berries.

I love late summer sunsets over the Olympic Mountains.

I believe these were the new Ivory strawberry we grew from seed this year. It is smaller than White Soul.

Feverfew flowers.

Bee Balm coming into bloom.

Marshmallow flowers.

We took time off to attend a forest conference on the mainland. Lots of classes to be taken, this one was on the layers of soil.

Bonus was one class was a guided walk through the experimental forest.

The star of our flower gardens was the Strawberry Calendula. It never quit blooming, produced a ton of seed and the flowers were bee magnets.

When a tomato grows through hardware cloth….

Soapwort flowers.

First of the Oregon Spring tomatoes, an F1 hybrid I grew from Ed Hume seeds. I will grow these again. They produced nicely sized, full flavored tomatoes.

This was a neat find: in the main strawberry bed of 225+ plants, I found this variegated one.

And to end August: It was warm, but not hot, with some mornings cloudy. It was like how August used to be here in the PNW. We harvested lots of produce, did a lot of work, did some markets, spent a lot of time with our boys, went camping and was just out there!

~Sarah

Faux Meat: The Modern Day Margarine?

With every announcement from the manufactures of faux meat I sigh a bit more (sometimes inwardly, often – too often – ranting on Facebook), mostly perplexed that faux meat is somehow a good thing to consume. With KFC announcing yesterday a new vegan fried chicken being tested, coming from Beyond Meat, I just cringed even more. You are eating faux meat, breaded and then deep fried in cheap soybean oil. That isn’t good for anyone! Yet, so many are excited to potentially try it out.

Today a friend commented on Facebook that ‘will fake meat become what margarine has become, in the years to come’. And yes, I do think it will.

So…you might ask: What is my issue with highly processed plant protein and faux meats?

I would tell you this: It isn’t real food. It is highly processed big ag food. It is based off commodity crops such as wheat, soy, corn and peas. These crops are potentially GMO, and use large amounts of water, fertilizers and pesticides (not to mention herbicides). Even certified organic lines are at risk of these – organic doesn’t mean it is free of these things (outside of GMO). Then the ingredients are transported, with a heavy carbon footprint, to be processed into a product to sell. Then packaged into plastic bags and trays, and then shipped around the country.

Some brands are better than others, but none are perfect, due to the use of protein powders in nearly all of them. It is a processed mix that is full of major allergens and reliant on Big Ag to produce it.

Choose your hipster or stalwart brand and look at the ingredients that show up:

Pea Protein
Soy and/or soy protein/isolate
Wheat
Potato
Coconut and Palm Oils
Thickeners and stabilizers (gums)

If you don’t know how pea protein is made, you need to learn the process. Companies promote it being green garden peas in photos, but it isn’t. It is made from field peas (yellow), and nearly all companies that make it grind up the entire plant, not just the peas. At least Field Roast lists it accurately as yellow peas. But you are not eating peas as you think. You are eating a dense protein made from them. In your normal day you don’t willing sit down to a meal made of dried pods, and for some companies, even vines. (And yes, there are plenty of videos and blogs about making pea protein at home, but no, that is not how large companies make it.) When you eat pea protein you are consuming the shells that harbor residual pesticides and chemical fertilizers. It is no shock that pea allergy is rising fast, particularly if a person is already peanut allergic.

A few things I have gleaned off of the faux meat companies public pages –

From Beyond Meat‘s website:
“IS THE BEYOND BURGER™ SAFE TO CONSUME IF I HAVE A NUT ALLERGY?
Peas are legumes. People with severe allergies to legumes like peanuts should be cautious when introducing pea protein into their diet because of the possibility of a pea allergy. Our products do not contain peanuts or tree nuts.”

Beyond Meat burger:
Water, Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Contains 2% or less of the following: Cellulose from Bamboo, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Natural Flavor, Maltodextrin, Yeast Extract, Salt, Sunflower Oil, Vegetable Glycerin, Dried Yeast, Gum Arabic, Citrus Extract (to protect quality), Ascorbic Acid (to maintain color), Beet Juice Extract (for color), Acetic Acid, Succinic Acid, Modified Food Starch, Annatto (for color).

Impossible Burger:
Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.

Field Roast burgers: (I will say that they are the cleanest of all the choices, and actually come close to being a more whole food – note no protein powders, they use pea flour)
Vital wheat gluten, filtered water, organic expeller pressed palm fruit oil, barley, garlic, expeller pressed safflower oil, onions, tomato paste, celery, carrots, naturally flavored yeast extract, onion powder, mushrooms, barley malt, sea salt, spices, carrageenan (Irish moss sea vegetable extract), celery seed, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, shiitake mushrooms, porcini mushroom powder and yellow pea flour.

Gardein:

They make both regular and gluten free products. They to rely heavily on soy protein to make their line. The Beefless Ground has one of the shortest ingredient lists of faux meats:

Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Organic Caramel Color, Canola Oil, Organic Cane Sugar, Yeast Extract, Onion Powder, Salt, Garlic Powder, Natural Flavors, Sea Salt, Sugar, Spices.

Then ask who is making your food.

For example, lets say you love the old school Boca line – it is owned by Kraft. Field Roast sold to Maple Leaf, the largest meat packer in Canada. Lightlife brand is also owned by Maple Leaf. Pinnacle Foods, which owns the Armour canned meats brand, owns Gardein. And it goes on – the majority of vegan/plant based companies are now owned by the big players in the food industry. These companies don’t care about YOU. They care about making money. They buy up the small, innovative companies because developing a line under their real name doesn’t work so well. Leave up a quaint and fuzzy feeling website for people to visit, and hide who actually owns it. They are going to survive no matter which way customers shop. They will tell you it is green and good for the environment, but it isn’t. Not at the level of how processed it is. And worse, the products are often high in sodium and sugar, to make them taste good. Calorie counts are often higher than the meat it is replacing. These mass produced burgers/ground beef/fake chicken/fake fish are not the answer – and leave just as much plastic garbage as beef does. They are not “green” at all. Always question why you are being sold goods and look into the companies.

The Final Thoughts:

I’d rather eat my vegetables as they come out of the ground. Just eat the produce. If you don’t want to eat meat, make your own veggie burgers, it is easy and very tasty (and yes, I do make them). You can make burgers and ground ‘beef’ from whole foods in your kitchen. Just yesterday I saw an amazing recipe posted by one of my favorite recipe developers for Vegan Oat and Mushroom Ground Beef. GO TRY IT! Oats and mushrooms can all be grown locally (neither are hard to grow).

~Sarah

Handcrafted Pasta Sauce

I found this recipe via a package of Sweet Roma Pasta Sauce Mix from Ball/McCormick, which is highly overpriced at $2.49 a card. You get the dried spices and a recipe card, that is it, for that price. You can easily replicate this at home, however, I don’t process the tomatoes like the card calls for. I like the sauce to have some texture!

Handcrafted Pasta Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 8 pounds tomatoes*
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tsp dried garlic
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried onion
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp fennel seed
  • Sugar to taste

Directions:

Finely chop or run the tomatoes through a food processor gently to break up. We use a manual food processor which doesn’t destroy the produce.

*If you are using small, delicate tomatoes leave the skins on. If your tomatoes are huge with thick skins you might want to peel them first (Make an “x” on the bottom, dip tomatoes into boiling water for a minute, drop into a bowl of ice water and then peel and proceed). I like the texture with the smaller tomatoes and don’t peel them.

As well, if using huge tomatoes, core the tops also. Small tomatoes don’t need this.

Add the tomatoes to a large non-reactive stock pot along with the remaining ingredients (wait till cooked to add sugar if needed). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring often.

Meanwhile add pint canning jars to canner. Fill jars with water and about half way up the canner. Bring to a boil.

Add the rings and lids to a small sauce pan, cover with water, bring to a simmer over medium.

Taste the sauce, and if needed add in a pinch or two of sugar.

Pull out the jars, draining back into the canner. Place on a clean kitchen towel. Dip your funnel, air bubble popper and ladle into the hot water.

Fill each jar, leaving a ½” headspace. Run bubble popper through jar, add more sauce if needed. Wipe down the rimes with a damp paper towel. Place lids and rings on, finger tightening on.

Place into the canner, lower in. Jars should be covered with at least an inch of water, if not add in the water from the ring pot. Bring to a boil, let process for 35 minutes.

Take out, let cool on a clean kitchen towel. Remove rings, note date on lid. Use within a year for best results. If any lids do not seal, place in refrigerator, use up within a few days.

Makes 4 to 6 pint jars (depends on how much you cook it down and how juicy your tomatoes are).

As always, if you ever go to use a canned item and the lid is not sealed anymore, or bulging, discard it immediately!

Spicy Salsa

I adapted the recipe for this salsa out of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, on page 203 (Fresh Vegetable Salsa). I don’t like cumin or fresh cilantro, but otherwise I followed the recipe. The recipe doesn’t call for salt, so you may want to taste it before canning and adjust as needed.

Spicy Salsa

Ingredients:

  • 7 cups chopped tomatoes*
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped green bell peppers
  • 8 Jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 5.5 ounce can tomato paste
  • ¾ cup white vinegar (5% acidity)
  • ½ cup dried cilantro
  • Sea salt to taste

Directions:

Add 5 pint canning jars to a canning pot. Fill jars with water, and the pot about halfway with water, bring to a near boil, then let simmer.

Add lids and rings to a small pot filled with water, bring to a simmer.

Add all ingredients in a large saucepan, bring to a boil over high. Reduce heat, simmer for 30 minutes. Taste for salt, adding if needed.

Drain jars into canning pot, place on a clean kitchen towel. Ladle the hot salsa into the bars, using a sterilized canning funnel. Leave a ½” headspace. Run a chopstick or canning bubble popper in each jar, add more salsa if there is room.

Dip a clean paper towel in hot water, then run around the top of each jar. Place a lid on each jar, then a band, screw on finger tight.

Turn canner up to high, place jars in water bath rack, lower rack into water. Water should cover by 1 – 2″, if not add a bit more from the other pot that held the rings. Bring to a rolling boil, covered, process for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, let sit for 5 minutes with lid off. Carefully remove jars, placing on a clean dry kitchen towel to cool.

Once cooled, check again that seals are down (you should hear the Ping! as each one seals). Gently remove bands (wash, dry and store for your next project. While they look nicer on, if they have water inside from processing, they can rust. If you are giving away your canned items, you can always slip one back on), note on jar or lid what is in jar with a date. Store in a dry/cool/dark area and use within a year.

As always, if you ever go to use a canned item and the lid is not sealed anymore, or bulging, discard it immediately! (I have only ever lost one jar in all my canning, so don’t fret) If you are using a different brand of salsa mix, be sure to read their directions and to follow them.

Makes 4 to 5 pint jars.

*I use a variety of tomatoes. Salsa is a great way to use up lots of cherry tomatoes. I don’t peel my tomatoes. If I am using large ones, I do core. Small ones I do not.

Spicy canned salsa