Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

Still Alive

June 1, 2015

Wow, I’m totally embarrassed that it has been 6 months since I talked to you guys. Working nights is totally messing with my ability to get much else done besides basic chores! I haven’t touched the spinning wheel in months despite a couple of big projects that really need to get done. The only knitting is happening at work between calls, and very little of it.

The good news is that I still am working, and I am grateful for that. Office politics is a killer for me, as it is something that I totally don’t “get”. I don’t understand why any workplace would not only allow behaviors that are counter-productive but seem to encourage them. My mantra has become “Not my circus, not my monkeys”, and I have to tell myself that several times a shift. I enjoy the actual work, so that’s what keeps me going.

On the farm-front things are going well. I had quit milking when Mom had her knee replacement, there being only so many hours in a day, but Clara was still nursing, so after a 6-month hiatus I forcibly weaned her yearling sons. They were not impressed by my efforts, especially O’Dell. He nursed her through the fence when I moved her next door to the boys pen, and when I set her up further away he would break out and find her! He is now living on a tether in the boys pen, which is not ideal but will have to do for now. The first few weeks were slow going, averaging about 12-18 ounces a day (2 milkings a day). But even little bits add up, and by the end of April when I added up the totals she had given me almost 6 1/4 gallons. I just ran May’s numbers this morning, and the grand total was 12.43 gallons! She is now averaging 54-57 ounces a day, and I am very pleased with her progress.

All this milk means I have gone back to cheese making. I figured out the Clara was the source of the failures I had been having, so I have had to make some changes. For some reason her milk does not take well to being heated (I suspect a sub-clinical infection, since her boys were so rough on her udder. When I am ready to dry her off I will give her a course of antibiotics). So mozzarella and ricotta are out of the question, and I have moved on to an Iberico-type. It only has to be heated to 97 degrees. I got my mojo back making a Manchego with some sheep milk I bought from a friend. Still haven’t broken in to any of them, so the cheese cave (aka veggie drawer in the big fridge) is filling up. I chopped up some of the salt-preserved Meyer lemon I made last year and stirred it into one batch. Sure is pretty, don’t you think? Meyer lemon Iberico

At the beginning of May I also got a half-dozen turkey peeps. Four broad-breasted Bronze, and 2 Chocolates (a heritage breed that will be capable of reproducing if it turns out I have a pair). A month old now, it is amazing how much bigger the Bronzes are already. They are a precocious lot, intent on escaping the safety of the barn where I have been brooding them. Almost from the very beginning, I occasionally come out to one or more out with the sheep, who thankfully have been very gentle with them. I have been unable to convince them that the big, wide world isn’t a safe place for little turkeys, so I need to figure out where I am going to put them to grow out. I will mean building something for them, since all the pens are occupied at the moment. turkey peeps

All the duck hens are sitting on nests now, so if they all hatch out I will soon be up to my armpits in ducklings. One of the Muscovy girls was not happy with being in the pen and has made herself a nest in between the pole barn and the chicken coop, between some old windows. It is fairly safe, so I will wait for her ducklings to hatch before I move her back to the pen. She went broody about 2 weeks before the other Muscovies, so the move should be interesting. The crazy ducks all went broody at roughly the same time, so fingers crossed that I get ducklings from them. Breeding them to the Muscovy drake is an experiment. Being different species, any babies will be sterile mules (generally called Moulards); they should grow fast and are all destined for freezer-training. The hens seem dedicated to their nests, and I haven’t seem them rejecting any eggs (which they will often do with infertile eggs). I’m pretty sure that the hen that hatched out a brood last year had a few Moulards in the mix, since there were ducklings that didn’t hatch out that weren’t quite mature when their litter mates hatched (Moulards take a longer incubation period). I am cautiously optimistic at this point, but only time will tell. If it doesn’t work, I will have a lot of rotten eggs to add to the compost bin.

I have started a lot of seeds under lights in the kitchen, and a few things have been moved outside to the garden. The spinach that volunteered has been going gang-busters but is bolting now. I have been pulling stalks to feed to the beasties, but will let some go to seed again since that is so easy. We have had a cool, wet spring, so grass and weeds are growing and threatening to take over the place. I have taken to using the scythe a few minutes every time I go out to milk and feed. In under 5 minutes I can cut enough to give everyone a healthy addition to their diet, and I am slowly clearing the pasture. Lots of mustard, plus grass and dandelions. They prefer it fresh-cut, and since that is easier on my back I am happy to oblige. It isn’t the cutting that gets to me, since the scythe is very ergonomic, but the gathering and delivering of the goodies is work.

That’s it for now. Hopefully I’ll get back here before the New Year. It isn’t that I don’t have anything to say; it’s just having the energy when the words are flowing. Take care!

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Dreaming for the Future

January 8, 2014

The wind is howling outside, throwing frozen rain against the side of the house. Inside after doing chores, I am warmed by the old fence posts I cut this afternoon with the chain saw. The wood pile is long gone, so I am scavenging wood off the farm now. Luckily, there is enough, for now at least. I am resourceful if nothing else.

A blustery day is the perfect time to gather the seed catalogs and to start dreaming. I would love to have an abundant garden, but living in the High Desert makes that a challenge in the best of years. Still, I am starting with a good base. Fairy God-daughter gifted all her Fairy Godmothers with an enormous quantity of seeds left over at her work last fall, so there are only a few holes that need to be filled in. And the dreaming is the best part of gardening! No weeding, no hungry insects or loose chickens to prey on the tender plants, no weather to contend with. Just the beautiful pictures of ripe produce, promises of the bounty that could be mine. Even an over-abundance of zucchini isn’t a scary idea at this time of year. Bring on the vine ripened tomatoes, tender carrots and beets smelling of fresh dirt, peas and green beans waiting to be steamed lightly and enjoyed. Luckily, I just put a lamb shoulder roast in the oven to cook with some of the bounty of potatoes from Rainshadow Organic’s generosity and a few carrots, onions and a bit of oven-roasted garlic from the freezer, so all the dreaming will be well fed in an hour or so.

I also dream of planting an orchard. I love fruit. Even as a child, during the season I would forego spending my allowance on candy in deference to fresh cherries. I have planted several fruit trees over the years, but gave up when Sweetie kept insisting on using the weed whacker around them (he girdled and killed at least 10 trees). I have one lone sour cherry tree that survived the carnage, having lost apples, peaches, pears, apricots and the sweet cherries. I have never gotten any cherries from it but remain hopeful. It bloomed well last year, but we had a cold spell immediately afterwards. I keep thinking I should move it to try to find a place where it will be happier but probably I never will. I am going to be more aggressive about pruning it this spring, to get rid of the abundance of dead wood that it has (which is destined for the smoker).cherry blossoms close

I look at blogs of gardeners in warmer climes and envy them their early springs and long summers. In cleaning out the barn (which hadn’t been done in a few years, and has yielded some lovely compost), I have created some new garden beds. I think that they will be devoted to growing squashes this summer. I have 3 kinds of pumpkins to play with, and several other including summer and winter types, plus a couple of ornamental gourds. A girl can dream, right? All the existing beds will be well fertilized as well. I am ready to get my gardening mojo back after a lull of the last few years.

I do need to report a successful foray into the making of hard cheese! It isn’t finished yet, since it needs to age for at least a couple of months, and it won’t win any beauty contests. I jerry-rigged a press using the steamer basket of my Revereware. The sloped sides of the steamer means that my cheese isn’t pretty, and the sides aren’t pressed as well as the middle. A little chunk broke off when I turned it (all right, I helped it escape into my mouth!) and it already tastes like cheddar! I am super excited about the possibilities. The goat girls are all showing signs of definitely being pregnant, so in a few months I will need to step up my cheese-making efforts. Hard cheese is the best way to preserve milk, at least as far as I’m concerned. I have an idea for a better press , but hadn’t solidified my ideas when this one was ready. I also made ricotta from the cheddar whey with some very interesting results. It didn’t make nearly as much (12 ounces vs the 1+ pound I got from the mozzarella whey), and the texture is much finer, making a smoother ricotta. I don’t think I’ll notice a difference when it’s cooked, though. pressed cheese

One Step Closer To Being Ready For The Zombie Apocalypse

May 15, 2013

Just kidding, I’m not getting ready for the Zombie Apocalypse. But I do enjoy making myself as self-sufficient as I can, and yesterday I took another step in that direction.

It somehow seemed appropriate that I take the occasion of the 4th anniversary of Sweetie’s passing to play in the kitchen with the goat milk that I have been collecting from Myrtle. And while he would not have appreciated the mess I made, he would have found a great deal of joy in how much I was enjoying myself as I experimented with making not 1, but 2 kinds of cheese.

I have been following Leigh’s adventures with her goats and homestead for quite some time, so earlier I had checked out her archives for the info I needed, as well as doing a little additional research online. Can’t have too much education when starting a new project! I had been scooping the cream off the milk in the fridge and putting it in a jar in the freezer, and Saturday morning, the jar was finally full enough to try my hand at making butter.

Butter starting to come together It was a warm day, and once it solidified it was too warm to stay cohesive until I could take a picture of it. A little time in the fridge though, and I had butter! I find the taste difference between cow’s milk and my goat milk more noticeable in the butter than in the liquid milk. Not objectionable, just different. I was already aware that it wouldn’t be the standard “butter yellow” that we are used to in store-bought butter, but that doesn’t bother me in the least. Used on something (like the fresh corn on the cob I shared at Mom’s for dinner that evening) it is very tasty. First butter Enjoying first butter

Yesterday morning, I got up ready to dive into cheese making. I had read several things that indicated that mozzarella might not be the easiest cheese to start with, but I laughed in the face of danger. I’m not ready to do hard cheeses yet, and I’m not a huge fan of chevre, so mozzarella it was.

Just added milk to citric acid I added my gallon of milk to the citric acid in a pot set in a sink full of hot water.

Starting to coagulate with just citric acid It started to coagulate almost immediately, which was fun to see. Once it was up to 90 degrees, I added in the rennet. From what I had read, I thought it would take a while before I would see clear whey, but after just 5 minutes I was ready to proceed

five minutes after rennet was added I cut the curds and let them sit for a while before scooping them into a colander to drain. I added 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the curd, but I think next time I will add more (it seems a bit bland to me)

Then comes the really fun part – stretching! I had put a pot of water on the stove earlier to heat up, and found out that on low, the front left burner kept the water at the perfect temperature (140-150 degrees). I had bought a brand new pair of insulated rubber gloves for this step, because that’s a little warmer than I’m comfortable with. I dropped about half of the curds into the hot water, breaking them up with my fingers so the heat could get into everything. You work the cheese, lifting it up out of the water and back down as it cools. The transformation is very cool, at least to my cooking geek. When you start, the curd is kind of grainy looking, but after a short while it gets glossy and workable, kind of like taffy. Couldn’t really get pictures of that part, since I was home alone, but this is what I ended up with: First mozzarella done Isn’t it beautiful?!

And while I was working on stretching the mozzarella, I had put the whey on to try my hand at making ricotta too. I had read mixed reviews about how well that process worked but figured I had nothing to lose.Starting to heat the whey for ricotta I didn’t measure the whey, but judging on where it was hitting on the pot I figure there was about 3/4 of a gallon. I heated it slowly, working it slowly up to 200 degrees. Not seeing any changes by the time it had reached 180, I chickened out and added 2 tablespoons of vinegar (next time, I will trust the process and try it without). At about 190 degrees, I finally started seeing something happen

Ricotta curd

This got drained and salted also Ricotta done Plus, I now have whey in the fridge to play with.

Finally results: 14.9 ounces of mozzarella, 5.4 ounces of ricotta, and a half-gallon of whey. I used some whey in a brine that the mozzarella sat in for a couple of hours. The ricotta is wonderful, very tangy and smooth. The mozzarella is very firm (I hesitate to use the word tough, though that was my first thought). It shreds very nicely and melts beautifully (yes, I tested it on a piece of french bread set under the broiler. Yum!) I am now researching how best to use the whey.

I’m not getting a ton of milk out of Myrtle, but next year I will hopefully be milking all 3 of the does. My goal is to make hard cheeses like the daughter of one of my friends used to (before she got married), and to try my hand at Camembert. For now, I will be satisfied playing with a gallon at a time. I started a Dairy Journal, so that I can keep notes on what I did and how it worked.

I am also slowly working on getting the garden back up and running. I’ve weeded 2 beds completely, and rescued the rhubarb at the end of a third bed (I thought it had died off, but it was just buried under grass. Freed from that and with a top-dressing of alpaca poo, it has made a very happy recovery). My back only allows so much digging, but I’ve got peas, beets, spinach and chard in the ground. Hopefully, they will produce something before summer gets here. The sheep and goats are very happy to deal with the weeds I’m pulling from the beds, which haven’t been really worked in 5 years. I get my garden back, and they get snacks; it’s a win-win situation!

Real Progress

October 8, 2012

Late last night I finally bit the bullet and put 4 of my patterns up on Ravelry. Look for Majora Acres if you’re interested. It was very exciting that not 10 minutes later I had my first “fave”. No sales yet, but I’m excited none the less. Hopefully this will give me the push I need to get the shawl patterns completed and up too. I’ve had lots of requests for a couple of them when I’ve worn the shawls at fiber shows. I’m naming all my patterns after mountains and waterways here in Oregon. There are 2 cowl patterns (Tumalo Creek and Crooked River), the Siskyous scarf and Paulina mittens. I’ve sold copies of the patterns at shows, but this is my first foray into online sales of patterns.

I also got a very nice note from someone who has a local tie, and she is encouraging me with my plan to put my sheep up for “adoption”. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while. Being a farmer is hard work, and not cheap either. I think that, since I do have a very endangered breed and a lot of folks out there love the idea of having sheep but can’t at this point in their lives, we can help each other out. I need to take some really good pictures of each of the sheep separately and iron out a few details, but then I will be putting my sheep out there for the world to love.

The little girls spent a couple of days cleaning up where the hay pile goes and are now penned out behind the pasture in an area that has never been grazed (and hasn’t been mowed in about 3 years). They all got a little more practice being haltered and led. Maggie is a pro now, walking right next to me. The others are not quite so impressed with my plans, especially Milly. She pulled back as I was slipping the others back into the pen this morning and was LOOSE! It didn’t last long; I managed to get behind her and encourage her to join her sisters in the pen. When I caught the end of the lead rope, you would have thought I was the big bad wolf! She did her best to escape, but I sat down in the grass and held on while she tried jumping over and into me. I tried scratching her, looking for her sweet spot, but she wasn’t having any of that nonsense. It did give me a chance to really feel her fleece though, and I do have to say I am really impressed. It is incredibly soft, and I am looking forward to shearing all these babies as soon as possible.

The little boys are not real happy with me. In order to stay here, they all needed wethered. For those of you that don’t know, that means castrated. Wethers make better fiber, since they don’t have the seasonal hormonal surges that the ewes and rams do. Also, they tend to be less temperamental (those hormonal surges again). I still have to do Manny. He apparently took the judge’s comments to heart and he is too big to do with my bander. I am borrowing a larger one later this week when I return the borrowed ram and bring the goat girls home from their honeymoon. Hopefully at least one of them is pregnant. I could see if I can find someone to ultrasound them in a month or so, but I’m not sure it’s worth the money. Either they are or they aren’t, and if they aren’t there really won’t be anything I can do about it until next fall. It will be nice to have them home again.

As a reward for finishing the Monster Socks, I started a sweater for myself. The yarn is from 2 of my ewes, Eartha and her twin Etta. I had it spun up several years ago by a friend who had started her own mill (BelTine Farm). I worked up a sample, working up several different stitch patterns but finally settled on simple stockinette. I’m about half way through the body already. It will be a light weight sweater, which is exactly what I want. I’m kicking around an idea for something a bit heavier when this one is done.

 

 

Oh, and I planted a bunch of strawberry plants I got from my mom yesterday. Hopefully the weather will cooperate so that they can get well rooted before it gets nasty. Guess I have been a bit busy after all.

Knitting my life back together

May 12, 2011

I find solace in knitting. Mindless knitting of socks (my go-to when I know I may be distracted), or working on lace that takes all my attention. Either way, I can turn my brain off my problems for a while. It is escapism at its best as far as I am concerned.

While I have been off work (since early February, bad back/hip, lots of meds and pt) I have managed to finish 1 small semi-circular shawl, 1 large semi-circular shawl (still to be blocked), blocked a circular shawl (finally!). I finished my moms’ raglan sweater and matching socks for her. I have knit myself 2 pairs of socks, and I am mostly finished with 3 pairs that will be Christmas presents. And I have started a new circular shawl. All of this while unable to sit for more than 2 hours at a time. Plus spinning, and gardening, and occasionally shearing a sheep (weather permitting, lots more to go)

The weather has been less than cooperative. Mid-May, and it is still SO COLD! I have slowly weeded a little bit of the garden and have planted spinach, peas and beets, and the rhubarb is peeking out of the cold soil. I know that we will all too quickly transition to summer, but it feels so slow coming. This time of year is always hard in the high desert. The sun tells us that spring is here, but the wind blows all the warmth away, and nights still freeze. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the bedding plants in all the stores, but it is far too early to plant all but the hardiest. Better to wait.

Still Alive

April 19, 2011

Oh my, I have had a hard time blogging lately. Life truly is what happens when you’ve made other plans.

So, I’ve been off work since February 9th. Slipped getting out of the shower at work, managed to totally muck up my back and hip. Been doing pt since. Boy it’s slow progress!

Got baby chickens on March 12 – 6 Buff Orpingtons and 4 Barred Rocks

This years lambs started arriving on March 19 – First to deliver was Ida Lynn. A beautiful ewe lamb, mostly white with red marks on her legs. I let my neice India name her, with the only rule that it had to start with L. So, meet Lydia, now a month old

Baby turkeys joined the menagerie on April 2nd –

And then on my birthday Todd’s favorite ewe Faith presented me with a beautiful black ewe lamb – Lala

Today I cleaned out the chicken coop and bedded it with fresh straw. The last remaining older hen is under strict orders to prove she is still laying or she will join her sisters in the pot. Then I moved the chicks out

I also planted the 2 blueberries I got at Costco last week and put spinch seeds around them. Hopefully that will help keep the weeds down under them

I need to figure out how to get pictures from Flikr moved over here into the post rather than seperate. Oh well, maybe later this week!