Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A new year ahead

I've never been big on "New Year's" as a holiday. It seems rather silly to me to 'celebrate' the passage of time...and for most of my life, the 'new year' really occurred in fall with the new school year anyway. That said, I'm finding myself doing quite a bit of reflecting on the past year and planning for the new one. I think this is partly due to all the turmoil of the past year (the economy, the rise and fall of gas/oil prices, the election, etc.) and the foreboding of what may still like ahead for us all. I generally don't make resolutions, but I guess the change from 2008 to 2009 is as good a time as any to take stock on how much we have accomplished on a more personal level and what we want to plan for the next year. So, here goes.

2008 was a year of massive change for my husband and me. A year ago, we were just starting to put into motion all the steps that led to the huge lifestyle shift we experienced in 2008. As the calendar changed to 2008, I was 10 days out from my first flight to Oregon to interview with my current company. We were also wrapping up some home projects and generally preparing to put our house on the market in the next couple of weeks. I had already traded in my beloved Mini Cooper on my Prius, so at the time, I'd felt like major changes were already taking place. I was really apprehensive about what 2008 would hold in store for us, but I was excited none-the-less.

So by the end of January, our house was on the market. In early February, both my husband and I were accepting jobs with new companies. In mid-February, we made our first trip out here together to look at homes. By the end of February, we had our cars packed and we were heading across the country. In early March, we both started new jobs while we moved into an apartment. By April, our home search was in full swing - weekends upon weekends searching for a place to set up our little homestead. By the end of April, we'd made an offer on a short sale but having heard nothing from the bank in three weeks, we kept looking. By May, we'd found our current home, so we pulled the bank offer and made a new offer on our house. By June, we'd closed and we began working (including getting a garden planted). By July, the garden was planted, the chicken coop built and we started moving into the house. By August, we were out of the apartment (and our storage site) and installed fully in the new place. We also purchased 15 chickens and two goats and fenced in the 'back forty' before the month was out. In September, we discovered we needed new siding before another winter hit. We also began harvesting fruit and learning to can and dry it. By October, the siding project was underway, harvest was in full swing (for what we were able to cultivate so late in the season) and we were up to our eyeballs in goat's milk. By November, things had settled down a little and we were able to get some things done inside the house. December brought with it our first eggs from our chickens, and massive snow...something we had not counted on in this area! We also purchased and received our greenhouse kit - to be assembled in 2009.

So, from suburban DINK to sustainable homesteader...are we there yet? Hardly. What will 2009 hold for us?

Building and utilizing a greenhouse
Installing rain barrels & a hand pump
Improved fitness for both of us
Early seed-starting & expanded veggie, herb and grain gardens
More biking, less driving
A new wood stove (a more efficient & EPA approved one)
Solar consultation (hot water and electric)
Goat kidding
Installing a proper root cellar
Actively improving neighbor relations
Skill development - bread making, cheese making, soap making, wine making, knitting, spinning, etc.

From a more personal standpoint, I'd like to accomplish a few other things. The first of these involves my goals for 2010. I'd like to finally get to a place where come 2010, 'losing weight' is not my list of future accomplishments. This is a two part effort. The first, of couse, is actually losing some weight. The second is the harder part - and that is learning to accept myself and my body not for what it looks like, but for what it can do. I have never had a single new year where 'weight loss' wasn't in the plans for the coming months - even going back to childhood when I wasn't exactly over-weight. This is a mental issue that I plan to actively work on this year. Additionally, I'm going to make a greater effort to sustain the relationships that are important to me. With my husband, my family, and with friends from my past and present. I've been too wrapped up in our homestead efforts over the past year, and I've allowed this blog to do too much of my communicating for me. REAL interpersonal interaction is essential to a well balanced happy life. I need to work on it.

May 2009 be a year of many joys and accomplishments for all of us.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays 2008

Merry Christmas to all...

...and to all a peaceful New Year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cookies for Christmas

'Chocolava' cookies in our holiday cookie jar

For the past couple of weeks, I've kind of had to force myself into the holiday mood. First I started with decorating the house. That helped. Then I worked on baking some cookies. For whatever reason, I was not inspired to make the cookies we traditionally make in our family, so I decided to try some new ones. I pulled out my favorite cookie cookbook and flipped through it for inspiration. We bought this cookbook from a little gift shop in Banff Springs when we were on our honeymoon. The woman in the bookstore couldn't stop raving about this book - and she knew the author personally because she was from the area. I figured "hey! kind of like local cuisine!" so we bought it. It's easily the best thing I brought back from that trip besides my new husband! It's called "One Smart Cookie" and I have a little blurb about it in my sidebar. It has nothing to do with homesteading or saving money or being green or living sustainably...but everyone needs a good cookie now and again.

So, I start with the cookies pictured above. My mom used to make them and called them chocolate crinkles, but in this book they are called chocolava cookies. They turned out beautiful and absolutely delicious. Super chocolatey without being too sweet. YUM!

Cornmeal Maple Pecan Twists - delicious!

Next I opted for 'Cornmeal Maple Pecan Twists'...but I made 'C's' insead of twists. Again, yum! Very chewy and full of texture and flavor. These were the first ones to be gobbled up of the three varieties I made.

Gingerbread Snowmen - prior to decorating.

Lastly, at the request of my husband, I made gingerbread men. Well...gingerbread snowmen since that was the only cookie cutter I had that even came close. Again, another success. Crunchy and very, very flavorful. These things are wonderful with coffee!

All in all, a success. I think my favorites were the chocolava cookies. I've also made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from this book (called "Everyone's Favorite Cookie") and they are wonderful. Oh, and did I mention that all the cookies in this book are made with less fat than traditional recipes? No? Well, that's because you tend to forget that little fact when the cookies are as good as these are... ;-) And the bonus? I can get away with buying less butter!

Monday, December 22, 2008

More snow!!

The view out my back door this morning...

I never thought I'd say this, but ENOUGH ALREADY! Holy cow...I can't get over the amounts of snow we are getting! We haven't seen the ground since last Sunday - over a week now.

The photo above was taken out my back door this morning. That little round black thing on the table is our mini-charcoal grill. On top of it is a frisbee that my H took out there to play with the dogs yesterday afternoon (since it would stay on top of the snow so they could find it!). Last night when we went to bed, it was clear of snow. I guess that when you mix the typical rainy PNW weather with below-freezing get this disaster. It's beautiful, but messy, dangerous and a pain in the butt!

This was the view across the street taken after one of the ice-rains we had last week.

I had to shovel out the chicken run this morning so that the chickens could 1) get out of the coop and 2) get water. Their waterer, which is suspended above the ground by a few inches and which is about a foot tall, was almost completely covered in snow. When I walk outside of the paths we've made, the snow is up to my knees.

Neither of the goats will leave their shed. I used to occasionally see them strolling around in between snow showers...but we had some freezing rain Saturday night and since then, neither of them are too sure of the crust of ice they have to step through. Even the dogs are not fans of it. In fact, I think that the snow is finally getting too deep for them, too!

Maggie out in the snow before the ice-crust formed. She loved it!

Luckily, our power and internet is holding out. With both of those, I am able to work from home and save my PTO for real needs. My H does the same thing on a regular basis, anyway. He is going to have to cancel a trip to visit a customer this week, but he can reschedule. Driving is treacherous. I grew up in northern states, so to me, driving on snow is no big deal. What I didn't take into consideration is that when you live in a place where snow is common, they have the insfrastructure in place to deal with it. Plows, sanders, people, etc. Here? Not so much. They local authorities are scrambling to take care of things and a lot of the plan to deal with it is just hoping for normal temps to return so that it melts!

We did buy chains last week, and I got to use them for the first time yesterday. Getting them on when the car was already sitting in a couple of inches of snow (some of it being well-packed) wasn't easy, but once they were on, they worked really well. We headed to the grocery store (about 8 miles from us) and got there safely enough. We also paid a visit to our local Ace hardware to pick up a few items for minor home repairs while we were out. While we were in the grocery store, the snow picked up. It was really, really coming down as we went to leave and getting home, even with chains and front-wheel drive was dicey. My poor southerner husband was terrified (I was driving, of course) but he hid it well for the most part.
We made it home with no issues...and we are happy that we don't have to go out again anytime soon.
Now, if UPS/FedEx and the USPS would get on the ball...we'd get the last of the Christmas presents we are waiting on!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chickens are a-laying

Free-range chickens lay eggs with dark yolks!

So as I mentioned last week, the chickens have started laying eggs for us. We are seeing a distinct pattern, too. So far, we are getting two white eggs and one brown egg each day. This means that since we only have two chickens who lay white eggs, they are laying an egg a day. This is pretty unusual for this time of year (dark days generally mean less eggs), but the white leghorns are supposed to be the most prolific layers of our group (the reason we got them) it does make sense. We are getting one brown egg a day, but we are fairly certain that they are not all coming from the same RIR. In fact, based on shell pattern, it's obvious that we have at least two different RIR's a-laying at the moment. It's possible that three of them are in the game since we do occasionally get two brown eggs in one day.

We know for certain that none of the 'easter egg' birds are laying yet. These are mixed breed birds with Americana/Arucana characteristics. They will lay blue-green eggs once they start laying, so we will know when they are of 'age'.

The roosters seemed to have calmed down a bit. There was quite a bit of agression from one of them right as the laying began, but they seemed to have either put their fighting on hold in the interest of staying warm, or the 'lesser' rooster has learned that he does not get to procreate (which used to piss off the head rooster and cause fights). It is supposed to warm back up to normal winter temps next week, so we'll keep an eye on them. I think we've decided to put the big guy into the pot...but we'll make the final decision when it's time to make the cut.

Funny thing happened last weekend when the chickens were free-ranging in the goat pen. We put them in with the goats so that we can go and do other things and not worry about them. It's possible they could still be taken by large birds of prey, but at least in the pen they are safe from our neighbor's dogs...which are definitely the most immediate threat. Anyway, when they are in the pen, they do not have access to their coop. We put their waterer in with them, but they forage for food and use the goat's play table for shelter when it rains. I was feeding some weeds to the goats and noticed that one of the white leghorn girls was pacing back and forth against the fence, closest to where the coop was located. She was clearly agitated! I called to my H to come and put her in the coop because I had a feeling that she had to lay an egg. Sure enough, as soon as he put her in there she ran into the coop and into a nesting box to lay! Poor thing, she was probably thinking "got an egg coming, gotta get to the an egg coming, gotta get to the coop!".

The weather has been so horrible since then that we haven't free-ranged them (no grass to find anyway!). If we can, I hope to let them out there this weekend. I plan to make a temporary nesting box for them out of an old kitty litter bucket that we can leave in the goat pen for 'free-range' days.

The coop as it looked this morning...looks like it's made out of gingerbread and icing!

Christmas on the homestead

Kitty in his new favorite resting spot - under our Christmas tree!

So, Christmas is just around the corner. This year, my H and I decided to scale back in a big way. We have decided to buy one gift for both of us (something we've both been wanting for awhile) and then put a strict spending limit on individual gifts for each other. We also got small gifts for each of our family members and will be including some home-made items with each package. We can't include everything that we'd like since all our family members live far away and we can't exactly mail goats milk butter or apple cider...but we are making due.

I'd really, really wanted to hand make all the gifts this year, but as usual, time ran out on me. I'm not going to share what my plans were though, since I know who is reading ths blog and some of those ideas will just be used for next year! We partly wanted to reduce our spending this year for financial reasons, partly for my continued desire to reject consumerism and partly from our efforts to be more earth friendly. Reusing things or giving edible items is a simple way of being more sustainable and reducing the impact on landfills.

Personally, I also think homemade things mean more, especially when they are from the heart.

For our main gift, my H and I hemmed and hawed a little about what to get. There are so many things that we still need, but in most cases, one of us wants (or will use) the item more than the other person. We wanted to come up with something that would benefit both of us equally. So, we finally decided on a greenhouse! We have ordered a greenhouse kit from an online dealer and we were hoping that it would ship to arrive before Christmas. Of course, with the weather the way it's's probably better that it's not here yet. With all the snow, artic temps, freezing rain and general winter mess, we wouldn't really be able to get it put up for awhile anyway. We ordered a 6x8 greenhouse that is modular in that we can buy expansions as we decide we need them. We figure that 6x8 is enough to get us started. We've also been paying close attention to the sunlight patterns on our property this winter (when the sun is out occasionally!) so that we can pick the best location. We've decided on a spot that gets the most winter sun, but that is also partway shaded in the summer time. The only downfall to this spot is its distance from the house and from our water supply. BUT, we do have a shallow well with a pump for our irrigation system (in the summer) and one of the spigots to it is right next to where the greenhouse will we are hoping we can rig something with that come the dry season. Until then, I hope to get a gutter and a barrel installed on it for rainwater collection.

This is a pic of the greenhouse from the site where we ordered it. I can't wait for it to get here!


Early morning snow on the homestead. Here you can see the coop with one rooster out looking for scratch. Behind the coop, you can see a big apple tree and a slightly smaller pear tree. On the far right, one row of blackberry brambles are visable.

So, aparently, snow is an oddity here. Actually, I guess we do get the occasional snow's the week long temps that won't break the freezing mark that has everyone baffled around here. Personally, I LOVE it! I was so afraid that our move to the PNW wouldn't afford me days like today - snow on the ground (that squeaks underfoot when you step on it), temps in the 20's and crystal clear sunlight. Ah...the beauty that is winter...

The view across the street as the sun was rising - and the iceslick that we call a road.

I could do without the 2 inch thick ice coating all the roadways though. It took me over an hour to drive the 19 miles to work today. And if you count the time it took to warm up the car and remove all the snow (our garage is not in use as a garage at the moment), then it probably would have been faster to bike here. Of course, that would probably mean certain death with the way people handle driving in this there really is no winning. Ah well, I made it here safe and sound eventually.

So this weekend, in anticipation of this cold snap, we took a few cold weather precautions. The first is that we installed the temporary floor in the chicken coop and sealed up all the cracks. I'd cut a floor out of heavy cardboard (gotta love those 'dish pack' boxes from the moving company!) a couple of weekends ago. I installed in on Saturday and covered it with pine shaving bedding. While I did that, my H used that expandable foam sealant to seal all the openings along the corners where the boards meet. These two tasks now ensure that our chicken coop is warm and comfy.
Snow just beginning to fall on Sunday morning. You can kind of see the foam sealant oozing out of the corners of the chicken coop.

In prep for the cold temps, we also fired up our oil furnace for the first time this year. We wanted to make sure that it was working properly before we actually needed it. The plan is to use it as a back-up only. We will still heat the house for comfort with the woodburning stove...the furnace is there to keep the pipes from freezing in the middle of the night. With normal PNW temps, this would not be a concern, but because the nighttime temps will be in the teens this week, the perimeter of our house (where one of our bathrooms is located) is subject to temps that are just too cold when the stove goes out. The thermostat is set to 55 F and is located in the center of the house. At 55F in the middle of the main room, the outlying walls will still remain above 32F - even in these cold evenings. We also made sure to stack the wood in the house high enough to last through the 'storm'. I also made a point of scouring the yard for all fallen branches and dumped them in a bucket in the garage - for kindling. I did it so that they would dry out - I didn't even think that I'd need to do that because they'd be covered with snow by Sunday night!

And so it begins...this was taken as I was milking the goats on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Eschewing consumerism

About 12 to 15 years ago, I was neck deep in a retail managment career. I kind of fell into that particular career path by accident. Wait a minute, let me step back futher.

As a child, I wanted to be a number of things. Doctor, vetrinarian, oceanographer, lawyer, etc. I ruled out oceanographer pretty quickly when I discovered my tendency to get motion sickness. The doctor/vet idea got thrown out when I dropped Chemistry my freshman year in college (don't ask). I kept lawyer in the back of my mind, (even taking quite a few criminology classes as part of my sociology BA), but never really pursued it. Somehow, I thought I'd follow in my father's footsteps and get an MBA. Toward that end, I entered the 'Executive Training Program' at Jordan Marsh after graduation. I worked as a department manager for Jordan Marsh. Then as an assistant buyer (in training) at Bradlees. Then I went back to store-line and worked as an assistant manager, then an associate store manager and then a store manager for Gap and then Old Navy. Then I left Gap, Inc. to work as a store manager for Polo Ralph Lauren. I ran one of their large volume factory stores for three years. I was located in the Poconos of Pennsylvania and this is where I first discovered my personnal disconnect.

Here I was, runing a large volume store in the midst of a complex of factory outlets. Consumerism at it's most glaring. I was afforded the ability to dress to the nines and to outfit my home in only the BEST. I was making good money and living where the cost of living was extremely low. I also got a 50% discount on everything I bought. I learned to appreciate amazing quality in my shoes, my clothing, my bedding, my china...yes, we even sold china. My wardrobe alone would have put some rich, prep school girls to shame. Two things were wrong with this...1) I didn't concern myself with credit card debt and 2) I didn't NEED all that stuff. I lived alone and yet I had a three bedroom apartment because it was so cheap. I drove an SUV...but to be fair, I lived on the top of a mountain and I actually did need that 4x4 more often than I like to remember! But, I was also surrounded by gorgeous land, many, many old homes...some of which were horse farms... I loved exploring the small historic towns, the rustic inns, and the out of the way antique shops. We did live in a 200 year old house when I was a child, so I thought all this nostalgia was for my own past...not for THE past. For some reason, I felt suspended between two worlds. I was living the 'glamorous' fashion life in the midst of country small town living. It was out of sync and I felt it from the start.

I immediately attributed my unhappiness to my lack of mate. I was in my late 20's and had no 'husband' prospects. I don't think my 'biological clock' was ever installed, but that doesn't mean that I didn't yearn for a partner. I also thought my feelings of discontent stemmed from my career choice. I knew I didn't want retail forever, but I didn't know what I did want outside of a fulfilling career that would still afford me the lifestyle I'd decided that I enjoyed. BUT, in retrospect, I can recall times where I was spending to feel better. I would buy nice things, and more nice things, and more nice things...because I'd feel a little better each time...but ultimately, it wasn't the answer. And yet I got great joy in strolling the grounds at this one inn I frequented. I used to want to peek in at the kitchens (it was also a restaurant) to see if they were cooking on old fashioned wood stoves! I was at peace when I got to spend nights there where there were no phones and no TV. I used to imagine what it would be like to run an inn like that myself. I ruled that out thinkng that I didn't have the right personality to do that...and of course, the idea of living that way, just to live that way never even crossed my mind.

What I only wish I'd realized was that I should have been looking for a fulfilling career - regardless of earning potential. But I couldn't. I was caught up in it. Caught up in the 'lifestyle'. Caught up in proving that I was as successful as my peers. Caught up in having nice things that would make me happy. Caught up in meeting the traditional markers of success and my need to live up to some imagined expectations.

Unfortunately, I stayed caught in this 'web' for many more years. I eventually moved to Florida, went back to school, got a new degree and a new career, met my husband, bought our first house, and so on. All this time...still caught up in this idea that I needed to prove my success at life by the things I possessed (how nice our house was, what I wore, what we drove, vacations we took, bikes we kept going). This web basically had a life of it's own and in a place of rampid consumerism like Pinellas County, Florida, it flourished unchecked.
Then we moved to NC...and all of a sudden could once again afford MORE. Cost of living was less, our earning was good and we'd made a nice profit on the sale of our house in Florida. We bought in a nice neighborhood, with a nice house, with a beautiful lawn. I had a nice car, nice clothing...and luckily, no credit card debt anymore. I had a great job, with a great company in my great new career. But my H wasn't happy there and neither of us really fit in...and again, something just wasn't right. I wasn't satisfied with my life but yet I didn't feel like I had any right to feel that way. I had everything, didn't I?

It wasn't until I was slapped in the face by the concept of Peak Oil that I began to wake up for real. This idea was the catalyst that set the ball in motion. The more I read, the more I realized that I finally had my REASON to do what I really, really wanted to do all along but just couldn't justify. I wanted to get out. I didn't want a big house. I didn't want a fast car (well, ok...I did want the car...selling my MINI just about killed me and if I still had it, it would be my one vice). I didn't want granite countertops, stainless appliances, and crown molding. And of course, I already knew that I didn't want 2.5 kids, the PTA and the volvo SUV.

So, here it is, just over a year later (I can't believe it's only been a year!) and we now have a small house, are working towards growing our own food, and are down to one car. I walk in chicken & goat shit every morning. I don't wear my engagement ring except for special occasions. My favorite piece of clothing is a toss up between a wool hoodie and a pair of long underware bottoms. Our house is a toasty 61F. I look forward to saving my money for things like solar panels and I can't wait to get started on building a composting toilet. Hell, I bought my 'farm' jacket (the one that is perpetually covered in mud) from Goodwill for pete's sake.

I'm a very, very LONG way from the girl who dressed in head to toe Ralph Lauren for her 5 year college reunion. And the part that is the most exciting? I'm truly happy. FINALLY.

So my point? Eschew consumerism. Don't buy into it. Be true to yourself - find what makes you happy and do it, now. Even if it means living in two worlds (like I am right now) for awhile as you get situated. It's worth every single drop of sweat. I swear it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Look, more eggs!!

Egg on left - store bought 'large' egg. Eggs to the right (l to r): 1st egg from a White Leghorn, 2nd egg from a White Leghorn (probably the same one), 1st egg from a Rhode Island Red.

Snowballs and the pantry

Big economic snowball headed our way - this one is being pushed along by bailout after bailout, too (I think I see seven 'bailouts' in this photo) ;-).

On Facebook, I likened what's happening in the economy as a big ass snowball, rolling down a massive hill, picking up size and speed as it heads right for us.... This came to mind this morning when I heard an interview on NPR about a guy who supplies clothing to department stores. He was saying that his company was barely hanging on by a thread (no pun intended) because all his major accounts (large department stores, mostly) had cancelled December orders. He said that he was doing everything he could to hold out (including laying off employees) until the new year when things would pick up. This got me thinking about my own company. I work in a group that handles products for network solutions (like laptops, WLAN basestations, etc). Our largest customer pushed out most of their 4th quarter orders. Everyone expected this, but what no one is talking about is how all the smaller customers are also pushing out orders. Yeah, 4th quarter is when everyone cuts back to make the budget for the year, but I think it's way more than that, this time around. I kept thinking: What happens in January when the orders don't renew? What happens when the department stores, or the network builders realize that they had a crappy 4th quarter and now they can't afford to get back into these businesses in the volumes they had planned? Then what? Yes...this snowballs...

Anyway, instead of letting the stress of this eat away at my ability to sleep (a common occurance for me), I'm going to get more proactive in my little way. How? Working on the pantry!

Our pantry (but not our food - this photo was from the listing for our home). It looks a little different now that we are filling it with the types of things we eat.

We haven't had time to get to the grocery store in a couple of days, so we are completely out of veggies. For dinner, I've been looking to our pantry (such as it is). Last night, we had pork steaks in a teriyaki marinade with fried rice and glazed carrots. The pork was in the freezer, the rice (from a box mix) was in the pantry as were the carrots (home canned). It turned out surprizingly well! Tonight, I'll be making a low fat 'cheeseburger' pie with a green salad (using up the last of the lettuce, spinach and tomatoes left in the house). Tomorrow, it'll likely be some other concoction using frozen meat, canned or frozen veggies and potatoes (which we have plenty of). It's kind of fun seeing what kind of dinners one can create using only what is in the house!

It'll be even more fun once the pantry is STOCKED the way I'd like. The past few days have made me realize that we need more veggies stored. To this end, I'm going to buy some bulk veggies this weekend and can some more. I'd also like to put together a small root cellar and store more things like potatoes, root veggies and winter squash. I know I'll be buying these items this year, but it'll be a good way to learn how a root cellar works in preparation for next year when I'll get to store things grown in our own garden. I also need to take a good inventory of what we have in the pantry already. The plan is to mount a white board near the door so that as we use something up, we can list it and get it replaced. Shopping for 'fresh' foods usually centers on fruits and veggies, milk, eggs and bread. My goal is to only need to buy fruits and veggies once every couple of weeks and to avoid having to buy milk (done), eggs (soon), and bread (time to start). Not only will this save money (buying in bulk and during sales), but it will save lots of time and heaven knows, we could all use a little more of that!

So the moral of the story? If you don't have a working pantry - start one, now. If your home doesn't have a dedicated pantry area, you can always convert a closet, the space under your stairs, or even the corner of a room (I know of one woman who bought a big old wardrobe at a yard sale and uses that for her pantry). Start with buying extra of the things you use all the time (or buy in bulk if you can). This is easy to do with things like canned goods, dry goods and paper products. From there, start thinking about assembling meals and what items you'll need to supplement what you've already got. This might mean being more efficient about how the freezer is utilized or trying some things like home canning or dehydrating. Keep in mind, there is no point to filling the back closet with wheat flour if you can't eat wheat. What I mean is, buy and store the things YOU eat. Not only will this eventually be a great money and time saver, this will also help you prepare for emergencies (power outages, natural disasters, etc).'s kind of fun seeing all that beautiful food (like canned cinnamon grape preserves or golden turkey stock) lining the shelves!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Our First Egg!!

Our first egg is the one on the bottom. The one on the top is a grocery store "large" egg for comparison.

I'm so excited! The roosters have been 'violating' the chickens for about a week and a half now, so we knew it must be close to laying time. In fact, today we had to separate the roosters for the first time because they were fighting so badly. We put the smaller one into the goat paddock for the day so that he could free-range. The others we left in the coop/run since it was rainy anyway. When my H went to put the rooster back in, he saw the egg sitting there in one of the nesting box! Thank goodness we got those boxes done last week! This is an egg from one of the two white leghorns. They are supposed to be the most prolific layers of the group, so it makes sense that they'd be the first to lay for us.

This was a busy weekend as usual. We did get the chicken coop waterproofed yesterday. It had been clear for a few days, so the coop was nice and dry and it was supposed to be sunny yesterday and warm enough (barely) to apply the water seal. By the time we'd put the chickens back in, it was dry enough that the fumes were mostly gone. Today, it rained and we could see the water beading up on the coop. Excellent!

We also skimmed more milk and ate the last of the carrots from our garden. And we tried one of the pints of canned carrots with our dinner one night...they were surprizingly good! Not mushy at all...which I was totally expecting. Next weekend I hope to can a batch of something else (I did no canning this weekend). We did get some big beef bones from our CSA, so maybe I'll use those to make some beef stock.

Today we managed to get in a 20 mile ride. It was pouring rain the whole time, but all of our gear served us well and we stayed dry and comfortable. I was actually kind of glad that I got a chance to test everything out (including my fenders) before I have to ride to work one day in the rain. We are both also working on getting back into shape, so a 20 mile ride was a nice workout towards that end.

Lastly, I managed to get the outside of our house decorated. I put up icicle lights hanging from the front porch overhang. Then we put rope lighting as an outline of our roofline. Lastly, I framed the front door with fake evergreen boughs laced with white lights. It all looks nice but isn't too much. I'm not a fan of house decorations that light up the night! Tonight we are putting up our tree. The ceilings in this house are 7ft. The tree is 7.5 ft. Somehow, we'll make it work!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rain and Sun in Oregon

The sun broke through and sent us a gorgeous, bright rainbow across our backyard!

More often than not, the weather can make or break my mood. This has always been the case for me, so I was fearful that moving to a place where it rained from October to June was going to do me in. So far, I've been wrong. Today is the first day of December, so now I can say that I have been in Oregon for every month of the year. I came here for my interview in January of 2008. We traveled here for a week in Feburary 2008 to look for a place to live. We moved here in March 2008 and have been here ever since. Up until today, December was the only month I hadn't yet experienced at all in Oregon. Now, I'm not clamining that one day in December, a weekend in January and a week in February is enough to determine how the long rainy winter will affect me...but it's a milestone, none-the-less!

Anyway, what I've come to realize is that while yes, it rains virtually daily in the winter, it's often not a long drawn out downpour. In fact, it's mostly just cloudy and drizzly with occasional breaks in the clouds...sometimes even lasting a whole afternoon (like yesterday). And then June/July hits and someone turns off the water. It didn't rain much at all in July or August of last year. In fact, it was very, dry and beautiful. Anyway, my point is that while it would be hard to plan a week of camping in these winter conditions, it's easy enough to get things done (when it's not dark!) and to work around the rain showers. So far, the minor sun breaks are enough to keep my spirts up. Rainbows help, in this regard, too. Let's see how I do with the rest of the winter!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Projects

We had a nice long list of projects to complete today, but to be reasonable, we prioritized them and expected that not everything would get done.

First order of business was to skim some more milk. We now do about 8 quarts at a time as I just don't have the storage containers for more than that. We moved the separator from the workbench in the basement up to the 'desk' in the kitchen. This made a HUGE difference in the 'dread factor' as the process is MUCH easier when it's in the kitchen and I won't be dreading the next batch when the time comes. Bascially, we have to warm the milk up to 100F. I do this while my H assembles the unit. Then while he's turning the crank, I pour 4 quarts of HOT water into the feed bowl. As H turns the crank, this water flows through the unit to heat up all the machinery.

Hot water running through the machine to warm it up for the skimming process.

Then, once all the water is out, I pour the warmed milk into the feed bowl. When the crank is turned at a consistant speed, we get cream out one spout and skimmed milk out the other. While this is going on, I have to keep track of how full each contatiner is getting so that we don't overflow anything. We end up with 2 half gallon ball jars of skimmed milk, one half gallon pitcher and a little more than a quart of milk to freeze. We also get about 2 cups of fresh cream. The last batch went towards making butter (which is delicious) and this batch will go towards making ice cream later this week.

Milk getting separated: skimmed milk on the right, cream on the left

We also had 'working on the chicken coop' on our list for today. While I cut a pattern for a light floor out of cardboard, my H began work on building nesting boxes. We have 12 chickens, so we need 3 boxes (4 per box). We suspended the boxes in the coop so that they were essentially using 'wasted' space. We are also going to put down a heavy duty cardboard floor next weekend. We are waiting because we are still 'collecting' the chicken poop for the garden. Once we move it off the garden, we'll install the floor and fill it with shavings. This will allow the coop to get a little warmer now that winter is moving in quickly. The floors will not be permanent, so come next spring, we can remove them and start the rotation around the yard once again.

Nesting boxes - filled with pine shavings and ready for eggs!

Lastly, I continued work on winterizing our row garden area. We've already covered the entire area with quite a bit of chicken poop by methodically moving the coop across it, one week at a time. Then we covered each poop-laden area with either soiled hay from the goat shed, or with leaves from the apple trees. Lastly, we are laying cardboard over everything. We figure that this will allow moisture to soak in, but it will retard the growth of grass and weeds. In the spring, we'll remove the cardboard and get to planting.

Row garden area: back left is covered with black plastic from last summer (to kill weeds), back right (near white posts) is garlic planted under pine straw mulch. The front left is where the coop was last - still needing straw or leaves before we cover with cardboard. Right front is the area that we covered today.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Pressure Canner

My new All-American pressure canner!

My new canner arrived the day before Thanksgiving. I managed to hold off on putting it into use right away by making myself read the entire user manual before I was allowed to use it. I'd bought a big bag of carrots at Costco earlier in the week, so I knew that was the first item I was going to work with.

I used the 'raw pack' method where I basically just packed raw carrots into the jars, poured boiling water over them, and then processed them in the canner. They look great...I have no idea yet how they taste, but I hope to try the first jar sometime this week.

There are now 9 pints of baby carrots sitting quietly in our pantry. The first home-canned vegetable to grace our shelves!

After we enjoyed our turkey on Thanksgiving, I decided that I wanted to use the carcass to make turkey stock. I found a recipe using the carcass after it was roasted further in a hot oven. I had my H chop it into manageable sized pieces, and then I roasted it until it was nice and browned. It then went into a pot with the drippings from the bird, carrots, celery, spices and water. After a few hours of boiling this, I strained out all the 'stuff' and then let the broth cool. Once the broth was cool, I skimmed off the fat and then prepared to can it. This involved simply bringing it back up to boiling and then ladeling it into quart jars. After processing it in the pressure canner, I now have 6 quarts of rich smelling turkey stock. I actually had about a pint of extra, so I have that in the fridge and I'll be using it to make rice later this week.

The roasted carcass turkey stock - canned and headed to storage.

I wanted to make a point of including something about this book, and this is as good a place as any. A few weeks ago, while I was in search of the Ball Blue Book of food preservation, I came across this book. I bought the Ball Blue Book used at Powell's for like $8, and this one was also there for only $5. This was a very, very good use of $5!! This book was published in 1981 and it is chock full of great ideas for food storage, pantry rotation, and recipes using those foods. If you can locate a copy (and keeping a working pantry is important to you), I'd highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Dinner for Two

We found our dinning room under a mound of boxes and promptly set a table for two.

My husband and I spent thanksgiving with just the two of us. My brother and his wife went on a cruise and my parents couldn't make the trip from Florida this year. We were invited to head down there, but with all the animals to care for, it really wasn't going to be practical. So, I reserved a free-range local turkey and planned on cooking dinner for the two of us.

I got up at a reasonable hour and began preparations. I had planned to cook our pumpkin pie using the two pumpkins that we got from our garden. I wasn't sure they'd be big enough (we planted late), so I had a can of pumpkin as a backup. Turns out, I did need I'm glad that I planned ahead. I then dressed up the turkey and stuffing and put it into the oven.

We spent some time outside. We free-ranged the chickens, fed the goats, took a few pictures and generally gave our thanks for the happy heathy animals that reside on our land.

Me with seven in my arms.

After a few hours doing a little cleaning around the house (including digging out the dinning room from under boxes and 'stuff'), we were ready to have our dinner. I served sweet potato souffle (using three different types of sweet potatoes), garlic butter french green beans, turkey, sage laced bread stuffing, cranberry jelly (in the shape of a can!) and parker house rolls with home canned blackberry jam. For desert we had pumpkin pie made from 2/3rds home-raised pumpkins. Everything turned out wonderful!

The 'bird' - roasted and ready!

We are both very thankful for the opportunies afforded us in life that allow us to build this homestead in this wonderful place where the only negative is that my family is so far away.

Maple - almost full-grown!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My apologies!

I've been back for a few days, but haven't had the brain power to update. I will post about the China trip (with pictures) in the next couple of days, but I need to get some of the photos from my boss's camera first. Until then, you'll have to be content with an update about life on the farm!

I actually got home on Thursday afternoon, but I had to work on Friday, so there isn't much to report about last week. Both goats and all the chickens are doing fine. Starting last weekend (while I was gone), my H started saving the milk once again. By the time I returned home, the fridge was full again! Good thing too...since we received our cream separator last week. That was Sunday's adventure.

But, first things first. On Saturday, we had a nice long to do list (as usual). We started with free-ranging the chickens. This allowed us to do some updating to the coop. We moved it to a new location. I cleaned out all the poop on the inside and raised the perches up a few inches (the birds are getting big!). My H set about enlarging their door. He made the opening wider and taller, and he redesigned the door so that it works better and is more secure than it was before. When we put the chickens back in the coop, we put Seven in there with them. After a few squabbles, they all settled down well enough. She's now been in there with them all for a few days, and everything seems to be fine. Phew! We were worried that we were going to have to find her a new home and since she's the only chicken who lets us pick her up, we didn't want to! It's funny to watch them use the new door...some of the chickens still squat down to go through it like they had to when it was small! I think that they'll eventually realize that squatting is no longer necessary! The next projects will be to weather-proof the outside and to add the nesting boxes.

We also cleaned out the goat shed. We used the soiled hay to cover the row garden area where the coop has already been. This way, the chicken poop and hay (and leaves, which we also added) can work into the soil and enrich it for next year. I then covered this area with cardboard and weighted it down with big rocks. I used cardboard to retard the growth of the weeds by not allowing them light. We think that cardboard is better than plastic in this application because it'll still let moisture to get into the soil. When it comes time to plant in the spring, we'll just remove the cardboard and we should have good rich soil in which to plant.

I spent a good part of the day working on the garden boxes as well. I weeded them all, cut off the dead plants, mulched the two plants that are still growing (cauliflower and swiss chard) and put the trellises away for the winter. Next weekend I'll mulch over the boxes to discourage weeds until spring. I also added a few more clips to the greenhouse to better secure it. My plan is to use some leftover hardware cloth to cover both of the open ends to discourage the cats from using it as a litter box. I found a few cat prints and a few little 'surprises' left for me from the week I was in China. I also caught our cat starting to use one of the other boxes while I was standing there, so I threw a clip at him. I doubt that will discourage him for long...but we'll figure something out come spring!

Cream separator in action (sort of). The near bowl holds the skimmed milk, the far one holds the cream. This shot was taken as we were winding down, so the milk/cream flow is low.

On Sunday we tried the cream separator for the first time. It's much heavier and 'beefier' than I thought it would be. We bought the hand-crank one sold at Hoegger Goat Supply and I think it was priced fairly. Apparently, milk should be goat temperature when you separate it, so while my H milked Sass that morning, I heated another 5 quarts on the stove (it holds 6 quarts) up to 100F. We ran 4 quarts of hot water through the separator to warm up all the parts. Then we ran the milk through it. It was definitely a team effort - while my H cranked it and tried to keep the rpm constant, I emptied the skimmed milk container into cleaned jars (spilling milk everywhere as you can see in the photo!). We skimmed all 6 quarts and got about 1.5 cups of cream. I then quickly chilled the skimmed milk back down (using an ice water bath) and my H put the cream into a jar in order to make butter. While I cleaned up, he shook the butter jar. After everything was washed (we ran another 4 quarts of hot water through the separator to flush it before washing all the parts), I joined him and we took turns shaking the jar. About an hour later, we had our first butter! My H removed the butter milk and rinsed the butter well. We later tasted it on fresh baked spicy gingerbread and it was very good!

And the best part? Skimmed milk!! I'm not a big fan of full fat milk. In fact, I can't even drink full fat cow's milk at all (without gagging). I've been able to adjust to the goat's milk which is lower in fat (about 3%), but even then, just drinking it was difficult and I could only really handle a small glass. The past two days, I've been using the skimmed milk (which I am going to guess is about a 1% level) and it's wonderful! I'd forgotten that I actually LIKE milk when it's not all thick and creamy. My cereal is better, my coffee is better...and drinking it out of a glass is truly enjoyable! Yay! As soon as this skimmed milk is used up, I'm going to suggest that we skim another 6 quarts from the milk in the freezer. Besides, I want to make more butter and eventually ICE CREAM with the skimmed cream. I think the biggest barrier to skimming a ton of milk at once is our lack of containers in which to put it. I need to make a plan so that next time, we can do more than just 6 quarts at once.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The greenhouse - such as it is

Our little 'greenhouse'

I'm almost embarassed to post this as it's so pathetically ugly...but whatever. We don't have a true greenhouse. I really should add it to my side bar (perhaps I will before anyone even reads this!), but our plans do include buying a kit and building one ourselves. It won't be big...we certainly don't need big. But it would be nice to have a real one with vents, and doors and such.

In the meantime, I wanted to try something so that we could see how growing in the winter would work in our climate. I got this idea from the Square Foot Gardening book and I modified it a little to suit my needs. This is one of our garden boxes with a temporary greenhouse installed over it. I made sure that both ends opened so that I could reach all the plants easily enough.

The inside where you can see the duct tape, the top bar and how the ends go into the soil.

This is how it went:

1) remove all dead debris from boxes (including acorns...where did they come from??)
2) bend 2 10ft 1/2 inch PVC pipes in arches over the ends and stick them in the dirt
3) cut a 4 ft piece of pipe to be the top crossbar for stability and screw it in place
4) cover the ends with 3mil plastic, securing it with duct tape to avoid cutting/tearing it
5) cover the rest of it with the same plastic and secure the base with 4ft leftover 'grid' boards and nails
6) spend a week trying to decide how to best secure the top plastic to the end pieces
7) find plastic spring loaded clamps at ACE and use those to secure the plastic in place
8) mix compost into each square prior to planting to add more nutrients
9) plant!

Here it is all closed up. You can see the plastic clamps holding the plastic to the pipe.

We have mostly leafy greens planted. I did add a couple of onions, leeks, and one broccoli plant, but I have no illusions that those will actually work with our temps the way they are now. It does get to 60 during the day still, but with not much sun, I think the soil is too cold to sprout most things. Hopefully the lettuces, spinach, kale and chard will work, though. Again, late planting...I need to break this lousy habit!

I got word this evening that my visa was approved and that my passport is on its way back to me right now. I should receive it tomorrow which means that I am all set to depart for China on Saturday. I'll be vising Dongguan and Zhongshan, neither of which are tourist destinations. That's probably a good thing since I'll barely have any time outside of when I'm working to see anything anyway. I am flying into Hong Kong and supposedly staying at a really nice hotel, but I'll only be there for one night and probably won't get to see too much. It's an awful long way to go for 3 days. If I had my way, we'd not be wasting the money, the time or the crazy amounts of fuel to go there just to schmooze (essentially). But, when it's important to my has to be important to me.

I may or may not have internet access - so this may be my last post for awhile. I return next Thursday and once I've recovered from what is sure to be severe jet lag, I'll be back to posting. Until then "Zai Jain"!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Another busy weekend!

Roasted veggies - half from our garden, half from the organic grocery

Another busy weekend under the belt!

This weekend I wanted to remain as on top of things as I could be. This is mostly due to the fact that this will be my last weekend open to do things for a few weeks. Next Saturday morning, I leave for China, for a week, so anything that was falling behind on the schedule needed to be addressed right away.

The first thing on this list was to put up the gutter that has been down since we had the work done on the front entryway. Without it up there, rain water comes down the roof and dumps in the mud to the left of the door. We were afraid that if this continues, it would eventually soak into the basement! So, we got that up this weekend and we changed the flow direction so that it empties to the side of the house were eventually a rain barrel will go.

I had to make a crisp to take to dinner with friends on Saturday night. I wanted to make something I'd made before, but I didn't have time this past week to try out something new. I had a recipe for an apple-blackberry crisp, so I thought I'd give it a shot. One ingredient appeared to be missing and the topping was only flour and I tend to like ones with oatmeal in them. So I made the exective decision to experiment even though it was for 'company'. I went with the filling from one recipe and the topping from another (cutting out a little of the sugar) and luckily, it was delicious! I'll definitely be making that one again - particularly when the occasion calls for guests!

The evening out was really fun. Good food, good company, good conversations...and a nice break from 'farm life' for a few hours. It was well needed. Sunday was one of our busiest days yet, so having a 'civilized' break on Saturday night was well timed.

On Sunday, we had to clean out and move the chicken coop. That happened during breaks in the rain. We moved the coop to it's next location in the row garden area. This spot was FULL of weeds and grass for the chickens to devour, so I think it's a good spot from their perspective! My H also cleaned out the goat's shed. He pulled out all the 'soiled' hay and we spread it over the row garden covering the spots were the coop has already been. He then filled the back corner of the shed with pine shavings instead of hay this time. It's good for smell (smells fresher longer), but unfortunately, bad for Buddy! The pine shavings stick to his fleece, so this morning he looked like a snowball! Live and learn. Next time, we'll try putting down the pine shavings and then covering it with clean hay in the hopes that we'll get the benefits of both beddings.

I planted the garlic finally this weekend. I wanted to do it a couple of weeks ago, but things got in the way. The advantage to waiting was that the ground was very wet, so it was relatively easy to hoe up all the weeds in the area I wanted to use. I made an area that is about 6ft by 5 ft, marked it with white fence posts (from the old electric fence), planted 9 rows of 3 types of garlic and then mulched it with about 6 inches of pine needle straw. I'm excited, because I've never grown garlic before! I picked the spot I did because it's the one corner of the row garden that neither of the sprinkers will reach. This way, if we have to water the rest of the garden after June 1st when the garlic is supposed to remain dry, we can without worry.

Then I set about building a mini greenhouse out of one of our 4x4 square foot gardening boxes. I picked the one that had no trellis on it already, installed two 10 ft 1/2 inch pvc pipes in an arch at each end and then covered it all with 3mil plastic. I cleaned up the soil prior to doing this, so planting should be quick and easy. I do still need to locate some type of clip to hold the plastic in place in a couple of spots, but once I do, I'll take photos. I think it'll work really well in our temperate winter weather. I'm not sure it would be very effective in places were it gets really cold except as a way to get seeds started once spring comes around.

By this point, I was wet (it was raining off and on) and covered in mud. I went inside, threw my muddy stuff in the wash, and set about doing my kitchen tasks for the weekend. I re-made the cinnamon grape preserves. When I did, I ended up with an extra half pint of preserves that wouldn't fit in my waterbath canner, so that jar is in the fridge awaiting my first taste test. The other 7 pints are happily resting on the counter. The best part is that it gelled this time!! Yipee!! And look at what a pretty color it is:

Cinnamon Grape Preserves - take two!

Then I washed out the pot and started making chili. I made a double recipe so that we'll have plenty to freeze for those nights that cooking is just not in the cards. Then I started on dinner. I'd bought a free-range organic fryer chicken at the local 'foodie' grocery store, so we decided to have that on our vertical roaster. It's a roasting pan like this:

Vertical roaster - great for chicken!

I did the chicken with a citrus rosemary grey salt rub, and the veggies with the same. I roasted small potatoes from our garden along with two different types of carrots (pictured in my title banner). To that I added parsnips, rutabaga, purple potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes from the organic grocery. Everything turned out beautiful (see photo above) and was awesomely delicious except for the rutabaga. We were not impressed. I still have one more, so I'm going to try cooking it a different way next time.

Sunday night after my H milked Sass, we administered the dewormer to both goats. While Sass was on the milking stand finishing her grain, we did Buddy's. I held him while H gave him the injection. Immediately after we did, he started screaming and rolling on the ground! We both freaked out a little and thought that maybe we'd done something wrong. Within a few seconds, he'd calmed down. Then my H remembered that the vet had said it would burn a little. Buddy is pretty much a pain wimp, so in retrospect, his reaction was normal for him. Then we did Sass's and she did not like it, either. She didn't flip out quite like Buddy did, but she clearly was not enjoying the sensation. I felt so awful! I hate inflicting pain on them!! I'm SOOO glad that I'd already ordered the hermal dewormer for them. It's supposedly pleasant tasting and it definitely won't cause any pain. That should arrive this week, so we won't have to do this injection for them again.

Lastly, we had an unexpected task to complete on Sunday. While I was out in the garden most of the afternoon, Sass was very vocal. That's unusual for her - but she was bleating away, very loudly. That's a common sign of estrus for goats...just one we've not noticed from her in the past. We also discovered that she was very affectionate to us (prior to the dewormer incident!), so we had a feeling that her last encounter had not impregnated her as we had hoped. H called the buck's owner and we arranged to bring her over there late Sunday afternoon. When we put them in together, it was totally different from last time. She did not play hard to get and we watched the deed at least three times before she indicated that it was time to go. We have no doubt that she is impregnated this time and that last time was clearly not the full act. Oreo (the buck) was not quite as 'cute' as he was the last time we saw him after a month of making himself 'presentable' to the does. Bucks actually pee on their beards and face during the breeding season making them extra gross and stinky. Last time, I think it was early enough in the season that Oreo wasn't all grossed up completely yet. This time, we could smell him when we got out of our truck! We both agreed on the trip back home that our property is not big enough to house a buck during mating season unless we want to live with that smell in everything! Ick! Anyway, we are now 100% conviced that Sass has been impregnanted and that we'll have kids the first week of April. :-)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday updates

Canned apple pie filing heated up and served over pancakes - YUM!

I don't have anything earth shattering to share, but I thought I'd throw a few updates out.

First of all, Sasafras is doing much better. She is back to eating her full amount and her milk production seems to be back to normal levels (which means she's well hydrated again). We are still milking her, but we are throwing out the milk. Right now, the milk is sort of yellow due to one of her medications. Tomorrow she gets her last penicillin injection, so we figure we'll wait at least a week after that before we start drinking it again. Lastly, I think I'm going to give her the de-wormer injection tomorrow as well, so that gives us until next Saturday before we should start drinking the milk again. Not having new milk coming in is actually a good thing as it's allowing us to catch up on the back log in the fridge! I also discovered that getting goat medication on your hands is something to avoid at all costs. I spilled a little on myself last night and my hands STILL stink. I've washed the hell out of them in the past 12 hours, too! Ick!

The weekend to do list:

pick up CSA share of beef & pork
make apple blackberry crisp
reprocess grape jam
can apples and apple pie filling
clean out goat shed
enlarge chicken door
start work on chicken run
make soap and/or cheese

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Where the buffalo roam

Our tiny plot of land is essentially a square. It was once part of the playground of an old school. After the school was closed (in the late 50s), the land was divided into three lots. The lot we have is the middle one. The one to our north is our neighbors' lot where they have a house similiar in age and style to ours. The lot to our south is about half the size of ours and still houses the original school house. We are bounded on one side by the road on which we live. The last side (the back) is backed up against a much larger plot of land. This land actually surrounds all of the land that originally belonged to the school house. The owners of this land use it to house a herd of buffalo (American Bison, to be exact).

The first time we saw the bison, they freaked out our goats. Now our dogs continue to bark at them in the early morning, but somehow learn to live with them as the day wears on. My H has taken up feeding them apples. He will fill a plastic bin with the windfall apples and toss them to whichever bison feel brave enough to approach.

There was always one bison who kept apart from the rest of the herd. It was a big one, and clearly had been around for awhile. This bison had an injured leg (slight limp) and horns that looked like they'd seen some fighting. We made the assumption that this was an older male bison who was no longer (or maybe never was) the dominant one of the herd. It was a bit thinner than many of it's herdmates, but we figured that was due to age. This bison had a strong affection for apples and would come right up to my husband to get them. Eventually, it got to the point where it would take them from his hand. Last weekend, it took one from my hand! We even got to see this bison nose to nose with one of our dogs - with no aggression or fear from either party.

This particular bison got used to hanging around. On Sunday, it brought a friend with it on it's visit. H fed them both apples but the 'friend' was obviously wary. He dumped a pile of apples there so that they could eat them while we contintued with the apple picking. Next thing we know, our dogs are barking like crazy. A truck had pulled up to the fence (from the buffalo field). It was the owner of the herd and he came looking for this lone bison. He was wondering why she kept hanging around down here and he needed her up at the main barn. Yes, you read that right...this huge bison is a SHE! And apparently, her companion was following her around because he thought she was 'available'. Our neighbor 'herded' the bison across the field and over the hill with his truck.

About 20 minutes later, he came back. He wanted to appologize for being short and to introduce himself. We all chatted for about an hour. He apparently lives down the road a ways, but owns the land that surrounds us. He uses the original barn on the property, but the tiny house remains vacant. He sells his bison meat through a CSA - so we got his card and we hope to sign up for a share next year. The reason he came looking for that bison and had to get her up at the barn? She was due for slaughtering on Monday. Turns out that she was more than 23 years old and was having a hard time keeping on the weight. She'd lived a full life and he felt it was time for a culling before she froze to death this winter or something. We were feeling a bit guilty for feeding apples to someone else's buffalo, but after hearing that, I was glad that we did. She deserved to spend her last day in the warm sun enjoying an endless supply of apples!

On Tuesday morning while I was milking the goats, I saw the bison heard come running over the hill and into the field behind us again. It was a smaller herd...but such is the circle of life.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Making apple cider

Lady apple tree - this is the tree before we started picking the apples.
Over the weekend, we picked over 300 lbs of apples. I know it was this much, because I weighed just one of the many boxes we picked and it was over 55 lbs. We picked six of these for apple cider and a few more smaller boxes for eating, storage, giving away and baking.

Red delicious on the tree

On Monday, I left work early to pick up the rented cider mill/press at a home brew supply store on the other side of Portland. The press is clearly homemade by someone, and it's got a mill on one side of the frame (where the apples get pulverized) and a press on the other side of the frame. It came with two 'barrels' so that we could be milling and pressing at the same time.

Set up to start milling (the second barrel was sitting to the side)

Apples being washed

We started by washing all the apples. We had 4 varieties that were going to go into this cider, so I tried to make sure that each batch had some of each. This turned out to be more important than I had originally thought because as it turns out, a variety of apple sizes in each load helped keep the mill working smoothly (I faced a few jams prior to figuring this out).

The hopper loaded up - this did not work, apples had to be fed in a group of 3-4 with only one going in at a time or the mill would jam.

Basically, I was feeding the mill and my H was doing the pressing. He also washed the apples, ran the used pulp to the compost pile and filled the containers (using a strainer) with cider in between pressing loads. It took a lot longer to mill one barrel worth of apples than it did to press it, so his undying movement kept the process running smoothly. The mill had a wooden box with a round hole cut in the top that fit over the top of the hopper. My original plan was to skip this box so that I could put the apples in faster than just one at a time. Yeah, not gonna happen. This mill spit apple guts EVERYWHERE! Seriously! Without that box, I would have been inches thick in apple guts. As it was, I had it in my hair, on my face, and all down my legs below my knees (where the bottom of the mill was). As you can see from the pictures, we also had apple guts all over the porch, the boxes, the press itself...we even saw a few pieces fly up onto the roof! What a mess!

Me - feeding apples into the hopper.

Apple cider flowing from the press - note the apple guts everywhere!

My H working the press.

Once we'd done this for about 2 hours, we took a break to warm up and get something to eat. We resumed work not long after and set a goal of getting all the apples done. We filled up a 5 gallon container we'd bought specifically for this, a 1 gallon plastic jug, 3 half gallon ball jars, and half a cooler. The plan was to use all the cider in the cooler to fill freezer bags to save for long term. Fresh un-pasturized cider will keep for about a year if frozen. It will keep in the fridge for about a week before it starts to ferment. Our plan is to keep some frozen, give some away, drink a ton and ferment a container or two. All in all, we got more than 11 gallons of cider from our 300 + lbs of apples.

The last little oddity about this event is our hands...mine in particular. They are stained! When I first noticed it, my hands were kind of red, but I assumed it was mostly from being wet and cold. Then, after I washed them (and warmed up), I noticed that they were kind of a light brown. By the end of the evening (after showering and scrubbing), they were darker brown! Even today, two days later, they are still discolored - my hands look like they are dirty. Weird, huh? So if anyone is thinking of making their own cider - I would recommend wearing gloves of some sort!

It's not as obvious in this photo - but my hands (particularly my fingers) are stained from the apples!

Oh...and I should mention that the cider is absolutely delicious!!

Finished cider in a ball jar.