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.

Playing doctor is not as fun as I thought!

Sasafras and Buddy using the fence as a step stool before the 'apple incident'.

Before I get into this, let me start by saying that I really appreciate all the support from everyone. Sass is doing better. She greeted me at the gate this morning, ate some grains/ration (for the first time) and generally appears to be on the mend. She did NOT want to get on the milking stand, but after last night, who can blame her?

Let me back up a bit. When my H brought Sass home from the vet, he brought with him a big bag of medicine. He said that he learned how to give her injections and that we'd have to do it quite a bit over the next few days. I was hesitant since I didn't get a lesson on how to do it, so I was content with letting him be the goat doctor. Well... what I hadn't realized was that he had to travel for work on Wednesday (today) and wouldn't be home until late. I had to learn how to do this, STAT.

So last night, after we made a run to the grocery store, I started sifting through all the meds. Between the invoice from the vet and the labels on the bottles, I was able to make out everything. I did a little research and figured out what each item did. I was also able to set up a mental schedule for us...which meant that we had to give shots immediately. So we collect all the supplies (good thing for big pockets on my 'farm' coat!), grab the lantern, and head out to see Sass. She has an idea that something is going on and does her best to avoid us. H manages to get her on the milking stand and gives her a little grain (which she proceeds to ignore). Then we start with the SC (subcutaneous: under the skin) fluids. This is a bag of saline that we administer to her by injecting it slowly under the skin on her shoulder. First we do 2 ml on one side and then 2 ml on the other side. It was slow going: H holding in the needle and trying to hold Sass steady while I kept the bag elevated and made sure it flowed. Once that was done, we gave her one more shot in the shoulder/neck area under the skin and then we gave her 5 cc's of Probios (to help equalize her rumen) in her mouth. She had less issues with the needles in her skin than she did with the syringe in her mouth...even though it supposedly tastes good! I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to do this alone, but I'll figure it out.

Then we let her down and made sure she had fresh water. She didn't seem to worse for the wear after this, but I was tired. Unfortunately, I spent most of the night tossing and turning and imagining that we did that all wrong and that she was either in horrendous pain all night, or that she'd die on us! It was awful (for me). Luckily, it was all my stupid vivid imagination!

Tonight after work, I'll have to give her two shots and some more Probios. I think we can skip the SC fluids since she seems to be drinking water just fine now.

In our little medical bag of goodies, we also got dewormer injections for both goats. We are going to hold off on that until we are sure Sassy is back up to speed. I don't think she needs even more things for her body to worry about right now. We will treat them both at the same time, and then start them both on an herbal de-worming program that is safe to use on pregnant goats but that the worms will not develop a resistance to (like they can with orthodox ones). We did make sure that this injection we got from the vet is safe for pregnant goats, too.

My H and I are both feeling pretty guilty about this whole thing. I knew about bloat and I knew that too many apples could cause it in horses and that it can be life-threatening. I also knew that it is important to keep a goat's rumen in balance. BUT, I thought that goats were supposed to be able to do this on their own. I didn't know they could over-eat something like apples! We obviously still have a lot to learn when it comes to raising livestock. Hopefully Sass, Buddy and all the chickens will survive the learning curve!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's been a busy 24 hours...

So we self-diagnosed Sass's illness as bloat and began treating it as such. I had already put in for a half day yesterday because we reserved an apple cider mill/press for the second half of the day. I left at noon, went to pick it up on the other side of Portland, stopped to get bloat medication at the farm store on my way home and get home around 2:30. Sass is still no better but she is walking around and severe bloat will leave the animal unable to walk. We administer the new meds and it doesn't help. I get out my phone and start calling around until I find a vet that treats goats. The vet is 30 min from us and is closing in 30 min. The doc agrees to stick around and we get Sass into the truck and my H takes her down there.

Meanwhile, I lug the apple press onto the back deck and set about washing the 300 lbs of apples we had picked over the weekend. Then I find out that the mill part of the press isn't working. I call the store and they are of no help. They offer to fix it when I bring it back and not charge me, but the next day that it's available is after I'm already in China (and our apples would never make it that long). I'm PISSED. I call my mom to bitch and I can barely hear her because Buddy (the other goat) is crying at the top of his lungs. He's been doing this constantly since we took Sass away. He hates to be alone! Anyway, while I'm bitching to my mom that all our apple-picking work this weekend was going to go to waste, my H calls from the vet. Sass doesn't have bloat, she's got a rumen imbalance (I forget the technical name) and is severely dehydrated - 70% chance she'll live. They are giving her all kinds of treatments (well, making Rick do a lot of it so he'll learn) and she's being a trooper.

He gets home with her around 6 pm. We put Sass back in with Buddy and look over the huge BAG of medication we have to administer over the next few days. $178 later - she *might* survive. And hell, we only paid $100 for her! Not that it matters - she is our responsiblity now, and we will do what we can to both ease her suffering and to save her. Oh, and the vet said that it's highly likely that she is pregnant, too.

So now my H takes a look at the cider mill, tightens one screw, and it's good to go! (can you read the frustration in my words at the time I've now wasted?) We start processing apples (I'll explain in a separate post) and about 2 hours later, take a break for dinner. We have a quick dinner of leftovers and then get back to work. By 9:30, we've done all the apples and we are both frozen solid. The mill spits apple guts EVERYWHERE, and I'm covered with it. My H is frozen from washing the batches of apples in ice cold hose water. We are both soaking wet, too (him with water, me with apple juice). We washed everything off, and put the cider inside. Now I'm standing in the laundry room, covered with apple, so I strip off my clothes and throw them in the washer so as not to trapse apples through the house.

I take a quick shower and crawl into bed.

This morning, my alarm doesn't go off. I awake to my H's alarm set for 7 am (a full hour and 15 min later than my alarm was set for!). I get up and immediately start calculating what things I can do and what I have to skip because the plan was to leave the house by 7:30 am to get into Portland by 8:30 to return the mill/press and get back to work by 9:30. Anyway, I'm getting things set for milking in the kitchen when I decide to throw the items in the washer into the dryer. Oh look...there's my cell phone! It had been in my back pocket because of the goat situation and it went into the washer when I was covered with apples. Great.

I go out to milk Sass and she appears to be a little better. She's munching on some hay and she greeted me. She didn't want to get on the milking stand, but I'm sure that was because we'd used it to administer therabloat yesterday and she was not a fan of that. I got her up there and while she didn't want any of the goat chow, she did stand still so that I could milk her. We got very little milk and it was kind of yellow in color. I dumped it (we had planned on that) but we wanted to keep milking her so that she was comfortable.

We load the apple mill/press into the car, I get dressed and I head to Portland only a half hour behind schedule. I actually ended up making it to work by 10 am and luckily I didn't miss anything. I couldn't even call my boss to tell him I'd be late because I have no phone! I'll have to run by the shop on my lunch break to see if they offer any warranties for idiots like me.

Anyway, Sass is doing a little better. My H is home with her again today, so he'll give her today's medications. Tomorrow, I'll have to do it because he'll be traveling for work, but we are hopeful that she'll be ok. Phew.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Craziness reigns supreme again

What madness my life has become...
I was super busy all last week and never got time to post here. I had a mini-breakdown on Wednesday night (freaking out about everything I had to do) but then got busy and made Cinnamon Grape Preserves that evening. They turned out tasty and beautiful, but they did not gel properly. Ugh. I do have directions for fixing I'll give that a shot later this week.

On Thursday, I did exactly nothing towards our 'farm life' outside of normal chores and doing some reading. We went out for sushi and just relaxed a bit. It was nice to forget that we've got new responsibilities for a little while. While we were at home watching the World Series, I did some reading about building farm structures, composting and wine making.

By Friday, we were prepping for the weekend again. On Saturday we were up eary to run some errands before picking up our local pork/beef CSA share. Turns out, they had to cancel the pick-up but we didn't know about it because I didn't have email access on Friday night. Bummer. We were able to pick up a few supplies though. We needed some pieces to reinstall the front gutter after the construction work and we needed some type of container in which to put our apple cider when we make it. We spent the afternoon free ranging the chickens, spending some time with the goats, harvesting the last of the carrots (the parsnips were planted too late and didn't develop), cleaning out the chicken coop and moving it and various other little tasks.

Sunday was apple day. We spent the entire day picking and sorting apples. We picked over 300 lbs of apples - most for cider but some for storage and cooking. As it turns out, one of the varieties on our property is a very old heritage strain. It's called a Lady apple and it's apparently one of the oldest apple varieties in the US. It's also a good keeper, so we set aside a box of these for storage. They are small, sweet apples, and Sassy's favorite. In fact, as we were picking, we let Sass and Buddy out to munch on the ones we dropped. Turns out, that was a bad idea, but I'll get to that in a minute. We also picked a couple of boxes of red delicious, a box of the tiny apple and a box of a late variety that I have not used for anything just yet. There were TONS of this particular apples, so after we do the cider, I'm going to can a bunch of these. I will be picking up the cider mill/press in about a hour and then we'll set to work with it this afternoon. I wasn't sure how much cider we will get from the apples we picked, but after we had picked them, I went online and did a little research. My calculations (totally an estimate because type of apple, temperature, type of press, season, etc all affect juice quanitity) tell me that the 300 lbs we have will give us about 25 gallons of cider. OOPS. I had no idea we'd get so much!! We do NOT have containers for 25 gallons...not by a long shot! This should be an interesting evening.

Anyway, this morning when I went to milk Sass, she was acting odd. She did not greet me at the gate like usual. She was standing still with her head down, clearly not feeling well. I tried to see if she'd respond to me at all, and she kept walking away from me. I decided that I had to at least get the milk out of her, so I led her onto the stand and while she burped and refused food, I quickly milked her. I heard no activity from her rumen (usually she gurgles about once a minute or so). Her milk production was way down, too. I gave her fresh water and went in to find my H. I explained her symptoms to him, got ready for work and headed out. He was working from home today and was going to check on her. After a little research, we are certain that she has bloat. Too many apples and now her rumen is off! We think it's still a mild case, so he started with walking her around, massaging her stomach, and helping her burp. He's also given her a mixture of karo syrup and corn oil to help her better release the gas. When I go pick up the cider press, I'm stopping at the farm store to buy a horse syringe and some medication. Poor Sasafras! I feel so badly, for her...she's obviously miserable and if we can't help her release the built up gas, it could kill her. I don't think she's that bad yet though.

I'll post an update later this evening or tomorrow (hopefully with good news). Think good thoughts for our sweet Sass, will you?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

We gave the dogs baths on Sunday night. Charlie usually gets cold, so he wanted to lie on the moving blanket. We tossed the top of the blanket over him to keep him warm and next thing we know, Kitty had made himself at home on top of Charlie!

Yesterday was a day of good things happening.

First of all, our lye arrived. I ordered 4 lbs of NaOH (lye) to use to make goat's milk soap from a farm/distributor in Arizona. It arrived yesterday, so I'm excited to add soap making to our list of accomplishments sometime in the near future. My H also ordered some from a CA place, and that should arrive later this week as well.

Secondly, yesterday was the day that Sassafras should have been showing signs of estrus. Not only did her milk production not dip like it usually does during this time, but she wasn't acting in her usual way. I think we may have a pregnant goat on our hands! I'm going to keep track and watch her for one more cycle, just to be sure...but we may be expecting baby goats next March. Awwww!

Thirdly, I have secured an apple cider mill/press for us!! I called a local home brewery/winemaking supply place and they have a press that they rent out. They only have one, so it's usually very, very booked up this time of year. I got lucky and managed to get it for next Monday. It's only $20 for the day, and we should be able to press all our left over apples in no time! All we have to do now is 1) pick them all this weekend and 2) locate containers to put it all in...

Lastly, I prepped a meal for tonight that is one step closer to being a 100 ft meal. It's actually about a 50 mile meal. I am making a baked pork with apple raisin stuffing dish. The pork grew up (fed on organic grass) about 10 miles from us. The apples and raisins are from our yard. The bread was from a stuffing mix from Bob's Red Mill which is local to the Portland area. The only thing that isn't local is the beef broth - and I used only a half cup of it's not too bad. I'll be serving it with zucchini from our garden. Hopefully, it'll taste as good as it sounds when I read the recipe!!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The chicks are becoming chickens!

This is Joe - one of our two roosters. We believe that Joe is the less dominant one, but so far, we have not witnessed any fights.

Every weekend we take at least one day (if not both) to herd the chickens into the fenced goat area so that they can free range. They love to peck around in the goat shed (presumably eating bugs?) and they seem to love running to perhaps stretch their legs.

The goats don't pay them much mind, though we have caught Buddy occasionally runing into a group of them just to see them scatter. If goats could laugh, I'm sure he's doing so!

Yesterday we ushered the chickens into the goat area. We basically just open the coop and follow them as they head for the gate. In the begining, it wasn't so simple. It involved a lot of chasing of chickens while in my head I had thoughts of some common phrase about the wisdom of hearding cats. Chickens aren't much better! Eventually, they got the hang of it so that now, one person can pretty much get them to go where they need to go. While they are in there, we take the opportunity to move the coop and to fill both the water and food containers. We've noticed how lush and green the grass is growing in areas where the coop was housed. We've put together a plan to use the chicken coop to fertilize our row garden area this fall. Once we get the whole area essentially covered with chicken poop, we will throw some leaf mulch over it and cover it with cardboard or plastic for the winter. In the spring, we'll lift off the cover and plant in our nitrogen rich soil!

Yesterday, I was able to snap a few photos - they are getting close to being full grown though I expect that they'll fill out some still. I think we have happy and healthy chickens.

This is Seven. She is growing tail feathers and will likely be joining the flock again as soon as I can build the extension to their coop.

This is Maple - still the smallest but definitely growing!

Two Rhode Island Reds - not sure of their names... I only recognize Seven and Atilla and these are neither of them!

Rhode Island Red and a White Leghorn - the leghorn could be Bonny, but Bonny happens to look just like her sister and again, we can't tell them apart!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Quick weekend recap

Grapes, grapes and more grapes!

While I had to put off a few things on my list, I'm pleased with what we accomplished this weekend.

We completed quite a bit of painting. We now have the front, both sides and half the back painted. There is still quite a bit of trim that still needs to be done on one of the sides and on the back, but I'm feeling like we are making good progress. We have not done the back part that surrounds the deck, but we feel like we need to do that with paint brushes. I think we may get sun next weekend, so we may still get this task done this year! We have decided to put off painting the deck. It's butt ugly dark teal, but it's winter rain won't damage it. It can wait until next summer.

We purchased a chest freezer!! I'm so excited. We decided to put it in the basement instead of in the laundry room, so it's not as convenient as it could be, but that's ok. I think I'd rather have the extra room in the laundry room anyway. We went with a 7.2 cu ft freezer - we were originally going to get the smaller one, but if we end up raising our own chickens for meat next year, we'll need the extra space. We just got it downstairs this evening. so tomorrow morning (once it's cold), I'll get to move some milk and meat down there. Yay!

We trimmed the goats hooves. That was an adventure! First we had to level the goat's shed, so while I watched the level, my H jacked it up. When we got it level, he propped it up. Then we decided that since we were both right there, we'd try the hoof thing. We started with Buddy since we thought he'd be the most difficult one. He wasn't loving it, but it wasn't too bad. He did cry out a few times when he was getting frustrated (it took us awhile), but there was no pain for any of us. Buddy did pee on my H though! I did Buddy's hooves first, and it was hard because he's so small. I should have started with Sass. Anyway, once I figured out what was what, it wasn't too bad. My H had to take over for me at one point because I was having trouble clipping and Buddy was getting restless. He actually did better with me holding him and H working on his hooves. Then we did Sass and that was harder. She is much stronger and she doesn't like her feet messed with! Her feet weren't as over grown it was quicker overall. I'm so proud of us! Both goats are now happily groomed. ;-)

On Saturday we went to an apple tasting at the Portland Nursery. I'll write more about the apples later, but the event was neat. We met some friends there and had a nice time. My H tried apple cider fo the first time in his life (I was stunned!) and he really liked it. We asked about renting a press and the guy wasn't much help. I'll keep looking though! Afterward, we went to a local brew pub and had the worlds most garlicky hummus and some hard pear cider. It was interesting, but not something we'd want to drink a lot of... It was fun to hang out's not something we do enough on the weekends and it helped us feel a little more "normal".

Lastly, we got up close and personal with a mass quantity of grapes. Many of the grapes we had picked last week were spoiling, so we had to use them up pronto. We destemmed the entire lot, separated 16 cups for a recipe that I'm going to make (Cinnamon Grape Preserves), and then juiced the remainder. I tried using a juicer that we'd gotten as a wedding gift (and never used!), but it pulverized the grapes. I ended up going with the food mill instead. We would have had about two gallons of juice if I'd used all the water we boiled the grapes in, but I dumped most of it before realizing that I should be including it. Oops. I did keep the last of it....and I figured that if the resulting juice is too concentrated, I can always add water. Right now, the juice is resting the the fridge. I'll pour off the clear part (leaving behind the sediment) tomorrow night and can it then. I'll also do the preserves then as well. We also filled a dehydrator full of apple rings, tomato slices and grapes (raisins). I did not get to make more apple pie filling, but I will do that this coming weekend (or maybe this week). Our neighbor gave us a big bag of apples from her tree (Jonagolds, we think)...and they will make delicious pie apples.

Lastly, I did not get to the greenhouse. I'm ok with it, though. Next weekend, perhaps. :-)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday stress

This photo was taken about a year ago when we rode our bikes to the farmer's market in North Carolina to buy pumpkins. Now this is the bike that I ride to work when I can. My how things change in a year!

How many people do you know who get to Friday and start to feel the stress setting in? Seriously, what does that mean? That I try and do too much on the weekends? That I set my standards too high? That I perhaps should stop trying to work a full time job and a farm? UGH.

So yes, it's Friday and I'm already stressing about everything I need to get done this weekend. The list is too long for two days, but here it is anyway:

Paint the house - we should have decent weather, so we need to get more painting done. This means hand painting the trim and then covering it and the windows and renting a sprayer to spray the walls.

Trim hooves - both goats are in need of a hoof trim. This should be about a quarterly task and we've had Sass for about 3 months now. We have instructions and the tools...but neither of us have done this before. It should be an interesting experience.

Build 'green house' - The weather has warmed a little, so we've been able to put this off, but I have the materials necessary to build a green house of sorts over one of our garden boxes. The plan is to build it and then plant lettuce, spinach and other colder weather items in it. This is definitely an experiment, but it's one we have to start very, very soon!

Process grapes and apples - we are still up to our ears in grapes and apples. I got a neat grape preserve recipe that I'm going to try - and we are going to juice as many as we can. I also need to keep working on putting up apples. My goal is to fill two dehydrators full of red delicious and to do at least one (if not two) canner loads of apple pie apples.

There are lots of other little things (like buying dog food), but these are the BIG ones. Let's hope that we can knock a few things off this list!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Edible weeds on our land

Acorns! I need to find a good local source and collect some. I want to try making acorn flour.

Last night we attended a class at our local REI where TrackersNW sent a representative to teach a class about edible plants native to the PNW. It was interesting. The guy who gave the presentation defintely showed a passion for the material, but he wasn't the worlds' best public speaker. It was cool though. The presentation he shared with us not only pointed out some poisionous plants, but a TON of edible ones. I was most surprised by what we have growing in our own yard!

I already knew about this one. I'd looked it up when we first moved in because the plant was so different from all the other weeds in our garden. It reminded me of my mom's jade plants (poisionous house plants she had when we were kids), so I wanted to know if it was safe to feed the goats. Come to find's not only safe for goats, it's actually chock full of nutrition for humans! This is purslane (the wild variety) and it's growing all over our garden:

Wild purslane - high in vitamins and quite tasty (similiar to watercress, apparently).

I did taste it - and it's nice. Mild but flavorful. I can see how it would be a great addition to salads.

Then last night, we found out that all of these 'weeds' growing in our yard are also edible:

Plantain - the leaves are edible and suposedly tasty.

Bull thistle - the tap root is supposedly sweet and filling when harvested in spring.

Chickweed - we have this growing in our row garden area. The goats sure love it!

White oak acorns - the acorns make a nice hearty flour if processed correctly (remove all the bitter tannins).

We have this one other plant that grows super fast and is very watery. The goats eat it often enough to keep it in check (it's mostly in the area that we fenced in for them) and it doesn't appear to spread at all. We still have not identified it. I'll take some photos of it this weekend and post them...perhaps one of my readers who are more educated than I am about this area can ID it for us. If it's edible - I'd be thrilled since it's so prolific!

In addition to the 'weeds' listed above, we also have tons of wild grapes and wild blackberries along the perimeter of our property. Food abounds in the PNW when you know what to look for...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Early morning issues

This is the late morning view from my kitchen window - or at least it was before we had chickens and goats!

The last two mornings have been a tad unconventional in our household.

Two days ago, we awoke at 5 am to Maggie barking like mad. It was definitely the "hey, something is here" bark and as she was just outside the bedroom, it was LOUD. Being the light sleeper that I am, I bolted upright and out of bed in a matter of seconds. She was barking in the office (a tiny little room containing only a desk, a chair and various pieces of computer equipment) of all places. I saw my husbands pannier on the floor in prep for his morning commute, so I thought that was what she was barking at (she doesn't like strange bags and things). I crawled back into bed while my H got up. Now Charlie was joining in on the barking....odd.

So I'm in bed, listening to this ruckus. Then I hear a nasty sounding hiss and Charlie crying (he's a whiner, he wasn't hurt or anything). I asked "what was that?!" and my H responded with "it's a cat...but not ours!!". Huh? Yep, a beautiful solid dark grey cat with green eyes was curled up on the desk chair. But our cat is grey striped with yellow eyes! It must have come in through the dog door. Balsy come into the one house in the area with 2 big dogs?!

Luckily, H recalled a conversation he had just had with the neighbor on Sunday about their missing cat. She had described to him the exact cat that was now sitting in our office (and purring). The cat had been missing for months! Had that conversation not taken place, we surely would have chased that cat out with a broom (or let the dogs do it). Turns out, he's a very friendly and sweet cat. I put him out before leaving for work and when we got home, he was sleeping under the farm truck. He came out when we called him and H immediately took him next door. The neighbor was so thrilled to have her sweet cat back that she hugged my H! I guess her other cat who was recently badly injured and forced to stay in their house had chased it away. The poor thing was probably afraid to go home and figured our house was the next best thing!

So this morning, I awoke with a nasty migraine at about 5 am, 30 minutes before my alarm was set to go off. I noticed the time, and decided that I'd better take some Excedrin now so that I'd be feeling better by the time I had to get up. I stumble into the kitchen, take the pills, and then stumble back to bed. 30 minutes later, my head still hurts and my stomach was doing flip flops. I stayed in bed an extra 10 minutes and still didn't feel better so I got up anyway. I almost threw up in the closet and then again in the bathroom. I was seriously wondering what was wrong with me!

So I get to the kitchen and set about getting the milking stuff ready. I glance down and see the Excedrin bottle sitting on the counter.'s white. Excedrin is in a green bottle...Oh God! What did I take?? Luckily, it was only multi-vitamins. Well, that explains the upset stomach. Two max strength multi vitamins with iron on an empty stomach when I haven't taken any vitamins in about 6 wonder I wanted to barf! I immediately ate a piece of bread and went about my morning routine. I also took two Excedrin since I still had the headache! The car ride in, I was fighting really hard to keep from tossing my cookies. 5 hours later, I still wasn't back to normal!

I just finished eating my lunch and I'm finally starting to feel normal again. Of course, now the headache is back. Lovely.

I wonder what is in store for 5 am tomorrow morning?! ;-)

Monday, October 13, 2008


Front before...

...and after (in progress).

Garage before...

...and after (in progress).

Entryway before...

...and after (in progress).

All weekend long, I was reminded of a silly song from a musical that I was in as a child. It was based on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. There was a song that Tom and Huck sung together while painting the fence. All I can remember was one line "Painting the fence, painting the fence...blah, blah, blah, blah...." Ugh. Nothing like having just one line of a long ago forgotten song as an ear worm!

Anyway, this weekend, we finally began painting our house. We started with the trim paint on Saturday and managed to do most of the front (where most of the trim resides!). We had to paint the entire front entryway (since it was replaced and formerly yellow anyway), the garage side door, both garage doors and trim, and the new decorative band across the front gable. We also painted the trim along the roof line and around all the windows.

Then on sunday, we began on the wall color. It is a blue grey color called Pelican Bay and I was afraid that it would be too dreary. Luckily, I was kind of remembering it incorrectly. Once it was on the house in a few places, it was more blue than grey and it looks really nice. Our house is taking on a slight "Nantucket-y" feeling to me. It reminds me a little of the cute colonial houses in the coastal New England towns of my youth. We managed to finish about 3/4ths of the front of the house. We haven't even touched on anything else yet and it's not for lack of work. We were painting ALL weekend! I'm thinking that we should finish the front using brushes, but then I'm going to suggest that we rent a sprayer to do the sides and part of the back where there is very little trim, small windows, and lots of open wall space. Then the other part of the back - near the porch - we can do with brushes again. Otherwise, we'll never get this done!

Luckily, the weather forecast for next weekend gives us at least one day of sun and temps in the 60's. It's a start!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Apple pie filling

Canned apple pie filling - absolutely yummy!

On Friday, a girlfriend of mine came over and we did some canning together. Even putting up the 'same old stuff' is more fun when you have company!

We started the day by picking apples. We hit up the first tree of tiny apples. Then we noticed that the other two small trees at the back of the property had two different types of apples on them. After a quick taste - we determined that these would be good 'pie' apples as well. We picked everything that was usable (mostly with scab) and they filled about half a bucket. Then we headed over to the two massive red delicious trees and picked a few of these as well.

We started with applesauce and made 7 quarts using a mixture of apples. I washed and prepped the apples, my friend cored/sliced them. After we'd put them through the food mill, we discovered that the sauce tasted very bland. We added spices and sugar and doctored it up enough. Then we canned it.

While this was going on, we also were making apple butter in the crock pot which smelled just amazing (as usual!).

The next project was apple pie filling. While I was hunting down a good recipe, I discovered a little bit of helpful info about red delicious apples. They are eating apples only. They apparently have no taste when cooked - guess that's why our apple sauce was so bland - too many red delicious in the mix! Live and learn! Though, I would like to mention that while they may not be good for cooking, they dry just beautifully! We dried half a dehydrator of them and they are very tasty. So for from now on, our red delicious apples will be eaten or dried. In fact, I spoke to our neighbor about taking a clipping off her tree of yummy apples. I'm going to graft it onto one of our trees, so I think I'll do it on the red delicious trees since we have way, way more than we will ever eat!

Anyway, I found what sounded like a good apple pie filling recipe and we set to work. The water, sugar and spices went into a pot to boil. The cornstarch and lemon juice and a little more water waited on the counter. Then we peeled, cored and sliced what we thought were enough apples. All the while, the jars were in the dishwasher keeping warm. When the apples were ready, we dumped the cornstarch water into the pot and mixed it. It thickened almost immediately. Then we set about filling jars. We filled 5 quart jars with apples and topped them with the sauce. We had just enough sauce left over to fill an additional pint jar, so we sliced another couple of apples for that and set them all into the canner to process. Twenty minutes later, we had what you see in the photo above!

Then we canned the apple butter before shutting down the stove for the evening. What a day!

On Saturday, I threw the apple pie apples from the pint jar into a pan. While it was heating, I made pancakes. When the pancakes were ready, so were the apples, so I piled them on. HEAVEN!! Seriously, it was so incredibly good!! In fact, it was so good that on Saturday evening after a day of painting (different post!), I spent a couple of hours making another 7 quarts of the filling! I altered the recipe a bit to make it slightly spicier and to make enough to fill 7 quarts with each recipe. And, you can bet that I'll be doing a few more batches in the coming week. I think this is my favorite canning item so far!

The recipe:

5 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup cornstarch
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
14 cups water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
~8 pounds apples

1. In a large pot, mix sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and 12 cups of water. In another bowl, mix cornstarch, lemon juice and 2 cups of water. Bring first pot to a boil and when apples are ready, add cornstarch. Cook until thick and bubbly. Keep simmering until all jars are filled.
2. Sterilize canning jars, lids and rings and keep jars warm.
3. Peel, core, and slice apples. Pack the sliced apples into hot canning jars, leaving a 1 inch headspace.
4. Fill jars with hot syrup, and gently remove air bubbles with a knife. Leave a 1/2 inch headspace.
5. Put lids on and process in a water bath canner for 20 minutes.

Makes 7 quarts.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Frost at the farmette

Tomatoes in the laundry room window - please excuse the over-abundance of yellow - we have not decorated this room yet!

We had our first frost last night! The timing was pretty much perfect. Yesterday evening when I got home, I had a few extra minutes so I grabbed a bucket and headed out to the garden. Something had triggered my urge to pick tomatoes. I started out just picking the red ones, but then I decided that it was time to bring in the whole crop. I picked all the green tomatoes that were of a decent size. I just read somewhere that as long as you pick them with the stems still on, they'll ripen nicely in a window. Keeping the stems on keeps the tops from rotting. Anyway, now we have two windows lined with tomatoes and every last one of them was saved from the damaging frost. Phew!

Most of the super green ones are in the kitchen widow.

After lining up the tomatoes, I opened the packages I got in the mail. I actually had 3 waiting for me! One was a new deraileur for my bike, one was a couple of books from Amazon and the last one was the garlic I had ordered over the summer. The place I order from doesn't ship until it's the right time to plant for your zone. I opened the box, inspected the garlic and read the instructions. "Plant after the first light frost". What perfect timing! We will be planting garlic this weekend. I'm really excited about this - I love garlic and I've never planted it before.

Lastly, instead of parking my fat butt infront of the boobtube last night, I figured it was time to do something with the sugar plums our neighbor had dropped off. The dehydrator booklet says that foods with tough skins (like plums and grapes) should be blanched (boiled) for 1-2 minutes to crack the skin prior to putting them in the dehydrator. I tried that the last time and while it worked great for the grapes/raisins, the plums made a mess and turned out all mushy and gross. That could have been because they were too ripe, but I really didn't want to break out the boiling water if I didn't have to. I figured I'd try one other method. So I picked out all the plums that weren't too ripe (there were some that were over-done) and washed them.

Then I cut them in half, removed the pits, and placed them skin side down on the dehydrator trays. I did 6 or 7 trays worth and let them dry overnight. This is how they look so far:

They have a few more hours until they reach 'done' status, but it looks like they are working out just right! Now - do I even like prunes? I have no idea!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Every animal has a purpose

Maggie - 'The Mouser"

Charlie and Kitty - "The Voice" and "The Hunter"

Our little homestead is coming together. Our original goal was to only acquire animals that were a benefit to us in more ways than just as companionship. We've tried to stick to it for the livestock (Sasafras provides milk, Buddy provides fiber - or he will eventually, chickens provide eggs and possibly meat, roosters provide more chickens - someday), but we didn't expect it to be a requirement for the pets (Maggie, Charlie and Kitty). So far, even the pets are pulling their own weight! Besides being really good at making sure that we have no leftover goats milk or nothing spilled on the kitchen floor, they are turning out to each have additional job responsibilities.

Kitty is helping rid us of pests. Not only is he a bug hunter in the house, he's a small rodent hunter on the outside. So far, he's brought us both a dead bat (not good) and a dead mole (very good!). He's also pretty good at keeping the neighbor cats out of our yard which I think is good for the safety of our chickens.

We discovered a few nights ago that Charlie has an unexpected purpose. Charlie is part hound (bassett, according to our previous vet). We are sure of this because he howls. He can carry a note (out of tune) like an opera singer! Most of the time, it's a fairly quiet howl and often multi-faceted in that it sounds like he's talking. The other evening when the windows were open, we hear the coyotes again. Before we'd even gotten out of bed, Charlie started to howl. This was a huge, loud, building howl that feels like it would pretty much wake the dead. It not only silenced the coyotes (temporarily) but it scared them off. Same thing happened again last night - his mighty howl chases away coyotes! And, as loud as it is, I'd much rather listen to that than to the creepy coyote sounds outside.

Maggie's purpose revealed itself yesterday evening. She's actually better than the cat at hunting bugs as she'll often snag a fly or a moth out of mid-air. Well, last night, she was hunting bigger prey. Last week, while we were in the living room, I saw a mouse dart out from under the front closet, out into the hall, and then back under the same closet. We opened the closet, but pretyt much immediately lost track of it. Maggie definitely picked up it's scent and for days was highly distracted by that closet. Last night, while we were watching TV, I saw the mouse across the living room udner a chair. We both jumped up and while my H watched it, I searched for something to trap it with. The mouse darted under the couch, and we surrounded it (us and the dogs). When H said he wanted to see what Maggie would do, I was skeptical. He lifted the couch off the mouse while Maggie was right there. She pounced on it and caught it! She carried it to the other side of the room where we ordered that she drop it. She did, H grabbed it by the tail and threw it out the front door. Maggie is a mouser! We had no idea! What was really funny was that for the rest of the night, she was frantically searching for additional mice. Very amusing!

So see...on the farm, everyone has a purpose and a job to do! :-)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

We sold the Prius!

Yay! Last night, I met with a guy from another part of our state who saw my Prius on Craigslist. He said it was the exact car that he'd been looking for, and he agreed to buy it sight-unseen. We met at a local bank where he got the funds to pay for it and I said good-bye to the little hybrid. Unlike when I traded in my MINI, I did not cry. ;-)

We have paid off the balance of the loan on it (of course) and are now trying to decide how to best prioritize our next purchases. We think a new fridge is pretty high on the list as the one we have now is doing a terrible job of keeping things in the freezer, frozen. We figure that if we get a new fridge with a bigger and better freezer, that we can get away with only buying a much smaller chest freezer for long term storage items. We have already purchsed a nice, tabletop water filter. In an emergency, shelter and clean water are the most important items (followed by food), so with this filter in our possession, we are pretty well off. In the winter, we can easily collect rainwater and filter it. By summer time, we hope to get a hand pump installed on our well, so that we'll be able to extract water in the event of power outage. Then we can filter that water if we plan to drink or cook with it.

We had another cord of wood delivered on Monday. That sets us up pretty well for the winter - even if it's a harsher one than usual. Aparently, our inability to get wood wasn't unique to us (or related to our belated inquiries). The guy who delivered it said that the shortage is mostly due to the downturn of the housing market, if you can believe it! When there are less new homes being built, there is less need for lumber. Most of the firewood in our area is basically from the cast-offs of making lumber. Less building means less trees are being cut down (which is good) but it also means that there is less firewood to be had and that which is available is therefore more expensive. Next year, we'll be buying our wood in July!

This coming weekend will be a busy one (is there any other kind?). I have plans to meet with a friend to do some canning on Friday. I'm trying to secure enough canning jars (there is a shortage this time of year), but once I do, we'll do a number of things - applesauce, apple pie apples, grape juice, grape jam, etc... Then, since Saturday and Sunday are forecasted to be sunny - we'll finally start painting!! I can't wait!! I'll be sure to post pictures when we are done. :-)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Slicer/peeler/corer magic!

So I stopped at Ace hardware on my way home from work on Thursday. I'd heard a rumor that they could order canning jars, so I needed to check for myself. They were out (of course), but not only were they able to order 4 cases of wide mouth quarts for me, but they also had some wide mouth half-gallon jars in their inventory. I ordered a case of those to be used for goat's milk! They said it could be up to 2 weeks before they come in, but I'm hoping it's sooner. I am just so happy to know that we have them coming our way! While I was there, I discovered that they had the 'Back to Basics' apple peeler/corer that I wanted (for the same price as online retailers). I bought it immediately - no shipping!

Of course, once I got home I had to pull it out right away and give it a shot! I had a few apples in the fridge, so I stuck one on it and went to town. This thing is great! It's such a simple tool - no parts that could break that I couldn't fix myself - and it's almost entirely made of quality cast iron - so it'll last. Best $25 I've spent so far! I ran through a few apples and then decided to try a pear. Yeah - no go. Pears don't have a core that is strong enough to hold the weight of the fruit on the peeler - so it sags off and makes a real mushy mess. It might work with a different variety or a less ripe pear. For now, I'll just stick to apples. It also is supposed to work for potatoes - so that'll come in handy when we have enough of those to harvest that we can preserve some...

Anyway, so I decided since it was so quick and simple that I'd do a dehydrator full of apples. First I spun all the apples on the peeler/corer/slicer.

Then I used a knife to slice the spiral so that I'd have individual rings.

Then I spread them on the dehydrator trays, filling almost all 10. I saved one tray for 'experiments'. On that tray I put sliced bananas (dipped in lemon juice laced water to prevent too much browning), sliced roma tomatoes from the garden and a couple of halved grape tomatoes to see how they'd do.

The apples were yummy (my favorite dried fruit, I think), the bananas were good, but not crunchy like I like them, and the roma tomatoes were delicious, too. The grape tomatoes - not so much. I figured that since they are sort of sweet when juicy that the'd be extra sweet when dried. Nope. They were actually too tart to even eat! Go figure. I'm glad I didn't waste many of my sweet plump grape tomatoes on that failed endeavor!