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. :-)