Thursday, November 5, 2009

RIP Kitty

This is Kitty back when he was a much younger cat.

Kitty was a different cat after his last disappearance. He was significantly friendlier and he rarely left the house for more than a few hours at a time. He also enjoyed hanging out with whomever was willing to be outside with him (humans or dogs). He became a pretty involved member of the family. Prior to his accident, he was more stand-off-ish and was afraid of all people except us. In fact, most people didn't believe that we had a cat because they'd never laid eyes on him! When my parents were visiting at the end of the summer, I think he even went so far as to rub up on the legs of one of them (to our shock!). He was a great lover of goats milk and would risk the dog's growling for a taste.

He retained many of his annoying habits after his accident, too. He still prefered to drink out of the bathroom sink and would sit there and meow until we complied. Luckily, he never felt the need to drink from the kitchen sink! He also got into the VERY bad habit of bringing us dead mice. Dead mice on the floor - good kitty. Dead mice on our bed? BAD KITTY!!

When I returned from Cabo late Monday night, he came in to greet me. He was also there the next morning 'helping' with my chores. If I wasn't up too early, he'd come out and walk with me as I did my morning chores. I believe that was the last time we saw him.

We keep hoping he'll just show up one day because he had been on 'walkabout'...but knowing his recent behaviour, we are pretty sure he wouldn't go far anymore. We are pretty certain he's met his untimely death. I only hope he didn't suffer.

RIP, Kitty. We'll miss you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

5 of 7 of us at dinner on the first night (I'm on the left)

The pacific ocean crashes into the rocks along the beach.

The famous Cabo arch.

All but one of us set to head out for a birthday dinner celebration!

No, this post is not about anything even remotely sustainable, or green, or projects or recipes or anything homestead-like. This post is about mental burn out and the way to recharge....

CABO, baby! ;-)

Yes, I went on a trip to Cabo San Lucas with some women, most of whom I'd just met. The only person I had known for more than a few hours when we boarded the plan was the girl whose birthday we were celebrating. In fact, most of us on the trip were about the same age and that alone made it special. Add to that the fact that there were more non-mothers than mothers and you get a totally unusual dynamic. We had a blast!

We were there for 4 days and it wasn't enough! So much laughter, so much much sun, surf and smiles. I feel like a new woman. It was worth every penny (and we didn't spend many!) and every stressful minute leading up to departure.

And while I missed my husband, the dogs, and the goats (the cat and the chickens, no so much!), I'm glad I went. Even more importantly, I'm also happy to be home.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Wood Shed

The completed and filled woodshed as it looks today. There is room to stack the wood higher, but we don't anticipate needing that much wood this winter.

When we moved in, there was a good size pile of wood stacked up against the fence on one side of our property. It was held in place by t-posts and covered with a tarp. Last fall, we purchased additional wood entirely too late and had to pay a premium. We had to search far and wide because many of the normal sources were out. This was partly due to our late timing, and partly due to the downturn in the economy. How does the economy affect wood, you ask? Well, first of all, the rising cost of oil freaked everyone out, so those that might only have gotten a small supply of wood as supplement got more just in case they couldn't afford oil or natural gas. Secondly, because of the downturn in the housing market, less new homes were being built. Quite a bit of the wood sold as firewood is actually cast offs from lumber created for housing. When there aren't new houses, the demand for lumber goes down and so does the supply of 'cast-offs'. And lastly, when the lumber business falls off, workers get laid off. Less workers, less trucks, less lumber in general means less firewood available for burning.

We actually didn't know any of this when we first started looking, but I was hoping to find a local source anyway. We ended up lucking out - we found a tree farm not too far from us that sells firewood from their farm. Last year they delivered to us and we were able to make it through the winter with wood to spare.

This year, we opted to use the same farm. Business has been good for them, so they've now managed to secure a bigger truck with a dumping feature. My husband was happy to hear that as last year, he had to help the guy unload the truck by hand. This year, we got some wood from our neighbor, some from the apple trees we lopped off and two cords from this farm. This is what two cords looks like after it's dumped off a truck:

Cut and split wood awaiting stacking.

And this is our woodshed prior to stacking it. My H built this shed basically around the old pile. In fact, in this photo, you can still see the t-posts that held the old pile together. the wood already in the shed is what we had leftover from last year. The small pile in front is mostly our trimmings from our apple tree pruning.

Woodshed awaiting the bulk of the wood. A few hay bales are barely visible in the right most section. There is a low wall between the wood and the hay.

Since we don't know when a small barn will be in our budget, we intentionally built a small space to the right of the wood within the shed to house hay for the winter for the goats. We also are currently keeping the feed (both goat and chicken) as well as supplemental minerals in there, but as it gets wetter around here, that will have to change. I think we are going to look into some type of bin to store the grain in to keep out moisture. We don't keep all that much on hand, so they won't need to be too large. The 'floor' of the hay area is made of wooden pallets that we scavenged from the 'free' listings on craigslist. The floor of the wood area is dirt. We also planned for a sizeable overhang on the roof allowing us space to stand in front of whatever is stored but still remain out of the rain. The walls were left mostly open because the fence behind the shed will keep out most of the wind blown rain.

This year, our wood will stay nice and dry (and so will we as we bring it in!).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Plum Jam

Beautiful red plums awaiting 'jamming'. I actually had to pick and process these all in one day because due to a sudden summer rain storm (unusual around here), they were all starting to split on the tree.

Washed, cut, pitted plums sitting in the bowl of my food mill. Aren't they a gorgeous color?

Plum puree exiting the food mill into a stainless bowl.

Jam being cooked.

For this recipe, I used the regular certo pectin and quite a bit of sugar. The jam turned out delicious but a tad sweet for my tastes. Next time, with this variety, I'll use either the low sugar pectin or Pomona's Pectin which sets with calcium, not sugar. I just bought a couple of boxes and I'm anxious to try it...too bad all of our fruit is past! I might just have to buy something at the store so that I can give it a shot this year.

I still need to take photos of the finished product but it is just beautiful! The red color looks so stunning sitting there on our shelves! These plums are probably my favorite item that we grow (right now, once the blueberries are mature it'll be a toss up). I just love these. When my parents were visiting, my father loved running out to the tree every morning to pick a few for his breakfast. They are spectacular for eating and *almost* as good in cooking. I've frozen quite a few bags of these, so I'll hopefully get the chance to use them in a few more recipes this winter.

We have recently been discussing where to put an inside drying line for once the rains start (like today!!) for laundry. As much as it's super convenient to use the dryer, once we are on solar, it'll be virtually impossible (only for emergencies). We are trying to learn to live with less that means using a clothes line for more than just big quilts and bicycle clothing. ;-) And since this is so timely - I love Sharon's response on this very topic - to a NYT article... "If you think flapping underpants are scary..."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Where have I been?

Cuke and tomato salad with fresh basil and oregano - 100% garden fresh treat!

You-know-what must be freezing I am, to post once again! Can you believe it?

So yes, I've had to take a little time off from posting in this blog. As I mentioned in my last post, things have been nuts at work and it more often than not, spills over into my 'real' life creating havoc. Throw in out of town visitors and trying to get back into shape on top of the typical farm stuff (and fall harvest) and you've got the chaos that is my life these days. Ah...the joy of the small farm.

Let's see - what has happened since my last post?

My parents came to visit at the end of August. We spent 4 days together mostly doing projects around the house but getting in some dinners out and a visit or two to a local winery. As a result, our back deck is now no longer an embarrassment! We also managed to get quite a bit of 'brass' out with the trick of using metal paint (on heat grates, light fixtures, etc). The master bath no longer has any pink in residence (we did this prior to their visit) and we have pictures/artwork on the walls in many places were blankness reigned supreme earlier this year. It was really fun to have them here and they were a great help not only with projects, but also with picking plums, blackberries and zucchini. And the winery visits were a blast too - a quick internet search revealed 119 wineries in our immediate vicinity (seriously - less than a 50 mile radius!)...we visited 2 of the closest ones. 2 down, 117 to go! ;-)

We have since seen our first few frosts, so finally, months after they almost overwhelmed us, the zucchini has been put to rest. Of course, we still have humongous ones that we are slowing feeding to the goats, and a bag of smaller ones in the fridge that we will eat over the next few days. I picked all the remaining cukes last week, the peppers over the weekend and we are still harvesting about a quart of strawberries a week. The blackberries are done. The apples (we only had one tree produce this year) are done. The pears (very small harvest) are also done. I've got small sugar pie pumpkins all over the house (dining room, basement, kitchen, laundry room...) and we should be harvesting the remaining tomatoes this evening (quite a few are green). We still have swiss chard, carrots, parsnips, brussels sprouts, mixed greens and the monster kale still growing in the garden. Oh, and a few straggly broccoli plants as well. I just harvested the rest of the beans yesterday as well. The only thing that was a major dissappointment this year was the corn. We made a few mistakes, but we hope to do better next year.

Next on the list of things to do with the garden is to get the chicken coop on the weeds and get the garlic bed set up and planted. That will hopefuly happen this coming weekend. I'd also like to try doing some lettuce indoors again this year, so we'll see how that goes. We may still have enough daylight to do it in the green house over the next couple of weeks, so if I can get something going in there, it will be worthwhile.

Sass is doing well. She's had her first estrus cycle of the season about a week ago, so we are watching for the second one soon. We've already arranged her 'date' we should be good to go when she is ready. We weren't 100% sure we wanted to breed her again because we aren't really sure what our future holds in terms of goats. I think we may consider going to a smaller breed (Nigerian Dwarfs) since we have so little land, but we love Sass and would have a real difficult time both selling her, or forcing her to 'retire' when that's not what goats want to do (in nature, they keep producing basically until it kills them). We haven't made a decision yet, so until we do, we are going to continue with our original plan. If she has girls, and we decide to change breeds, they will be no problem to sell. In fact, we know a woman locally who is thinking about getting into a better milk producing breed (they need more volume) and Sass is amazing at it. In fact, just last Friday, she gave a full gallon at one milking!

The chickens are hanging in there. A couple of the reds appear to be molting, so the egg production is falling off a bit. This is to be expected this time of year with birds that are over a year old. We expect to have very few eggs this winter (if any)...but we'll see. We did buy a small incubator that we hope to utilize next spring. I'd like to get a couple of heritage breed bird eggs from a hatchery, and then do a couple of our own. The incubator only holds 7 eggs, but since we are a small operation, anything bigger than that would just produce too many chickens. Our plan is to do a few dual-purpose heritage breeds. These are birds that do not grow at the freakish lightning pace of the Cornish X (typical bird used in industrial chicken houses), but they are more natural and healthy. A dual bird means that they bulk good for eating but that they are also good layers. We'll hatch a straight run, butcher the boys at the right age for the freezer and keep the girls for layers. Lather, rinse, repeat. This way, we can provide our own birds over time. I don't know if there is a inbreeding danger with chickens, but we will research this before we get to that point.

Let's see...what else...

Still riding when I can but I haven't done much commuting at all. I did finally find my headlight mount, so I hope to do my first fall commute this week. It's dark until just before I arrive at work in the mornings right now, so good lighting is essential. (damn daylight savings!)

We are doing some research into solar power and water. We are trying to set up some appointments to talk to a few companies. Basically, we know that a barn is our first priority in terms of needs, but with all the incentives for solar out there, getting panels up may be a 'low hanging fruit' for us. Oh if only we would win the powerball! (I guess you need to buy tickets to win, huh?)

The woodshed is completed and stocked full of wood. We have plans to put up cross-fencing and start re-seeding the goat area as soon as the rains start (we need the ground to be a bit softer). We have also planned out the addition of a covered area to the front of the goat shed so that they have a rain-free place to hang out besides just inside the shed. We have also tried to determine when we want to fence in our front side yard. It's a big, wide open space that would make both good goat grazing and good chicken free-ranging, if it weren't so close to the road. The plan is to put up a privacy type fence along the road and then the typical wire/t-post fence on the insides so that we can use the space for more than just fetch with the dogs. Lastly, we have been discussing our chicken housing. We want to alter the current coop a bit, build a new one, and create a temporary one in our existing shed for the meat birds in the orchard.

Oh yeah, and because we don't have enough to do - we purchased a 1971 VW Super Beetle to restore! The good news is that this purchase forced us to get our garage organized and cleaned out. The bad news is that we haven't had much time to do any work on her yet (her name is Betty). I know...we are nuts. Go ahead, say it. I can take it. ;-)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

When it rains, it pours...

Or, in our case, when it doesn't rain, it pours! Does that even make any sense? No? Figures.

OK, I apologize for my absence, but I've been swamped as usual. Last month, my boss left our company for other opportunities and my team lead took his place. When this happened, I took over all but one of my team lead's products in addition to my own, and now I'm up to my armpits in work. It's a special challenge because I've got no less than 10 totally different products all at varying stages of development and all of which require my constant supervision. It is a balancing game, to be sure. In fact, my personal organizational skills have been forced into a major overhaul in the past few weeks and luckily, I seem to be coming out ahead. But barely!

On the homestead, things are buzzing along nicely. We have a beautiful tomato crop just starting to ripen, gorgeous red plums that we are devouring as fast as possible, blackberries just coming ripe and of course, the never ending supply of zucchini. This weekend, I'll be making MORE zucchini bread, freezing bags of it, and making a huge plethora of plum recipes. We had our first rain of the summer yesterday and as a result, all of our nearly ripe plums are now splitting open. It's going to be a mad dash to pick them all and save them before the birds and bugs get to them!

We also have one apple tree that is just about ready to start harvesting. In fact, I'm sure we'll be picking the first few bushels this weekend. Time to pull out the apple peeler/slicer and the food mill!

We have installed a new drip irrigation system initially to keep our tomatoes happy, but as we've discovered how well it's working, we've expanded it. We now have it in most of the boxes and half the row garden with plans to further expand. I'll do a whole post about it this weekend once I've had a chance to take some photos. It's really an amazingly simple and helpful system and we are both kicking ourselves that we didn't start this sooner!

Lastly, we are actually selling eggs faster than our chickens are laying them, so we are contemplating expanding our flock. We probably can't order layers right now (at least, not without ordering WAY more chickens than we have room for), so we are thinking about trying to hatch a few of our own eggs in an incubator. I also saw that there are a couple of 6 month old pullets at the local feed store, so we may take those off their hands. We just need to work on the logistics, first. Apparently, you can't just toss a couple of new chickens in with a flock without some prep work/controlled introductions ahead of time. Doing so would be cause for a chicken riot and probably cost us the lives of the new birds!

We are also selling goats milk occasionally, but all of our animals are thankful that our demand for goats milk has not yet outstripped supply. They LOVE that they all get the extra!

Lastly, both my H and I have been working very hard at getting healthy again. We've both let the craziness of the past year be an excuse to slack off on our own personal health and we decided jointly that enough is enough. We are eating better (and less) and we are actually working out in addition to the 'farm chores'. It's been about 3 weeks or so and we both feel SO much better. Now...if we can just keep this up until all our clothes all fit again, we'll be golden! ;-)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Zucchini invasion!

Our first 'quantity' zucchini harvest awaiting the knife...

It’s that time of year again. You know, where people who live in rural areas start locking their car doors for fear of finding extra zucchini squash left on their front seats. I’ve pretty much always loved zucchini. I remember my mom growing a few plants, and I remember her saying that they were easy to grow, but I don’t remember bumper crops. My guess is that she had them, but that she found ways of disposing of them before they took over the countertops where I might have noticed them.

The last three summers that I’ve been gardening, we’ve only had a few. I had two plants in NC, but didn’t get a great crop due to lack of sun in the area of our garden. Last year, we had 3 plants, but again – not much of a crop. We planted very, very late though – and we weren’t great about watering.

This year, it’s a different story. My guess is that our success is partly due to experience and good weather, and partly due to the fact that I actually have been known to say “I don’t think you can EVER have too much zucchini”. Oops.

The above picture is our first crop. Since then, we’ve had that same number of squashes on our counter twice – and the size of them is increasing. In fact, yesterday, my H picked a couple of ‘baseball bat’ ones! Luckily, I’ve got tons of ways I plan on using them up.

Last weekend we dried slices in the dehydrator. It was quite quick and easy. I just sliced them using the mandolin slicer, laid them out on the trays, dusted them with seasonings and set it to dry. In about 10 hours later, we had chips! I did one tray of garlic, salt and pepper, one tray of adobo seasoning, one tray of hot adobo seasoning, one tray of just sea salt and 4 trays of plain. They were all delicious! Next time, I’m going to try a rosemary garlic combo and perhaps a barbeque type. I’d also love to try one with Tabasco, but I’m not sure how to do that yet.

Then I used up a few zucchinis in some baked goods. I made lemon zucchini muffins and cranberry walnut zucchini bars (brownie style), both of which were delicious! Lastly, my H made a zucchini and linguini baked casserole that is pictured below.

The zucchini casserole just after it came out of the oven.

This delicious recipe was from The Victory Garden Cookbook and is the second successful recipe we’ve made from that classic book. The casserole was made with my H’s homemade ricotta (or farmer’s cheese), spaghetti, sausage and tons of diced zucchini (we had no linguini on hand). We are still eating the leftovers!

This coming weekend, I’m going to make zucchini chocolate chip cookies, another zucchini bread recipe, zukamole (guacamole with zucchini instead of avocado), and a mock crab cake recipe that uses zucchini instead of crab! I will also be dehydrating more chips and a bunch of shredded zucchini so that we’ll have plenty to use come next winter. I also often toss diced zucchini pieces into pasta sauces or chili just to up the veggie-factor, so I may dehydrate some in cubes as well. We will also be eating it – sautéed, grilled, roasted - all YUMMY!

See, zucchini is so damn versatile that I just don’t see how it’s possible to have too much!! I’ll probably be eating those words (mixed with pureed zucchini) in about a month. ;-)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Making ricotta!

Scooping the ricotta cheese curds out of the whey on the stove.

Last month, my husband made a great batch of fresh ricotta cheese from our goats milk. He did it using apple cidar vinegar (store bought but perhaps we can make our own this fall) and it was surprisingly easy. I don't remember all the temperatures or specific steps, but I can outline a general recap using the photos I snapped during the process.

Basically (like most cheeses), he heated up the milk and then added the vinegar. Once it curdled, he began gently scooping out the curds as shown in the above photo.

Ricotta curds in the cheese-cloth lined collander.

The curds went directly into a cheese cloth lined collander set in a stainless bowl. Because this is a soft cheese, the curds were only strained for a short while and they were not pressed at all. After straining, he stirred in a little salt and a little melted butter. Voila! Fresh ricotta!

Fresh ricotta cheese - ready for the lasgna!
We stored the ricotta covered in the fridge. I did taste it and it was more light and delicous than the store-bought variety. The next day, he made us a big pan of lasagna with the ricotta and it was delicious! The next goal will be to make our own mozzarella for the lasgna. And then...when the tomatoes are ripe - our own sauce from our backyard! Mmmm, I can't wait! Maybe that can be a goal for when my parents are visiting in August - truly homemade lasgna.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Show and tell

This is our new bedding. I'm so excited to have a bed that looks inviting again! I'm not normally into the 'country' style, but there is no denying that it fits in this house.

Stirfry made with veggies from our garden. I was experimenting with an asian flare and some odd vegetables: peapods, swiss chard stalks, kohlrabi, garlic scapes, onions and broccoli. The only thing we didn't grow ourselves was the broccoli - that came from the farmer's market.

Our first zucchini! I made a saute using traditional green zucching and an unusual yellow zucchini. The green was delicious - the yellow was overpoweringly strong. I think we'll let the next batch grow a little bigger before harvesting. That'll take what, a day? ;-)

Artichokes! Our neighbors gave us a bucket full of artichokes from their garden. They are obviously not the green globe variety, but with any luck, they'll be just as tasty. The are certainly dangerous - those spines are sharp!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Seeking simplicity

Red blackberries (or perhaps logan berries?) - these are just ripening, ahead of the blackberries. They taste like tart raspberries and I'm thinking that they'll make a amazing pie or jam.

As I sit here and type this on a fancy laptop, using wireless internet, while drinking imported coffee (sort of – imported from Hawaii) and wearing New Zealand wool…I can’t help but feel like a bit of a hypocrite. A big part of our ‘Simple Metamorphosis” is the idea of simplicity. Scaling back on things to make life simpler and ultimately, easier. This sounds like a virtuous endeavor, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Part of this movement for me was disposing of the ‘disposable’ lifestyle. This means that I refuse to buy clothing items that fall apart after a few washings or tools/equipment that are not built to last. Sometimes this means buying things that are not made in the USA. If I can find local products to rival the quality of the products I am buying from overseas, then I’m willing to spend a little more. Unfortunately, it’s often not a cost issue, but an availability issue. We bought a cream separator made in India because it was the only hand-crank one we could find. I have a lot of clothing from Ibex and they source their wool from New Zealand (though many of the items were at least made in the US) because there is just not as much US wool available (though, this is changing). I figure that buying one, good quality item once (even if made overseas) is better than buying a crappy item and having to replace it over and over again as the discarded versions end up in a landfill.

In addition, I struggle with wanting to use hand tools for everything. I’d like to always choose a whisk instead of a mixer, a hoe instead of a tiller, a bicycle instead of a car, a paint brush instead of a sprayer, and a goat instead of a lawn mower. The problem arises in our ever too dwindling time. Doing everything by hand takes much longer. And goats don’t mow lawn very well, either. ;-) So in trying to find a balance between work and play and between the office and the farm, we’ve made some compromises lately. In retrospect, I think we’ve done a little too much compromising. I can joke that we are ‘stimulating’ the economy, but in reality, we are getting away from our original purpose.

In the past month, we’ve bought a gas-powered weed trimmer (the rechargeable electric one held a charge for a whopping 15 minutes!), a riding lawn mower and a power painter. We are also talking about buying a gas-powered chain saw because when H gets the opportunity to go ‘logging’ with our neighbor for firewood, our plug-in electric one is not going to work. While all of these tools have saved us massive amounts of time (particularly the painter) that can now be spent on other pursuits, it’s still hard to come to terms with the consumerist spin that our life has taken, lately.

How does one effectively simplify? I guess that in our case, selling the farm would help. We could get out from under the mortgage that forces us both to keep our existing jobs. If we didn’t have that debt, living off a small farm income might be possible. Of course, having sold the farm, we wouldn’t have that small farm income to rely on, would we? We could continue as we are (with two full time jobs), working towards a day in the future where the mortgage is paid off, but to manage both, we need to make some compromises (like buying time-saving tools). There isn’t much else that we could do without – we have internet because my husband works from home, so it’s required. Our only magazine subscription is to Mother Earth News (the other two we get: Cooks Illustrated and National Geographic are gift subscriptions). We can’t give up our social life, our travel, our ‘toys’…because we don’t have any. We can’t consolidate debts to pay them off better because we don’t have much else besides the mortgage.

When I break it down into its small parts, it’s obvious that we are living pretty simply for a typical American couple with two incomes. I guess I’ll have to be satisfied with doing the best we can as we strive to improve. I’ll take solace in the fact that nothing we’ve bought has been superfluous…and that someday, when neither of us has full time jobs, we can work towards cutting our grass with a scythe and washing our laundry by pounding it with rocks in the stream.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Honey harvest!

One side of the frame full of capped honey.

So this weekend, my husband harvested our very first honey from our bees! He was waiting for them to basically fill the hive, so that they wouldn't be short come winter before we took any. Even then, we only took one frame and replaced it with a blank one so that they could immediately work on filling it up again.

He brought the frame into the kitchen were we took some photos. It is amazing how heavy it is! And so neat looking, too. (click on the photo to see it larger)

The flip side of the same frame from above - before honey comb removal begins.

Then he set about scraping all the honey comb off the frame. He put a small section into a plastic container to give to our neighbors, and the rest went into this stainless bowl. He then proceeded to mix it, making sure all the comb was well broken up.

Comb and honey are deposited in a bowl as they are removed from the frame.

Then he filled a 2 quart ball jar with it, stretched a clean nylon stocking over the opening, secured it with a ring and then inverted the jar on a second clean jar and taped them together.

About to begin straining!

About 5 minutes later, honey was already straining through the nylon hosiery and into the bottom jar - free of wax. When it's done (about 24 hours in a warm spot), we'll transfer the honey into small jars for storage and figure out how to clean up the wax. That'll also get saved for other uses.

The honey was delicious. It actually had a hint of flavor to it, but I can't place it. My first thought was almost a tangerine type taste, but that wouldn't make any sense. I'll just have to try more later (and keep trying) until I figure it out! ;-)

Bee's rock!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The calming effect of lists

Maggie doesn't make lists...but she does have a calming affect on me.

18 months ago, my husband and I learned of peak oil. A year ago, we relocated to the PNW and bought our 'homestead' (if you can call it that: a somewhat isolated 1 acre plot out in the country surrounded by large farms). When we moved here last spring, we saw the gas prices going up and the economy coming down. We felt tremendous pressure to get 'set up' for the worst. We scrambled to buy the house, get in a very late and meager garden, harvest every last apple and pear that we could, and acquire all the 'tools' we'd need. We were suburban DINKs who had no idea where to start and we were horribly overwhelmed. We'd make runs to Coscto to stock up on any food that we felt would keep regardless of if we'd ever eat it. I readily gave up new clothing and shoes (and sold my 'fancy' car) so that we could afford a water filter, cords of wood and fencing for the goats. But, I felt like I was in a constant state of panic. When I broke down one afternoon because I couldn't get the apple cider press to work and I thought the hundreds of pounds of apples we'd washed and readied were going to go to waste, I knew I’d hit a turning point. I knew then that I needed to take a step back.

Eventually, we came to realize that we couldn't do it all at once. We were only two people and we both had full time jobs. We also realized that if we didn't put in 100% (or more) at work, we'd be in danger of losing those jobs. Some things on the 'farm' would have to wait.

We ended up making a huge list of all the things we needed and wanted. This list included things like a grain mill, a pole barn, a well, a pressure canner and even tile to resurface the counters in the kitchen and the bathroom. Then we spent some time prioritizing that list. We divided things into what we needed and what we'd like to have: things that were necessary and things that were a luxury. We also took the time to decide if we could make do with some things to allow us time to save cash for others. This list was constantly changing - the day we found out that our siding was trashed and had to be replaced, the entire list shifted around. Then we discovered that water damage over the front overhang was going to require another shift so that we could pay for the repairs. A larger tax refund than we'd ever before seen allowed us to shift again (in a good way).

We still use this list. Every time we think of something else that would make our lives easier, it goes on the list before we make the purchase. And every time we stumble upon a deal, it helps us knock one more thing off the list and a chance to shift things around once again. For example, we really need a small barn. We need a better way to keep and separate the goats (particularly before the next kidding season). We also are pretty sure we are close to needing a new roof on the house. These things will go on the list and get prioritized appropriately. There is also an advantage to this in that it allows us to keep track of how far we’ve come. Nothing gets deleted – things just get crossed off. This also gives me a sense of purpose. I can forgo buying a new sweater knowing that we have a goal for something I do want more (like a barn) and that each sacrifice gets us one step closer.

Over the past month, I've been slacking on the list-making. Not only adding things to the big one, but just my little day to day lists. My husband makes fun of me because I am constantly making lists. My boss just discovered that I do this and joked that his wife will put something she's already done onto a list just so that she can cross it off. Yep, I do that too! While the idea of listing out all the things that need doing sounds like it could seriously stress a person out, it has the opposite effect for me. Once it's on paper, I don't have to hold it in my fore-brain anymore. I'm free to think of other things. Plus, having it all spelled out means that I can effectively prioritize the things that need doing and therefore make the most of my time.

I have no idea why I got away from this habit lately, but I now realize that it is a MAJOR contributor to my stress-levels. I've been making small lists again and I'm about to organize one for all the things that need doing into one big pile. I also think I need to update the list of items to accomplish in my sidebar as well.

Even thinking about making a new list is helping me relax. Good, just in time for the long weekend! ;-)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

One thing leads to another

A somewhat limited view of our garden area before there was a garden.

Despite what I said in my 'end of rope' post from a couple of weeks ago, things are going well. I had my little breakdown and as I normally do, I dusted myself off and got back to work. We've made some nice 'sanity saving' progress since then.

First of all, we have been slowly fixing things up around the house. I realized that having a half-done home makes me antsy, so this has definitely helped. My husband has also put some of his focus into getting the outside of the house fixed up, so he's been working on painting. This will be a big project for us this coming weekend (see to do list).

Lastly, we've shifted from predominantly planting to predominantly harvesting in the garden. As evidence of this, I present the following picture story....

First, we start with what you see in the above photo - a field.

Then we build boxes and fill them with dirt and seeds. Water regularly.

Wait a few weeks to get this:
The boxes are overflowing with greens! Swiss chard, kale, spinach, lettuce, mustard greens...

Which leads to this:

Freshly harvested and washed swiss chard

Which in turn, leads to this:
Swiss chard and artichoke dip

And this:
Swiss chard and tuna salad

And through a trade with friends for their abundant cherries, this:

My first ever cherry pie!

It was delicious, but I think I can do better and a different friend has promised me some sour I'll get a chance to try again later this month.

In the meantime, we are working towards giving away or eating as much of our harvest as we can (much to the delight or pain of our digestive systems!) so that nothing goes to waste. When all else fails, I dehydrate the item and hope to find ways of using it later on when things are less hectic.

Towards that end, this is our tenative to do list for the coming long weekend -

Harvest as necessary
Put up bean arch and cuke trellis
Transplant the last seedlings from the greenhouse
Add mulch from goat shed
Mow lawn

Finish painting the trim
Scrape the eaves in prep for painting
Pressure wash anything not already done (including the deck)
Tape plastic over all "non-blue" items
Rent sprayer and paint everything not covered!
Order house numbers
Put up dining room lighting

Worm goats
Clean out goat shed for mulch
Set up cross-fencing
Wash milking stand

Definitely one and maybe two bike rides
Set off fireworks on Saturday

And that's it. Not bad for a three day weekend's worth of work, right? I'm confident that we can get all this done without too much headache.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Magic Mill

Our "Magic Mill" grain mill! This is the engine side of it. The wood top lifts open and there is a hopper there for the whole grains.

One of the items on our original 'to buy eventually' list was a flour mill. We are working towards having a working pantry (meaning that it's stocked with the things we use and that we are using these things on a regular basis). There a number of reasons for this. First of all, we live out in the country. There is a market about 3 miles away, but it's very expensive and very small. The next closest is about 8 miles away. If we run out of something, it's no longer just a jaunt down to the corner. Secondly, we need a place to store the things we preserve. This goes along with the idea of being sustainable, too. The more we can store, the less we need to buy from other sources. Lastly, we want to have plenty on hand for emergencies. All grocery stores work with very little back stock. If you were to cut off the supply trucks, those shelves would empty in a matter of days (or hours if there was a panic). Think about the water/battery supply in FL when a hurricane approaches....or the milk/bread situation in the northeast when a blizzard is's not fun, is it? I'd rather not contribute to that. If our supply lines got cut off tomorrow, we'd have plenty of food for us and the animals for at least a month or more. I'd like that time frame to be 6 months eventually (easy for humans - harder for animals).

Anyway, as part of this storage plan, a grain mill can really help but the good ones are quite expensive. We prefer whole wheat flour to white for the nutritional benefits. Whole wheat doesn't keep very long before it goes rancid due to the fact that it contains the whole wheat berry - fats and all. Additionally, keeping on top of flour stores is annoying and I admit that if I can cut corners, I will. This means storing the whole wheat berry in it's intact form. These berries keep WAY longer than ground flour, so we don't have to be as dilligent about rotation. We can grind what we need when we need it. Plus, fresh ground flour? How cool is that?!

We were at dinner at a friends house a couple of months ago and jokingly made mention of a good place in their kitchen to put the grain mill. When they mentioned that his parents had one that they used we asked if maybe they wanted to sell it. A week or so later, we find out that they didn't want to sell their current one, but that they had an older model that they no longer use and would be willing to part with! Score for us! So we bought it from them and we love it. It's a Magic Mill grain mill in a wooden cabinet. They stopped making these in the 70's, but it's definitely good quality. They even had the owners manual to it! It is both electric powered and it has a hand-crank which while I know it won't be an easy task, it appeals to the greener side of me. So far, we've only done the one test batch, but it worked well and we look forward to stocking up on whole grains for future grinding.

The flour falls into a stainless steel pan - pulled out the back so that you can see the flour.

This is the back side of it. The little door that I am holding up is where the pan goes. The grains get dumped in the top.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Independence Days Update #6 (ish)

1. Plant something – This past weekend, we planted the balance of the corn and some beans in places where no beans sprouted. Other than that, not much. We do still have a few cherry tomato plants that need transplanting and a few squash varieties (winter ones) that can go out into the garden any time now. We hope to get these out this week.

2. Harvest something – Tons and tons of kale, swiss chard and spinach. Also a few herbs here and there, a couple of strawberries as snacks while in the garden and a handful of peas (our first!).

3. Preserve something - Dried two dehydrators full of kale and spinach this weekend. The rest got cooked (see #7). I did one batch by blanching it first and the second batch by just drying. Then I rehydrated a leaf from each to see which turned out better. Both worked well enough but I think the blanched version was more successful. I also finally tasted the milk that I canned a few weeks ago. It tasted totally different than I thought it would! From the color, it looks a bit carmelized, so I expected it to be a little sweet. It totally wasn’t at all. It was almost cheesy tasting. Certainly not good for just drinking, but I saved the jar I opened and I’m going to try using it for cooking to see how that works. The taste wasn’t too far off, so I imagine it’ll work fine. The texture was at least good – which is more than I can say for what you get when you freeze raw milk. Ick.

4. Reduce waste – This was pretty funny. After I’d removed all the tough stems on the kale to dehydrate it, I had a huge pile wrapped in a dish towel. I went to take it out to the compost but walked by the goats on my way. I thought ‘lets see if they like this’ and sure enough, Sass almost knocked the whole pile out of my arms in her enthusiasm so gobble it up. Ok, note to self, goats first…compost second! We have also been diligent about keeping on top of the milk production and anything too goaty for us goes to the chickens. This reduces how much feed we need to buy. In fact, we found that throwing the leftover whey from yogurt and cheese making into old milk makes a nice gloppy mess that the chickens go nuts over!

5. Preparation and Storage – We moved our little wine fridge down to the basement (where it’s cooler and therefore has to work less) and then removed all the wine. Our basement is the perfect 60 degrees for red wine (year-round), so we don’t need the cooler. Instead, we lowered the temp until it was at 50 F and now use it for ageing our cheese which needs the slightly cooler temps. Excellent!

6. Build Community Food Systems – We traded goats milk for a big ole bag of cherries off a friend’s tree. Our cherry trees aren’t really producing yet, so this was a huge help to us (plus, they can only eat so many!). I made a pie and hope to dehydrate some with the next exchange. Our friends are using the goats milk to make yogurt.

7. Eat the Food – Cherry pie: delicious! Swiss Chard tuna salad: YUM! Swiss chard and artichoke dip: awesome!! Kale and corn: from this book "A New American Plate Cookbook".

Friday, June 19, 2009

End of Rope in Sight

One of our multiple peony plants - aren't they just gorgeous?!

Yes, I see the end of the rope that is supporting me...and it's rapidly getting closer. I'm close to falling off then end into the abyss as I appear to lose a little more of my grip each day. Ugh.

This is why I have been remiss about blogging. I'm overwhelmed and dwelling on just about every subject on which I could write a blog post only serves to heighten my sense of panic.

What the hell am I talking about, you ask? Ah...well, it seems that trying to run a homestead is a full time job. Unfortunately, I already have one of those and so does my husband. I've spent the last year of my life trying to tell myself that not only can I do it all, but that I'm loving it, that I'm deliriously happy, and that it's ok if everything isn't perfect. First of all, I'm a liar. It's not ok if everything isn't perfect - or at least it's not ok when absolutely nothing is perfect. Secondly, I cannot do it all as clearly evidenced by the state of our house, the state of my body and the state of my sanity. And while I do love a lot of it, I am not deliriously happy. I'm stretched so thin that instead of a letting a few things slide, everything is suffering. My typical do it all type A personality is having major issues with this.

Between the animals, the garden, the rest of the property, the house on the outside, the house on the inside, my job, my fitness, my health and my marriage, I am pulled in a lot of different directions at any given moment. Every one of these items deserves my undivided attention (or at least, SOME undivided attention) and it's not happening. I'm doing everything I do only partway because that's all I can manage. That's not good enough and not only is it tough on all those different things (you should see our house!), it's tough of my sense of self-worth and my sanity.

So what is the answer? Beats me. If I could do whatever I wanted, I'd quit my job and homestead 100% of the time. I think my husband would choose to do the same thing. That's not an option (at least, not financially anyway). What are the other options? I'm not sure yet.

We need to do some more talking, some more thinking, some more figuring. The main question is, am I capable of living both lives simultaneously in the present for the chance of living the life I want in the future? When we started this endeavor, my answer was an easy yes. Now, with first-hand knowledge of what this actually entails, the yes does not come so easily anymore.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

One less chicken

This is Caesar and possibly Bonny behind him. I don't have any recent pictures of Bruno as he was basically incapable of standing still for me. If we were around, he was in 'attack' mode.

We said our goodbyes to our extra rooster on Monday. We tried dilligently to find him a home but no one wants an extra rooster and certainly not one with an attitude problem. This guy was begining to be a real issue for us. He was constantly attacking us. He'd wait until we turned our backs and then would fly at us with his spurs aimed for damage. Luckily, these spurs are still fairly small and don't do much damage....yet. More than once, he'd run at me only to be intercepted by the other rooster. The bigger, calmer one has saved me so often that I lost count. I don't let the mean rooster push me around, but roosters are not like dogs - they can't be trained.
Plus, having two was just too much for our 9 girls. They were getting way more 'attention' than they should and it's hard on them and disrupting for the flock.
My H put the rooster down with the shotgun the other day. He neatly burried him before I got home and then it took him a solid 20 minutes before he'd convinced me that he'd really done it. I was a bit bummed because I really wanted to use this rooster as practice for when we have to butcher our own birds, but this is probably better. First of all, he was probably too old to eat without cooking the crap out of the meat and secondly, we've got enough things on our plate that we just kept putting it off. The flock is much calmer and more peaceful now. The main rooster (Caesar) is doing well and is plenty capable of watching over this flock on his own.
RIP Bruno. I'm sorry that you couldn't learn to play nice and hopefully you are in a happy place with your own flock to watch over now.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Independence Days Update (#??)

Some of our boxes as they looked last weekend. Growth has just exploded in the past two weeks for everything!

I'm more than a little behind in my updates, so this one will attempt to cover everything we've done since the last update in one big mess...

1. Plant something - Pretty much our entire garden is planted and awaiting mid-July for the fall items to go in. We still have some starts in the greenhouse to transplant (mellons and a couple of tomato plants) but everything else is happily growing already. We've got multiple types of tomatoes, peas, greens, beans, melons, squash, cukes, onions, carrots, parsnips, beets, brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, etc), strawberries, potatoes, lettuce and corn in the ground and sprouting. We've also got herbs, sunflowers, marigolds and things to chase away bugs, help the bees and beautify the place.

2. Harvest something – herbs, green onions, kale, green apples, spinach, garlic scapes, strawberries, eggs and milk.

Strawberries (Hood variety) from a local farm stand that I pass on my way home everyday.

3. Preserve something – Canned milk for the first time last weekend. We haven't opened one to try it yet, but it looks good. I've heard it'll taste a bit sweet and slightly cooked. Hopefully it'll be good for making oatmeal or cooking if not for drinking. We've got so much milk that we are considering buying another small fridge for it. We are making cheese every spare minute we've got, so hopefully we'll be able to keep up. We are also selling it to a few friends and giving it to our neighbors.

4. Reduce waste – I have been saving my dish water (I hand wash the milking equipment because we can't run the dishwashe that often) to use for watering plants. We also have started saving the whey from cheese and yogurt making to feed to the chickens. We've heard that too much into the septic system will cause trouble, so we are trying to avoid it. Our yardsale pile is growing and we really, really need to get organized enough to hold one.

5. Preparation and Storage - Dehydrated strawberries and canned strawberry jam along with the milk I mentioned above. We are making plans to expand our rain barrel system to include the goat shed and the new wood shed that my H built. This weekend, I'll be dehydrating kale as it is taking over the garden right now. I'm also going to try my hand at extracting pectin from the green apples. We've thinned quite a few from a few trees to feed to the goats, but there are TONS more that need to come down. I've done some reading and will try making pectin this coming weekend for the late summer jam season.

6. Build Community Food Systems - We have been sharing eggs and milk with our neighbors and they in turn have given us tons of delicious strawberries to devour. We have also made arrangements to trade a day's worth of physical labor for all the wood we can haul for our woodstsove next winter. Yay!

7. Eat the Food - We are doing lots of this! My H made a delicious goats milk ricotta last week and then turned it into a fabulous lasagna using ground beef from our CSA. It'll be even better when we can make it using our own tomatoes and basil later this summer! I also made a spinach and cheese strata for the second time but I made a few of my own modifications. I used our garden spinach (8 cups worth!) , 9 eggs from our girls, 3 cups of fresh goats milk, fresh organic french bread from the local market (yes, I could have made the bread but I only have so much time) and pork sausage from our CSA. It turned out delicious! Tomorrow I'll be making a stir fry with some kale, some garlic scapes, some green onions and some mustard greens - all from our garden. Oh, and I'm a BIG fan of goats milk yogurt, strained so it's a bit thicker, with a tablespoon of my fresh strawberry jam. The jam is a tad sweet on it's own but it is just perfect with the tang of the yogurt. I've been snacking on this every day this week! Eating the things we produce is definitely my favorite part of this whole farming thing we've got going on here. ;-)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Country living is dangerous

Kitty in his happier, healthier days... (he no longer wears a collar because it's too dangerous and could get caught on things around the farm)

We have an indoor/outdoor cat. He's been with us since we got our dogs, so quite awhile and he's always been able to come and go as he pleases. He is also quite timid, so he rarely goes far and certainly not for very long.

On Wednesday, I noticed that he didn't come bug me for water when I got up. My routine includes feeding and watering ALL the animals, cat included, so when he was absent, I noticed. I was up super early though, so I figured he was still out hunting or he was sleeping. When he wasn't around for dinner that night either, I asked my H if he'd seen him and he said he'd fed him during the day.

We didn't see him Thursday or Friday either. By Friday, my H admitted that he may not have seen him on Wednesday either..that he might have gotten the days confused. We have lots of coyotes around here, so we pretty much figured he was dead. I kept hoping that he wasn't lying in a ditch somewhere in pain. On Friday, we talked about getting another cat but that we had to wait at least a month in case Kitty did come back.

On Saturday morning, I came in from milking and my H called me into the bedroom. He had Kitty in his lap and he was purring up a storm. He was in bad shape though - we assumed coyotes. His head had a huge gash/puncture in it with a hunk of missing fur, he had a big puncture in his side about 2/3rds of the way down his body, and one eye was bulging out a bit.

We have not been able to get him to drink or to eat at all. He sleeps a lot (which we encourage), but when he's awake, he's either walking in small circles or walking against a wall or furniture. He's also abnormally affectionate to both us and to our dogs (much to Maggie's discomfort!). He didn't even want goats milk and all our animals are normally super excited about it. We have been feeding it to him with an eye dropper for the past two days, which he seems OK with, but he will not take it on his own.

The more we inspect him the more we are sure of two things 1) he has brain damage and 2) he was not attacked by coyotes. First of all, how could he have gotten away and secondly, how could he be virtually free of blood and injury outside of two punctures, if it was a wild animal that did this? No, we are pretty sure some asshole shot our cat.

My H is taking him to the vet today. We are prepared to have him put down if he is as internally damaged as we fear. He's clearly not enjoying life and if it weren't for his constant purring anytime we are around, we'd have written him off sooner. I am glad that he came home so that if he does die, at least it will be in relative comfort. My H found him hiding under corner of the tarp that covers our woodpile. I would hate to think how awful I'd have felt if he had died there and that's where we found him next fall when we started using that wood again.

Think 'pain-free' thoughts for our poor beat up kitty, would you?

UPDATE: The vet doesn't think it's a gunshot wound...he thinks he was hit by a car or something. What we didn't notice (that the vet did) was that he's missing a tooth (one of his fangs) and the place were it used to be is totally infected. That is also the same side of his face where is eye is bulged out - the vet thinks there was some trauma there (obviously enough to cost him a tooth) and with the combined infection, he's swollen affecting his motor skills. We have noticed slight improvement since he's been home, so it all fits. My H was sent home with pain meds and antibiotics and with any luck, Kitty will be back to his old self before too long. He did chow down on the can of special wet food we bought him yesterday when they got home, so things are already looking up.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Goat Babies are Gone

All the goats sharing a little grass - both boys, Sass and Buddy (in the back).

Yes, today our little goat 'boys' (they aren't really babies anymore) were picked up by their new owners. They are going to live with the family from whom we get our grass-fed pork and beef on a farm in the next town. The family has 6 boys, some of which are quite young, so they'll have lots of humans to climb on (until they get too big, of course!). I shed a small tear for them when I said goodbye this morning. I was walking away and little Pepe stood there watching me like he always does and it tugged at my heart knowing that he won't be there when I get home.

My H said that they didn't cry or anything and that once both goats were in the small horse trailer, they weren't upset. I know they'll have a happy life full of all the blackberries they can eat!

Oreo after cleaning up any leftover grain in Buddy's dish.

Pepe looking like his usual sweet self.

The two boys sharing Buddy's leftover grain. They get along really well for brothers.

How we usually see Pepe - up close! This is also how I'll remember him. He's always the first goat to approach humans. He's very friendly and likes to be in a human lap.

We will both miss these guys a lot. The first animals born on our farm are now on to greater adventures. I'm really looking foward to the next kidding season now!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Slammed with Spring

My appologies to all my readers for my absense. It's amazing how quickly life can fly by when you are busy, no? I cannot believe that it’s been almost a month since I last posted!
I’m not going to recap all that’s happened during that time but in summary: lots of planting , a little bit of harvesting, some dehydrating, some hair cutting, some eye surgery and some biking was had by our little household. And now for the photos:
One branch of my favorite plum tree - full of plums. We are going to have a bumper crop of these babies this year!

The 'row garden' area. The mess down the left is potatoes, in the distance you can see garlic, tomatoes and where the beans are planted (the fencing/trellis in the middle). The black covers to the right are the sweet potatoes.

The grape arbors as they just start to show leaves (and a few tiny grapes) with our greenhouse at the end of the first aisle.

CD's hanging from twine to scare away birds. Garlic in the foreground, tomatoes behind. You can see how close our boxes are to the edge of the row garden, too (in the distance).

The field of boxes - mostly planted at this point. I need to add one more trellis for the cukes and plant a few random items, but these are pretty much done until mid-summer when we plant the fall items.