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.