Wednesday, December 29, 2010

American Milking Devons

After Honey died we were on the look-out for a new milking cow, but it was a hopeless kind of a search because nothing was for sale around here and it had taken us so long to find Honey in the first place. We had really wanted American Milking Devons (Honey had been bred to a Devon bull), so I looked around for any Devon cows for sale and found some listings. Most of the cows had already been sold, but one desperate-looking listing said "make an offer," and when I wrote to them they said they still had the cows for sale. They were located up in Wisconsin, which required us to find a shipper. They suggested Uship, which is a site which connects shippers and customers. The first offer we had on the shipping was too high, so I asked the people in Wisconsin if they could wait for us to find a better offer. They took a long time to reply and eventually said they wanted to get rid of the cows as soon as possible and that there were other people interested in them. So it seemed we might not get them after all. Then, later that same day, we got another offer that was very affordable and we went ahead and accepted the cows and mailed a check. It was a very tense several days while the people with the cows fumbled around with getting the cows checked at the vet and struggled to cash our cashier's check, for some reason we still don't entirely understand. At last the cows were on their way--thanks the the shipper Rolf--who really had to do most of the dealing with those people. And it still didn't quite seem real. Then at last they were there--on our farm, and we have the sort of cows we have wanted to get for so long. They are just beautiful--Geranium (who is bred for April) and her baby. They are the most beautiful color, and very stocky, with a very pleasing cow-shape. We are so happy!

The Muscovies

We've had the Muscovy ducks for over a year now, but I have yet to say anything about them.
One reason is that they are extremely hard to photograph, as they never hold still enough. Most of the pictures I took were deleted because they showed either brown and white duck-shaped blurs, or the least-favorable end of a duck.

We got them from the same place we get our feeder pigs each year. When we drove up the first time to get our first batch of pigs, ducks were clumped all over the lawn, and strings of little ducklings would pop out from behind shrubberies and corners of buildings and other surprising places. The owner of the place immediately tried to press us into buying some ducks. He had had a buyer from South Florida turn around and decide not to buy the birds once they were all raised up. He said he had already separated the males and females, but the males kept sneaking over to the females' side at night and great numbers of ducklings kept pouring out from every nook and cranny. We declined to buy any ducks at the time, but took note
of the cockroach-like ability they seemed to have to reproduce.

A year later, when we thought we were better set up for more poultry, we bought a mama duck and three babies. They grew up and laid beautiful creamy eggs all year. We recently added four more females to our flock (one of the ducklings had grown up to be a large drake).
They have not begun laying for us yet, but we anticipate a good number of duck eggs (and hopefully ducklings) in the Spring. They are extremely well-adapted ducks, being the same sort that puddle about in retention ponds. They have been kept completely free-ranging, with out being shut-up at all during the night. They are very beautif
ul ducks, and keep distinctly separate from the white Pekings we have not yet eaten yet. They like to huddle together and do their weird mechanical-
duck dance with each other.

We don't have a pond, but they have a trough of water to bathe and splash in. They actually prefer the cow's drinking water, unfortunately, and since their clipped wings have grown in they delight in flying over into other paddocks and causing trouble. A favorite pastime of theirs is to fly just over the dog, who remains barking helplessly on the ground, and then fly back and perch on a post and sit like a duck-shaped carving and listen gleefully to the tortured barking.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Losing a milk cow

I recently told a friend about losing our cow Honey, and she responded with, "Well, most farmers I know are very in touch with life and death and know when to let things go and when things are supposed to die. I suppose you learned a lesson from it."

This comment made me realize that before we had a family cow I would not have understood the incredible impact of such an event and what it would mean for a family to loose their milk cow. Cows are such a distant and abstract animal for most modern urban people, who will always express sorrow if someone looses their cat or dog (who don't even support the family with food--in fact require feeding and vet bills). To say that we lost a cow, to them, must be like loosing a piece of machinery.

To us, loosing Honey was a staggering set-back, because we are so small and just beginning our herd. To us she was family, food, fertility and the hopes of our own herd one day. I begin to contemplate the value of the cow--which was the original stock of the stock market--and I believe the old words for cow express this so well--"Chattle"--meaning wealth--and even before that "Kind" from which the words "Kindred" and "Kindness" come from.

Not only was she our source for richness--milk, cream, butter, and cheese for our children to grow on, but also she produced food for the pigs, the chickens and the turkeys, and her manure fed the garden and we were hoping for a calf next year. And suddenly it was gone, and everyone is deprived. The farm seems a much poorer place without our cow, and our herd is much diminished.

Thankfully, we have goats milk still, and we could obtain milk for ourselves from other places--although at great cost or diminished quality, but I can still sense the tragedy of what it means to lose your cow--a long time ago or in other places it might mean not surviving the winter, or being very hungry at least. I think the most valuable lesson we have learned from this is what an incredible gift of richness the cow is.

A great Change

As a piece of sad news which afflicted us a few weeks ago in November, our milking cow Honey was injured when we were transporting her back from the farm where she was being bred to an American Milking Devon bull. She was down for several days, and I could tell that her leg was swollen. I used a tuning fork and pressed it against her bones to check for fractures, and as far as I could tell it was a soft-tissue injury. I used comfrey and Arnica both topically and homeopathic ally, as well as massage and applications of ice. After about a week of nursing her as she lay unable to stand up, she showed great improvement and was beginning to try to move around again and was making efforts to stand up. Then one day we came out to check on her and do the chores, and she had died. We think perhaps she had a blood clot, as she was showing improvement and died very suddenly.

Then a few days later our little goat Chocolate died. This was a surprise because she hadn't been particularly ill--but it was also not quite so surprising because she was the kid that Ellie would not nurse, and she was weak at birth and could not stand up. As she was growing she was never as healthy as her twin.
The other kid would play and jump and was sleek and fat, but poor little Chocolate was always sickly and bloated and would stand around looking listless. I gave her cod liver oil and kelp and citrus and special treats from the garden, but she continued to look miserable. I often would massage her rumen, which was always bloated and wormed her regularly.
Then, three days after Honey died, we came out to do the chores and little Chocolate was no where to be seen. We found her stretched out on the hay, as if she had been laying down to sleep and didn't wake up.
In my favorite goat book by Pat Colby, Natural Goat Care, she says, "Unthrifty kids should not be raised. Any kid that does not stand up unaided after about twenty minutes is suspect--unless there is a reason for its debility....A kid that is weak for no very good reason should be allowed to die quietly or be dispatched, nature will have her reasons."

We are sad, but we know this was how it was supposed to be.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I knew I needed to make a separate post for the radishes. They just do so well here, it's hard to resist planting a lot of them, and they pickle so nicely.

This year I am please to have no fewer than nine types of radishes planted: Daikon, cherry belle, French breakfast, black Spanish, He
lios, plum purple, munchner bier, Misato rose and German giant.

I also added Rat's tail, Chinese red meat and green Luobo radishes.
I like that the radishes are so quick to be ready to pull. And the spicyness goes away when they are salted and fermented.

Usually I quarter and brine the radishes, but this time I grated them with some turnip and carrot--you can see they grat
ed up into a very lovely pickle.

I made three kinds--one plain old "Ed-Chi" (instead of Kim-Chi), named for Ed Sherwood who loves plain, salted and grated radish pickles, one with caraway seeds and one with garlic and ginger.
I just love how incredibly colorful they are when you pull them up out of the ground--they look like bright splashes of paint or rubies and jewels--buried treasure.

The Winter Garden of 2010

This year we began the winter garden without a donkey but with more experience. We had some piles of compost stored away. I opened a barrel we had composted a pig's head and offal in last year, kind of afraid of what I might find. Inside there was some very fine, pleasant-smelling compost and a pig's skull, which is already being gnawed on by the squirrels.

This year I decided to plant a lot of what grew well last year--radishes, turnips, parsnips and greens, and not fuss too much over the things that hate Florida's sandy soils--carrots and beets, namely. I am very pleased to be growing a lot of interesting Asian greens--Tatsoi, Tainong Emperor Heading Mustard, Pak Choy, Japanese Red Mustard, and Komatsuna.
I also have the necessary patch of collard greens and curly mustard, lots of turnips, including some interesting red turnips, which seem to be doing okay. A rabbit has destroyed my crop of snap peas this year. The lettuce, strangely, has had a hard time of it. The Arugula is making up for it, but it is still a bit sad, since I had invested in the Seed Saver's Exchange incredible heirloom lettuce combination. Shockingly, the spinach is actually growing and looking healthy this year, instead of pining away and slowly suffering as it did last year. The golden beets have once again been a huge disappointment, but the bull's blood and Choggia beets are making up for it (really, I can't understand people who don't like beets!).

Fall flowers

The fall flowers were so beautiful this year. The Agalinis (false foxglove) was taller and more beautiful than ever before. It is the host plant of the Buckeye butterfly, and we had swarms of them drifting about, showing off their brown eye spots.

The scratch daisy was rioting everywhere. It really is a beautiful wild flower. It made the whole orchard and winter garden look like a galaxy with thousands of little yellow stars. When the setting sun shone on everything in the evenings they were almost blinding as I walked by with buckets of soaked oats and corn for the chickens.

Here is a lovely little bouquet Mirin picked for me. The larger yellow flowers are crotalaria. It is a poisonous legume which was widely planted around the beginning of the 20th century because it fixes nitrogen and has nemotacidal properties. Because it has a cumulative heart toxin and is deadly to grazing livestock everyone tries to kill it. We try to pull it out of the pastures, but it comes back every year.
I think it is a beautiful plant, and our animals do eat it, and we have never lost one yet to crotalaria. It made a very nice cut flower.

Wild grapes

I have been seriously slacking off recently with updating Fox Grape Farm. We've been so busy, and since no one actually reads it, the motivation was hard to come up with--so the next few posts are all old photos I didn't get around to posting until now.
Here is a wild harvest--wild muscadine grapes, fox grapes and lactarius mushrooms--yum!

Monday, August 30, 2010

New piglets

We have some new piglets. They are from the same farm we have always gotten them from, but they are certainly different this time. They are lean and have funny long noses, more like wild pigs. They were extremely difficult to photograph because they kept fidgeting and changing places.

At the moment they are in a permanent, smaller hog pen while they get used to the electric fencing, but in a week or so we hope to have them out in movable pastures. We certainly learned our lesson last year when we put the pigs directly into electric fencing and we ended up having a piglet escape and never come back.

More mushrooms...

We found even more delicious mushrooms yesterday. These were just around three or four oak trees. There were lots more, but we didn't want to be greedy. We found some boletes, lots of lactarius and more russelas.

We had the other mushrooms for dinner the other night. They were wonderful. The boletus we had found had a very strong but pleasant mushroomy flavor that would be delicious in a gravy or a mushroom soup. We are so lucky to have all these wonderful fruits of the forest.
I wonder what sorts of minerals you get from eating wild mushrooms.

Here is Mirin, very proud of his harvest (he did most of the collecting, actually. He is quite a mushroom enthusiast.)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wild mushrooms

The rain has had all the mushrooms peeking out. Around our oak trees we've found many good edible mushrooms. This is only one of many harvests. Here are some Lactarius, various russela mushrooms and a bolete. We weren't sure about the russelas and the bolete, although it did not have orange pores and it didn't stain blue, so we took them to James Kimborough, a renoun mushroom expert who also happens to live just a couple streets away. They are indeed edible. The Lactarius are particularly good, I think. Almost addictive, really. Store-bought mushrooms (even the fancy ones) can't compare in my opinion. nice it is to live in a place where people are generally frightened of mushrooms. The human competition is virtually non-existent.
We will be gently cooking these in butter for dinner.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Making Butter

I am certainly quite a beginner at making butter. The more I read about it the more little things I find that make a big difference. But I thought I would share what we have been up to these past months at least. Since Isla was weaned the milk has been amazingly creamy and wonderful, and we've been getting about 2 gallons a day. Dr. Weston Price found that the butter made in June had the most fat soluble activators, so this is likely the best time of year for butter-making. When the fridge starts to get full of milk I skim the cream from several gallons (2 gallons gives 1 quart of cream usually). Then we let the extra milk clabber and we mix it in with the oats for the chickens. It takes overnight for the cream to settle at the top of the jar.

After skimming I add a culture.

I had been using the clabber culture I had, but found it gave a very cheesy flavor, so the last batch of butter I just let ripen for several hours on the counter and I found the taste much better. I have been wondering if the flora danica culture would be nice for cultured butter as it is supposed to impart a buttery flavor to things.

When the cream has ripened, it is time for churning. I had been churning it in the food processor as the recipe in Nourishing Traditions calls for, but I think it is too fast as the butter would get a very hard, greasy texture. The last batch I made with egg beaters and the texture was much better. Surprisingly, cultured cream churns much faster at room temperature than cold, uncultured cream. The first batch I’d made I had chilled the cultured cream thinking it wouldn’t churn if it was warm and it took forever. The next batch took me by surprise by churning in under a minute. When I looked it up in my book Cheese and Cheese-making, Butter and Milk by James Long and John Benson (it was originally published in 1896!) it says, “If cream is churned while it is still sweet it is frequently longer before it is converted into butter, it produces less butter, and the flavor is less full and nutty.

When the cream separates I strained the butter through a sieve, saving the buttermilk. I’ve found this buttermilk makes the best soaked oat porridge. In the cheese and butter book they say to add cold water before straining to help wash out the buttermilk. I'll have to try that.

When the cream separates I strained the butter through a sieve, saving the buttermilk. I’ve found this buttermilk makes the best soaked oat porridge..

And now the butter must be washed. The more buttermilk that stays behind in the butter the less the keeping qualities for the butter. This is when it would be salted, too, but have been making unsalted butter so far.

After the butter is made into a nice ball and as much of the water pressed out as possible, I either mould it in a cheese mould or roll it into balls, which I wrap in parchment paper and store in the freezer.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I know these are not the loveliest tomatoes--they have quite a bit of cat-facing. Some of them split, because it decided to rain like crazy right as they were getting ripe. But they are our tomatoes and they taste quite good.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Yard-long beans and sweet corn

The crazy yard-long beans are ready. Last night we ate our first sweet corn, and although it wasn't as big as store corn, it was very sweet. We also got another silverline melon. This has been such a better year for the garden than last year. Last year we got lots of nice squash and huge pumpkins, but this year everything is sweet-tasting--and there are homegrown tomatoes, too! Last night I had to make an emergency tomato salad, because they are piling up already. It's nearly time for tomato sauce.

The little blueish ear of corn is the dwarf Blue Jade corn. I think we were supposed to wait longer to pick it, but it was very tasty anyway.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Blackberry Ice Cream

We made blackberry ice cream yesterday and it turned out very nice. It's not so hard to make your own ice cream, particularly if you have an electric ice cream maker--although it kind of takes the fun out of working for the treat.

The recipe was:

2 cups of berries
2 egg yolks
2 cups of cream
1 tablespoon arrowroot flour
1/2 cup of honey

We doubled the recipe and it ended up making about 3 quarts. So far it has seemed to store well and has not turned to a frozen rock in the freezer.

First the berries must be mashed. My recipe said to put them through a food processor, which really mashed them up and made the ice cream a pretty purple color, though if I was to make it again I would either strain out the seeds or just mash by hand with a potato masher.

Then the eggs must be separated. Put the yolks into a mixing bowl and beat them up a bit. I save the whites to make meringues. When I make this again I'll add an extra yolk because I think it would make it turn out a little better.

Then add the cream to the eggs and mix them together well.

Next measure the honey and arrowroot and add it to the bowl, along with the mashed blackberries. The honey flavor did turn out rather strongly. The recipe had called for maple syrup, but we didn't have any, so perhaps it would have been a better choice of sweetener, if you don't like the flavor of honey.

Mix everything very well, pour into an ice cream mixer. I think every mixer is different, but for ours you surround the ice cream with crushed ice and salt.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Sorry, I have to brag about the tomatoes. It's only because last year was such a dismal year for tomatoes, and mine all suffered and died tragically (and I was SO looking forward to tomatoes!).
The little cherries are Snowberries and Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes. The orange one in front is a Dr. Wyche's orange, the three striped ones are Hillbilly Flame, the one in the back is a Japanese Black Trifele and the pinkish ones are German Strawberries--I think.

Also pictured is a golden-brown Poona Kheera cucumber, three little Richmond Green Apples up above, a yellow Silverline melon (yes, the melons are sweet this year!), and a sweet yellow stuffing pepper in the front.


A neighbor/friend gave us three meat rabbits, including their cages and everything. We couldn't believe our luck with getting them (Thanks Katie!!). So far they just kind of sit around in their cages and eat.

Summer pickles

Here are some pickles I've attempted so far this summer. The top ones are cucumber pickles. First are two pints of dill relish, which I have not tried because they are still fermenting. The large one is dill slices and the small jar on the right is an experiment with sweet pickles. The slices turned out a bit salty. I have not yet had a success with cucumber pickles, for some reason.

The jars below contain watermelon pickles, except lacto-fermented. The thing I thought was a citron was actually a green watermelon, but I sliced it up and pickled it anyway. I'm still sweeping the seeds off the kitchen floor, where they all showered down when I sliced the thing open.

I could find no recipes online for lacto-fermented watermelon-rind style pickles, so I just made it up. Most canned watermelon pickles have watermelon rinds, lemon, cinnamon, cloves, vinegar, sugar and maraschino cherry juice. I adapted the recipe to green watermelon, lemon juice, cinnamon and cloves, rapadura, whey and sea salt. We tasted them yesterday, and they were good.


Here are the blackberries I picked yesterday evening (about 30 minutes worth of picking--there are just so many this year!) with a couple jars of preserves. Today we are attempting blackberry ice cream. We have the eggs and cream for it already.

We butchered a bunch of roosters on Monday. However, Steve is still with us, after being exiled for awhile in the hospital pen while his comb and wing healed (he was attacked by something a while ago--probably a raccoon).

Here he is pictured as he is transfered to the Salatin-style coop full of 20 young Barred Rock pullets. He was happy for the change, to say the least.

He is such a handsome little rooster. His comb is huge and has a very interesting shape. I really love the Silver Spangled Hamburgs, they are just good chickens. All of Steve's babies have also proven to be very clever and vigorous.


Saturday, June 5, 2010


Isla is finally weaned, and 5 1/2 months of age. This is seriously long-termed nursed for baby cows. We had wanted to wean her earlier, only Ethan was out of town every week for a month and she just jumped out of the fences we had up. We finally put up top boards and barbed wire to keep her in. She's a huge calf. This is the look calves give you when they're finally weaned.

So now we have milk again! We've gone without milk for about two months. It's been hard. We actually had to buy milk, despite having a milk cow and milk goat who are both lactating. All my cultures were starving.
Between yesterday and the day before we got four gallons of rich, creamy milk--not the watery stuff Honey was giving before (they know to save the cream for the baby). The cream is in the hind milk, and as you milk it into the pail it has a rich yellowness to it. I think I will make some butter, once we are done guzzling quarts of milk to make up for not having any. I have some Fil Mjolk culturing in a cool place, and kefir on the counter. I will try some yogurt today, if I have time. How beautiful milk is!

Berrying time

Our blackberries are ripe! We've spent most of our free time this week picking and picking. We've gotten two and a half gallons so far. There's jam cooking down on our stove and I'm thinking of trying a blackberry chutney ferment or something. And blackberry mead, of course.

The children and I thought of a nice picking rhyme:

Knick knack, berry black
sharp and curving thorn,
Let us pick and let us pass
And let not our clothes be torn.

How our garden grows

Here is a picture of the garden. I didn't include our bean pole failure, however. It looks weedy, but that's because we're trying a natural farming method where you just ignore the weeds. This is where the melons and cucumbers are growing, propped off the ground by old pallets.

Here is a little homegrown bouquet with the day's harvest. We have cucumbers, Roma beans and squash. Luckily it is a here and there harvest still, just meeting our daily needs with a little leftover for pickling.

Here was from yesterday--rabbit food, baby corn, squash and cucumbers--and a citron. The citrons are taking over the garden. We didn't even plant them, they just showed up. I'm thinking of making some lacto-fermented watermelon rind-style pickles.

These are the Tlacolula pink tomatoes--not pink yet, obviously. The tomatoes are all big and green, and we are just waiting for them to start to ripen.

A red amaranth. I planted it near the cucumbers to give them something to grow on.

The flowers I planted actually grew and bloomed this year! I am so please to see how pretty they make the garden.

Here are Picotee cosmos. I grew them in the winter garden and loved how pretty they are.

This is a "Memories of Mona" cosmos. I really love this color.

Our corn is so tall this year!!!! We are so amazed/ surprised. The tallest sweet corn I've ever grown in Florida was only two feet high, with little ears only an inch long with maybe 2 or 3 kernels per ear. We planted this corn in a spot where the goat shelter used to be. All winter long they sat in their shelter, eating hay and pooping.