Friday, December 7, 2012

Dudley Farm Cane Boil

We spent last weekend at the annual Dudley Farm Cane grinding, and everyone had a great time.
It was a little sad to see how this park is changing under new management since Sally retired.  The old people who volunteered and worked a few years ago had really high standards for maintaining this park as an incredible historical resource, but I think the new people maybe just don't quite understand it or have the same good standards.
For example, their corn crop had failed.  It's never failed in all the years I've known about the park (seven years, I think).  They said it was too dry for the corn this past summer, and they didn't water it and it died.  Years ago I asked Sally if they irrigated the corn, and she said they always plant it at a later time so they get the summer rains.  I'll bet they planted it at the wrong time, because we got plenty of rain last summer.  This year they were selling ground corn from Georgia.  It worries me that the Dudley corn will be lost.

Another thing that was very different was that the boiler for the sugar cane juice had cracked, and rather than repair it they decided it was "too historical" to repair (??) and so they built a new cane boiling area up front, which outwardly resembles the old one but has a lot of ill thought out flaws, such as the boiler smokestack facing the wrong way, etc.  It's too bad!
But we still had an amazing time there.  I'm so glad this park is still around.  Morningside Nature Center used to be like Dudley, until someone who used to work for Disney World got his hands on it.  I'm afraid Dudley might be going the way of Morningside.

Ethan was there as a volunteer with the Barefoot  Boys.  They do ax-hewing demonstrations.

Baby Clo and I hung out and knitted in the background.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Countryside Organics: The Ongoing Customer Service Nightmare

I wish that this would damage their reputation a heck of a lot more than it will!!!!

A few days ago I looked at our finances and discovered that Countryside Organics took the liberty of using our saved credit card information to charge us unexpectedly for the retro-actively charged bill they made a mistake with without our permission.  I'm pretty sure that was totally illegal.  I called the manager, Keith, who apparently is the evil mastermind behind this whole "rip you off and screw you over" situation they have created for us.  He tried to pretend I had given him permission.  NOPE.  At the end of our conversation I think he realized he was winning the Biggest Douche in the Universe contest, although I doubt he would ever admit it to himself.

Because they chose to take our money (without permission) on the same week as our utility, phone and car insurance bills, we are lucky to have a few savings, or we would also be paying late fees, bank fees and facing our car insurance being canceled.
This very upsetting situation is huge for us and our farm.  It has prompted us to completely re-evaluate what we are doing and feeding the past couple of days.  I've been having moments of thinking that this is just too much for us--we can't keep doing this and we should sell all the animals.  We are determined never to give them another cent.  The way they've taken liberties with our money has made me afraid for them to have our financial information.  We might have to give away the rabbits, and I am going to be finding a grain grinder so that we can grind our own chick starter.  Mostly what we have relied on them for is rabbit food, kelp, salt, mineral lick for cows and goats, chick starter and field peas.  Even if we have to pay more for these things, it will be worth it.  The only consolation is that I know I'm not the only customer they are horrible to.  It's only a matter of time before someone else starts a better company and blows apart their monopoly.

Friday, November 30, 2012

This Moment

Joining in with SouleMama today....

{this moment}-a Friday ritual.  A single photo-no words-capturing a moment from the week.  A simple, special, extraordinary moment.  A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

@$%! Goats

I wasn't sure what to focus on, since these are not supposed to be a photo of either the goats or the fence--it's a photo of the concept of the goats inside of the fence, where they are supposed to be.

Since autumn set in and the grass became less edible, Ethan was working on a new fence line so the goats could be put in a wooded area where we've never had any animals yet.  It's loaded with grass, vines, low woody browse and acorns.  They had been in the paddock adjoining the milking paddock for several weeks.  It has a permanent fence around it and gets used whenever we need a solid barrier.  Since it is a small paddock that we are not really cultivating for nutrition and diversity and it is mostly called upon for it's useful fencing, all the good stuff has been eaten back and the trees have the "high tide" nibbled-look.  The goats had become tired of their hay long before Ethan finally, finally finished fencing the wooded area.  I thought they would be so happy to be out, but we still had quite a time getting them there, since I've been far too absent for them to still be well trained to follow me.
(I know that sounds strange, but you have to understand that goats, like camels and donkeys, are only semi-domesticated.  They become feral again if you don't constantly give them treats and back rubs.)

We finally got them in, and with a sigh of relief we left for the night.  When we returned the next day, everyone except Nougat was locked in the milking paddock (?!!!).  Nougat was so desperately freaked-out about being left behind, she could only bleat until she was hoarse.  The woody browse was untouched.  With much cursing, we put them out again.

About 20 minutes later, we saw June Bug leap over the fence like it wasn't there, and the rest of them (except Nougat) get out and lock themselves in the milking paddock again.  They can squeeze in through the gate, but they hadn't been able to figure out how to squeeze out, for some reason.
For about a week we kept humoring ourselves and putting them out every evening, only to find them locked in the milking paddock again.  They were determined not to be left in a delicious, untouched paddock.  They demanded the trodden-down dusty milking paddock, gosh dang it.

Who knows what goes on between those long ears?
Ethan rescued the goat netting from where we had abandoned it years ago (it is a huge pain to set up here with all the blackberries and cactus, but it really does mostly keep them in).  The gate to the milking paddock has been fortified to be goat-proof (ha!), and they are forced to be out with the delicious woody browse whether they want to be or not.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Yarn Along

Baby is sleeping, so I have hands free for knitting (and a photo) and I can join in with the Yarn Along again!
I am reading Drowned Ammet by Dianna Wynne Jones.  It's the second book in the Dalemark series.  It's another one that we got at the library to read to the children, but we are reading it, too.  I read this series all out of order because they didn't have the right ones at the library when we went.  The Spellcoats is by far my favorite.  It's such an interesting way to tell a story--through a magical girl who is literally weaving the story into fabric.  I've been on a big Dianna Wynn Jones kick lately.  I love her writing style--in some ways it has just enough detail to give you a very specific picture, and in others it leaves a lot to imagine.  And I really like the way she writes from childrens' perspectives, and does a really good job of it.

Teasel and I were settling down with this, and I'm working on a Camilla sweater for our friend Kollean who lives next door.  I have also knitted Rose a camilla girl in a light blue and Clothilde has a baby camilla in apricot.  Kollean has seen me knitting for my children so much, and she asked me if I would knit something for her.  I hope she likes it and her parents can cope with not putting it in the washer, which would be tragic--for me and Kollean.  I've secretly asked them about it before just giving it to them, and they thought it would be no problem.  You have to be careful who you knit 100% wool for.  My mother is a disaster with wool--anything that goes to her house is automatically shrunk.

Penny, our pet chicken who is not really supposed to be in the front yard, but keeps getting out today, decided to join in with us through the window!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I've been meaning to finish this post for weeks!  Now that it's Thanksgiving, it's finally done....

We had such a nice Halloween celebration this year.  Having a small baby, I really took the Simplicity Parenting to heart and tried to keep it all wonderfully simple.

Halloween is not my favorite holiday.  I do love the dressing up and the pumpkins, but I have never like the way we celebrate it with cheesy scary stuff.  I remember when I was a kid I was totally puzzled about why everyone always had fake spider webs everywhere.  My dad is an entomologist and I grew up with lots of insects.  My dad, like other nutty insect enthusiasts, is totally fearless about picking up creepy bugs with huge pincers and biting beaks, so fake cobwebs seemed so strange and not-scary, but because everyone put them up for haunted houses I thought maybe there was something scary about them after all.  
I really don't like all the "scary" images of death.  It feels disrespectful for life and death.  And all the candy is so awful.  I don't let my kids eat candy.  It's not about the sugar.  If it were just sugar it wouldn't be so bad, but they put all sorts of strange and horrific chemicals in candy--the real reason why Halloween should be scary!  And I hate the way home made things and healthy treats like fruit have been demonized, so everyone has to go out and buy candy--or small plastic toys.   

So, a few years ago, I decided to reclaim this holiday, and celebrate it in a way that is more meaningful to me.  Inspired by a local fair-trade store called Alternatives, which celebrates the holiday as Day of the Dead and offers sugar skulls to decorate and an offrenda, we began celebrating a modified version.

For us, it has become an opportunity to tell the stories of our Beloved Dead each year, to remember them and their lives, who they were and where they came from and how they lived.  Telling their stories, it always amazes me how much a part of our lives all of our Beloved Dead remain, and how much a part of us they are--from one grandmother's love of cooking and gardening, and my other's deep intuition, and my one grandfather's love of simple things and children, and the other's powerful stubbornness to stand up to his cruel stepfather.  I am so glad to have these stories to share with my children.  I always make it a point to ask my parents for their memories of the Beloved Dead.  Each time they remember something new, I feel that I learn something about myself, too.  They are in so many ways still here with us.

This year, we baked cornbread and pumpkin bars with a pumpkin from the garden (a new version of pumpkin pie I made up with no wheat) and carved pumpkins.  We got two amazing, huge pumpkins this year from the store.  They were hard as rocks.  It was all we could do to carve them, and the knife kept getting stuck like the sword in the stone.  I joked that they were probably genetically modified and crossed with red woods.  The stem on the one pumpkin was just incredible.  I can't bring myself to imagine what a monstrous vine it came off of.
The Jehovah's Witnesses came to pamphlet us with pictures of small, smiling children petting bears and lions and such while we were carving them.  I started telling them excitedly about our new way of celebrating Halloween, and they came away traumatized, I think.  Ethan told me later they don't even celebrate birthdays.

I also made toasted pumpkin seeds, but they burned.  We took a walk down to the grapefruit tree that grows in the median on the street over and got some grapefruit for our offrenda.  Later in the evening we ate the pumpkin bars and told the stories of the Beloved Dead.

Another One!

When we went out yesterday afternoon to do the chores, Chestnut had just had her baby!
It's another boy.  She was cleaning him off and mooing to him.

I can tell she's going to be a really good mama.  She knew just what to do.  He was already starting to hop around playfully.  The other calves were there, too, and spent a lot of time running around with their tails up and playing with the dog.  Geranium made a fuss about this at first (she hates the dog), but they all ignored her and kept playing.

Here's Geranium's calf having a nursing break.  We have decided to name her Flora after the Flora danica buttery milk culture.

Here's Matilda and baby, when he wasn't running about crazily.  I love the funny way they lift their tails when they're running and playing.

And my baby was there, too!  Lots of babies this year!

Monday, November 19, 2012

New Calves

A few days ago Matilda had her calf!  It's a boy.
I wish the electric fence hadn't been in the way for the pictures, but when I tried to go through the gate up there, Matilda started pushing it with her horns.  She was just eager to be milked, but I had the baby with me and I didn't want her to accidentally hurt us.

He kept wandering off at first, thanks to the no-good dog who leads babies astray, but he seems to be settling in.  Rosie named him Explorer, because he kept disappearing, much to the distress of everyone, and surprisingly more so for us than for his mother.  Matilda's been being milked again, and she's so happy about that.  For months now she's been resentful of Mairie going to be milked, and would run away from me and turn her nose up when I tried to scratch her neck and be friendly.

He looks just like a Devon, only he's got a larger frame like Matilda.

Just a short while later, Geranium had her calf!  It's a girl.  Everyone except Ethan has wanted to name her Buttercup, which I know is a very cliched name for a cow, but it's way better than Ethan's suggestion of "Dippy."  And she is contributing to my plan for making tons of raw cultured butter.

Geranium is such a good mother.  She had her baby in a pile of old hay, just when Ethan got there for milking.  The calf was all snuggled up and warm in the hay.  Meathead has seemed slightly jealous.  He was picking on the calf a little by nudging her aggressively with his nose, but Geranium bumped him away.  The baby didn't seem to even realize or care.

The calf was nursing while Geranium was eating hay--so cute!

Chestnut is going to calve very soon, too.  Her udder is huge.  I'm afraid it looks like Isla wasn't bred at all.  I am worried she is infertile.  We had her AI'd several times and finally got the bull, but she was due last week and her udder hasn't swelled at all.  The lady we bought Honey (Isla's mama) from had kept the heifer who was born before Isla, and she later told me that heifer was also not able to conceive.  I was hoping all the kelp and good grass would overcome any possibilities like that for Isla.  I don't know what we'll do with her if it turns out she is infertile.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Disgruntled with Countryside Organics

I am so disappointed with Countryside Organics, who we order our organic grains, kelp and other feed supplements from.  They are the closest organic feed mill to us in Florida, and they are in Virginia.

  I used to really think they were great, even though they've sold us feed crawling with weevils for exorbitant prices (like 50 cents a pound) in the past, and messed up many orders by mixing things up and giving us things we didn't want, like whole barley, instead of corn, I was glad they had organic feed, kelp, etc.  They had always seemed so nice on the phone.

A couple of weeks ago they called to let us know that back in August they "forgot" somehow to charge us $220, and so they are retroactively charging us now!
Back in August we had budgeted money for it and didn't notice at all that they had neglected $220.

So basically Countryside Organics = The Grinch Who Stole Christmas this year.

I wanted to send them a check with a note saying,

Here's the money we were going to use to buy our children presents for Christmas.  Thanks a lot for the extremely poor service you have provided.

But Ethan wisely talked me out of it.  After all, as the C.O. employee who called to badger us about their bill reminded me, we hardly order anything compared to their big distributors.  The guy was far from polite when I told him about all the other mistakes they've made for us and was really annoyed to hear any customer feedback.

We are small farmers, and they don't care.  They have no competitors in the Southeast, and they really couldn't care less.

I wish someone else would start an organic feed mill closer to Florida!
I would totally do it if I had a million dollars and a Florida registered veterinarian.

Anyway, venting aside, I've been wanting to write a post with thoughts/ideas about what we feed our animals.  Less stuff from Countryside Organics, that's for sure!!!
Next post, perhaps--

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Yarn Along

I generally try to strictly talk about the farm here--really this is mostly for family and far-away friends to keep up with our doings than for anyone to read, but for so long I've wanted to join in on the Wednesday Yarn Along.  Reading and knitting is just what I love!

Somehow, something always happens--I'm busy or I forget, or I don't have a project/book at the moment, but today the baby was even napping enough for a picture!

I'm working on a Camilla Babe for baby Clo, with the recommended  Quince & co yarn in Apricot.  It's very pretty and I love the fan pattern, but for a little bit the decrease round didn't make sense.  I think I've gotten it figured out now.

I'm reading a Diana Wynn Jones book we actually got to read to the kids at the library, but I got sucked into reading it last night.  It's the 3rd book in the series, and I've never read the first two, but I'm still really enjoying it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

This was the first cake Mirin's ever made--it was a meringue made with our eggs and cream with raspberries (from the store--alas!  I wish we could grow raspberries!).

I went to the farm last Sunday with the baby in tow (her first ever trip to the farm!).  I can't say she enjoyed the car ride at all--actually she hated it, but she slept through most of me throwing rye grass and clover seeds along the first line.  (I almost finished the whole line, but have been very stiff and sore all week--we are looking to find someone with a spreader/seeder to do the rest of the seeding and fertilizing.  It's just too much this year!).

The garden has truly been transformed.  The cows did an amazing job eating and knocking just about everything down.  I was surprised to see how autumn-ish it looks out there.  The leaves are falling and changing and the autumn flowers are all blooming.  The grass has that unhealthy brown tinge it gets when it starts getting too cool for it.  A lot changed in only four weeks.

I was sitting in the hammock with the baby when Ethan went to collect Mairie for milking.  Before he left he said he had maybe 45 minutes to an hour left for milking--depending on how slowly Mairie went into the milking shed.  I noticed there were quite a lot more strands to the "brain cage" now than there used to be.
A few minutes later I heard him saying, "Come on, Mairie!" from above the orchard.  Baby Clo and I walked to the milking paddock to chase the ducks away (that hasn't changed a bit!) and to help I called her and knocked on the side of a bucket.  Thirty seconds later Mairie came charging into the milking paddock and got right in the milking shed.  When Ethan finally caught up, panting, he said very ruefully that she never, ever moves that fast usually.  He said she heard me call her and just picked up her heels and ran.  He was just a little bit insulted.  I ended up milking her that evening while Ethan held the baby.   Mairie turned out to be deathly afraid of the baby, so they wandered around until Mairie was unclipped again.  It was so nice to be milking again.  There is something so comfortingly rhythmical about milking and the way it must be done at the same time every day.  It made me feel back in sorts.

The first few days this week I felt so happy.  I think I've been really missing being out and doing the chores, without realizing it.  It's nice to stay home and rest, but there are so many things I missed--walking a long way over the ground and not asphalt, the sweet fresh smells, my animals, seeing the small changes every day in nature, the beautiful sunsets, and being able to look so far away with my eyes--in town we have so many trees in our neighborhood, I feel like my eyes haven't gotten to look far away enough.

It was nice to be back.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Peppers, persimmons etc.

I haven't written a post for so long--at first it was because there wasn't much to write about other than adventures with Mairie forgetting where the milking paddock was located.

(No baby cows yet--it turns out that I counted wrong when I was figuring out their due dates.  They are actually due in October and November--oops!)

But most recently, our new baby was born nearly four weeks ago, so we're both relieved that the cows won't need to be milked so soon.  Needless to say, I haven't been to the farm for awhile.  Ethan's been doing the chores tout seul all these weeks.  All I've gotten are rumors about how things are going.

I am going to try to go out tomorrow for the first time to seed some rye and clover along the grazing lines.  It will be nice to be out there again.

Supposedly, the cows have been in the garden and the jungle of weeds has been finally conquered.  Ethan pulled the last of the peppers out of there before they were devoured (I can't believe they ate the hot peppers, too!).

That made it possible to dig some sweet potatoes--so for the first time ever we have enjoyed home-grown sweet potatoes!
Last year the sweet potatoes had a tragic end--all 100 little slips--from a gopher tortise who would get into the garden (he had built his hole right through the fence), despite all kinds of barricades I built up for him.

We have also been enjoying persimmons from the tree in our yard.  The trick, we have found, is to pick them slightly green and ripen them in a bowl of rice.  We learned it in Diamond Village from a friend.  It keeps the animals from getting them first.  They are the astringent persimmons, so they have to be glowingly orange to be edible.

Another garden victory was that although we got only a very small amount of dent corn from the garden this year--unfortunately a lot of it was moldy from all the rain--I actually made use of it.  I shelled it and ground it in our corn mill and made some pinkish corn bread.  We still have a few more blue and purple cobs--they are all the same kind of butcher corn, but it comes in many different colors.

I hope we can grow a bunch more next year.  I still feel bad that all of last year's dent corn got devoured  by weevils before I got around to doing anything with it.

It was a pretty color when ground, too.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


I've had an aversion lately to being on a computer, but everything is going well.  Once the summer garden becomes towering weeds, there's just not too much day to day interesting things to write about.

But the baby goats, as you can see, are growing.  We are still trying Molly's herbal wormer for them, and it seems to be working well.  I have been dreaming up a longer, more in-depth post about the goats, because there are some interesting things about them I want to discuss--but that will be another day.

The rain has been such a blessing this year.  The grass has grown amazingly, particularly where we spread the lime and fertilizer.  I can see a line where the fertilizer was spread and where it wasn't.  The grass is so much thicker and grows back so much faster and is very green.  The cows love it.  Another good thing about it--we've hardly had to buy hay this year, and that was mostly for when Ethan went out of town and I felt like it was too much to do all the chores myself and move the cows around.  We had them parked for a few days on the worst pastures with the hay, so it will help to improve them at the same time.  We are hoping to  lime and fertilize more lines next year.  This is the first year that we are grazing all the grazeable area, which we feel is a huge accomplishment.  This fall we are hoping to seed rye and clover and make use of the remaining fertilizer.  We have such an advantage in some ways here in the south for being able to grow green stuff almost all year.  I keep wanting to plant winter forages, but it's never worked.  Last year I bought an inexpensive deer seed mix and broadcasted it along the lines, but it was mostly a waste of time and money.  Hardly anything sprouted.  I think it needed to be drilled.  We are looking to get rye and clover, which has grown well in the garden when simply broadcasted.

We did have a few hoof problems with the goats this very wet summer--I don't think it dried out for at least a month and a half.  I initially freaked out when Nougat was limping but her hoof didn't appear to have hoof rot.  I called a vet, who didn't seem to know very much and who said it sounded like listeriosis.  I looked it up, and it sounded nothing like it to me.  It was going to cost about as much as buying a new goat to have the vet come out, so I asked our friend who also keeps goats and she suggested squirting peroxide on it.  She said the vets around here really don't know much about goats.  I did that, as well as soaking it with epsom salts and goldenseal, and she's been fine.  Thank goodness we didn't waste money on the vet and have some crazy, unnecessarily draconian drug treatment to deal with.

No turkeys this year, and we are going to cull the oldest layers when they stop laying in the winter.  We are cutting back on the layer chickens in hopes of raising more meat chickens.  The ducks are still menacing us.

We decided to name the other female rabbit "White Fang."  She is just as vicious as Lily, possibly more so.  It was all I could do to keep her from mauling my hands while I was trying to adjust her feeder the other day.  There was a major break-out last week in which three of our rabbits escaped.  We got one of them back--he was not fun to catch--and the other two have likely already been eaten by hawks or the dog.  It was unfortunate, as they were nearly ready to harvest.

Matilda, Geranium, Isla and Chestnut are all due to calve in September and October, so that should be exciting.  Ethan says his hands hurt just thinking of milking that many cows.  Due to very poor planning, my newest baby is due in September also--next week in fact.

Matilda has been dried off now for about a month, but she still hasn't forgiven me for milking Mairie too.  Apparently, that was a privilege she felt only she should have.  Mairie still hasn't figured out where the milking shed is.  My friend Karen, who was her previous owner, thought she was neurotic because she didn't have enough magnesium, but I think it's because she's dumb and doesn't know where she is or what to do most of the time.  She really is a nice cow, but we've really trouble with managing her because she never really knows what to do (even if it's the same, every single day), and it makes her anxious.

Another good thing about all the rain--we've had so many edible mushrooms growing.  We've also discovered Chanterelles, both the red and yellow kind, which are so good.  We're even drying some.  It's exciting to add another edible mushroom to the list of ones we know and feel comfortable with.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I thought I would just peep in for a moment--honestly nothing exciting enough to write about has been happening.  Mostly it's been raining when we are at the farm, making it difficult to bring the camera out.  The rain is wonderful, and all the pastures are growing enormously well.  The ones we fertilized this year are doing amazingly well.  You can see the line of where the fertilizer/soil correctives stopped.  We are making plans to lime and correct more of the grazing area.  We are so pleased that this is the first year we have grazed all the grassy land on the 40 acres.  We need to put in a few more semi-permanent lines to make moving the cows much, much easier, but that's it.

The rain has been making the mushrooms grow!  We are collecting Lactarius mushrooms as much as we can.  They are everywhere this year!  They are such a treat.  Mirin has gotten very interested in mushrooms again.  Last year was so dry, we hardly had any, but we've been finding so many this summer.  Check out the ginormous edible mushrooms my kids found with my dad.  We ate some last night and they were extremely tasty.

One interesting thing:  Ethan noticed that Mairie--our extremely spatially challenged cow ("Pet Rock"), was eating the Lactarius piperatus mushrooms like crazy.  We think maybe this is what's wrong with her.  She still has not figured out how to get to the milking paddock.  It drives us crazy.  So much of the fencing wire is taken up with what Ethan calls "Mairie's Brain Cage," a long, long unelectrified stretch of fence that  goes all the way from where ever she is to the milking paddock.  Even then, it's still a struggle for her.  Oh, and she's always either drooling or she has grass or hay sticking out of her mouth.  I told my friend we bought her from about Mairie's "issues," and she didn't think there was anything wrong with it.  We guess maybe all mini-Jerseys are that dumb?  Ethan's been calling her a "small yapper-type cow."

Otherwise, there's just the story about Nougat's foot, but I'll have to put that in a different post.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Lacto-fermented Sarsaparilla

My dad dug up a lot of smilax tubers in the yard recently.  He gave them to me thinking I might be able to do something with them, and so we made some sarsaparilla soda (it's not ready quite yet).

First of all, they are incredible.  I love the strange way they look once they have been washed off and trimmed.  I've tried making it before, and the first mistake I'd made was trying to grate the tubers.  Don't try it.  They are so tough, it is impossible, you can't really even cut them with an extremely sharp knife.  Perhaps with a hatchet.  At an herbal conference I heard someone say the Native Americans used to boil them until they were soft, mash them and dry them as a survival food.  So this time I snipped off the roots and put all the tubers in a pot, covered them with water and cooked them for two days.  After two days, they were still as hard as a rock.

They turned a deep red color, and the water became a reddish broth with a good flavor, so I poured it off into a 1 gallon glass jar and mixed it with:

1 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup rapadura

I ended up separating it into two 1/2 gallon jars, to give it more room to ferment (somehow, this works out, even if it doesn't make sense.)  Then I added the culture--I just use the commercially available powdered kefir culture for sodas like this--it's convenient, I can use it for something experimental without ruining it and I don't have to feed it all the time--although a home made ginger bug would be really good, too.  I use it instead of yeast in brewing to make things be lacto-fermented rather than alcoholic.  Of course, if it goes for too long it will be alcoholic, but then it has the beneficial yeast from the kefir culture.

After mixing in the kefir powder, I leave it on the counter for a few days, to let it ferment.  This was very sweet, and it's warm, so it will probably only need maybe 3-4 days to ferment.  We tasted it before I added the culture, and it actually did taste surprisingly like sarsaparilla soda (uncarbonated, of course).

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Muscovy Menace

We unleashed the Muscovy ducks again.

We had to catch them last year as they were destroying the garden (who knew ducks liked to eat tomato plants?) and swimming/pooping in the water troughs.  Two of the ducks, Aunty Mabel and the Crazy Duck, gave us quite a hard time, although the entire process was an epic effort, known to us as "The Last of the Muscovies."

They've been being tractored around the pastures in the movable coops like the chickens ever since, but it was getting really old to be moving five chicken coops every day.  We did get some eggs from them when they were in the coop, but it wasn't enough to really be worth the extra time, effort and food (when they are out we don't feed them at all, and they actually begin to scorn the ration we offer.  We tried to catch them that way at first and they just laughed at us).

Remembering what a total pain they were the first time, I suggested we buy them their own water trough to foul with dirt, duck droppings, grease and feathers, and park it way away from everything else.  Ethan put in a water line, just for them, and we filled up the new "duck trough" with high hopes and let them out.

After a few days they were back to wandering around the barn and milking area--and even roosting on the milking shed roof.  The duck trough is lonely, empty and forgotten in a far corner of the farm.  They have been menacing us ever since.

There are only six of them--including the odd White Peking duck, who is the last of that long-ago batch of ducklings we had bought, only to discover how incredibly frustrating it is to pluck a duck (it was like eating a down comforter).  His nickname has become "The Rapist," for reasons which would be apparent if you watched him interact with the other ducks for five minutes.  It's just awful to watch.  I squirt him with the hose when ever I get the chance.  I keep hoping he'll get eaten by something, but no.  The chickens only last a week, maximum, but this fat, flightless duck seems invincible.  He even roosts on the ground.  Maybe it's the down.

The first week they were out, I was milking Mairie, who is the most neurotic animal I've ever had to deal with, other than the rabbit Lily, who is related to the Monty Python attack rabbit, when this awful sound of beating wings and claws scrabbling on a metal roof made both of us jump.  I looked around and saw Aunty Mabel's face peeking out at me along the eves of the milking shed.  She gave a saucy "peep" and scrabbled into the middle of the roof.  Then we had to endure the rest of the flock (minus Big Whitey) flying up and crash-landing the same way.  I don't think Mairie has recovered from the shock yet.  I certainly haven't.

While I was doing the chores in the rain last week, there was a brief spell of clear weather after I had moved the chickens, who are at the very furthest line away right now.  I quickly drove back across the farm to milk the goats before it started to rain again, and met the stupid ducks in the part of the road along the power line, sandwiched between two fences so I couldn't go around.  They just sat in the middle of the road and stared until I braked just before running them over, at which point they began very slowly walking down the road.  I crept along behind them at 1/16th MPH.  Honking had absolutely no effect, other than to terrorize Mairie, who was next to the milking paddock, and so it went for the remaining 50 feet of the road.  It was raining again when I finally got out of car.

They also hang out in the barn and steal food from the buckets, poop on the paths, attack the milking area, try to drink the solar panels and generally get in the way.  At least they are roosting on the mulch pile now, and I have managed to keep them out of the water troughs by diligently filling up a washtub for them every day.  The dog helps with this, too.

I wish they were more edible.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Garden Update

This wild mess is actually the garden.  The four (or was it five?) days of rain last week really made everything grow.  It's extremely intimidating to try fighting your way through to get to the vegetables.  (I think next year we are going to try some different weed-control--cardboard?  Mowing?).  It's a jungle.

And the bugs--there are soooo many bugs!  There are swarms--buzzing around, eating the weeds, eating the garden plants, eating each other.  Just walking through is like something out of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.  I feel like I need an insect whistle and a glider to survive (and also a machete).

However, we are still pulling lots of vegetables out.  Not summer squash or beans this year, unfortunately, but lots of other things.  The rain turned the remaining melons to mush.  I know I could have gone in and harvested them during the rain, but since I was doing all the chores myself those days, no.  It was enough to be rained on while moving chicken coops and milking cows and goats.  There were two left, and there are still healthy-looking melon vines in there, so there's a possibility of more.  The cucumbers look like they're getting a second wind, too.

We didn't get many pumpkins this year, but we did get a few.  There were two Potimarron pumpkins, a Sibley (the long blue one), a Winter Luxury Pie pumpkin, and a Strawberry Crown--and not pictured there were also several Thelma Sander's Sweet Potato pumpkins, an Australian Butter pumpkin and an Amish Pie pumpkin.  I like growing so many different kinds, because I get a good perspective on how well they do during certain conditions.  For example, the Sibley was nice-tasting, but it was very susceptible to insect damage.  Winter Luxury Pie is nice, but it has never really thrived here, not last year or this crazy year.  However, the Potimarrons were good pumpkins and produced well, even with all the neglect.  I will definitely grow them next year.
An yes, I admit that the pumpkins were neglected this year.  I vow to do better next summer.  There is also a strange volunteer white pumpkin, that looks like a white hubbard squash growing out of a compost pile from the chickie brooder.  It's not in the garden, so it hasn't been watered or cared for at all this year, and actually has been stepped on quite a bit by cows because it's growing in the path to the milking shed, and yet it has several nice large pumpkins on it--more than any of the vines in the garden!
I don't like to think about what that says about my gardening skills, but I'm trying to think of how we could replicate that for next year's garden.  More batches of meat chickens?  

The okra has really started to produce well.  It went crazy during the storm and there was a lot of very long, woody okra I cut and tossed out, but still plenty of tender pods, too.

We lost a lot of the large tomatoes in the rain, and even some peppers, but the cherry tomatoes seemed to thrive.  They are all ripening up now, and we still got a lot of peppers.  I really like the Czechoslovakian Black peppers.  They are hot peppers, and have all the flavor of hot peppers, but they become mild enough when cooked to be able to include them in meals that my children will eat.

The cow peas are also ready!  I got twice as many as this along the second row.  We got out our new pea sheller--which did require some searching on Youtube for someone who knew how to make it functional (you have to hook a drill up to the handle--apparently it needs a lot of torque), and we did get enough for a pot of peas with fresh side cooked up for lunch.

As I was saying to Ethan the other day, it might look like an inhospitable jungle, but at least we're still getting a significant amount of food out of it.  Not too bad for swarms of insects, lots of rain and over 90 degree weather.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Washed Pigs

The rain washed most of the usual mud off the piggies, so I took the opportunity to take a few pictures of them.  (We were soooo happy about the nice long rain we got last week, although at the end there it was getting a little boring).

Star and Black-ear have really grown tremendously.  I hadn't seen them in a little while, because they've been moved down the wooded pig line to a fresh paddock which is away from the main area.  Ethan's been feeding them, as it requires carrying a heavy bucket of soaked oats, barley, corn, peas and sour milk all the way up there.

Ethan was out of town last week, and I was feeding them, and as they made a very punctual appearance when they saw the bucket, and I got a few pictures.  They are huge.  It's hard to believe the tiny piglets we brought back last winter are the same big pigs.

The ugly piggies are looking better, too.  This has been a rough year for these pigs.  They were ugly, small and runty when we first got them, and after a few days we lost two of them (the first time we have ever lost a pig, other than from having them escape), from what we discovered was the porcine coricovirus, which the guy we bought them from called "travelling sickness."   It's something nearly all pigs have and isn't a problem unless they are stressed for some reason, like being moved to a new home.  About a week after all that, I realized when they came over to eat that they were crawling with lice, seemingly overnight.  Really, it's been kind of a nightmare with these pigs--we have never had problems with pigs before in the four years we've raised them.

We got some diatomacious earth as soon as possible, which I sprinkled generously around their pen and all over them daily for a couple of weeks.  When the lice seemed to have disappeared, we let them out into the larger paddock along the wooded pig-grazing line, and I haven't seen a single louse on them since.

Although it's been quite the rehabilitative struggle this year, they have filled out a lot since they've been here.  They look so much huskier and healthier than they did when they got here.  They still aren't very pretty, but at least they are looking sleeker and fatter.  The little ones were so skinny and runty when we first got them.  They love being in the big wooded paddock.  Like the pink piggies, we hardly see them except for when they expect their dinner.  Otherwise they are cooling off in their wallow or foraging.

The bad news is that one of the pigs--the brown one in the background--appears to be pregnant.  We only just noticed this last week.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Summer Sloth

Just like last year, as soon as it's gotten really hot and humid, lethargy sets in.  I keep thinking about doing a new post, but it's so hard to get anything done when it's 92 degrees out.  I've gone into summer hibernation.  I'll admit I was kind of driven to even write this.  Mirin is gone all weekend at the Firefly Gathering, learning to make weapons he's really not old enough to be in possession of (it was the grandparents' idea).  Rose was a little too young to go, so while Mirin is having the time of his life, Rose and I are completely sick of each other's company.  I am so thankful I have two children in normal circumstances.  I can now understand/sympathize with the single-child families who send their children to childcare programs as soon as they are walking and talking, even if they don't need childcare.  It really is hard to talk to/entertain someone every waking minute of their lives.  A few minutes on the computer is as much of a break as I could hope for.

Of course things have been happening, completely unrecorded, however.  The baby goats are getting big and fat.  They look about twice as tall as they were when they were born.  May's baby is the fattest.  They run around while I do the milking and jump on top of the old decrepit wagon.  Ethan says they look like they have Pogo sticks attached to their feet.  To me, they look like a cyclone of legs and ears.  

The wagon is the same one I used to lug three buckets of feed and water up to the chickens and goats, back when Rose was a baby strapped to my back and I had to move the 400-lb hell-on-little-wheels coop over the grass and cactus all by myself each day.  I had to remove the wheels before it was moved, or the chickens would get out and be eaten over night, and I carried a crow bar around to hoist the edges up until I was strong enough to lift it with my hands.  If it didn't have wheels on it, it couldn't be moved without a large combustion engine.  Somewhere, there's a crow bar out in the pastures still.  Ethan rarely went out, so it was mostly me and the two little kids sweating among the blackberry thorns and the cactus, pulling the wagon with flat tires (Ethan mistakenly bought the one with inflatable tires).  I'm glad the wagon has a new use now.

 We've been getting the nicest melons lately.  Mirin is the official melon-picker, because he's much better than I am at telling if they are ripe or not.  We even got a Delice de la Table melon this year, although I think my favorites were the Eden's Gem, Charantais and Sakata's Sweet.  We didn't get much out of the Golden Jenny melons, which have been so reliable in past years, but I think that had more to do with a bad location than the melons.

We also got a ton of tomatillos this year, and a few lemon squash.  I did something wrong with the summer squash, and it was all I could do to keep them from curling up and dying before we got a few squash out of them.  I think squash skips years.  We've only had a really good summer squash year every other year.  They have different plagues that come through and kill them.  One year it was powdery mildew, after two weeks of solid rain.  Then we had a good year.  Then it was stem borers and Ethan's incompetence.  I was in California that spring, and he planted them in a place where even the bahia grass struggles to survive.  Last year was a good squash year, and low and behold, this year the dreaded squash bug has reared it's ugly head and dispatched our dreams of buttery squash, squash cooked in milk and baked zucchini.  But at least we've gotten a bunch of sweet and hot peppers, for the first time, so it kind of makes up for it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Baby Goat Bliss

Here is the picture of May's baby, June Bug, as promised.  May is the goat who just will not stay in a fence. She is almost always out (and eating things like my flowers and banana trees).  We chase her back in whenever we see her out, but she's never in for longer than five minutes.  So of course she wandered way off to have her baby.  We found her and June Bug hiding in an oak thicket, right in the middle of the paddock the cows were supposed to be moved to that day, so we had to move them, which proved to be traumatic on all counts.
May has mostly been staying inside the fence now, and she's actually a much better mother than Nougat.  Maybe this has something to do with only having one kid, but she's always by her baby, smelling her and cleaning her off.  June Bug proved to be very sharp and learned to nurse faster than either of Nougat's babies.  May watches her like a hawk, and when I was sitting with her after the birth to help the baby get it's share of colostrum as soon as possible, she was smelling the breeze and listening to any little sound.  She reminded me of a deer.
Nougat, on the other hand....
Had her babies on an enormous cactus.  I still have cactus spines all over from trying to help them out of it.  I never see her really wash her babies like May does, and the first day I came out she left them very quickly to see if I had a treat for her.  The babies were crying, and one ran over and she kicked it out of the way.  She's usually laying about 20 feet away from them when we get there.  She responds to them when they cry and likes to know where they are, but she's not really careful with them.
It's so interesting watching the animals parenting.  They never, ever act aggressively towards their babies, as humans do with corporal punishment.  And they respond to their crying--something that is unusual in modern human parenting.
If you think of it in terms of people, Nougat is the closest to what is fashionable in modern parenting--the separation, limits, boundaries, sleeping away from your babies.  May is more of an attachment parent, I suppose.  I hope June Bug doesn't end up hopelessly spoiled and over-attached.  The reality is, though, that Nature doesn't bother with philosophical reasoning.  It's obvious that in the wild, May's baby would have a significantly higher chance of survival.

 PS:  I saw our mail lady again (it's been someone else delivering the mail lately), and she told me that the buck we had them all bred to just died a few days ago.  She said he just got thinner and thinner and finally got really sick and died.  She tried wormers and antibiotics, but nothing helped.  It sounded just like what happened to Ellie!  I really wonder if that was what she died from.  Our other goats seem completely fine and healthy, and the babies are doing great, thankfully.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

May also kidded!  She only had one kid, and it has white ears too, but the white spot on her head is smaller, only a star.  I keep forgetting to take my camera out to take pictures, so I can't show you (maybe tomorrow), but I do have a few photos of the fruits of the garden that I can go on and on about (I love talking about my garden).  We have gotten some melons already!  I really like the gold baby melons.  They are small but very sweet.  We got our first Eden's Gem melon and I think a Charantais.

The tomatillos are still doing well, and we actually got some peppers this year.  The first ones were the Czec black hot peppers, but they were fairly mild.  And it was a relief to get some cucumbers and summer squash.  I was afraid we wouldn't get anything this year.

Strangely, this year we have had less of a succession of harvests.  Last year there was a definite seasonal timing for all of the different vegetables, with the squash and cucumbers being first, then the beans, then tomatoes, then melons and pumpkins, and lastly the okra, a few peppers (it was a bad year) and the eggplant.  This year all at once everything's ready--except the beans, which were a failure for some reason.  I think it's because it has been so hot this year.  We had an exceptionally warm spring.

The weeds are also noticing this.  It's really gotten out of hand.  I can hardly see the garden for the weeds.  Some of the weeds are pretty, like the Spanish needle and the re-seeded zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers, but others are just weedy like the awful nutsedge and sandspurs that came it with a bale of old hay I had used as mulch the first year.  They are mostly growing between the rows, but some things--not to mention the Mayo Indian and Golden Amaranths I planted last year--have been serious pests.  Who would have known that the two tiny packages of amaranth seeds would lead to such an invasion?

The sunflowers, as lovely as they are, are also causing problems.  They are blocking the sprinklers and shading out the melons.  They are so bright and pretty, I haven't had the heart or the energy to cut them down.  It looks like it's going to be a serious job, anyway, like I might have to borrow Ethan's ax.  They are massive.  There is one in the back of the garden whose stem appears to be four inches at chest height.  They are no longer sunflowers--they are sun trees.

Friday, June 1, 2012

New Goats

We did lose Ellie after all.  She was so weak after having the babies, I think it was just too much for her, and she was having a lot of trouble breathing.  We are still thinking it over and trying to figure out what happened.  I think she had pneumonia.  Was this the same coughing illness she had in January and didn't recover from?  The immune system is naturally suppressed towards the end of pregnancy--was that what made her so ill again?  We're not sure.  The babies were born too early, certainly.  It has been very sad.  She was our first goat, first farm animal really, other than chickens, and she was such a dear.

Nougat had twin girls the day before yesterday.  I've been so anxious about them, but they all three seem healthy.  These are Nougat's first babies, but she's been doing really well with them and has accepted them both.  After the whole thing with Chocolate and May, I was worried, especially as when I got there one was already standing and the other was laying down still, and Nougat was very quick to desert them to see if I had a treat for her.

But they both seem to be fine--so far.  I feel like I should add that after how things have been turning out.  They are so cute.  They look a lot like the buck.  They have slightly blue eyes, which Ethan wasn't happy about.  He looks down on people who keep blue-eyed goats, but I pointed out that we were keeping them for their milking abilities, not for how cute they are.
I love that kids are so friendly.  Calves are always so stand-offish until they get older.  Soon after I got there and helped them get their colostrum they were climbing in my lap.

May is also due soon.  Her udder gets larger every day.  This will be her first birth/lactation, too, so I hope everything goes as well with her.  This is the first year we are milking animals who have never been milked before.  Sometimes it all seems like too much--worrying about the babies, loosing dear old Ellie and all the kicking at the milking stand.  But there is also so much to be thankful for.  It's so nice to have baby goats again.  They are already starting to be playful and shake their ears around.  And soon there will be fresh chevre.