Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I don't know about how it is where you live - but is anyone else seeing this when they drive around their nearby farm country:

There should be crops growing, not weeds.

That's right... all we see right now is nothing. Nothing planted. Nothing growing. Nothing done. Zero. Zip. Nada. Folks, this is a little unnerving. We drove a little further and this is what we saw:

More nothing.

More nothing. Most of the fields aren't even plowed because of our crazy weather this spring. Its been too wet for the farmers to get into the fields and get their land prepared for planting. I talked to an old timer last weekend who said he's never seen anything like it in his 35 years of farming.

By now most of the commercial crops - soybeans and corn - should be in the ground and the land as far as you can see should be green. Not covered with corn stubble from last year or just filled with weeds.

We are also rapidly approaching the cut off date when farmers who have "crop insurance" will just call the whole season a loss. If they can't get the crops planted then they won't be ready for harvest in the fall. At this point an early frost would be crippling.

The good news is that we are looking at a week of mostly dry and hot conditions - but that's not true for the northern part of the state - or the rest of the Mid-West. With the destructive weather - flooding and tornados - this could be a tricky summer for food production. I'm not talking about fruits and vegetables, I'm talking about the commercial crops that work their way into almost every item in the grocery store.

If you don't think that a failed soybean or corn crop will affect you, think again. I'm not saying there will be blood in the streets if folks can't get their soda pop or their Doritos.... but much of these unplanted crops go for livestock feed. So that cheap burger meat you get at the store won't be cheap for long. Or worse than sky-high prices, what happens when food production is forced out of the country? Do you really want food production to be brought to you by folks who use lead paint in kids toys and who poison their own medicines?

I love that Maple View Farms has so much good info on their site about this - be sure to check it out. And then go over and read what Gene Logsdon has to say - he's an old timer with a lot of wisdom.

So what to do? My pal D over at Spring Hill Farms has been talking about this for a while. He rightly says to "Do Something!" Anyone can plant a garden or join a CSa, And if you've been thinking about getting some clucks, now is a great time to take the plunge. And you might want to do some prepping. You don't have to get all crazy in a "build a bunker" kind of way. But in the stock market there is a thing called "dollar cost averaging" - you can use this same principal for buying your basics. Just a little a time and start when costs are lower rather than waiting until everything is higher to lower your overall costs.

If you still don't think this has anything to do with you... well. Check out Veggie PAK's latest post on what happened with their part of the world was without power after a storm. I love that he took pix of the refrigerated section of the grocery store and how it was emptied in just 24 to 48 hours. Those stores just aren't as full as you think they are and if supply is disrupted, well. I hope you've at least got a jar of peanut butter.

I'm not saying there will be a mass panic - and, God willing, the farmers will get their crops in and we can all unclench a little... but I am saying to take a minute and look around and see whats going on.

What's going on in your neck of the woods? Are your farmers in the fields? Still rained out? Crops growing? What do you see - nothing? Or a little something? Got pix? Send me a link in the comments and I'll post it here so we can get an on the ground view of the crop situation.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hill of Beans, farm notes, and broody update

I'm thrilled to finally be doing some planting. Of course we went directly from cold winter to unbearable rain to.... hot summer. Thankfully its starting to dry out but now all the seedlings need to be watered so they don't just dry up!
Roma bush beans - growing like weeds!

I've been working on my Hill Of Beans. For now I have several rows of Roma bush beans and I'll do a couple rows of Bush Lake in the next couple of days. I also have seeds for what are locally called "horticulture beans" - I think they are just kinda pinto-like beans and wow are the delicious canned. I tilled up the area for the horticulture beans today.  Next to the potato row, on the other side of the beans, I planted more cow peas mixed with turnips.

Pears are doing beautifully

In the hillside pepper patch I added a couple six packs of "Big Bertha" and "Super Heavy." I also found a volunteer squash and I moved it to a heavily composted pile. I planted a row of seed-started Black Krim. I think I mis-identified this Black Krim as a Tula Black last year. Or maybe they are the same thing, just named differently.  Between the tomato row and the fence line I planted a mix of carrots and turnips.

There's a million baby grapes - a bit of frost damage but they are bouncing back.

I've also been working on this area outside the gate. The "hay field" (ha! more like a patch) was tall enough for us to take about a third of it down and give it to the goats. They loved it. And it was nice to get some freebies for them. I tilled up the mowed-down section and will plant it with clover and black oil sunflowers. The sunflowers I planted earlier are doing great - and they will be great snacks for everyone this winter.

Peas are going to be ready any second.

In broody news, my little duck friend with one chicken baby is doing great. She hadn't gotten up for about a week tho and was starting to breath hard. We decided to take action and give her some relief. I took up the little one and put him in my shirt, then carefully picked up the momma right off her nest and put her down outside the garage where The Big Man was waiting. As soon as I stepped back he gently showered her with water from the hose. And then... whew wow she was relieved all right.

For those not in the know, when a poultry momma sits on her eggs she usually won't poop on her nest. She normally will get up to relieve herself only once a day or so..and well... this poor little momma was really full! We knew the water would help stimulate her - and she got a quick stand up bath which will help keep her eggs at the proper humidity. After a minute or two she shook her feathers, preened a little, and went and sat back down. I put the baby back and both were back in business. Remember that setting a nest is really hard on the mommas - some hens will actually die on their nests. So its important to intervene if you think its required. Ideally you'd want to put their food and water where they have to get up to reach it.

Hope everyone is enjoying their holiday weekend - and finally getting some planting done!

Friday, May 27, 2011

How to Save A Million Dollars - Make your own laundry soap.

Happy Friday everyone! It looks like we are all clear on the weather front - whew!

So. Do you want to know how to save a million dollars? Its easy - start making your own laundry soap. I know. Who does that? Um... I do! And so can you. My friend, SD, shared 'how to' with me and its so easy you've got to try it.
This is all you need to save about a million dollars over your lifetime.

A bit of background. I never considered making my own laundry soap and the only people I knew who did was that family with like 20 kids. Plus - why bother? Its so easy just to pick up some laundry soap in the store.

Or is it? I'm actually allergic to anything made by P&G, or anything that's scented so I was limited to exactly one kind of laundry soap. And it was kinda pricey so we'd get it at Sam's Club, and well, you know how that ended. Even "cheaply" at Sam's the only-laundry-soap-I-can-use was still about $11. So I figured I'd give making my own a try. My expectations were really low. The whole thing sounded ridiculous and it couldn't possibly work.

Wow, was I wrong! Home made laundry soap is GREAT! Everyone should make their own. Well, I don't know about those high efficient whirly-go-round washers, but for our regular washer this works just fine.Once you break down the cost per load its so cheap its almost incalculable. Some folks say it cost just pennies per load. How can you afford NOT to try this?

Grate the Fels Naptha - use a cheese grater. Easy peasy!

Here's what you do to save about a million dollars:

1. Go and find a clean 5 gallon bucket. I used a 40 pound kitty litter bucket, of course. I marked a five gallon line on the outside of the bucket.

2. Go and buy the following items:
 - One bar of Fels Naptha soap
 - A box of Arm and Hammer Washing Powder
 - A box of 20 Mule team Borax

3. Grate the bar of Fels Naptha into the five gallon bucket while you bring a big pot of water to a boil. I don't measure the water, I just use a big pot. Like the one I use to boil pasta.

4. Pour the water (carefully!) into the bucket and add the grated soap. Then stir to dissolve the soap.

5. Add one cup of Arm and Hammer Washing Powder and one cup of borax to the bucket and stir like the dickens. I just use a big metal spoon. Easy peasy! Make sure everything gets dissolved.

6. Fill the bucket the rest of the way with warmish water and let it stand over nite (put the lid on so over interested cats don't get into it).

7. The next morning - Oh no! You've ruined it! Ugh! It looks like some kind of weird jello! Actually - its supposed to look like that. Go and find your big spoon and stir it all up again until its liquid. SD says it should look like "cold egg flower soup" when you are done. That's it. I know. How easy is that?

Mixing the soap and boiling water in a kitty litter bucket.  How easy is that?

I keep the five gallon bucket right beside the washer and use a measuring cup to dip it out - stirring occasionally.  Use about a half a cup per full load. We tend to get really really dirty around here and we've yet to need to rewash anything. I like that it isn't scented and that I can use bleach with it without any problem. If we have anything ultra-stinky (* OFG looks accusingly at Nicholas the cat who peed on my work clothes*) then I just add a little bit of a product called "Odoban" to the wash water, which knocks the stank out of anything. The first batch of home made laundry soap we made lasted for over two months. Right there we saved about $22.

The best part - besides you'll be kicking yourself for not doing this sooner? I'm not allergic to it at all. I think everything comes on fresh smelling and clean - without all those extra cleaning products or whatever they put in the commercial detergent. Of course I unraveled the marketing conspiracy long ago that you just don't need to use dryer sheets.  So now we can do laundry every day of the week and twice on Sunday and it still costs us almost nothing.  I figure if we keep this up we'll save about a million dollars -- or there abouts -- over the course of our lifetime.

****** Edited to add:
My pal, KC just provided this info:
For the record - it works well in the front-load high efficiency washers and I just put white vinegar in the rinse cycle - 'bout 1/4 - 1/2 cup. Softens that stiff load right up.

And, SD said the same thing about HE washers. She added that some folks who do this say it actually helps the machine and it works better.

Happy Friday everyone! Now get out there and make yourself a big old bucket of laundry soap!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More on Taters - now THAT'S a seed potato

The last couple days have been a little cagey with all this weather. Yesterday we scampered to get everyone safe and then the storms went around us (thank heaven!). But I didn't get to write my post about "How to Save A Million Dollars." Instead, I bring you a 2 minute, slammed out post on potatoes.

Now THAT'S a seed potato!

In between watching the weather radar like a hawk and trying to convince family and friends on the West Coast that I wasn't gonna die....and hoping it was true.... I got another couple rows of seed potatoes in the ground. Well, on the ground and deeply mulched with fresh straw. Next to my Yukon Golds are now a row of Russet then a row of Kennebec's. I got these varieties at a discount superstore for $1.50 for 2 pounds. They had a good amount of eye and sprouts but they were kinda squishy and I know they weren't local. Hopefully I didn't give myself the blight from bringing in taters from who knows where.

I made a new bed - near the strawberries in an open space and went back to the truck to get the Red Pontiacs I got from a local feed store. I had one of the gals bag me up 10 pounds and didn't even look at them. But from the weight of the bag I think she gave me a few more than what was required - and the price was about $1/pound.

This is what I found when I opened the bag......

Did you hear the tater angels sing? I did!

And yes, they are local. My eyes just about bugged out of my head. Now THAT, my friends is what seed taters are supposed to look like. Not only did I buy local products, I got them from an independent store, and I got a good laugh from some good ol' gals. We talked about making sure you included enough eyes so they taters could "see to grow the right way." You just know that's my kind of joke.

Pretty much about 8 taters filled my planting space and, if we stay dry today, I'll do another extra long row out by my original taters (from ours last year).

Oh... and for the haters who were tellin' me my taters were put in too early a while back and they'd never make it? Those spuds are already sprouting up thru the straw. Neener. Neener.

Happy Thursday everyone! Keep watching the radar - we aren't in the clear just yet but here's hoping for a decent night's sleep.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Best Farm Tool EVER and...

I just gotta show you The Best Farm Tool EVER.

It's a propane torch that can be used to kill weeds and stuff. Talk about a life saver! I would have spent hours digging and using a hoe to clear what my hubby did in less than an hour with this little gem. Yipee! Of course, I'd probably burn my house - or someone else's house - down if I tried to use it. So everyone was glad that someone sensible handled it.

In other news - I have to save the date! Tuesday the 24th I put a bunch of eggs in the incubator. I hope it works. If it does we'll be swimmin' in chickens in egg-actly 21 days. Yay!

Have a great Wednesday everyone! Get out there and work if you have sunshine. Can't you just feel that summer is about here?

Monday is brought to you by the letter "M"

Monday has been a long day. The storms from Missouri blew thru here a couple hours ago. Not long ago (I'm writing this late on Monday nite) the dogs and I were hiding in the basement. So today's post is brought to you by the letter "M"...

Gravel = mud control.

MAN! What a wind! Luckily the storm front had wound down to just strong winds...they were predicting 70 mph winds and I wouldn't be surprised if we reached those speeds.We're all clear here but most of this week will be stormy.

Mud Control. Yep. Me, a shovel, and the wheelbarrow for most of Monday afternoon. Gravel is my new best friend. I'm so tired of slogging around in the mud that I'm building pathways thru the barnyard.

Momma! My little duck friend hatched at least one baby today - hopefully there will be more little faces tomorrow.

Pigs love milk.

MMMMmmmmm.... The bacon is looking great! Look how long these porkers are getting. And they are loving the milk.

Happy Tuesday everyone! Keep a weather eye to the sky in this severe weather season!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

And then they just flew away.....


The beez from the green hive swarmed (split) yesterday. We were so excited to get 'free beez' and had a whole new hive all ready for the "new" beez.....

The swarm formed a ball like cluster - its that sock-like thing hanging off that little branch waaaaaaay up there.

...and then... and then.... they all just flew away. Not into their new home - our carefully prepared hive -they just flew away. Sheesh! And no, we couldn't get them because they were about 40 feet up into a tree. We ran thru all the options to try and capture the swarm. But we didn't have a hot air balloon and we couldn't find a trebuchet on such short notice. Bye beez.

Basil, lavender, and rosemary - started from seeds.

In other news... I did a lot of planting and seed starting this weekend. We finally had some dry, warm, sunny days - it was just like summer. I ended up buying some seedlings from a local nursery because everything is getting such a late start. It was barely dry enough to do some tilling but I just couldn't wait any longer.

* Red sweet peppers long fence line in 2nd hillside garden, one Red Oxhart tomato in corner.
* 8 Mountain Gold maters in the next row along walkway, with one more Red Oxhart at the end.
* One Thai pepper, then one Red Oxhart, then 3 Mountain Golds in last year's bean bed. They are next too the row of my-seed-started Romas in front of the Grimes Gold - which has a couple apples on it!
* One Mountain Gold and One Oxhart in the blueberry and herb garden. I know - a weird combination but it just worked out that way.
* Finally, the last couple Mountain Golds and the rest of the Red Oxharts along the fence line near the mailbox tool holder. I'm testing the Mountain Golds in several soil conditions - the hillside was improved with a ton of super-duper-cow-poop...and is still dark and rich. The bean bed was improved with beans and buckwheat last year, and the fence line has the extra rich compost from a friend earlier this spring. I'll be watching to see which grouping/soil condition does the best.
* I planted a package of "half price sale" asparagus roots next to the existing plants. Then I planted a row of the my-seed-started plants. I put up a picket fence panel to keep the dogs out... then realized that I could use it to support some peas on one side and then a row of gladiolas on the other.
* Tilling went pretty well. I mowed down the winter rye in the second bean bed, a new potato place, and then re-tilled a couple other spots.

The only thing I didn't get to was to till in some clover seeds near the fruit tree in the corner. I got done with the planting and then we got the chores finished and now here comes the storm. Wow! The wind is pretty strong - maybe we'll see if the pigz are gonna fly! Yikes!

Hope everyone had a great weekend!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Milk. Brought to you by felon near you?

You know I'm not very politic-y but some things are just too stupid to let pass by. If this isn't your thing then just tune in tomorrow when we'll probably have something funny or farm-y. But Farm Pirates, read on.

Has everyone heard about, and been outraged, by the raid by the FDA on the Amish farmer? When I first heard about this and I thought it was joke. Then when I saw the video of agents, guns drawn, raiding a farmer? An AMISH guy? Simply outrageous. His crime, selling and transporting raw milk to customers just across the state line. Can you believe that raw milk is now contraband that cannot be taken to other states?

Notice in the story that your government conducted nearly a year of investigation in this sting operation on the Amish guy for selling raw milk to his customers. And they sounded like they were proud of themselves! Its almost like there aren't troops still abroad, or that gas isn't $4 a gallon, or there's any kind of economic crisis at all... but we have plenty of extra tax dollars to waste on the crime of milk. Milk! What next? Are they going to outlaw raw meat?  Ban carrots that are actually grown in the ground? Tell me I can't eat eggs from my hens? For heavens sakes.

Whether you are for or against raw milk is totally up to you. But that's the point, right? It's up to you?  And if you produce any food at all you really need to take an interest in the legislation coming your way and to be aware of how its being enforced. Guns draw on the milk man! Thankfully folks are starting to protest this ridiculous situation. I don't know if its part of his bid for office or not, but I was glad to see that Rep. Ron Paul of Texas introduced a bill to end this silliness.

To be sure raw milk is not for everyone and I don't see how it could be provided for the masses. But according to this madness, if I made fresh cheese from my goats and put it in my carry on when I fly across the country to visit friends on the Left Coast...then I'm a felon. Me. Goat owner, milk drinker, cheese eater.

It's a crazy world. Someone oughta sell tickets.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cheese reference and my blue got loose!

If you are even remotely interested in cheese making you have to run right over and check out Dr. David B. Fankhauser's, (Ph.D.), extremely interesting cheese site, Fankhauser's Cheese page. Wow does he know his stuff and he has tons of recipes. The best thing about Dr. Fankhauser is that he makes the science of cheese making approachable. And he's been known to be extremely gracious in answering slightly hysterical emails from...ahem... someone we all might know. Thanks Dr. F for all your great info - and for teaching us how to get 'er done.

That wasn't there before.....

In totally unrelated news..... apparently my blue mold got loose in my cheese fridge! Remember when I attempted to make a Roquefort-goat blue cheese? Well. Honestly, I'm a little afraid of that cheese. Its there - looking at me. Actually it looks like its about to crawl away. So its been sitting in the cheese fridge while I gather up the gumption to do something with it.

While I'd been hiding under the table trying to avoid the Roquefort - the blue mold, apparently, had gone on walkabout. And it got into the gouda that was curing just above it. When I finally opened the fridge I saw the distinctive blue veining you'd see in a lovely blue cheese - in my gouda!. Upon closer inspection I found that there was a small hole in the light yellow cheese wax I'd used. A-ha! The entry point for the blue bacteria spores to creep into the gouda.

I was calmed by a noted cheese expert and instructed not to throw out the cheese! But that I could still use it. And yep, the blue mold just kinda found its way into the gouda since they were sharing a space. Since I wanted to cure the goudas for a bit longer I decided to rewax them.

This time I used black cheesewax from Leeners - which I received by next day delivery -no extra charge! It just showed up the next day. I love those guys. However, my UPS guy who hates us anyway, is now convinced I'm a loon. I heard the truck while I was milking and ran around the corner, clomping along loudly  in my barn boots and muddy work clothes and yelling YOOOO-HOOOO!!!! I was trying to get his attention but instead gave him a huge laugh. I swear I'm gonna be on "People of Walmart" on day... sheesh!

Waxing my cheese.

Anyway. The pix aren't great but the black cheese wax is just beautiful. I think its going to be stunning when I finally open these cheeses. You can see that I melt the wax in an old pan (in a double boiler) and use a natural bristle brush. Mostly I can just dip the cheese into the wax and use the brush to touch up with missed spots. The black wax allowed me to get the whole surface waxed and not leave any holes - unlike the light yellow wax which was the same color as the cheese.

Hopefully the blue mold will remain contained - or at least will stay out of my gouda.  If not I think I've invented a new cheese.  We can call it Barnyard Blue.

Happy Thursday everyone!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Farm notes - berries and pears and mud

Well there is no joy here in Mudville... just mud mud mud and more mud with extra mud on the side. If this keeps up we'll have a banner year for apples and pears and such... and a really late harvest for everything else.

The pears are getting bigger....

...and the blueberries are forming up.....

 ... and we have strawberries in training.

A few farm notes...

* Penny, our momma goose, is still setting on her nest. Most of the time. Some of the time she just fusses around and picks at this and that. I'm not sure how well she is doing - or how well her eggs are doing. I guess we'll find out soon enough.
* Happy, my little duck, quit her nest and is now kind of lethargic. She seems out of sorts - but maybe its just the mud. I put her in with the hens at nite so she can have some peace and quiet.
* My little milking buddy, Bianca (and other aliases) the duck, is doing great. She is really screwed down tight on that nest and rarely gets up. I think she might be able to hear the peeping but there are no new little friends yet.
* The creepy meats (Group #1) are doing well in their new digs. Some of them have figured out to stay inside when its raining. Creepy meat just ain't that smart. For sure. Creepy Meat Group #2 are actually pretty darn lively.  They are still in the hen house. We have the "extra" regular chicks in with them and they seem pretty happy.
* One of the turkey hens has been benched. She had a terrible wound on her side - probably from the toms. We have her in the guinea coop for now. She's doing well so far. Since she didn't flop over dead the first day I think she'll make it.We are keeping an eye on her and feeding her a lot of protein to help in healing.
* Pigz are piggin' along. They've decided that the straw won't burn their skin off (or whatever reason they are afraid of it) and I hope they are snuggling it at night and not taking it all out of their shelter.
* My Improper Cheddar is now resting and drying for a few days. I think I need more weights, tho, for next time.
* We went to a different feed store today and ended up paying $9.50 for a 50# bag of cracked corn. That is just ridiculous.
* Tractor Supply had shrubs and perennials on sale today for $0.99 and $1.49 - a good deal no matter how you slice it. 

We're hoping for a dry day soon. Hope you are not stuck in the mud like us! Happy Wednesday!

Monday, May 16, 2011

An Improper Cheddar - Cheesemaking Step by Step

I was hoping to call this post "A Proper Cheddar" after a phrase we heard one day on one of those Rick Steve's travel shows. However, at one of the last steps it all fell apart and I may have to give myself a "D-" for not making a proper cheddar. I think its still going to work - so while it might still be a cheese, its an Improper Cheddar for sure.

Today's milk was strained directly into my biggest stainless steal pot.

Step One in cheese making is to get out there and get about five gallons of milk. I got about two gallons from the ladies this morning so I had to heat up some of the half gallon jars of milk I had downstairs in our coldest fridge.
Warming up the jars - a half gallon at a time.

Heating up the cold milk is easy enough. Just put them in deep pots and fill with warm water - let the milk warm up a bit (don't break the jars!) and then heat up the water to get the milk warmed to the right temperature. Goat milk cheddar starts with 88* milk so I also used a water bath to get all the milk up to the right temperature.

My biggest pot needs my biggest roaster as a water bath.

Cheese making is a long process but most of the time is letting it set so its easy to just go about your day - just take the timer with you.

After adding the culture I let it set for about 40 minutes. Actually I started a focaccia bread (in the oven now - its a 3 goat cheese version), cleaned up the kitchen, and went and did some laundry. The next step was to add the calcium chloride and rennet. Thirty minutes later I checked for a clean break and then... you know it... I cut the cheese (curds)! Its always my favorite step.

Use your longest knife to cut the curds.

Next comes the business of slowly heating the curds and stirring continuously for about 45 minutes. I was very happy with this batch because I was able to get to the right temperature (102*) in the right amount of time. Then there is more letting it set.

Take out most of the whey. No way? Yes, whey.

After the curds have sunk to the bottom I used a measuring cup to take up most of the whey. I probably took off about 3 gallons. More stirring, more letting the curds set.

See how much whey is removed from the pot!?!

And that's when it fell apart. The last step was letting the curds rest and they were supposed to all mat together at the bottom of the pan... but darn! They didn't.  I gave it another couple tries but the curds just didn't set up right. I tried one of the curds, curious to see what happened. Then there it was - the possible cause: Tough Curds. That's right. They were squeaky and a little tough. One of my references says that it might have been because there was too much rennet or the temperatures were too high. 

Curds, no whey, ready to be pressed.

I was also disappointed at the yield. As you can see it didn't even fill half of the mold. I went ahead with the rest of the steps which were basically to put the curds in a mold, press for an hour, then "redress"  the cheese (that just means to unwrap it from the cheese cloth, flip it over, and put it back in the press), and let it press over night. After its done pressing it will sit and dry for a couple days, cure for about a week, then get waxed.

Even tho this batch didn't set up correctly I'm still excited about this cheese. If I remember right I had a couple cheddars from last year that did the same thing. Even tho they didn't come out as a proper cheddars, I've been grating the cheese and using it like Parmesan! I'd be thrilled with a Proper Cheddar but really I'm hoping for another fakey-Parm. That will show that Rachel Ray and thwart her conspiracy to increase Parm prices! (Not really! love ya Rach!)

A couple things I'll do next time: First, I'm gonna break out another pot and start with 6 or 7 gallons of milk so that I get a bigger cheese. Next, I'll use a smaller amount of rennet. Then I need to make sure I have uniformly sized curds. And I'm gonna make sure that my darn curds mat together correctly.

That's all today in Cheese-land. Hope you had a great day!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Whatcha Feeding Them Pigz?

Today I marched down to the hill with just shy of two gallons of fresh and delicious goat milk for them pigz. They were overjoyed. The goats are still scandalized that their beautiful milk is going to the hated pigz. Too bad ladies! We got some bacon to grow! Which leads us to the question, "What are you feeding those pigz?"

Goat milk? Pigz love it!

Now that we have four milking goats the answer is... a lot of goat milk. Some folks have cautioned me that if you feed pigs milk that's all they will eat and will refuse the hog chow. We found that to be true for about a day. Just like naughty children, pigz will eat when they get hungry enough. We're sticking with our standard pig feeding regiment - lots of milk, cooked eggs, corn, and some hog chow.

The difference this year is that the price of corn has gone up significantly. Heck, the price of all feed has gone up significantly. Around here we got a 50 pound bag of corn as low as $3.25 last year with an average price of about $5. Right now its $7. Seven Dollars! Which is, of course ridiculous. Gene over that The Contrary Farmer has a lot to say about the price of food and feed these days - be sure to swing by his place and read up on the going's on.

But before I go any further, I'll say that you can certainly feed your pigs hog chow and they will have a consistent, balanced diet which will work. You'll also pretty much have a commercially raised hog which is fine if that's what you want.  We feed our pigz differently because we want a more naturally raised hog which we feel is a better product than a commercially raised one. We also like the idea of using local products to feed our critters - and you can't get much more local that up the hill in the milking stand! So for lots a reasons this method works for us.

Anyway, we're having to do some re-figuring with the rising price of feed to make sure that our on-the-cheap-way of raising pigz is still cheap enough to make sense. One thing we did to help us keep costs low was nab a couple of highly sought after Tamworth pigs - a breed that does great on pasture and loves to root. Not only does this heritage breed produce the best bacon, they are good workers and will help us clear the Impenetrable Forest and feed themselves at the same time.

The Impenetrable Forest. Hey Pigz! Go clear it out!

We are sticking mostly to our feeding regiment that I talked about here. You can see how the math works out for us and how we determine how much to feed and when. This year's pigs are actually bigger than we thought they would be so we are probably only to get one or two bags of hog chow before switching them over entirely to corn. Mostly the hog chow will be a back up if we feel they are not continuing to grow at a steady pace. So far they are growing right along at a good clip on just corn, eggs, and milk.

At this point the pigz daily feeding protocol is pretty much a couple scoops of corn, a couple gallons of milk, about a half a dozen hard cooked eggs, and about a half a scoop of Calf Manna. This is provided over the course of the day. Some of the grain (corn and Calf Manna) is still in their feeders at mid-day when I check them so its probably a little too much. But having "free choice" is fine for now. They are also doing a great job of rooting up their temporary pen. I'm going to set them to work on the stumps pretty soon and hopefully they will have it cleaned out before we move them to their permanent summer pen.

One thing to note is that we don't feed the pigz a lot of scraps from the house. Honestly we don't have too much in the way of scraps this time of year. I'm not processing any veggies from the garden so there's not a lot of leavin's - and we don't have a ton of leftovers from the kitchen. Anything "scrappy" usually goes to the hens and not the pigz. We concentrate on giving them what we know will work - high protein with some good fat building carbs.

This year I'm going to try and grow more feed for the pigz in the garden. I have some livestock beets and turnips and such that I'll start in the garden areas. Our soil is still pretty bad but I'm hoping that I might even get some corn to grow - or at least some grains. We have the upper and lower hog lots from last year designated to be planted soon. The upper lot will be turned into pasture for the goats and hens. The lower will become the "pig garden." Or at least that's the plan. We'll still do our share of gleaning from friends with produce stands and farms.

Even with the higher cost of feed we still think we can raise up a couple pigz on the cheap. What about you?  Got goats? Got chickens? Well friends, then go and get some pigs!

Happy Sunday everyone!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Before. During. And After. Winter cover crops.

Remember last fall when I planted the cover crops in the upper garden? Finally, we got enough sunny days to do some tilling - so I got some of it done. I took a couple happy snaps of the process - its totally easy-peasy.

The tall wheat improves soil and entertains bouncy dogs.

First the before - see that I let it grow up. I probably could have taken some of this down earlier. But our pup Kai loves to play hide and seek in the tall wheat - so I kinda didn't hurry because we were having so much fun. That's also why some of it is broken down. We were puppin' around.

Tiller, ready for action.

Don't tell The Big Man but I used the mower as a brush hog to mow it down. Shhhh... It worked.  The mower is one of those mulching ones so it chopped up the wheat really well and I mowed in such a way so that the mulched stuff stayed in the same area. You can see that its mowed down to the stubble.

Ready to sit for a couple weeks to aid the composting.

Then I broke out the tiller to get all of that "green manure" ground up and into the...um... ground. This will add tilth to soil and make it more hummus-y. I left a small strip in the middle that I'll use as a pathway. This area is destined for beans, beans, beans, and more beans. I felt the beds could be wide. You can also see where I put a small patch of straw-mulched taters along the back fenceline. That window is one of my little "hill billy" green houses. I set some scarlet runner beans in so they will run along that fence.

I still have a lot of mowing and tilling to do - but this will get me started. This late, wet spring has really thrown a monkey wrench into my planning. But the weather guy said not to rush to get the 'maters planted because we might get close to frost temperatures next week! So it will all work out.

And in the "neener neener" category... someone recently told me there is NO WAY potatoes would be growing this early in the year (and implied what kind of idiot was I to set them as early as I did). Here are a few taters that are already coming up. Admittedly they are in my strawberries but the ones I started in my tub from the potato peelings are growing also. Neener. Neener. I say no more....
Taters. Growing. Ha!

.....Except that I hope you are having a great weekend!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger back up! And happy Friday!

Oh golly I guess blogger is back up. Sorry for the disappearing tater post - hopefully they will get it restored. I couldn't get on to write my pig post while all systems were done, but I'll work on that later on. As for now, all I have time to do is wish everyone a Happy Friday!

Strawberries in the making

And all you PacNorthWest folks who are wanting some of our July-in-May heat.. you can have it! Yesterday we scrambled to get the first batch of creepy meat chickens out of the hen house and into a new shelter. The trees that normally shade the hen house from the hot summer sun haven't even leafed out yet - and we were sure the meats would be cooked. They are stunned but content in their new outside house.

More on all of that later. Stay cool and dream of strawberries! Happy Friday
Special Note to "G" who is on blog-cation. Sorry, Pal but my note to you in my comments was deleted. Sending you again my warmest wishes and happiest of hello's. Can't wait til you get back and tell us all about your time away and the going's on at your place.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Farm notes and lemon bars

We've had a couple dry-ish days so I've been getting as much done in the garden as possible. But before we get to the Farm Notes, I just gotta show you these lemon bars!

These are perfect in every way - lemony and delish!

I can't take any credit for these luscious bars. My Pal, Bourbon Red, who is a master chef as well as Farm Master, gave me the recipe. He claims this recipe came from the back of a flour bag. There is no way.. I think angels flew down from heaven and whispered this winner in his ear. So in his own words...

Heavenly Lemon Bars

For base, mix:
2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter
until crumbly. Press into a 13x9 inch pan- across the bottom and maybe a half inch up the sides.
Bake at 350F for 20-30 minutes till light golden brown.

Custard Filling
[NOTE: Do not make the topping until just before the base is done or just after you take it out of the oven.]
Beat together:
4 eggs - I used 2 duck eggs and 2 hen's eggs
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup lemon juice

When the base is 'light golden brown' pour the freshly mixed filling into it and return it to the oven and bake for 20 minutes till the top is light golden brown and not so jiggly.

[Note: my oven is notoriously slow.. but these finished really fast. I start checking it at 15 minutes.]

Cool completely.

Dust with powdered sugar.

Note: That whole "cool completely" stuff is a buncha hooey... we didn't wait at all and they were perfect.

Farm notes
* Planted rhubarb and strawberries
* Weeded front garden
* Planted swiss chard under maple tree
* Planted dahlias, onions, swiss chard, radishes, sweet peas along front garden fence
* Planted Roma tomatoes in upper garden in small square plot and by Golden Grimes tree
* Planted Scarlett Runner beans and cowpeas along east fenceline
* Planted onions in runner's garden
* Started basil seeds in 2 small pots

Remember when I started the asparagus seeds? They totally worked!

In livestock news....
* Penny, our old momma goose, is setting her nest for sure. She rarely gets up and looks happy.
* Turkey Momma or Bramble (one of the turkey hens) is setting a nest in the turkey house. I've been closing her in the nest box at night and letting her be alone in the turkey house during the day.
* My little duck, Happy, quit her nest today. I think one of the drakes was bothering her. Miss Duck continues to set on a mismosh collection of who know's what. Several of the hennies think they should set nests and I hope to get one to stay down.
* Pigz are doing well. They seem happy and are drinking a lot of milk. They don't seem to be interested in the corn or calf manna. But they'll eat it soon enough. They've also already done a great job of rooting around their new pen.

Cheese notes:
I started a feta on Monday, it set up well and I'm hoping it will be as good as batch #1. Batch #2 seemed to be a bit soft. I stirred the curds for Monday's batch for longer (almost 30 mins) and let it set in the mold for longer.

Batch #1 is really good. I've been mixing it with kalamata olives from the deli and letting them swim around together. One nite that's all I had for dinner.

Happy Wednesday everyone!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pigz = Tamworths!

Oh boy did we hit the jackpot!  I still can't believe it - the pigz we got for this year are Tamworths!

Tamworths are a heritage breed - a real old timey kind of pig that can be raised naturally, on pasture. We just love them. Mostly because they are mostly bacon! We weren't satisfied with the bacons that we got from last years pigs. Really we didn't get any bacons - even the butcher told us that we should have just left the meat on the ribs. The hams were terrific of course, but we really need some bacon around here!

Pigz are most easily transported in the back of a crappy little truck with the cap on, add straw.

The first thing we did, aside from drive home gleefully with our little bacon-machines, was to get the pigz settled. Of course, coming from a friend's superb barn set up - the pigz thought they'd been cast into the very depths of hell when they got here. Apparently the noisy parade of geese, wildly barking dogs, shrieking guineas, and the goats stomping and snorting their disgust wasn't the warmest welcome. Kai thought they looked delicious. Having the pup pacing back and forth in front of the pigz pen with a jar of BBQ sauce saying "Are they done yet?" didn't help at all.

Any bigger than this handy carrying size and you'd have to find another way to get them down to the pen.

We have the pigz set up in a temporary pen where they can root around and get rid of some more poison ivy. They are close enough to the house for us to see and hear if there is any malfeasance out there because they are still small enough to be considered prey. But soon they will be big enough to hold their own.

Pig#1 took to the pasture immediately

As soon as we got home it started to rain. We had set up a shelter for them - but of course, they were terrified of it. They soon figured it though and now they don't think they've got it too bad. However, the pigz don't understand why the goats stand at the top of the pasture and stare meanly at them.

Goats hate pigz.
Nibbles was horrified when she saw me take a fabulous bucket of her milk down for the pigz.  I told her to go ahead and file a complaint with the management - the line starts with her and ends at the grill. The dogs thought that was a great idea.
I'll get all these barnyard politics sorted out pretty soon. In the meantime, Happy Tuesday everyone!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

They're here.

Behold. The bacon (precooked).

And so that hatin' starts. Much more tomorrow!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bucket of milk and Sunshine!

It was actually sunny today - we couldn't believe it. But you can believe that we ran right out there to get as much work done as possible.

Today started with a lovely bucket of milk. This was from Debbie and she wasn't even done yet. The bucket got so full I had to go in the house and strain it and THEN go back and finish milking her. Thanks Deb!

We fired up the lawnmower and I cut down the weeds as much as possible. I got a lot done but no one hates mowing more than I do. So I took the opportunity to get the tiller out also and scratch up some of that hated grass. I replanted these areas so they can be useful and not just green.

So that I remember what was planted where.. please bear with me with these overly detailed notes... The area south of the drive was a mix of oats, sunflowers, and buckwheat. This seed mix was from last year so I hope that it works.  The area up on the hill by the little trees was planted in white clover and sunflowers. The black oil sunflowers were from last year, but they should still be viable.

I also tilled up a row directly below the pasture mix for potatoes. If the rain holds off tomorrow we can get them planted.

In the barnyard Nibbles, who needs a hoof trim, reclined like Cleopatra. Here she is saying, "Get me some alfalfa or else!"  Sorry, Nibs, no one is cutting hay just yet.

She actually did her part today by helping us finish up the fencing for the small pig yard. Before we could run the electric wire Nibbles and Debbie got in the pen and ate all the weeds down. Thanks ladies!

Hope everyone had a great day! Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Moving Beez and Cutting Cheese

At this writing I'm waiting for my curds to settle... I just cut the cheese...curds. And no I'll never get tired of that stupid joke.
Baby grapes

But seriously folks, here's the quick Farm Notes update with some important dates to remember.

 Baby pear

We moved the Upper Beez down by the Lower Beez. And when I say "we" I mean The Big Man did it while I cowered in the house with a can of Raid. The Upper Beez were getting a little aggressive - when both Kai and I were dive bombed and stung on the same day we figured they needed more space.

Bee balm! Its really coming back in a big way.
According to The Big Man you can move hives, you just don't want the beez to get lost or confused and not be able to find their new location. So they are boxed in for a couple days and will remain in the hive. When we let them out we'll take precautions so they don't get turned around and get lost.

 Lovely bleeding hearts.

The flood continues with record breaking rains for April - and May doesn't look much better. To make it worse, we may get a frost tonite. Here's hoping the tender blooms make it!

Potatoes came up in my strawberry patch!

Another casualty of the rains were some of my seed trays. Yesterday I checked them and they were absolutely swamped - even the ones under a row cover "tent." So its not looking good. At this point I need to accept that nothing is going to get planted any time soon.

We'll need to pivot strategies for the most effective use of time and resources to reach our over arching goals of......oh geez, look how fast I slipped into 'corporate speak' - sorry!  Anyway. My point is, that we'll be focusing on infrastructure projects - like fencing and making repairs/improvements to the outbuildings while we wait for the ground to dry out. I'm also considering converting the front porch into a planting studio. It doesn't get enough sunlight to be a green house but if I can keep the chickens out it can be a good workspace.

Beautiful little bloom

And I started another gouda last nite, in fact I need to get it out of the press. I'm starting another one right now but I'm still at the "stir the curds and then let them rest" phase.

Happy Wednesday everyone! And aren't you glad Kendra finally got voted off Dancing with the Stars? Whew.. I can finally watch now.
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