"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

End of Summer Summer Squash Casserole

Although I did not plant any squash this year, the squash has arrived as usual. My neighbor - he of the Hotel-Sized-House (HSH) - planted enough squash for the both of us. And then some. Every few days, we meet at the fence line and I give him a couple dozen eggs or a half gallon of goat milk and he gives me a box of produce. The last box had some potatoes and onions, twenty or so tomatoes, and eight big yellow crookneck squash. 

I've been putting squash in just about everything lately - chicken soup, Mexican rice, scrambled eggs. Nonetheless, the squash piles up. So I went looking for an application that would use up larger quantities. After perusing my cookbook collection and consulting Epicurious, I decided on a yellow squash casserole. I'd never made anything like it before, but it sounded good and it would use up at least two yellow squash. There were several recipes to choose from, but none of them exactly fitted what I had in mind, so I decided to do an experiment. I wanted something like a soufflé and something like a gratin. 

An aside. One of the nice things about being a lady of a certain age - and lord knows the pleasures are few - is that I have accumulated enough skill at a number of endeavors that I need not follow someone else's instructions, but can imagine what I want to create and be reasonably certain that I can in fact accomplish my vision. Sometimes there are failures - of course there are - but sometimes there are beautiful minor triumphs. 

Today's experiment was a success. Actually, it turned out so good that I might make the same thing even when we are not inundated with squash. I might actually BUY squash to be able to make this dish. Here's a recipe.

-Preheat oven to 350
-Make a simple bechemel sauce (about two cups - from two tablespoons butter, equal volume flour, and about two cups milk. I used fresh goats' milk) seasoned with plenty of garlic and fresh ground pepper
-Grate enough yellow squash on the large holes of a box grater to make 4 cups of grated squash. 
- in a large mixing bowl, mix grated squash, one half of a minced yellow onion, three eggs, and the (cooled) bechemel
- blend in one cup (give or take) grated pepper jack cheese
-scrape mixture into a deep casserole dish. 
- top with a mixture of fresh bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and oregano. 
-bake in a 350 degree oven (covered) for approximately 30 minutes. Uncover and raise heat to 400 to brown the crumbs. 

Serve with a green salad and some sort of starch - pasta or rice. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Beef Abundance (Simple is Good)

Summer is drawing to a close - not that you'd know it by the weather. Today, September first, it was 85 degrees and sunny. This is something like our fiftieth day without measurable rain. The forecast continues dry and hot as far as the weather-people can see into the future.

But the calendar is implacable. School starts this Tuesday, no matter the forecast. It's time and past time to get the kids new school shoes and jackets; to mow the last scraggly weeds; to shake off summer's languor and impose something like a schedule again. 

It's also time, more pleasantly, to eat up the meat in the freezer. Last week Mr. B., my neighbor, asked us if we'd be wanting to buy a side of beef this year again, and I said we sure would. Last fall, due to a silly series of miscommunications, we ended up buying a ridiculous quantity of beef - three quarters of a big fat steer, much more than we needed. Quite a bit of it is still in the freezer and needs to be devoured ASAP to make room. 

Today I thawed a package of rib steaks. A favorite cut of mine, they are heavily marbled and carry a thick rim of fat around the edges. If you aren't used to grass fed beef, you might be thinking "yuck, fat." I assure you that the succulent, yellow, flavorful fat of a grass fed and grass finished beeve is nothing like the pale rubbery fat on a factory farmed animal. 

These steaks don't need much. After thawing, I liberally sprinkled them with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and laid them on a big cast iron griddle slicked with quality olive oil and got out of the way. Flip after six or seven minutes and give the other side a sear. My husband likes his steaks medium well and I like mine medium rare, so I take mine off a few minutes early and let it rest while his continues to cook. 

As an accompaniment I boiled a half dozen yellow potatoes, and smashed them with a couple tablespoons of butter, a teaspoon of whole grain mustard, a spoonful of mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and a generous amount of minced parsley. A cold beer after a hot day's work rounds out the meal. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Preserving Log, 8/29/17

I haven't done as much preserving as I had hoped lately. This late summer season has been incredibly busy - partly for good reasons (family vacations to see once-in-a-lifetime celestial events), and partly for really sucky reasons (my dad has been extremely ill and I've flown to Arizona twice). Plus, this year Hope is entering high school and there are all sorts of orientations and meet-and-greets to attend.

All this means I haven't had time to get to the Gleaner's Pantry as much as I usually do, and therefore haven't had loads and loads of produce to can, totally aside from the question of time. However, I've done a bit here and there. Last week I made four cups of fig jam, and today I've canned three quarts of salsa.

Updated list:

1 Gallon dried apricots
3 gallons kosher dill pickles
1 gallon pickled green beans (lacto-fermented)
9 quarts apple-blackberry sauce
3 pints pickled beets
6 pints blackberry jam
4 cups rosemary-fig jam
3 quarts salsa ranchera

Cheesemaking doesn't count as preserving because we have to eat it fresh, but I've made some chèvre recently too. And soon we will be into apple season and I am planning to press a lot of cider. A new friend of mine lives nearby and has about twenty apple trees - enough that it makes sense to being the press to the apples rather than the apples to the press. We are going to make a day of it. And I think I will brew hard cider again this year, and that definitely counts as preserving.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Vampire Goats

When we got home from our trip to Oregon to see the eclipse (WOW amazing sight and a great family vacation), I noticed that one of our mama goats, Polly, had become skeletally thin. She has always been a slender goat. Some
goats are naturally thin, some are naturally plump, just like
people. However, Polly's condition was in no way normal - her bones were sharp and visible from a distance. 

There are many factors that contribute to weight loss on goats. One of the main ones - insufficient feed- is not an issue at my place because I have three acres of fenced pasture for three does to feed in, more than enough. Probably the most important factor after availabalility of feed is parasite load. 

Goats are particularly prone to parasites. They are a problem in every area of the country. There are a plethora of parasites - stomach worms, lung worms, coccidia. For the most part, parasites will not kill an otherwise healthy goat, but they will seriously depress her ability to produce healthy kids, abundant milk, and keep her own health intact. https://www.famu.edu/cesta/main/assets/File/coop_extension/herds/Practical_Management_Internal_Parasites_in_Goats1_7-23-2007.pdf

I use ivermectin to control parasites, but over the years I think my herd has built up some resistance, because this year ivermectin is not showing much effectiveness. In particular, my best doe, Polly, has lost a tremendous amount of weight while raising her twins. 

The caloric cost of nursing twins is, of course, very high, but a healthy doe with unlimited forage ought to be able to do it without losing condition. Polly has been losing weight, and when we got back from our five day trip to see the eclipse (AWESOME!!) she had suddenly become emaciated. 

I worked her again, with Ivermectin as usual and also with Quess, a different wormer which has a different mode of action. Hopefully that will have an effect, but in the meantime I needed to get those kids off of her. They have been sucking her dry. 

We have three kids left - Polly's twins and a single doe from Christmas. They are all of an age to have been weaned a month ago, at least, but I am softhearted and didn't want to separate them from their  mamas. Well, Polly's condition forced my hand. Two nights ago, I put all the babies into the sacrifice area. Such wailing! Such gnashing of teeth! Anyone would think they were being peeled alive. But no- they are just being weaned.

All three babies are seriously overweight. Obese even. They have "milk glitters" on their throats- signs that they are being over fed. And meanwhile their poor mamas are staggering around at the end of their endurance. I should have separated them a month ago. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Preserving Log Update

Surely one of the very best smells in the world is that of a bubbling vat of apples, enriched with cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and sugar. Doesn't hurt to throw in a quart or so of freshly picked blackberries, either. 

Yesterday I went to a neighbor's house - a person who is becoming a very good friend - and took home two shopping bags full of transparent apples. If you, like my daughter, thinks a transparent apple is an apple you can see through, read and learn. Transparents are yellow apples that ripen early. They are specifically sauce apples, being good for not much else. They are too mushy to eat fresh, and too mushy to juice. But they make wonderful sauce. 

I had invited myself over to pick apples after noticing, as I was driving by, a transparent tree that was dropping it's apples already. I asked if I could come collect some and she said "Please!" Once there, i realized that she actually has a serious apple orchard - about twenty trees of many varieties, and most of them are positively loaded with (as yet unripe) apples. I suggested that I ought to lug over my apple press later in the season and we should devote a day to cidering. That idea was met with enthusiasm. 

Today was given over to making applesauce. Good thing I was recently gifted so many canning jars, or would have had to go buy a dozen quarts. A dozen quarts is what I ended up with - though I actually canned only nine of them, because that's as many as fits in my largest kettle. The other three are in the refrigerator. One will go back to my neighbor as thanks, and the other two we will eat quickly. 

I've made some jam recently too. So the preserving log update is as follows:

9 quarts apple-blackberry sauce
6 pints blackberry jam
1 gallon dried apricots

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Decisions, Decisions

My youngest child, Paloma, says she doesn't like blackberries. Sadly, i see no option but to disown her. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Berries and Smoke

The first blackberries are ripe. I picked enough for a pie today, while I was grazing the goats, though I didn't make the pie. Tomorrow maybe. More likely I'll just whizz them up in the blender with some yogurt and call it breakfast. There's going to be a bumper crop, and if I can get my children to pick enough, I plan to make jam. Haven't made any jam in a few years, and blackberry jam is the best jam. School is starting soon, and we will need sandwiches. Peanut butter sandwiches are exponentially better when they have homemade blackberry jam on them. 

I was picking berries in a haze today. I refer not to my state of mind, but to the smoky air that has drifted in from big wildfires in B.C., across the border. Fires have been raging for weeks, and great swaths of the province have been evacuated. It seems that every summer brings more and larger forest fires than the year before. Two years ago (or was it three?) my mother lost her vacation home in the huge fires that raced across the Okanagon. The fires in B.C. this year are not yet as large or destructive as last year's. And right now there is even a fire burning in the moist hills around Bellingham, where fires have historically been rare. My sister's house is only a few miles from the edge of that fire. 

Myself, I've been freaked out about climate change for longer than anyone I know who isn't actually a climatologist. Maybe Al Gore. Ten years ago, my friends were raising their eyebrows at me and shaking their heads when I regaled them with information about rising seas and failing crops. It's no comfort to me that the general population seems to finally be catching up to me in their level of concern. I worry that it's pretty much too late. This is a case where "better late than never" doesn't really apply. 

Of all the many and varied consequences of climate change, I think the one likely to have the greatest impact in my lifetime and that if my children is the burning of the great northern forests. The past fifteen years or so, there has been a tremendous increase in not just the area of forest fires, but in their heat and destructiveness. 

Many species of trees, of course, evolved in concert with periodic fires, and some can only propagate after a fire. Not googling at this time of night, but some species of evergreens have cones that only open enough to release seeds after a fire. Recent fires, however, fueled by drought and higher temperatures, have been much hotter than those with which the trees evolved; hot enough to totally destroy trees that used to survive a scorching. Around the globe, vast areas of forest are being burned in ragged patches. It's my belief that the next fifty or so years will see the great global belts of taiga literally go up in smoke. 

Now I've thoroughly depressed myself. I can only comfort myself with the thought that from the ashes will certainly spring a host of blackberry vines. Out of the eater comes forth sweetness. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Preserving Journal

High Summer is upon us. Although I have yet to change the altar - it's still dressed with the kids' report cards and end-of-school paraphernalia - the preserving season has begun, and cannot be ignored.

This year, I've decided to try and keep an accurate record of all the preserving I do. So far, I had only posted one entry, and that consisted of:

Four quarts salsa ranchera
four pints pickled jalapeños
three pints pickled beets (all from a single beet bigger than baby's head)

Today I can add:

four MORE quarts salsa ranchera
three gallons kosher dills

for a running total of eight quarts salsa; 4 pints jalapeños; three pints beets; and three gallons dill pickles.

This is not counting cheese, since I still haven't figured out how to "preserve" cheese for longer than a few weeks. We either eat it fresh, or it molds.

Pickles make me happy. I love real lacto-fermentation, and I love real kosher dills. Last year, I made a ridiculous quantity of pickles; far more than we could eat, but luckily I found a neighbor who owns a dairy and cheesemaking operation who traded me pickles for cheese. Cheese that can, unlike my own, be stored and aged. Hopefully she is still interested in pickles this year, because three gallons of pickles is a lot.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The End of an Equine Era

It's been a hard week on the farm for animals. Aside from Haku's accident on the highway (not fatal, thank God), we have had to put down two other animals. My daughter's pet ferret, Commodore, who was seven years old and full of tumors, and Rosie Pony.

Rosie Pony was a shetland pony that I rescued nine years ago. On a whim, I stopped in at a neighbor's farm who had a sign outside saying "horse sale TODAY." She is a breeder of fancy Arabians, and I wanted to see some pretty fancy Arabians, just for fun, so I stopped. And there were plenty of beautiful, fancy Arabians. And in amongst them, this dumpy little grey pony, wth twin yearling foals at her side. When I asked about her, I was told that she was "from a big free-running herd in eastern washington" and that they didn't have much information about her, but that she was going to the auction (read: dog food factory) if nobody wanted her today. 

So, I took her home for fifty bucks. Nobody told me, because I assume nobody knew, that she was pregnant. Months later she gave birth to a lovely chestnut filly, who we named Poppy. 

Whatever sort of equine Rosie had been crossed with, it wasn't a shetland pony. Poppy quickly grew to be larger than her dam. And kept growing. Eventually, she grew into a sturdy 12 1/2 hands. Rosie was an excellent mama. For years I tried to interest my children in riding. They showed a few fits and starts of interest, but neither of them showed the kind of sustained interest that would justify putting large amounts of money into professional training for Poppy. So eventually, a couple of years ago, I decided to give her away to a family who would invest the time and money into her her that we couldn't. It was very sad, but I don't doubt it was the right decision. The family I chose, after much deliberation, has three little girls of just the right ages to grow up with a pony, and a next door neighbor and family friend who is a horse trainer. They promised to let me visit Poppy sometimes.

After Poppy left the farm, Rosie went downhill. She still had companions in the form of goats and the heifer cow, but she never really bonded with any of them. In fact, the cow started to bully her by leaping on her as though she were breeding. Poor Rosie staggered under the cow's weight. She had a chronic eye condition, which was mild when I got her but which got worse and worse with every passing winter until she was constantly plagued by inflammation and pain. The vet said he didn't know what it was but thought it was incurable, and gave me steroid creams and antibacterial medicines. They helped a little, but overall, her eyes kept getting worse. 

Then, this past spring, she foundered on the new grass. She was clearly in some pain, walking stiffly and bobbling her head. And then in the past few weeks, she began to move around very little, and to stay lying down even on bright warm mornings. One day I went out to the barn for morning chores and found her lying on her side in the muck, and she wouldn't get up. 

I don't know how old Rosie is. The vet thought she was probably about sixteen or eighteen when I brought her home, which would mean she would be twenty-five to twenty-seven this year. Not crazy old for a shetland pony, but well into retirement age. Considering the pain she was in, and after consulting with my farrier, who has cared for her the entire time we have had her, I decided to ask the vet to put her down. 

It was the right decision, but it makes me sad nonetheless. Not just for Rosie herself, but because I know I will never have a horse again - unless, perhaps, some yet unborn grandchild convinces her mom to get her a pony by saying "they can live on grandma's farm," in which case, I will totally take that child's part and completely override the reasonable objections of her mother.  

Our ponies were entirely impractical, but they were beautiful and affectionate and I loved them. Having a baby pony born on the farm fulfilled a childhood dream of mine, and was absolutely as lovely and unique an experience as I dreamed it would be. My girls will always have the memory of having a pony as a friend and a pet. I enjoyed them the entire time they were here, and I don't regret a single dollar spent on farriers, vets, alfalfa, or fencing! 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Coming of Age Custard Pie

I am forty-five years old. Incredibly, there has not been a death in my immediate family since my last living grandparent - Grandma Eva - died when I was about twenty, some twenty-five years ago. My other grandparents were either dead before I was born, or died when I was still very much a child.

As an adult, only a very few people I know have died, principally the mother of my stepfather. Grandma Joann was a lovely woman, who we saw on every holiday and who always remembered my children with presents or cards. The mother of my best friend died of ovarian cancer years ago, and I went to her memorial service.  That represents the sum total of my experience with human death, pretty much.

Never have I, until now, been an adult member of a community celebrating the death of one of its own. The church I belong to, Zion Lutheran, is a small rural church with a long history. I've written about Zion before. I joined in order to meet a deep, incohate need to be part of a congregation - to experience worship as more than a solitary activity - and in order to become more fully a part of the community I had moved into. That relationship has been everything I could have hoped, and more than I could have imagined when I first joined. It has been a deep pleasure, and a rather strange experience for a lifelong loner like me, to slowly become a fully instated, respectable member of a circle of peers. I am, believe it or not (few who knew me as a teenager would) a member of the church council. I sing in the (occasional) choir.

Zion's congregation is old, and small. There are perhaps thirty families who belong, and maybe thirty or forty individuals who show up for services every Sunday. Most of these folk are elderly. If I had to guess at a median age for people seated in the pews on an average Sunday, I'd say about seventy. Many of them were married at Zion a half-century hence, and christened there even longer ago. The grassy, sloping churchyard hosts a couple score of gravestones, many of which bear the names of the parents and grandparents of current members. In the basement, where we gather for coffee hour after service, there is a wall filled with photos going back to the year Zion was built, 1903. In those days, mass was spoken in Norwegian. There is a very real continuity, a living history, embodied in this tiny, local institution.

Last week, the oldest living member of Zion's congregation, H. R., died. She was in her nineties, and had been a member of Zion all her life. Her photo is one of the older ones on there basement wall. My children and I knew her as a neat, friendly, well-dressed, and tiny lady who still drove herself to church. We pressed her small hands when we passed the peace. She had beautiful snow-white hair and a sweet smile. She had deep, deep ties in our area. She will be missed. Her memorial is Saturday.

Yesterday, I got a phone call from another of the OG's of Zion, M. She is above - or behind - or superior to me on Zion's official phone tree, and she was calling me to ask me to bring a dessert to H.'s memorial service.

Of course I was planning to attend the service. But it would not have occurred to me to bring anything if I had not been called. I suppose I would have thought, if I thought anything at all, that H's family would be bringing "refreshments." At the very few memorial services I have attended, the food was just there, as if my magic, and I was a consumer; not a provider. Even when my step-grandma died just a few years ago, I had nothing to do with putting on the service - I just showed up, signed the book, and ate the cheese and crackers. It was only when I answered the phone that I realized I had become, willy-nilly, a person to be called upon. To be counted on. A sister. A matron of the church.

"Yes, of course I'll bring a dessert," I said. "What time is the service?"

"Noon," M. answered me. "Just bring it by anytime before." And then she surprised me by asking what I was going to make.

"I'm not sure," I said, "probably something with rhubarb because I have an awful lot of it."

"Oh good," said M., "rhubarb is my favorite."

Coming of Age Rhubarb Custard Pie

eight cups (or so) chopped fresh rhubarb, from 10 to 12 stems

four store-bought rolled pie crusts, or a double recipe home made

3 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups flour

8 eggs

1/2 cup milk (or more)

tsp salt

Grease a 9 x 13" baking pan. Preheat oven to 375. 

Unroll pastry, or prepare homemade crust and roll out thin. Lay pastry in baking dish, leaving plenty of overlap on the edges. If using store-bought pastry, cut to fit. 

In a large mixing bowl  measure out sugar, four, salt. In a second bowl, beat all 8 eggs together with milk.add wet ingredients to dry, and mix with a fork. If very thick, add a bit more milk until you have a very thick but pourable mixture. Pour over chopped rhubarb and turn to mix, gently. Scrape into the baking dish, spreading to edges. Crimp dough around filling. 

Bake at 375 for approximately 45 minutes until crust is golden and filling is well set. Let cool and top with whipped cream or drizzle with sweetened sour cream. Cut into squares to serve. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Haku and the Highway


Practically the first thing that our neighbors said to us, when we first moved here in 2007, was "I see you have a dog, be careful. This road is hell on dogs." 

This road is a state highway, a two lane road connecting the freeway with the refinery, eight miles west. Tanker trucks ply the road day and night, delivering crude to the refinery and carrying away refined gas.  The speed limit is 50, but of course it isn't always respected. 

Add to that, we live right on top of the hill, and there's an extremely short sight distance from our driveway to the crest. So short, in fact, that the school district said our children couldn't be picked up at our driveway because it wasn't safe; they have to walk a couple hundred yards downhill and wait at a friend's driveway. 

In the ten years we've lived here, there have been three fatal accidents (that I know of) on our road, inside of a half-mile in either direction from our house. 

The dog we had when we moved here, the incomparable Ivory, was far too smart to go on the road. She learned the property's boundaries quickly and seldom strayed. Ivory lived to the ripe old age of fourteen. Haku, on the other hand....

Well, there are many stories on this blog about Haku. He's a difficult dog. A sheep killer. A roamer. A chaser of chickens. A jumper of fences. An eighty pound bundle of energy and mischief. But, this past year, as Haku approached three years of age, we had high hopes that he was settling down. Finally, he seemed to be learning the boundaries and staying close to me when I let the goats out to graze. I was starting to really trust him. 

Last Wednesday, I let the goats out to graze, and Haku stayed close to us for nearly an hour. Oh, he popped in and out of bushes and ran in circles around the back pasture, but he came
Back to check in every couple of minutes. After a while, I noticed he was roaming a little further and coming back to me more slowly when I whistled. I decided it was time to put the goats away and get him inside. 

I lost track of him as I was gathering the goats. I whistled the "come home" whistle constantly  as I drove the goats towards the back pasture. This took about five minutes and no answer. After I locked the goats in, I started back towards the house, still whistling. My girls, hearing me, came out of the house and starting whistling and calling too. 

Then there was a sickening thud and a loud yelp. I ran as fast as I could towards the road, but I was still far away. My daughter Hope screamed "Mom!" 

When I arrived on the front lawn, Haku was lying in the grass, with Hope, Shidezi, and my sister in law Temy gathered around him. Also a woman I didn't recognize. I asked her "are you the one who hit him?" She said "No! I'm
Your neighbor," and pointed towards her house. "I heard it happen." The person who hit him didn't stop.

It looked pretty bad, at first glance. There was a lot of blood and some bright white bones and Haku was crying. Temy (who is a doctor) ran in the house and found gauze and tape and covered the worst, most open wounds. Then she and I and the kind neighbor hoisted Haku
Into the truck and drive to the all-night emergency hospital where, by good luck, our good friend emergency veterinarian A.M. was  on call. 

A.M. Told us immediately she thought it was fifty-fifty Haku would lose that leg. So much skin was missing she didn't know if she'd be able to close the wound, which was heavily contaminated with road grit and oil and plant material. Haku stayed overnight and she did her best. 

In the morning, A.M. Told us she had been able to close the main wound. He was covered, however, with other wounds. He had stitches on all four limbs, and he had lost a lot
of skin off his tail where he had apparently been dragged. But X-rays showed he escaped any major fractures and any organ damage. Haku was one lucky-fucking dog, for a dog who had been hit by a car doing fifty MPH. 

In the days since, we have brought him to our vet twice for wound care. Both times the vet has said he is amazed and surprised at Haku's speedy recovery. He just unwrapped the leg, looked at it, said "wow," and wrapped it back up. Clearly, it will take some time to heal, but it looks like there is no danger of his losing the limb. 

In fact, the main problem we have now, six days out, is keeping him quiet. Haku has apparently decided he isn't hurt at all and there's no reason he shouldn't go tearing around as usual. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Goats are Pretty

Testing the new blogger app. I think I figured out how to upload photos 




Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Canning Log and Canning Jars

Finally, we seem to have caught up to the calendar. We've had weather hot enough to go to the lake and go swimming, and the first crops are just beginning to show up in local markets - snap peas, asparagus, rhubarb, spinach, radishes. On the farm we've been enjoying our very limited produce: rhubarb, nasturtiums, and tender herbs like chives and lemon balm. I did plant peas, but the vines are only about five inches tall and have not yet begun to flower. Raspberry canes are in flower, though, and there are lots of little green strawberries in the strawberry bed. Today I saw the first blossoms on the blackberry bushes.

I decided I will try to keep a preservation log on the blog this year. Every year, I post what I'm doing in the kitchen when I think about it, but this year I'd like to be a little more methodical about it. I'm going to concentrate on canning, even though that only accounts for about a third of the preservation I do (the other thirds being freezing and smoking or dehydrating). Canning is an event - I usually devote an entire day at a time to it, which makes it easy to document. Of coursed, I've canned a little bit of salsa here and there already this year, but I'm going to start the log with last Sunday.

I'd been to the Gleaner's pantry on Saturday, and I brought back enough produce to mandate a canning session. I made three separate products in one day, which makes me feel especially productive.

- Four quarts of salsa ranchera
- four tall quilted jelly jars of pickled jalapeño peppers
- three pints of pickled beets, all from one enormous beet the size of a baby's head.

I'm not sure if I mentioned that a friend brought me several boxes full of canning jars as a gift. They were helping a friend clean out their mother's house after she moved to assisted living, and the lady had quite a collection. Many of the jars are beautiful, unusual varieties. There are some blue-tinted jars, and some lovely bell-shaped quilted quart sized jars, and some of those neat old square sided jars.

Unfortunately, some of them are old enough to be non-standard, which renders them totally useless for canning. There's very little more annoying than going to all the work of canning a batch of, say, pepper jelly, and sterilizing a bunch of jars only to find at the critical moment that the jar openings are just a little bit off standard.  Sooner or later, I'm going to have to sit down with a standard size lid, a wide-mouth lid, and a big glass of wine and separate the sheep from the goats (so to speak).

Then I'll have to decide what to do with all the pretty but non-functional antiques. I'm a sentimental type, so I can't just recycle them. Maybe I can trade them for something - like more stuff to can!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

State of the Farm, Late Spring 2017

Nettles in the weeds

The long, horrible, wet "spring" of 2017 is finally giving way to some warmer and drier weather. I read in the paper that this past wet season (the period of time between October 1st and May 1st) has broken the all-time record for precipitation in western Washington - a record set just last year. Even with my week long break to Arizona, back at the beginning of April, I was going slowly crazy from sun deprivation and from the constant rain. I hate the mud, and still dealing with it in May has been dispiriting. 

More important than my mood, however, is that fact we haven't been able to get much work done around the place. Anything that needs dry weather - setting new fence posts in cement, planting trees, tilling the garden - has had to wait. Then when the weather is good, we all feel a sudden urgency to do everything at once. Luckily, I have found a new farm hand. He comes recommended by a neighbor farmer, and he lives very nearby. Although only 17, he has proved a hard worker and can handle a shovel with the best of them. Hereinafter referred to as "Farmboy." Today he planted three trees and made a temporary pen for the cow. 

The other day I walked the pasture and was disappointed with the state of it. In a normal year, the grass ought to be well over knee high by now. But what with the cool weather, the lack of lumens, and the number of animals on it, the back pasture's grass is only ankle height. This is despite the fact that I kept the cow and the pony in the sacrifice area for much longer than usual. We went through twice the normal amount of hay last year, due to that and due to the multiple prolonged cold spells and feet of snow. I have been moving the animals around, trying to maximize use of all the grass growing areas one the property. I bring the goats out into the front yard to graze anytime I am home and it isn't raining, but that's only half an hour here and there, and I don't think it takes much pressure off the pasture. The pony and the cow have been in the orchard for a couple of weeks, which was great until I noticed that the cow is eating the smaller trees. I didn't want to put the cow back into the main pasture with the goats both because of the grass situation and because she has become a terrible bully since her horns grew and she has actually injured one of my goats. Have I mentioned that I hate cows? 

There is one area where the grass is doing well - a boggy area about 60 x 200 feet behind the blackberries and adjacent to the small pasture. We have never made use of this area because it is wet, and also because there is a lot of debris and metal and concrete pieces in the ground left over from when the previous owners demolished their dairy barn. The grass growing there is lush, bright green, and shoulder height - but it is Canary grass. Canary grass is a non-native species that flourishes in our cool, wet climate. It has mixed reputation - most people (and certainly the noxious weed board) consider it an invasive nuisance that crowds out better forage species. Canary grass hay is the lowest, cheapest variety of hay, and lots of people won't use its at all. Other people, however, especially people with low,wet pastures, actually plant Canary grass on purpose. In general, the literature tends to say that it is tolerable forage, although most other species of pasture grass are preferable, and most animals will ignore it if better forage is available. 

Myself, I wouldn't buy any hay that had much Canary grass in it, no matter how cheap. I will, however, try to encourage my animals to eat it when it is abundant and other forage is not. To that end, I had Farmboy use T-posts and cattle panels to make an enclosure 32x32 feet. That will keep the cow busy for a few days and when she runs out we can just pound two more posts and move the cattle panels to close in another, similarly sized area. This will keep the cow fed and away from my goats. For a little while. 

The trees that Farmboy planted today were two lovely little Asian pear trees that Homero gave me for mother's day, and last year's Christmas tree, which has been sitting in it's pot on the porch since New Year's. I am not very fond of Asian pears for eating, myself, but both Homero and the girls love them, and I like them because they can be pressed for cider like apples (and unlike European pears). 

Other new developments: we bought six turkey chicks from a neighbor farmer, and Haku immediately killed two of them so now we have four turkey chicks. We also bought six golden sex-link pullets from another local farmer who said she just got over-enthusiastic at the farm store and realized, after raising them for a few weeks, that she didn't actually need thirty of them. It's nice to find pullets instead of chicks, that doesn't happen too often. Now we need to make repairs to the chicken coop. 

I'm not putting in a garden this year, expect for a handful of snap peas. It was too cold and wet to plant anything until last week, anyway. 

Overall, things are fairly copacetic around here. The baby goats are growing like weeds. I have plenty of milk and cheese season is in full swing. It's a gorgeous sunny afternoon and I think I will grab a book and go let the goats out. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Haku and the Baby Goats ("Shepherd" Indeed)

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Haku is in love with Bunny, the bottle baby. In this photo, he is clearly saying "mine." After several days of close supervision, we now trust him enough to leave him alone with the baby for, oh, up to five minutes at a time. He doesn't want to hurt her; he wants to lick her vigorously and unceasingly. That, however, is not pleasant for a baby goat. She quickly becomes wet and exhausted and needs to be rescued. 

As Bunny gets older and starts to jump and run more, Haku is becoming less trustworthy. I think his prey drive is engaged when the baby zips erratically around. So far, he has not tried to catch a baby with his teeth - only tried to pounce with his paws. But he has had to be scolded off often. I doubt very much if Haku will ever be entirely trustworthy with any livestock. 

Polly, the latest goat to give birth, certainly doesn't think so. Polly bucked the trend by giving birth easily and without drama to twin doelings. They were both large and energetic, standing up and nursing without help. I think my favorite is this pretty little brown and black girl. The girls have named her Ombre, after the way her colors fade into each other. 

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When I brought Haku into the mama barn to meet the new babies, he tried to lick them and kiss them the way he does with the house baby. Mama Polly was having none of it. She got between Haku and the babies, lowered her horns, and made menacing noises (well, what passes for menacing noises when made by a goat). When Haku persisted, Polly gave him her horns. Apparently deeply offended, Haku responded by growling and snapping at Polly - and I instantly hauled him away and scolded him. He needs to understand that the babies are to be safeguarded and that the mamas are absolutely sacrosanct. 

Maybe I am being a little bit unrealistic about Haku's vocabulary. I'd be happy if he just learned "gentle" and "no." 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Beat Up by a Sheep (For the LAST time)

Sometime this past winter, my sister gave us a sheep. A ram, actually. She and her husband raise Jacob's sheep, a heritage breed that is believed to be one of the oldest breeds around. They typically have four horns, and some even have six. They are not large, for sheep. They are a dual purpose breed, bred for meat and wool. They didn't want this particular sheep, my sister explained, "because he is an asshole."
Image result for jacob's sheep
Not ones to look a gift horse (or sheep) in the mouth, we said "thank you," and took him home.
Soon enough, we found out why they didn't want him around. Every time we went into the pasture, he would charge us like a deranged... well.... ram. Although he only weighed about fifty pounds, it still hurt like hell when he bashed into the side of my knee. And he didn't back off when I fought back, either. I took to carrying a stick, and once I hit him hard enough the nose to make him bleed (yes, I felt bad afterwards) but it made no difference to the sheep. He charged regardless.

The obvious solution would have been to kill him immediately, of course, but there were a variety of reasons we didn't do that. Firstly, we thought we could fatten him up. Secondly, the freezer was already full of beef, pork, and salmon. And lastly, Homero just didn't have time, and he is too cheap to let me schedule a professional to do any job he is capable of doing himself.

So we simply lived with the crazy aggressive sheep. I lost track of the number of times he knocked me down, but one instance stands out in my mind. It was mid-winter, and the ground was frozen solid. Over the past few days, it had repeatedly snowed, thawed, and frozen, and so there were a couple inches of ice in the barnyard, with hummocks of frozen dirt and gravel sticking up, and holes here and there as well. Treacherous ground, on which anybody might turn an ankle, irrespective of the need to fight off mentally impaired ovines.

The hose was frozen, so I was filling five gallon buckets directly from the spigot, precariously standing bent over on the ice-slick that surrounded the water pump. The sheep hit me from behind; I never saw him coming. I fell down, of course, and floundered around on the ice, unable to get up. The sheep backed up and charged again. He hit me in the hip, and I sprawled on my belly. I rolled over on my back and wildly flailed my legs trying to fend off his next charge. This ridiculous and humiliating scene went on for some time, until I managed to grab him by the horns and immobilize him. I still couldn't get up, however. My boots slid helplessly on the ice, and I didn't dare let go of the sheep to grab the fence for support. There were a few minutes of detente, the sheep and I frozen in an absurd tableau, catching our breath.

After a while, I managed to stand up, using the sheep himself as support. I lugged him into the barn and somehow closed the door between us. Then I limped back to the house, determined that the sheep had beat me up for the last time. Not so, alas, not so. Over the next few months, the sheep kept me well supplied with bruises. The children could not be sent out to do chores. We more or less lived in fear of this stupid, obstinate animal, himself apparently the victim of an overdeveloped instinct to attack everything that moved.

Recently, the grass finally being grown enough to provide forage, we moved the sheep by himself into the orchard, where he wouldn't interfere with daily chores. This worked fine until yesterday. Yesterday, I took the goats out to browse, and the sight of them moved the sheep to heroic efforts. He escaped, and as soon as he was free, he charged me. This time I saw him coming, and I grabbed him by the horns before he could hurt me. Holding on, I yelled for my husband. While I was waiting for him to run over from the shop, I noticed that one of the ram's four horns was curled back and growing straight into his own skull. As far as I could tell,  it hadn't yet penetrated the flesh, but it was surely uncomfortable, and soon would be downright painful, if it wasn't already. When Homero arrived, I showed him the situation, and said "we have to kill this sheep today."

Luckily, it was a fairly nice afternoon, and so Homero quickly dispatched the ram via a bullet to the back of the head (never the front; the bullet will ricochet off the shelf of thick bone). Within a couple of hours, the evil ram had been reduced to his constituent parts and was fulfilling his ultimate purpose of providing us with tasty protein. According to our personal system of division of labor, Homero deals with the slaughter and the icky parts of skinning, cleaning, and gutting, and delivers the meat to me inside in the form of large hunks - what I believe are called in the trade "primal" cuts - whole legs, shoulder, ribs and belly, back. I take it from there and trim and cut the chunks into reasonable portions as best I can, which isn't all that great since my only education in butchery is a thin book I bought called "home butchery of livestock and game."

The ribs (both sides) went into the oven, slathered with barbecue rub, and cooked on a moderate 325 degrees, covered in tinfoil, for about five hours until they were falling apart tender. That was dinner last night. I broke down the back legs into butt and haunch (I know those aren't the right terms) and packaged four nice roasts for the freezer. Then I took all the rest - shoulder, neck, back - and packed them into my giant tamalero (basically a gigantic spaghetti pot; a steamer) to make broth.

Today I strained the broth, ladled it into gallon ziplock bags for the freezer, and shredded the meat off the bones to be packaged in quart sized ziplock bags in the freezer. Except, of course, for the meat we are using tonight to make tacos de barbacoa de borrego.

Tacos de Borrego:

Make the broth

In a large steamer pot, pack all the mutton pieces (shoulder, neck, ribs, butt, whatever)
1 large onion
1 head garlic, separated
10 chiles guajillo, torn into pieces and seeds shaken out
1 tbsp whole allspice
1/4 cup salt
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns

1 gallon water

cover, seal with foil, and steam 4-6 hours, until meat is falling off the bone

Strain broth and save for another purpose. 
Shred meat off bones and serve on a platter with:

Fresh hot corn tortillas
minced white onion
minced jalapeno peppers
quartered limes
minced cilantro

Raw Green and Cooked red salsa

Green salsa:
10 raw tomatillos, peeled and rinsed
3 serrano chiles
1/2 white onion
blend in blender until fairly smooth

Cooked Red salsa:
10 chiles guajillo, toasted, soaked for 1 hour in boiling water
1/4 cup neutral oil, heated until shimmering
1 tsp whole cumin seed
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Blend soaked chiles, garlic, and vinegar in blender until quite smooth
heat oil in saucepan, add cumin 
pour blended chiles into pan; be careful, it will spit. 
Stir, add salt too taste

To serve:

lay out a platter of steamed shredded mutton, minced vegetables and herbs, quartered limes, hot tortillas, and cubed avocado. Have simple boiled rice on the side. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Happy Easter/Ostara

Easter is my favorite holiday of the year. Perhaps because my family always made a big deal out it, or perhaps because I live in a part of the world that has such long, grey, wet winters that the coming of spring is an event heartily longed for. Or perhaps because when I first started to learn about pre-Christian European religious traditions, my first mind-blowing revelation was that Easter was named after Ostara, the word for the vernal equinox, and that that word in turn was derived from Oestra - a fertility goddess whose name also serves as the root word of "estrus," the fertile portion of the menstrual cycle, or what is commonly called "heat" in animals. 

I have since learned that the etymology is suspect.  See the link for an excellent article about the history of the modern pagan holiday: 

That doesn't really matter to me - as the article states, muddiness or even deliberate fraud in the interpretation of the holiday does not prevent it from
serving as the basis for valid spiritual
practice. If it did, Easter itself would have no validity for the billions of christians in the world, being an appropriated holiday. But be that as it may, Easter has become the high holiday of Christianity, the celebration of the triumph of Jesus over death.

Ostara, or the vernal equinox by any of the thousand names it has held in thousands of human societies over all of human history,  has always been the celebration of the triumph of life over death. It is an eternal constant of life in the high latitudes of this planet that spring follows fall, as certain as it is that day follows night. 

I'm so glad that I grew up in a four season climate. It makes possible the sacred calendar, and that is the basis of my spiritual life. Easter is the real true new year of my soul - no matter what the calendar says. Happy new year! Rejoice in the color, the bloom, the infant life of the year. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Bottle Babies (Happy and Sad)

Bunny, the house goat

Last week, the younger girls and I went to Tucson to visit my dad. While we were gone, two of the does decided to give birth. Does have a sixth sense about the worst possible time to give birth, and that's when they always do it. Not only was I not here to help, but there was a major windstorm going on, too, with gusts up to 65 mph.

The first doe to give birth was our newest, Christmas. She's a first timer. The birth apparently went fine, but nobody noticed until a day (or two?) later. The baby, a single doeling, was dry and fluffy when found, standing up, and had a shriveled umbilical cord, meaning she was at least 24 hours old. She must have nursed on her own. However, Christmas developed a plugged duct or something, and was now showing signs of mastitis - as I surmised from a description of her symptoms over the phone - and was not letting the baby nurse anymore. Baby was going downhill fast, and mama had a lumpy, inflamed udder, which needed immediate attention.

I started spitting out instructions to my poor husband ("Go to the farm store! Buy penicillin! Here's a photo of where to give a goat injections! Milk! Milk! Massage! Massage!"). I called my sister and asked her to come and tube feed the baby, which she did (THANK YOU!!). Sister took the baby home and kept her alive, then handed her off to Rowan who kept her alive for another day, and between them they got her to take a bottle and suck. Meanwhile, Homero gave penicillin shots and milked Christmas, despite her frantic objections, every four hours. It looks like Christmas is going to be fine, and any scarring will be minimal. Hopefully, we won't have another one-teated goat like Flopsy.

Ah, Flopsy. Flops decided to give birth the next day - friday. And unfortunately, when Homero called me, things weren't going to well. There was ONE hoof sticking out of Flopsy's vagina, and nothing else. More frantic instructions. More abject begging, on Facebook this time, to knowledgeable goat people who have experience "going in" and retrieving kids. Thankfully, a wonderful neighbor of mine, who is totally fearless and well experienced, ran right over to help.

But there was bad news. Flopsy was carrying triplets, and two of them were already dead. In fact, from looking at them it was obvious they'd been dead for some time. This is the second year in a row that I've had stillbirths, and I'm going to address the possible causes with the help of my vet as soon as their office opens monday. I know there are several infections that can cause abortions - Chlamydia comes to mind - so I want them all tested. The other possibility is ketosis. Flopsy is quite thin, and the forage is still awful because of the cold wet spring. They have unlimited grass hay, and some grain, but it might not have been enough. It takes a LOT of energy to grow triplets.

Flopsy deciding if will accept the other baby (no)

There was a silver lining though - one of Flopsy's triplets was born alive. A beautiful little spotted doeling. She was very weak, and she needed tube feeding and warming up as well, which my friend very generously provided. After a night of warming and a bellyful of colostrum, she was well enough to stand on her own, so my friend brought her back to mama. And she is doing beautifully, nursing and generally thriving.

I am so grateful to my community! My husband did all he could, and saved the day. My sister and daughter drove all over the county to come and help; and my neighbors came to the rescue. Now I have two gorgeous new doelings instead of none. The only downside is that Bunny, Christmas' baby, will remain a bottle baby. I tried to get her back on her mama, but Christmas wants nothing to do with her. It's too bad, both because bottle babies are a pain in the neck, and also because if Christmas "fails" as a mama on her first try and rejects her baby, she may reject all future babies as well. If that happens, she can still be a good milk goat, but for somebody else. I like my baby goats raised by their own mamas, and out in the barn. Not in the house.

The girls, though, are loving having a house-goat. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

At Last (Spring has Sprung)

The longest, coldest, wettest spring ever is finally happening. Last year, I saw a honeybee six weeks before this date. This year I  haven't seen one yet. It's still quite chilly and the farm is still under three inches of water but the SUN finally made an appearance. Thank god. I thought I was losing the ability to see in colors. 

Went to Hovander Park and saw a few flowers up.  Again - a good six weeks later than last year. Last year at the end of March the tulips were almost done; this year they are still pale green spikes with no hint of flower buds. But the daffodils are beautiful and the hyacinth is beautiful and fragrant. 

I'm not complaining. Not today. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Farmhand Frustration

My oldest daughter, Rowan, moved out last December. She was twenty-two at the time, so I can't really blame her, but we miss her around here. Not only is she simply fun to be around, funny, cheerful, and smart as a whip, but she chucked in a good deal of the hard physical labor around here, and we miss her muscle as well as her wit.

A few years ago, Rowan used to have a boyfriend who I called "P." on the blog. For a while, he lived here, and he paid us rent in labor. P. was (and is) a quality young man, friendly, hardworking, and kind. We all liked him, and we still do, but alas, he is no longer around to be our farmhand. I have to say, I could really get used to having a strong young man in his twenties, with seemingly boundless energy, at my beck and call. It's a good thing for my daughters that the days of selling them to a suitor for a few years of hard labor are over, because I would be SORELY tempted.

Today, Rowan came back for a visit, and she helped us get some work done. It has been raining non-stop, seemingly for months. I know that I am constantly bitching about the weather this time of year (okay, really, when am I not?) but it has, in fact, been an unusually late, wet spring. I've just spent ten minutes trying to add an image, a chart showing triple normal precipitation for February and nearly double for March, but my computer is not being cooperative. See here if you don't believe me.

The farm is more or less underwater. A constant shallow river is pouring out of the driveway and into the roadside ditches. The pastures are more puddle than grass. And the sacrifice area - where all the animals still are - is a disgusting swamp of mud and poop. My poor goats are so desperately unhappy. Goats hate the wet. I finally told Homero that he simply HAD to muck out the barn (recently vacated by the pigs, who have been processed) so the goats can get out of the mud and slime. They are pregnant, poor things. This afternoon, he and Rowan spent a few hours mucking, laying down lime, and then spreading a bed of straw in the barn. The goats have been transferred. They look very happy to be dry. They are going to have to live in the barn itself, however, because we have not yet been able to fix the gate that closes in the main pasture. We need to set a new post in cement, and we can't do that until it dries out a bit.

Remaining in the sacrifice area are Rosy Pony and Nettles the Cow. There is not enough room for them in the barn with the goats, so they are going to have to deal with it a while longer. They have a field shelter, which keeps the rain from falling on their heads, but which does nothing to keep the wet from seeping in from underneath. Even under the roof of the shelter, the ground is soggy and poopy and gross. It needed bedding.

We do, in fact, have a ton of hog fuel, thanks to my brother-in-law and his tree service. Whenever he has a job nearby, he will stop here and dump the chips. Maybe fifteen yards are piled up alongside the fence.  But there is no good way to move to around. Homero's Case loader is broken (it's normal state of being; the Case has basically replaced the Murray lawnmower as his personal mechanical nemesis). We have a big, deep black rubber wheelbarrow, but its tires are flat and it is in the playroom full of a bunch of Homero's heavy power tools. No good way to spread any hog fuel, other than plain old fashioned elbow grease.

Rowan and I spent a half hour or so in the driving rain this afternoon, expending aforementioned elbow-grease laying down a layer of chips in the field shelter. I filled five gallon buckets with chips and passed them over the fence, and she trudged through the mud to the field shelter and dumped the chips inside, kicking them around to cover the space evenly. It was a stop---gap measure, to be sure, but at least the cow and pony will sleep dry tonight.

I need to find a farmhand. I was never very strong, but nowadays I can not even make a pretense of being able to do things like muck out deep litter. Last week, Homero and I cut apart the old calf--hutch that was ruined and ripped by windstorms, and I was at least able to help him drag the big awkward pieces of plastic through the field. That was tough. I cannot spread fifteen yards of hogfuel, or turn the compost pile, or mix cement. We need regular, if sporadic, help for that sort of thing, as well as for placing cattle panels, turning the compost pile, making dump runs, planting trees, et cetera.

Yesterday I placed a plea for help in a Facebook farmer's group. I gave a description of what I needed, and offered $15/hour plus transportation, tools, and lunch. I have had several responses, and a couple of them even come recommended. Here's hoping one of these young people works out.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Rerun (Spring Work List)

I've been re-reading the blog, something I haven't done in several years, and this evening I was amused to read the following list of work that needed to be done in March of 2015. The list is virtually identical to the lost I would write if I were to write a list about the work that needs to be done right now - so please enjoy this throwback.

March 23, 2015

There is so much work piled up around the farm that I figured I had better make a list. Not that I'm likely to forget what needs doing, since it's mostly all of the variety that you SEE when you LOOK AROUND, but even so. Lists are helpful. Helpful in putting off the actual work.

Since the weather turned about two weeks ago, we seem to have regressed back into late winter. After a sunny, dry February, we have been not-so-much enjoying a cold, wet March. It's back to mud boots and puddles, and I am feeling smugly superior to all those people who gave into temptation and planted their garden a month ago, only to watch it all rot in the ground. I can afford to feel superior, because I have been those people, every year except this one.

Mud boots and slickers; gloves and hats are once again required gear for venturing out. So, most of the outdoor work has to wait for a dry spell, but here we go, in no particular order:

1. muck out the barn. The animals don't like the rain, so they spend all day in the barn, which means it quickly gets disgusting. I ran out of straw a week ago (subheading

                 a) get more straw

    and so the barn floor is a thick compressed four inches of poop and old straw. It will soon be too                 compacted for me to move, so either I do it soon, or add it to Homero's list of chores, which is far longer than my own.

2.  Repair chicken coop. This is actually a fairly small job, although difficult for me as it involves climbing onto a roof. We just need to pick up the shattered remains of the plastic corrugated roofing (blew apart in a windstorm) and replace with corrugated tin roofing - already bought and stored right in the coop itself. Without a roof, the coop is just a swamp and the chickens have been roosting in the hayloft. Which means I have to convince a child to climb the ladder into the loft to gather eggs about once a week. I no longer climb into the loft. Not until we get a better ladder, anyway.

3. Dump run of historic proportions.  Homero recently cleaned out his shop. In a big way. In addition to removing the enormous stack of wood and building materials that are all that is left of our cute little cabin (story for another day), he also removed approximately 7,000 hefty bags worth of trash and assorted refuse, much of which is stuff we stored in the shop when we lived in Mexico a couple years ago (NewtoMexicanLife.blogspot.com) and never brought back into the house. Mostly books and clothes, but more than likely a few valuable items like photos and journals are also now mouldering in the rain alongside the fence, which is where the 7,000 hefty bags are resting, awaiting their final transport to that great refuse heap in the sky. Or, you know, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 
4. Strawberry Patch - as mentioned above, I have done almost nothing in the garden this year so far. I have some starts going in the greenhouse, but no work has been done outside. A few days ago, a good friend gave me a trash-bag full of strawberry starts, and I would like to get them into the ground soon.  My garden space is slowly undergoing a transformation from a regular mostly-annuals kitchen garden into a perennial garden, full of raspberry canes, rhubarb, artichokes, asparagus beds (soon), and strawberries. Hopefully the rain will let up soon and we can get the strawberries into the ground.

5. Hoof trimming. Seems like it's always hoof-trimming time.

6. House projects - this is really Homero's purview, but my part of this work is to keep a running tab on what needs to be done; to budget for it; to gently remonstrate with Homero, and to prioritize. I'm not even going to go into that list here (plumbing projects, rot-repair, weatherstripping repair, etc) but just say that this list takes a psychic toll on me because I usually eventually have to threaten to call professionals and try to balance the relative importance of marital harmony against, oh, say, a working shower.

7. Fencing. I still have most of the cattle panels I bought last fall when we had some cash. We did the cheap and dirty thing by just using some of them to patch droopy spots in the field fencing. One of the larger projects that awaits drier days in actually removing and re-positioning all the cattle panels so as to make a real, continuous fenceline.

That's enough for now. Right at the moment, my regular daily work awaits - I need to move the ponies, milk the goat, and make dinner.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Meat Math 2017

This year's horrible pigs (all pigs are horrible but this year's were worse than most) have been converted into meat, and the meat sold, except for what we wanted to keep for ourselves. It's time for this year's edition of MEAT MATH (Meat Math).

The pigs were pretty small. We killed them earlier than we maybe should have because they were so evil, and also because in the cold and wet, they weren't gaining weight very quickly. It's better to get piglets in the spring than in the fall, but of course everybody knows that, and so spring piglets are more expensive than fall piglets. The boy had a hanging weight of 132lbs, and the gilt 110lbs.

The larger pig we sold off in halves. One half went to our neighbor, the D. family, from whom we have actually bought pork in years past. But they decided (being quicker learners than we are, apparently) that they don't want to raise pigs anymore, so now they are buying from us. That half weighed 67lbs. The other half went to a Facebook friend, and weighed 65lbs.

We asked $3/lb, which is on the cheap side. I started out at $3.50/lb, which seems to be the going rate for pork without fancy qualifiers like Organic or Pastured, but it so happened that there was a lot of pork for sale at the same time I was trying to sell, at least according to Craigslist. I didn't get any response at $3.50/lb.

If I'd had an empty freezer, I might have held out. But I'd already made the date with the butcher, and our freezer was stuffed nigh to bursting with beef, salmon, and lamb. We have two eminently butcher-able animals (a sheep and a goat) that we have let live for the sole reason that we were saving room in the freezer for the pork. Faced with that severe space shortage, I lowered the price, and quickly sold off the bigger pig.

Okay, so 132 x $3 = $396. Rounding to $400.

The piglets themselves cost us $100 each. That leaves $200.

Feed was negligible, thanks to unlimited bread and produce from the Gleaner's Pantry ( What Wrong With this Avocado?). We did buy three or four bags of conventional pig feed - let's say that was $60. Now we have $140 left.

Unfortunately, I lost my receipt from the butcher, so I can't break it down into categories, but we paid them $178 for our 110lbs, which includes the kill fee, the cut and wrap, and the fee for smoking the hams, bacon, and hocks. Take 178 from 140 and we are 38 dollars in the hole. Divide 38 by 110 and you get homestead pork for $0.35/lb. Not, obviously, counting labor.

Even if I am forgetting a couple bags of feed, that's some pretty cheap, quality protein. The first meal I made was BBQ spareribs. Delicious.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Spring Cleaning, Part One

A beautiful day in earliest spring, notwithstanding a stiff, cold breeze and two inches of new snow on the ground when we woke up. Now, in mid-afternoon, the sun is warm and bright and the sky is very blue. The snow was all gone by the time I got home from church. I felt like getting some work done around the place.

First things first. It was clearly past time to take down my winter altar and put up the early spring altar. Ordinarily I would do this around Imbolc, but it so happened this year that there were two feet of snow on the ground at Imbolc, and it did not feel at all like the season of emerging had yet come. I left up my storm trees, and then I sort of forgot about it until today.

I can't put up a new altar until I've cleaned the old altar, and as I was preparing to do that, I looked around and saw how awful the whole house was. Really, a clean altar needs a clean room. And one clean room in a dirty house is just a sham. So I started cleaning. I put on a disc of old time Boogie Woogie piano music and scrubbed and swept and opened all the windows. I can't say the house is actually CLEAN clean, but I got it clean enough lay a new altar. The cool wind blowing in through the open windows did as much or more as I did to freshen the place up.

Then I went out to the barnyard. The goats are due to kid within three weeks or so - I think; I'd better check the blog for when they were bred - and the Mama barn is a mess. Paloma came out with me and we stuffed all the empty feed bags full of trash - empty plastic bags, mainly. I bring home so much bread from the gleaner's pantry that the bags really pile up. Also many many yards of orange plastic baling twine. We've gone through a hundred bales of hay this winter, so there are at least two hundred strings. Paloma is braiding some of them into a string leash for Haku. We will also reuse some of it tying up the cattle panels where they are sagging. But there always seem to be a surplus of orange strings, getting into the compost pile or buried beneath the bedding, sometimes a loop sticking treacherously up to snag a passing ankle. Pulling it out when it is well and deeply embedded in old bedding is a chore.

Taking another empty feed bag with me, I walked the soggy pasture to pick up more trash - more bags that have blown away and gotten strung up on the fences, or entangled in blackberry bushes. Long shards of corrugated plastic that were once part of the roof on the chicken coop, and which were shredded in windstorms and blown away.We re-roofed the chicken coop with corrugated tin, but it, too, has been crumpled and shredded by the wind, and is now curled up in long strips and makes a fearful racket on days like today. I don't know what we will do next for the coop roof. I think it needs an actual framed roof. However, as there are no longer any chickens (except three skinny roosters) it is academic. I don't know if I mentioned that the chickens have all either disappeared or been caught and eaten by our horrible pigs.

The horrible pigs are dead. The butcher came friday. We will keep the meat from the smaller one, and the bigger one has been sold off in halves. I am very very glad they are gone. No more pigs for the foreseeable future.

There is still a great deal of cleanup and repair to do before it gets much later in the season. One of the gateposts to the main pasture rotted through, and half of the gate fell down. We haven't replaced it yet, because its been so wet and awful, and the animals are still eating hay in the sacrifice area anyway. But it needs to be repaired before we can let the animals out to graze, obviously. The calf hutch, which we have had for about eight years, finally - yes, you guessed it - blew away in a windstorm. It had a few cracks in it already, but now it is a twisted wreck washed up against the back fence line. Theres no way I can move it, that will require Homero and another man.

No sign yet of nettles or daffodils. There are some pale green spikes sticking out of the ground near the highway, though. I think I will go take a look at the willow out by Homero's shop and see if there are any pussies (?) on it yet. If so, I will cut a few wands for the altar.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Snowpocalypse 2017

This is the west side of my house. See the snow up to the ROOF? Admittedly, this is a drift. But anytime there is snow up to the roof, that's a lot of snow. We probably have about two feet of snow, if it were evenly distributed. And it's still coming down hard. I'm sitting at the kitchen table, and looking out across the street at the neighbor's 100 acre field, and there are snow tornados, I shit you not, snow tornados out there. 

 Haku is loving it. He's so happy. He almost disappears into the drifts, but he's having ball.

I like it too, truth be told (and as long as I don't have to do chores in it). It's exciting, and just the tiniest bit scary. But we have a freezer full of food, and a tank full of propane, and a generator, and nothing can hurt us.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Doing Chores in Winter Wonderland (Too Old for this Shit)

It is snowing. It is snowing sideways. It has been snowing sideways for the better part of four days. There is a foot and a half of snow on the ground and more is coming down every minute. Some of the drifts are three feet high. All the sliding glass doors are iced shut. School has been cancelled again, and the children are stir-crazy.

I feel like Gene Wilder in the old version of Charlie and the The Chocolate Factory - just picture me with my hair standing up and my eyes bugging out as I intone, in a voice that slowly rises to a shriek, "It is snowing, snowing, SNOWING... and it shows no sign of SLOWING... there's no earthly way of KNOWING... just how long it will keep GOING...."

I am old as dirt. I am rickety and fat and I have a nasty head cold. My knees sound like a bowl of rice krispies even just walking around indoors. I am getting too old for this shit. I just went out to feed the animals, and what is ordinarily a ten minute job is a half an hour slog, beginning with putting on my socks - not as easy as it used to be - and carefully stepping into one gum boot, and then the other, holding on to the wall because my balance ain't what it used to be either. Then I have to pick up the five gallon bucket full of slops for the pigs (kept inside the playroom so it doesn't freeze) and there's no handle on this bucket so I have to hug it with one arm and try to open the sliding glass door with the other while my giant, idiot dog leaps around me like a deranged jack in the box.

On the sixty-yard walk to the barn, I had to set the bucket down to rest three times. I am more out of breath than usual, due to the aforementioned nasty cold. The snow is heavy and has an icy crust on it. Haku runs lightly over the crust, but I break through and sink up to my knees with every step. I haven't put on a hat and my hair is whipping around, blinding me. The snow hits my face hard enough to sting, flying at me sideways from the north-east. Finally I make it to the field shelter, where Haku is leaping up against the fence, barking at the ram. The ram is charging the fence over and over again. I yell at Haku and he runs off to bother the pigs. I throw the goats and the pony and the ram two loaves of bread and then give the pigs the slop bucket.

There are very few chickens left. The chicken coop came unroofed in the last storm and we haven't been able to fix it yet. The chickens took to roosting in the main barn, but thats where the pigs are - and the pigs caught and ate several chickens. Horrifying. I've never had a pig do that before (although once a pig chased a mama hen off her nest and ate up the day-old chicks). We are down to three chickens. Some of the others have just disappeared. Hopefully, they have found their way over to the neighbors, who has a nice, cozy coop, and integrated themselves into his flock. We are going to have to address the chicken-attrition at some point, but not today.

The hose is frozen, so I am watering with buckets. I can't lift a full five gallon bucket over the fence, so I have to fill it halfway and pour it into the trough over the fence and repeat several times. There is an ice slick around the water pump. On my third or fourth trip I slip on it and crash, landing heavily on my hip and - though I don't notice this until later - cutting my arm on the sharp crust of snow. In my slippery gumboots, it takes me several tries to stand up.

The last job is getting hay for the pony and goats. I grab an armload of hay from the mama barn and trudge towards the field shelter, eyes closed as much as possible to keep out the flying bits of hay. I am in a whirlwind of snow and hay particles. I really ought to go into the sacrifice area and put the hay inside the field shelter, but I can't open the gate because it is stuck inside a frozen drift of snow two feet high. So I heave my armload of snow over the fence and at least a third of it flies right back at me. "Fuck it," I think, "They'll live until tomorrow."

My dog has disappeared. He's white, therefore pretty well camouflaged. I yell for him all the way back to the house, and then stand there yelling until he finally comes prancing through the curtain of snow into visibility. By the time we both make it into the house, I am exhausted.

Days like this I want to give up. I want to just throw my hands up and say "it was a good run, eight years of farming, it's time to retire." But of course I don't really want to do that. The goats are pregnant and in a few months all will be green grass and flowers and baby goats. I'll be milking and making cheese and loving life.

Besides, I can't give up. We need this farm now like never before! Our new commander in chief is determined to start a trade war with Mexico (among other countries) and they provide forty percent of our winter fruits and vegetables. If the Trumpster succeeds in antagonizing all our major trade partners, it won't be long before we all feel the results in the price of food. And that's just the beginning. I think the possibility of something awful happening to economy - like hyperinflation maybe - within the next several years is not out of the question. It could get pretty Mad Max around here before too long. I'm putting in a much bigger garden this year, and planting more fruit trees. Homero has taken his sustainability projects up a notch as well.

So there's no rest on the horizon. I better start taking care of my knees - maybe I can schedule surgery on my other knee while I still have health insurance. Inshallah.