Saturday, December 28, 2013


Our roosters got into a fight this morning. It was not the usual barnyard scuffle, but rather the kind which one of them was not going to leave alive. We came to the realization that we had to make that choice for them; the younger, friendlier rooster got to live, while the oldest and meanest rooster had to go. It was not an easy
choice--choosing when an animal will die never is. This was not my first chicken slaughter, by far. This last fall, we killed 70 meat chickens in one day, and I wielded a machete at the butchering block. However, slaughtering an animal that was not originally slotted for the freezer was different. I played with the dog so that his barking would drown out the sound of the gunshot.

Archibald came to us as a tag along. We paid for a flock of chickens, and he was thrown in to the mix labeled as "one old rooster that I didn't have the heart to kill." I don't know what that makes us. But, he was happy during his time here. He had his small harem of cast-off hens that the younger rooster, Henry, did not bother with. Archibald and Henry would occasionally get into crowing wars and, though Henry was always the clear winner, Archibald would still strut proudly after its conclusion. He had beautifully iridescent tail feathers, but the rest of him exuded a somewhat scrappy appearance.

We were going to be late for our family Christmas party. It was scheduled for this afternoon, but the rooster 
ordeal set us back. The husband had to chop wood, the goat had yet to be milked, and I was left
standing in the kitchen holding a feathered carcass among gift bags waiting to be filled. Upon spotting the headless bird, my toddler pointed and cried, "uh-oh!" I quickly sent her upstairs. As my dining room table disappeared under a pile of downy feathers, I could hear her running through the bedrooms. She was supposed to be taking a nap.

Eventually, I finished dressing the chicken and filled the slow-cooker with ingredients for stew. We originally
planned on discarding the carcass; however, I have a hard time letting food and life go to waste. If we are
going to kill an animal, we are going to use whatever we can. So, Archibald simmered in the slow-cooker, and a pile of his exquisite tail feathers was saved for my oldest daughter, who collects them.

We arrived at our gathering an hour late and somewhat frazzled. The morning had been full of setbacks. My
husband missed a shot at a deer due to an ill-timed bark from our dog, spent longer than expected trying to cut wood with a dull chainsaw, and was unable to get our 4x4 truck up our slick hills to pick up the wood after it was finally cut. My homemade gifts were assembled in a way that would make Martha Stewart blush, and I dug out leftover cranberry sauce from the fridge to present as a side dish. We were hungry and somewhat cranky, but happy to relax with our family and devour some ham and apple crisp. Our dinner-table conversation turned to the intimate details of chicken slaughtering and goat breeding.

By the end of the day, I came to a few different conclusions. First, we are blessed with a very gracious and
supportive family. They regularly put up with our farm schedule and all of its demands, and they laugh at our rather inappropriate stories. They bless us with homesteading and goat related gifts and appreciate my simple, homemade ones in return. Second, we can do this. We can make the difficult decisions and make the best of it. There are tough days--but not impossible ones--and plenty of joyous moments in between. And finally, I need a new filet knife. And a slaughtering table. Fortunately, we are going to Cabela's tomorrow.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas on the Farm

Well, I somewhat dropped the ball on writing the obligatory annual Christmas post, but better late than never!

One of my favorite Christmas morning activities is celebrating with our animals. After presents have been unwrapped and coffee has been downed, we take little treats to each one. My oldest daughter made popcorn for all the poultry, and, before Dad could put on his boots, she trudged through the snow falling gently down to hand deliver it to her barnyard friends. The goats were given a dollop of molasses with their oats, which stuck to their lips as they licked it up. I dug out a venison bone from the freezer for the dog and gave the kitties goat milk with their breakfast. All in all, the whole farm took part in our Christmas celebration, which seemed appropriate. After all, Jesus was born in a barn.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

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Merry Christmas

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Shopping

Need a last minute Christmas gift for the goat lovers in your life? Check out this adorable tote by West Elm!

Market Tote Bag - Totes Ma Goats

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Dairy Goat Homestead: Building Our Goat Barn

After our goats spent many summer months with only a small shed for shelter, we decided it was finally time to build them a real barn. Winter was quickly pressing upon us, and it would soon be followed by kidding season in the spring. Also, our bossy new Alpine doe made it necessary for us to provide more space for the others to get out of her way, especially since they would soon be pregnant. So, using a continuous supply of homemade apple pie as a bribe, and we got a crew of a few family members and friends and got to work.

Continue reading at Mother Earth News.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I Went to the Woods...

I have been lazily perusing Thoreau lately, and I came across this quote that I thought I would share.  It is certainly not a full explanation of why we homestead, but it is a beautiful description of one aspect.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and , if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

A Time for Thanksgiving: A Successful First Harvest

Garden Harvest 2

...There is something so naturally human in sticking hands in dirt and sweat dampened hair, stained fingernails and the smell of tomato plants. It is the joy of my oldest daughter pulling up weeds beside me while the youngest dances with dandelions and kittens. It is in cooking a supper consisting of organic food entirely harvested from our own land. It is being grateful for a salary that cannot be counted but, rather, is measureless.  

Read more at Mother Earth News.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thankfully Weary

I am going to momentarily break from my hardcore homesteader facade to admit something: I am tired.  I am completely exhausted, utterly depleted, and thankfully weary.  We have had a busy spring, followed by a busy summer, followed by a busy fall.  I had the brilliant (slight sarcasm here), yet necessary idea of building a barn immediately following harvest season.  The free moments in between throwing around hammers and school books have been filled with births, deaths, and breedings. I feel so blessed to live the life that I am, and I am in awe at how God has provided and sustained us this year. We have stored away nearly all the fruit and veggies we will need this winter, there are 22 organic chickens in our freezer, our wood is cut and stacked, our barn is nearly finished, and most of our goats are bred. Now, all I want to do is sit on a couch by the fire with a hot chocolate and a good book. While wearing my classy union suit.  And not get up until March.

Teat Dip: A Natural Approach

When I was younger, I often thought of the many esteemed writing topics that would accumulate in my portfolio. I have to admit, a blog about teat dip was not among them. Yet, teat dip is an important topic for owners of dairy goats. In this world of commercialized dairy, navigating aisles of premixed dip solutions can become quite the frustration. Fortunately, it takes just a few simple ingredients to make a naturally disinfecting solution.

Continue reading this captivating article at Mother Earth News

goat udder

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Dairy Goat Homestead: Our First Breeding Season, Part 1

After purchasing dairy goats, I gave very little thought to breeding season. A dairy goat needs to be bred every year in order to keep producing milk, and I assumed that was a somewhat simple process. Girl goat meets boy goat, girl goat likes boy goat, and in five months little baby goats are running around. Right? Well, so far it has not been that easy. Of the few challenges that I have faced since becoming an owner of dairy goats, this has been perhaps the most frustrating.

Continue reading at Mother Earth News.

fence post

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Dairy Goat Homestead: Buying Our First Goat

(Previously posted as "Elementary Goat Buying Techniques")

I never really thought I would own goats, as my heart was set on purchasing a horse as soon as financially feasible. Unfortunately, that looked like it would be a long road. Goats eat a lot less (and they actually produce something) so that route made a lot more sense for our fledgling homestead.

It was early spring when we drove to a farm down the road to look at our prospective addition. Cupcake was an Alpine/LaMancha cross and already in milk. I had never milked an animal in my life. However, being a breastfeeding mother, I was familiar with the concept and figured that every breastfeeding mom innately knows how to get milk out of an udder. We left with Cupcake riding happily in the backseat of our pickup.

Continue reading at Mother Earth News.

goat in car

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Joys of Raising Dairy Goats

"What are your favorite animals on our farm?"  I asked my oldest daughter as we walked around the perimeter of our front pasture.  As usual, a small herd of chickens gathered behind her. They pumped their skinny legs into an awkward front-heavy, waddle-trot in fervid hope of catching some tasty morsel thrown from my daughter's hand.  She didn't wait to ponder this question, but quickly answered with assurance: "the goats!"

Continue reading at Mother Earth News.

Books mentioned in this post:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Provincial Portrait: The Woodworker

When Grandpa stood up, he gave the impression that his head was in constant danger of striking the ceiling. He stretched up in a way that was sure and steady, feet planted on the ground and a body judiciously built upon that foundation, causing everything around him appear smaller by comparison.To a young child, he resembled the sturdy oaks of old: his depth was as great as his breadth, and he remained a steadfast beholder to the bustle of life beneath his eyes.

He was a man who belonged to a school common to generations before but uncommon now. His speech was rare; each word was carefully chosen to convey thoughts that were simple and deliberate, and his conversation undulated in a typical grandfatherly tone. His handshake was firm and his gaze, steady. At first glance, he appeared serious and reserved. Yet, his quiet nature was pleasant and suffused with a warmth that made it clear he was a friendly presence rather than a cool observer. Moreover, his smile was easy and stretched to accommodate every corner of his face, causing his blue eyes to crinkle and shine. It was always accompanied by a low, reverberating chuckle. 

Grandpa built things. His workshop was in the rear corner of the basement, down a low passageway lined on either side with whitewashed walls of concrete. There, he constructed cabinets, tables, and Adirondack chairs. He whittled little animals for his grandchildren and built trains and puzzles out of shapes he carved from wood. That concave enclosure beheld the assembly of a baby cradle, the oaken slots of which received both myself and my youngest daughter.

In the slender space above Grandpa’s head, rafters spanned the length of the ceiling. Various tools and implements hung from nails hammered along their plane. Amid the metal contraptions, my great-grandfather’s hatchet perched horizontally upon two nails. Next to that, there were rusty sheep shearers belonging to an old neighbor. The tools kept there were periodically taken down, used to their purpose, and replaced. 

Around the perimeter of the room stood a variety of bulky saws, each one designed for a specific cut. Grandpa took planks of lumber that had been hewn at his brother’s saw mill, and he carried them to those saws. There, unwanted corners were shorn off and edges were levelled--the firm boards brought to form in accordance to the will of the operator. Wooden scraps were then thrown into a homemade wood stove that sat just outside the entrance. All the while, Grandpa stood in the midst of clouds of dust and spitting wood chips in his starched shirt and khaki slacks.

In this way, wooden creations took shape beneath his touch. Grandpa built with the same attention that his brother and his father did, but skills were passed down through blood rather than words in his family. What was missing in vocal expression was made up for in earnest dedication. It was that same trait which allowed him to spend weeks constructing an item, only to give it away with a nod and a simple sentence. In between the time spent watching baseball and telling stories, my grandfather could be found in that remote alcove, quietly occupied in his carpentry. What he produced was not ornate, but it was of the highest quality--just like the man who created it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Brief Update

The apples are ripe, the leaves are changing colors, and the goats want to make babies: fall is here!  I apologize for not subjecting you to my usual barrage of farm posts lately.  We are finishing up harvest season and getting back into the swing of homeschooling, so things are still pretty busy at the moment.  Within the next few weeks, our goat barn should be finished and our goats will be bred, so look for updates on that in the near future. Happy harvesting!

Stewed tomatoes! Mmmmm...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Provincial Portrait: The Quilter

Grandma and I
(I was exceptionally photogenic at a very young age)

It was a quintessential childhood scene: Grandma at her card table, encompassed in cloth, the light glancing silver off her bent head. Her soft, manicured hands made deliberate stitches through the large, wooden hoop that they held. The occasional child nestled in among the ample folds and patterns that tumbled from her lap. There were many children, nearly a dozen at times--some her own, but mostly those she watched for others. Sometimes, we tried to help, with thimbles precariously balanced on tiny finger tips. Other times, Grandma’s material became the enclosing canopy of a painted fortress.
“That’s the way it was. I could quilt and you kids were so good,” she said with a smile. “Sometimes, especially those little boys would get under the quilt and they’d get rambunctious and I’d have to say, ‘Don’t pull my quilt!’” She chuckled softly, displaying an impressive depth of patience for such antics.

My grandmother quilted for over forty years. “[I started sewing] when I was in high school,” she explained. “Mom would be quilting and I would want to learn. I would sit there and do the stitches and she would tell me, ‘You’ve got to do smaller stitches!” As she spoke, the remnants of a Tennessee drawl softened the edges of her words. Where she came from, everyone quilted. A common rural saying of the time underscored this:

“At your sewing do not tarry
First you quilt and then you marry.”

Her first quilt was finished soon after marrying, and she has now completed more than she can count. Over thirty, at least. Many are now enclosed in the sturdy oak cupboard skillfully built by my grandfather’s carpenter hands. She led me to the dimly lit room where it stood. One after another unfurled from the treasure chest, woven jewels of soft pastels tumbling in traditional geometric patterns: Tennessee Waltz, Double Wedding Ring, Texas Star, and the Dalia--a masterpiece of striking complexity and radiant amethyst tints. The mound of material towered remarkably high, yet the majority of her work was missing. Given away as gifts, most of her quilts were scattered throughout the homes of nearly every family member.

In the room down the hall, a cedar chest held the quilt her grandmother made in the early 1900s. The folds of the quilt were nestled among child toys and toddler shoes, faded with age and wafting of cedar. She gently pulled the heirloom from its time guarded enclosure. Outstretched, the navy and white arrangement tumbled haphazardly across its surface, accurately illustrating the pattern’s title of “Drunkard’s Path.” Grandma ran her fingers lightly down the worn seams, her touch of the fabric connecting more than a century of family quilting. Her own quilts now cover the beds of her great-grandchildren.       
"Drunkard's Path," hand sewn by my great-great-grandmother

The process of making the quilts was rather simple. She chose patterns and materials according to what struck her fancy; generally, pastels were her colors of choice--pale peaches, delicate yellows, and gentle lilacs. Sometimes, she chose a pattern from her worn copy of Let's Make a Patchwork Quilt! Occasionally, Grandpa would design one for her. On hands and knees, she stretched out a sheet for the backing on the floor, then the batting over that, and lastly a top layer of carefully pinned pieces. All three layers were then set in her wooden hoop, or plastic square, which held the fabric tight as she worked. Using stencils, she sometimes traced designs along the edges, in corners, and in empty squares. Swirls of leaves, circular wreaths, and undulating borders were painstakingly and perfectly applied, stitch by stitch. The result of such diligent labor was breathtaking.

When asked about the lost art of quilting, and why few people these days are taking up the old handicrafts, my grandmother paused. “They’re movin’ too fast,” She said. “They don't have that relaxing time. That was so relaxing for me to sit and do those quilts. Some, I would work eight hours a day...not every day. It was just something I liked to do.” She reflected, then continued, “I could sit in there and [your grandpa] could watch his television and we could talk… If I got any leisure time, I want to spend it with him.”

My grandma does not quilt much anymore; her eyesight is not quite what it used to be. Yet, all around I see handmade representations of her love, gifts wrapped in calico diamonds and red polka-dot squares. Blessings that will keep you warm, both in heart and home, and last a lifetime. And I think to myself: it can’t be that hard. I have some thread and some children for my lap.

Book List: The Year of the Goat

I finished The Year of the Goata few days ago and had mixed feelings after its conclusion.  In brief, it is an overview of the entire goat world from the perspective of a city dwelling woman who decides to give up everything for a life with goats in the country.  She travels the entire U.S. (and Europe, on occasion) with her boyfriend for a year of research before taking the plunge.  Part foodie travelogue and part goat industry survey, the variety of people and places described in the book were captivating.  There were visits to slaughterhouses, interviews with mountain dwelling pack-goat owners, and trips to the cheese caves of upper crust restaurateurs.  There was no shortage of material to draw from.

That said, I guess the author just kind of annoyed me.  That is a lovely critique, I know.  More than anything, it was the way the decision was painstakingly drawn out--a full year of "But, do we really want goats?"   My active nature struggled through that aspect of the book, and I found myself regularly coaxing the author, "Just buy a dang goat already!"  I anxiously awaited an end to the year of decision, dragging through the author's constant barage of self-encouragement.  The epilogue then explains that she waited yet another year and a half after The Year of the Goat to buy her first goat.  Well, I'm sure she was well researched.  Her first goat milking experience probably did not occur in her kitchen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Our First Chicken "Harvest"

In the midst of fruit and vegetable harvest season, I took a break to help a friend harvest some of her extra roosters. Last fall, we attempted to slaughter her ducks. I suppose the attempt could be considered a success in that the ducks were killed. However, the process was messy and the quality was questionable. And, I must admit, I spent most of that experience crouched behind a tree, shrieking. I had a strong sense that I needed to redeem myself.

Continue reading at Mother Earth News.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Meet Our Newest Addition: Moon!

It is high time that I formally introduce the most recent member of our goat family.  My blog has failed to recognize her existence for nearly a week and a half, and that is just poor goat-blogger etiquette.  Moon (or Moonlight, or Moonshine, depending on mood and presence of children) is a four year old purebred Alpine doe. She is not currently in milk; however, after a date with a LaMancha buck in October, we hope she will start producing in March.

Moon quickly took over Cupcake's previous role of "queen" goat.  It is typical goat behavior to duke out their dominance structures like an awkward version of chick UFC.  Except they use their heads. Cupcake would rear up on her hind legs, wobble there for a second, then come crashing head first into Moon.  Then, Nibbles would try to follow suit.  Only, Nibbles would usually chicken out at the last second before their heads collided, and it would turn into an clumsy neck nuzzle that closely resembled cuddling.

In the end, Moon was the clear winner.  She now lords it over poor Nibbles, and my husband keeps making various threats that all involve firearms.  Of course, we're waiting for things to work themselves out naturally (right, hunny?).  We are also planning on building a barn, which will expand their sleeping quarters and hopefully ease the nighttime jostling that occurs when we put them to bed.  For now, we are excited about expanding our goat herd--even if Moon's status is somewhat probationary.

Moon (left) and Nibbles

Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Rare Moment of Sadness

One of our ducks died today.  I found her peacefully floating on the pond.  I have dealt with the death of many animals this last year, but this one was different.  There was something so achingly striking about her broken, ivory body nestled among the lily pads.   I think perhaps it was the fact that the scene was so idyllic, and death seemed so blatantly out of place.  Death among natural grace and tranquility--the contrast was too strong.  In every experience I have had with death on the farm, it has been expected: it was either planned or amid an obvious crime scene.  It has not been gentle.  It has never reached its grasp into beauty.


Monday, August 19, 2013

The Study of Trees

I had one of my classic dim-witted moments yesterday.  Usually, these are commonplace in my conversations.  Duck Dynasty is a favorite in our home.  After discovering the show just one month ago, we have purchased and watched the entire first three seasons.  I find myself gleefully listening to Si Robertson's lack of articulation, which in turn makes me slightly concerned: you know it's bad when Si makes you feel more normal.  For example, my husband and I went out to eat for our anniversary Friday night. After many minutes floundering as I stuttered out my order to our waitress, Matt turned to me and simply stated, "You can't not be awkward."  It was a very romantic dinner ;).

However, my latest embarrassing moment had nothing to do with talking.  Sunday morning, I glanced out the window at the resplendent crest of trees lining our peninsula on the pond.  It's a slight addiction of mine: drinking coffee and watching the sun glitter across the crowns of the dark evergreens as it rises.  This time, however, I gasped. All my glorious trees were shrouded in the dreaded rusty-brown blight that is withering evergreens across the state.  I told Matt we simply MUST go to the store and buy bottles of horrible fungicide chemicals to spray all over the trees.  If we acted fast enough, we just might be able to save them.

Evergreens bordering our pond
After arming myself with two rather small spray bottles of chemical weapons, a mask, long rubber gloves, and layers of fungicide-repelling clothing, I dragged a ladder out to the peninsula and initiated battle. I managed to cover about half of the 20-30 ft tall tree line in just over a half hour.  Slowly, I noticed something.  Those brown splotches weren't dying needles, after all.  They were very clearly pine cones.

Which brings me to our nature study topic this fall: trees!  It seems I have nearly as much to learn as Aubrey does.  Nevertheless, I've always had a strong affinity towards trees.  Since my name means earth and sky, I suppose it's only fitting to be drawn to an object that stretches it's fingers into both.  I grew up in the woods, running, hiding, and riding horses beneath their windowed canopies. Their enduring bodies were an enigma: holding within such a mysterious combination of strength and frailty. That seemed to be a perplexity with which I could sympathize.    

I purchased a lovely book on how to teach the subject of nature study to children, Handbook of Nature Study.  This massive tome covers everything from farm animals to constellations, with charming descriptions, poetry, and lesson ideas for each subject.  I read the first portion on trees this morning and determined that I easily may have ended up as a botanist if I had read this as a child.  I love being able to choose books that are alive and fascinating to share with my daughters.

We have everything from chestnuts to cedars on our property, giving us a wealth of specimens to work with.  A fun idea I came across on a homeschooling forum was to pick two or three specific trees around the house.  The child then names their trees and follows their "story" through the seasons.  This would accompany the broader biological study of trees through field guides and the book mentioned above.  Only two more weeks until we get started!

I wonder if they like it--being trees?
I suppose they do.
It must feel so good to have the ground so flat,
And feel yourself stand straight up like that.
So stiff in the middle, and then branch at ease,
Big boughs that arch, small ones that bend and blow,
And all those fringy leaves that flutter so.
You'd think they'd break off at the lower end
When the wind fills them, and their great heads bend.
But when you think of all the roots they drop, 
As much at bottom as there is on top,
A double tree, widespread in earth and air,
Like a reflection in the water there.

- "Tree Feelings," Charlotte Perkins Stetson
(qtd in Handbook of Nature Study)

I helped a friend "harvest" pigs this weekend.  Just thought I'd throw that in there.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

An Amateur Attempt at Apple Butter

I forged ahead into the intimidating realm of canning solo this week.  Usually very reliant on my mother's help, this year I decided to act like a big girl and conquer it on my own.  One of our apple trees is now ripe, and I picked nearly 100 apples from it.  I used half to make apple butter, and the other half I saved for making applesauce.

 Following the simple recipe I found in my very handy Ball Blue Book, I quartered and cored the apples and let them simmer in water until tender on the stove.  I did not have to peel the apples because I would put them through a food mill in the next step.  This portion of the process was fairly painless.

I then put the put apples through my food mill, which pureed them to a delicious sauce-like consistency and removed all the peelings.  I added my sugar, cinnamon, and cloves to the puree and returned the pot to the stove to boil down to jelling point.  The kitchen took on a glorious holiday smell, triggering fantasies of Christmas cookies, hot chocolate, and apple pies.

This is the part I was slightly unprepared for: it took about three hours for the heavenly mixture to reach jelling point.  So, I finished the second half of my current fluff read*, ate three pieces of cake, and made a pot of coffee.  If you attempt this, you may find having some of these things on hand to be beneficial.

Turtle cake, one of my favorite things in life

Once the apple butter reached jelling point (rounds up on a spoon and falls off in sheets rather than drips), I poured it into my hot, sterilized jars, put the lids on, and placed them in a pot of boiling water for ten minutes. Around fifty apples produced just over 6 half pint jars of butter - which was a little disappointing after a total of 6 hours of work.  I probably won't attempt that again this year. However, it tastes like Christmas on toast and I got some good reading time in.

Apple butter and applesauce produced from 100 apples

*Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, my second fluff read "break" since picking up Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire again.  My first fluff read break was Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting.  I highly suggest checking both out.  Maybe not Gibbons, unless you're intellectually sadistic.  I may fall into that category.  


Friday, August 2, 2013

Farmer's Update

Our garden is bursting into life!  Most of it is from the vegetables (the pumpkins are especially happy right now), but the weeds are doing what they can to add to the effect.  I have finally given up the ongoing fight against them, as I think the veggie plants are big enough to hold their own now.  The weeds did have clay soil to their advantage, which was an excellent defense.  When I would attack them, they would simply break off above the roots and regrow.  Well played.  However, I have chicken poo and rotting leaves awaiting deployment this fall.  We'll see who will be the vanquished one next year!

Early June

We now have our first (and only...) CSA share up and running!  Our garden is currently producing broccoli, purple beans, peas, poblano peppers, carrots, swiss chard, and cherry tomatoes.  The cucumbers, winter squash, corn, and chocolate bell peppers seem to be nearly ready.  Half of my herb garden is doing well; the sage, oregano, and parsley are all surviving.  Thyme is dead (don't you love thymely puns!), and my basil isn't looking so hot.
Purple Beans!

Sadly, three more baby chicks were born and then expired in quick order.  The heartwarming verdict was "pecked to death by mother hen." We are currently in the process of moving them out from under the coop, which is a rather glamorous process.  One person remains on their hands and knees in the chicken poo and pokes at the chicks with a pitchfork, while the other ushers them into their new digs.  

Speaking of glamorous jobs, I mowed my second cutting of hay last week. And then it got rained on and was completely ruined.  Although, one benefit of mowing by hand is that (while it took hours of work) only the equivalent of a bale or two was lost.  Also, my arms are buff and I have thoroughly explored Tolstoy's literary exposition on the subject.

The cat is no longer in heat, which means she is far less annoying.  Unfortunately, she is celebrating by renewing her interest in bringing more live animals into the house.  This has included one thoroughly alive bird.  I am celebrating by making a phone call to the vet.  Enjoy those ovaries for the next few days, my feline friend.

As for the goats, they decided to play Houdini again.  I came home from a long day of running errands, arms laden with grocery bags, to find Cupcake peering quizzically around the corner at me, goat poop confetti covering the porch.  I soon figured out they were scrambling under a hole they made in the fence.  This was quickly stopped by a blockade of cinder blocks--quintessentially redneck fencing repair.

My kefir grains died.  Overcome by mold, it appears.  That was a somber discovery; my juice will be forever lacking a tart, milky flavor, and I'll actually have to make a sourdough starter for my bread.

Well, that covers the last week or so.  Not exactly exciting, yet never a dull moment :).

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Baking Artisan Bread

Lately, I've been making a valiant effort to bake all of our bread.  I feel like I've somewhat conquered the sandwich loaf (as much as I care to, anyway).  However, I really like crusty, artisan bread.  I have discovered that artisan bread is even easier to make than the sandwich loaf, and you can also refrigerate the dough to use at your convenience!  This means about five minutes of mixing (no kneading! extra bonus points) and wa-la--bread for a week.  Ok, it's trickier than that, but that's the basic idea.

There's a great book that I just checked out at the library on the subject: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I found the "master recipe" from their book posted on, as well, though I highly recommend getting the book.  There is a wealth of information in it, as well as yummy variations on this recipe.

Master Recipe for Basic Boule Bread

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt or 1 1/2 tablespoons other coarse salt
6 1/2 cups flour, unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose (not strong)
            (I usually use all sprouted grain or rye flour, which yields a much heavier loaf and is not particularly recommended unless you have a strong affinity for that type of thing--like I do.)

An abbreviated version of the directions:

1. Mix yeast and water.  Add remaining ingredients. Dough will be wet.

2.  Rest 2-5 hrs.

3.  Put in fridge with a loose cover on top.  Store up to 10 days. Flavor will improve over time, but longer than that will produce a flatter loaf.

4.  When ready to bake, pull off a grapefruit sized chunk and dust with flour.  Stretch the dough around the top of the ball to the bottom, making quarter turns as you go.  You will end up with a smooth, uniform top and four bunched ends on the bottom.  Rest for 40 minutes.

5.  After 20 minutes, preheat oven to 450 degrees and place an empty broiler tray on bottom rack.

6.  When dough is done resting, dust the top of the loaf with flour and slash with serrated knife.  Place in oven on stone dusted with cornmeal, and pour one cup of water in the broiler tray.  Quickly close door.

7.  Bake 30 minutes.  Cool on wire rack.

Kefir Bread

With my ample supply of goats milk, I have been regularly making homemade kefir--one quart every other day. Since Sage and I are the only ones who drink it (it is very tart, and I only add a little juice for sweetening), I usually have plenty left over for baking.  I did a little research online and discovered that the yeast in kefir is the same as that in a sourdough starter.  Using kefir as the liquid in your bread recipe not only replaces the need to add yeast, but also gives it the time-ripened, delicious sourdough flavor without the hassle of needing a starter!  I based my kefir bread recipe on the one explained above, with a slight variation on ingredients.

3 cups kefir
3/4 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons honey
6 cups flour

All the directions are the same.  I add the honey to somewhat counteract the strong flavor of my kefir.

My bread baking is a huge work in progress, and I've yet to tackle any specialty/sweet breads.  Baking with sprouted grain flour has been somewhat of a challenge, but each successive loaf seems to be a small step in the right direction.  Anyone have favorite bread recipes they use or general bread baking tips?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mornings on the Farm

Mornings begin early.  The husband is usually up somewhere during the five o'clock hour, off to our garage gym.  I can usually hear the olympic weights slamming into the ground at a steady pace about the time my alarm goes off.  Many times we'll meet at the door just as I'm stumbling downstairs--he's drenched in sweat from the already brutally humid summer morning, and I've yet to succeed in fully opening my eyes after another long night up with our youngest.  The sun pierces through the tree line outside the kitchen window.  I grab my first cup of coffee.

I can't handle stress before drinking my coffee.  I must be surrounded by peace and serenity-the kind that is catered to you in a downtown coffee shop.  Norah Jones or Ray LaMontagne plays softly in the background and everyone speaks in low voices, though most are buried in some obscure and highly intellectual read or listening to podcasts of This American Life.  I want my coffee poured for me and handed to me with a smile and a "have a great day."

My coffee is usually gulped in between chaotic moments.  The dog dashes to the door, knocking over a kitten and bumping into me (and my full cup of coffee) on the way. Sage wakes up two hours too soon, while I race to console her before it becomes permanent.  Matt rushes through the kitchen looking for the lunch that I (yet again) didn't have time to pack.  

However, there are many moments of peace found in between the chaos.  The birds' morning songs linger in the still, heavy air.  A Blue Heron flies over our pond, croaking for its mate.  The roosters crow in the coop, already jostling into position for their race to the feed tray.  The goats are patiently waiting for their hay and oats.  There's a rhythm out here, and one that I feel innately a part of.  These real moments are far better than the conjured tranquility that coffee shops attempt to produce.  This is living and breathing life--a life I'm ever thankful for. 

Even though the dog is now eating garbage in the driveway.

Update: I caught the chipmunk.  And the mole that the cat dragged in after that.  And now said cat is in heat.  Lovely.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Baby Chicks

Our broody hens managed to hatch six little chicks this last week!  The hens have been hiding under the coop with their nests for months now.  I gave up on them hatching any after throwing out two batches of rotten eggs, but they were so adamant that I had a hard time preventing them from trying once more. The other morning I walked out to do chores and was shocked to see little puff balls running out to greet me! As I've always raised baby chicks separated from the other chickens, it's so much fun to watch the hens mother them.  At the first sense of danger, the mother hen clucks and all of the chicks run under her wings.

Update on the chipmunk situation:  still no sign.  However, the cat did manage to drag in a live mouse last night, which we caught after some difficulty.  I think it's time to replace that screen.