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Monday, December 15, 2014

Rubber Buckets for Winter

It’s often the little things that keep you sane. As temperatures start dipping below freezing I've been reminded how much the rubber buckets and feed pans I use help to make my life so much easier. As ice coats their surfaces, they work overtime by refusing to crack and split. A quick kick as I walk by or a deft flip-n-kick move on my part is all it takes to break up and remove the ice. The buckets and pans are completely flexible, and at times, when they’ve been frozen solid I’ve even turned them over and bounced on them until the ice pack within relented and let loose. Ice is the worst part of winter in my part of the country but using flexible rubber buckets and pans helps make it more bearable.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Time to Winterize!

We’ve already had a couple frosty mornings so that’s my cue to begin winterizing the barn and livestock before it’s too late. My new favorite gadget this season is the ‘ThermoCube’ from Premier Fencing. It’s a little rectangle that you plug into an electrical outlet. Once plugged in you can then plug up to two heating devices into it. If it lives up to its description (I’ve already bought two) it should “automatically turn on at temperatures less than 35 degrees and off at 45 degrees”. This means I shouldn’t have frozen water tanks this winter and I’ll save on electrical bills! Since I can distinctly remember the feel of the sting of the cold on my frozen hands while pulling out chunks of ice from stock tank after stock tank I can’t wait to be relieved of that duty! Aside from the use I’ve already assigned the two I have waiting in my barn, the ThermoCube is also useful for heat lamps and pond de-icers. What tips do you have for beating the cold?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Love Is In the Air!

Fall heralds the season of love on the farm. While farmers are busy pouring over their livestock’s pedigrees in order to plan for the best possible outcomes for the next generation, the animals aren’t so discriminating. 
The goats are especially vocal in their intentions. Females goats, or does, bleat with full-throated high-pitched “BAAA-AAAA-AAAA-AAAA’s”. This love song punctuated by their tails standing straight up at attention and flicking back and forth act as superfluous exclamation points definitively announcing their estrus has begun! Their voices carry across hills and valleys, in a desperate desire to attract a mate, fueled by hormones and the signature single-mindedness of a goat in heat. 
This annual event used to lead us on several road trips an hour south to another farm in Athens, Ohio where the males goats, or bucks, live. Early on we chose not to house a buck finding it’s worth the minimal breeding fee to have another farmer keep a selection of purebred bucks in top shape for us to choose from. We saved on space, feed, and seasonal olfactory fireworks the bucks are renowned for producing during their annual period of rut. It’s been a win-win! But this year is different, this year we have Nicholas and if things go well (from our observations things have been going very well) we'll be rewarded with kids in March. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Time to Order Chicks!

As your flock settles into fall it’s time to think about ordering some chicks. Chicks ordered now will start laying in Mar/Apr and won’t stop laying until the shortest days of winter. Hatcheries have great sales this time of year on both layers and meat chickens. Meat chickens can be ready to butcher in only 6-8 weeks–December, just in time for the holidays and well before the weather turns too cold for young birds to be outside. 
Bantams, miniature chickens, are great fun too! Often referred to as the ‘jewels’ of the barnyard, they’re a joy to watch as they hunt and peck for food across the lawn. Too small and light to do any significant damage to the garden, it’s usually safe to let them wander wherever they want to go. 
Consider choosing a breed or breeds from The Livestock Conservancy‘s list of endangered chicken breeds. All of these breeds are in need of caretakers and you’ll be amazed to find chickens in colors and feather arrangements to match your wildest dreams! 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Not Your Average Mums

At this time of year it’s safe to say that we’re all familiar with mums. They’re available at every garden and home improvement center and grace most front porches. Their colors: golds, burgundies, burnt yellows and coppers, remind us of and emphasize the season–sometimes if only to hasten it along. Often these same mums, perennials by nature are used and disposed of as annuals, torn from planter, border, curb and pot after having served their role. 
There is another type of mum out there, hiding within the pages of your garden catalogs, unable to show you its showy blooms when you’re doing your spring shopping when it’s just a mound of spring-green leaves in a pot. These mums have a graceful habit and have shed the autumnal colors we’re so used to seeing. Allow me to introduce you to garden mums. These mums are meant to be planted in your flower borders and enjoyed year after year. Their colorful blooms and dainty flowers will enliven your garden and soul at a time of year when the natural world is closing in on itself in preparation for the long winter ahead. What’s more, fall is the perfect time to plant them.

According to Burpee, Mammoth Daisy Dark Red and Dark Pink were “developed by the University of Minnesota for vigor and hardiness.” The flowers have left the tight rosette of traditional fall mums behind for a lighter daisy-like appearance and the color, a dark pink, shows up very nicely in the diminishing autumn light. Garden mums are generally hardy to zone 3, though they should be well mulched their first winter to ensure survival. These mums will achieve an ultimate height of 3 feet and spread of 4 feet if left on their own–they’re easily kept smaller if pruned during the growing season.

My favorite of the garden mums is Chrysanthemum, Sheffield Pink. This is the garden mum of the traditional English flower border. Floriferous, hardy and feminine in habit, it flowers reliably every fall with clear pink daisy flowers. The show continues on until several hard frosts put it to bed for the season.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Autumn: A Season for Planting Daffodils

It may not be the season for viewing daffodils just yet, but, the season for planting daffodils is nigh upon us and what mind boggling variety the catalogs have given us this year. Daffodils, or the scientific name Narcissus,  are named after the Greek hunter Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, have for a long time been flowers whose heads nodded, like the hunter, toward the ground. Hybridizers have worked on this nodding trait over centuries and have since given us flowers that look out and sometimes even up, maybe just to spite Narcissus. Say “daffodil” and I’m certain bright, pure yellow flowers spring to mind. Forget those for now and set your sights on pinks, whites and bicolors. Hybridizers have developed diminutive daffodils for rock gardens and giants perfect for the cutting garden. 

To get an idea of the choices available this fall, stop at any garden center or online bulb catalog. Regardless of the daffodils’ color, height or flower shape, the bulbs are all treated the same way. Dig a hole about twice as deep as the bulb is tall, set the bulb in the hole pointed side facing the sky and backfill. For a more natural look, consider planting bulbs in your lawn or at the edges of the more wild spaces of your domain. Toss the bulbs about and plant them where they land–this will give the impression the bulbs came up on their own. Be sure to plant them 6-8 inches apart and over the years they’ll multiply and provide you with years of beautiful flowers.

In fall of 2011 I planted 1,000 daffodil bulbs between the trees in my young orchard. They’re planted in rows straight as marching soldiers, divided by variety, and every spring since the flowers adorn every room of my house. The scented varieties were particularly welcome at a time of year when cold winds and sudden frosts send even the most intrepid gardeners indoors. This year, we’re adding daffodils to the perennial border and are anxiously looking forward to the dazzling array spring will bring. Some of the varieties we’ve invited in are: Narcissus ‘Sir Winston Churchill’, N. ‘Erlicheer’, N. ‘Wave’, N. ‘Art Design’, N. ‘Prototype, N. ‘Martinette’, N. ‘Pipit’, N. ‘Blushing Lady’, N. ‘Golden Echo’ and N. ‘Sweet Love’. 
If catalogs and baskets of bulbs in a garden center aren’t enough to inspire you to plant some of these hardy bulbs, find a daffodil show, hosted by your local garden club in the spring. You’ll be able to view hundreds of varieties neatly cut and labelled. On your way out you might even be able to place an order for the bulbs you saw on display!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Garlic Planting Time!

It’s officially garlic planting time and you might be surprised to know what a tremendous selection you have from which to choose.  Garlic can be separated into two main groups: hardnecks and softnecks.
Hardneck garlic is my favorite because it has a stronger flavor and sends up lovely curly-cues, called scapes, every May. Within the hardneck garlic family you have dozens of varieties from which to choose. Some are described as sweeter, others spicier, hotter . . . you get the idea. Read the descriptions to have an idea of the flavor you can expect and also pay close attention to which part of the country your variety has a tendency to grow the best. The drawback of hardnecks is that they do not store as well as softneck garlic, usually about 4-6 months from harvest (harvest is in June). 
Garlic Scapes--The curly flowering stem hardneck garlics produce. Delicious!
Softneck garlic is what you buy in the store. Planting garlic purchased from the grocery store is not ideal because it isn’t as fresh, you do not know the variety name, and some are treated to prevent sprouting. Softneck garlic has a milder flavor and lacks the tasty scapes so popular with home chefs. The benefit of planting a few of these is that they store very well. Eat your hardneck garlic first and then move on to the softnecks. Another benefit is braiding. Since softnecks lack the scapes, the stems are, well . . . soft. And as such lend themselves to garlic braids, both decorative and a handy way to store garlic. 
Under ideal conditions, you can expect to reap approximately seven times the amount of garlic you plant. This year I’m planting 4 different varieties of garlic, 4 pounds in all. If all goes well, I’ll harvest about 28 pounds in June! Planting is easy. Till your planting bed, add some all-purpose fertilizer, compost, or well-rotted manure. Break apart the garlic bulbs into individual cloves and plant the cloves, pointy end up, about 4 inches deep 6-8 inches apart. Water, mulch with straw or leaves and wait. You’ll see green shoots appear in 2-3 weeks and in the spring they’ll begin putting on even more growth. Fertilize a couple more times before the end of May, break off and devour the scapes just as they’ve made a full curl and then wait a few more weeks to dig your garlic. You’ll harvest when the bottom three leaves have turned brown–and if possible, wait for the soil to dry out a little. Don’t delay the harvest because you’ll give pests a chance to start nibbling at the bulbs. After digging, lay the bulbs on a tray in a well-ventilated area for about week, then cut off the tops or braid them if you’re growing softnecks. Keep the largest ones for replanting in the fall and eat the rest! 
This year I'm replanting from stock I harvested this past summer:
-Siberian, Music, Chesnok Red, and Dukabour. These are all hardnecks.
I'm trying two softneck varieties this year for the first time:
-Kettle River Giant and Transylvanian
Where to find garlic bulbs for sale? Try: The Garlic Store.

Grow Your Own Saffron

If you’re a cook and  a gardener, growing your own saffron is a way to bring the freshness and flavor of this spice to your dishes with very little effort. Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus ) does well in USDA zones 6-8 in most of the country and as warm as zone 9 out west. The trick to growing saffron year after year is keeping the corms (the bulb-looking roots you plant in the ground) dry during the summer. As fall rolls around, grass-like foliage will emerge followed by vibrant purple blooms. Plant them toward the front of your flower border or among your perennial herbs so you’ll have easy access when harvesting the saffron.
Once the flowers open, you’ll notice three red, elongated, wiry stigmas trailing out of each flower–this is the saffron! Harvest the stigmas in the morning, after the sun has dried the dew from the leaves and flowers, and with a confident tug snap the stigmas from the flowers. Place them in a bowl and dry in a sunny window or on a baking sheet in the oven (if you have an oven with a pilot). When dry, place the saffron in a jar and use them in your next batch of paella! 
If you’re serious about growing saffron, the time to order the corms is now. Plant them immediately after arrival and within 6-8 weeks you’ll likely have your first harvest, one of many!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Making Soy Milk

We're down to milking only one goat, Nigella, and the milk supply is noticeably meaner. At this time of dearth, I naturally start considering my options and they're limited: forgo milk or buy milk at the store. Neither is very appealing. Those of you home dairy enthusiasts out there know what I mean--store-bought milk doesn't have the 'fresh' taste we're used to, it tastes bland and dead, and it's a flavor most of us have gotten used to because the alternative takes a whole lot of work! 

So this is the season my soy milk maker reappears. Freshly made soy milk just doesn't compare to the soy milk available at the store in the same way fresh milk cannot compare with store-bought milk. Soy milk costs next to nothing to make at home. Dried soy beans are available at Asian food markets around town at about $2.99 for 2.5lbs. My soy milk maker produces about 6 cups / 1.5 quarts / 1.4 liters of soy milk in each batch and uses 1/2 cup dried beans per batch weighing in at about 1/4 lb. 3.75 gallons of soy milk, made at home, will cost only $2.99! Even better, you control all the inputs: no artificial flavoring, sugar, preservatives . . . need I say more? Here's a little tutorial to help you get started. If you don't have a soy milk maker, you'll need to use your blender and then gently boil the slurry for a predetermined amount of time but everything else remains the same--the soy milk maker is definitely worth it!

Start with dry beans

Add water and allow to soak overnight or 8 hours

Drain the beans after soaking

Fill soy milk maker bean receptacle with the soaked beans

Fill pitcher to fill line with water and add the beans

Press start and wait about 20 minutes

Finished soy milk!

This is the ground mash called 'Okara'. Okara should be scooped into cheesecloth and pressed as it contains quite a bit of rich soy milk

Strain the soy milk through a cheesecloth

Add the Okara to the cheesecloth and press, and press, and press until you've released all the soy milk

Here's the Okara after pressing, it takes on the shape and impressions of the cheesecloth and your hand

Break up the Okara to help it dry uniformly. At this point you can follow a recipe for turning it into soup, granola, fritters, the list goes on and on. You can even feed it to your livestock. I often give it to my dairy goats as Okara helps encourage milk production in dairy animals.

You can add any flavoring you like (or not!), my favorite is almond extract. I add 2 teaspoons per batch as it gives a delicate fragrance and pleasant flavor. I find no need to add sugar after adding the almond extract--though sometimes I do add some honey. 

Hot, freshly made soy milk flavored with almond extract and a spoonful of honey is a treat  on a cold winter day! I always keep some soybeans soaking in the refrigerator so that I can make a fresh batch the moment I run out. Enjoy!